Charlotte, NC: "Welcome to the End of the World"
Nothing can close the window of mass disaffection opened by the revolt in Ferguson. The unending tide of criticisms leveled against the insurrectional movement, the pacifiers in the left-wing and “community” organizations, the National Guard and the resurgent fascist grassroots have given a staccato structure to the rebellions, but have so far failed to stamp them out completely. No falsehood can reverse the intoxicating effects of the truth.
No one can doubt the absolute strategic clarity of the insurgents on September 20th, who broke with the insane delusions millions hold onto which deprive them of basic fighting skills in light of racist police executions. In a beautiful and creative development on a common tactic from the last two years of revolt, they rushed onto I-85, looted the contents of stalled semi-trucks and burned them in the middle of the interstate.
SEPTEMBER 21 – DAY 2
On the second night of disorder, it took only thirty minutes to unmask the ethical polarization underpinning the entire Black Lives Matter movement. What is commonly described as one movement is, in reality, at least two. Even this is a simplification. The capillary structure of power has likely produced 5, 10, 20 bases of affective re-aggregation and transformations all under the same slogans. In any case, it is clear that there are forces invested in policy-friendly restructuring around diversity trainings, indictments, body cameras, review boards, etc. These factions – of which the organized BLM “chapters,” the left wing groups, the churches, the student organizations, and the “white allies,” more or less comprise the base of – are the obvious revisionist tendencies in a historical sequence opened by insurrectionary black proletarians, anarchists, communist groups, street gangs and angry working class elements.
At only 7:30 pm, on the night of September 21st, 600 marched to a church in downtown Charlotte. Just as the prayers began, masked youth in the crowd interrupted. “Fuck this Jesus shit” they screamed. A clear demarcation was made between the elements that wanted the night to proceed into the disorder of the night before and those trying to keep it from reaching that threshold. Most of the crowd chased the police away. A small group of cops sought refuge in the Omni Hotel, which was attacked. Justin Carr, a demonstrator, was shot in the head. Blood spilled across the sidewalk. The situation had changed. Hundreds ransacked the NC Hornets store just around the corner. A convenience store, a sandwich shop.
We receive messages that someone has been shot at the Omni Hotel. We park and run toward the demonstration. Just as we catch our breathe, tear gas is fired into the crowd. Flash bang grenades explode by our feet. To my left and right, masked people are kicking and throwing back the spinning canisters on the ground. I pull a t-shirt over my face. Hundreds of people are cheering and jumping, a few are coughing. A young man with tattoos all over his torso and hands looks to me and says, through his mask, “This is it! Welcome to the end of the world!” In front of me, a giant cloud of gas thinly veils a wall of police in riot gear.
For an hour the crowd controlled the streets around the EpiCentre, utilizing police barricades and dumpsters to block the road. The rioters methodically destroyed the veneer and windows of the Hyatt Hotel and other businesses over that time, while the barricades were left undefended. Trash cans were set on fire and police cruisers were smashed with hammers. Elements in the crowd attacked random cars, while others smoked weed and rapped Lil’ Boosie’s now famous “Fuck the Police,” the anthem of the movement.
When the line of riot police finally approached the crowd, under a hail of stones and some fireworks, they began shooting more tear gas and rubber bullets. The crowd split into at least two sections, engaging in vandalism and looting whenever possible for the rest of the night.
A guy is in agony while his friend dabs his eyes with a hoodie to stop the burning. I take someone’s bottle of water, make a hole in the cap and flush his eyes. He pops back up to his feet, pulls something out from his pocket and yells, “Who knows how to pull a pin from a grenade?” Before throwing one of the police concussion grenades back at a line of bike cops. “Yeah we got that shit too!” After a few more rocks they bike away from us. The crowd cheers.
IT’S GOING DOWN IN UPTOWN
The shooting of Keith Scott occurred in an area of North Charlotte, far away from the cluster of financial towers and economic powerhouses that Charlotte is well known for. It’s remarkable to note that the riot on Wednesday occurred in the very heart of Charlotte and that the demonstrations that have followed continue to happen in this area. This sets it apart from the rioting that recently took place in Milwaukee. On the second night of rioting in Sherman Park (Milwaukee) almost every business in the area had either been burned, looted, or smashed with the only immediate targets being the police and media. In Uptown Charlotte everything was there to be destroyed, even the Nascar Museum.
Of course the fact that the riot took place in a major financial center also meant that there were different limits. Most urban centers have been totally renovated to meet the new demands of counter-insurgency that followed the last great wave of rebellions in the 1960s. Everything that can be bolted down is bolted down, cameras are everywhere, and people are funneled seamlessly via “smart” infrastructure between various business and shopping corridors. Throughout the night, scarce projectiles made it difficult to defend against police incursions. In fact, without tactically experienced persons, there may have been almost no projectiles at all. This proved a major stumbling block by the end of the night when a barricade was not defended and a relatively small number of riot police in an armored golf cart where able to disperse a much larger group of fighters who were unable to come up with anything to fight them off with. The golf cart was a major material advantage for the police, who were able to use it to transport riot cops very quickly. It played a key role in breaking up a crowd that had been rolling together for hours. It gave them a mobile dimension that isn’t typically associated with riot control in the US, but is the norm in places like Greece or Catalonia. Developments like this must be countered in the future. Toward that end, we submit: these golf carts are like any other, have normal tires which can be punctured and are window and doorless leaving occupants vulnerable to attack. They are mounted with a loud noise cannon and fit up to 5 fully outfitted riot cops (if 1 or 2 stand on the back).
QUICKLY, ON INTRA-CROWD DYNAMICS
On the night of the 21st the crowd seemed to be almost entirely unified in its objective: Occupy spaces outside of police control and loot and destroy everything in them. With Uptown Charlotte being nothing more than a glorified shopping district, there’s really nothing to spare. It took only a few flash bang grenades to send the pacifiers running home for the night. Window smashers could expect cheers to accompany their courage. Hundreds of people were helping one another mask up, set things on fire, kick back tear gas, make projectiles, and stay safe from the police. However, hostilities were not solely directed at the police and property, and to dwell on “racial” dynamics inside and outside of the crowd is of grave strategic importance.
1. White rioters were more or less accepted by the majority-black crowd, as was also the case in Milwaukee. As an influential participant declared, “Everybody’s black tonight,” after watching some white people participate in the riot.
2. White motorists were subjected to a kind of “shibboleth,” being asked to raise their fists and declare that “black lives matter.” For those who refused, their vehicles were smashed or stomped. This did happen occasionally to black motorists as well, suggesting a general anti-social current in the crowd, but the overall tendency was to “racially” order the situation.
a. This mainly was occurring when there was nothing to set on fire, no police, no windows to smash.
3. Therefore, it seems that “race” was used as a vector for determining ethics.
We’ve been holding the intersection by the Hyatt for over an hour, setting fires and destroying the hotel. Two masked kids start moving a large piece of concrete into the crowd so that it can be broken up into projectiles to use against the police charge that seems imminent. A woman starts shouting to no one in particular that “these white people are not with us and need to leave.” She walks over and pushes the piece of concrete out of their hands. A large group sees this and encourages the kids to pick the concrete back up. While she keeps yelling to leave it, a black man picks up the piece himself and starts breaking it. The police tear gas and clear the area.
THE NECESSITY OF THE PARTY
Riot police charge down the on-ramp towards our highway blockade. Everyone starts scrambling up a hill towards what we thought was the street, but is actually a light rail station. Finally we have enough rocks and we launch dozens from the bridge down onto the cops below. One of them must have had good aim cause a few tear gas canisters land up on the bridge. We move on through a hotel, down several flights of stairs and back onto the street. Windows drop everywhere. A 7-11 is being looted. Rocks tossed at bicycle-mounted police miss and smash windows behind them. “Smash that shit, Smash that shit!,” someone screams at the top of their lungs as we come over a hill and see a brightly lit Bank of America lobby. The entire block of it is destroyed. Police are more determined to disperse us now and we are a little skittish ourselves. We’ve been holding space well for a few hours but our ability to do this is becoming limited.
On September 22nd, three days after the shooting of Keith Scott, another demonstration was scheduled to take place in Uptown Charlotte. The arrestees from the night before were still locked up, reportedly at the requests of the National Guard. Congressman Robert Pittenger tells the news that all of the protesters hate white people “because white people are successful.” Right wing news outlets manufacture and exaggerate “racial” tensions which were minimal or nonexistent. Left wing personalities deliberately and naively surrender agency to the police, repositioning the insurgent party as a mere protest movement shamefully victimized by an excessively militarized enemy.
Hundreds gathered and managed to briefly shut down I-277. Police launched tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. Clergy, lawyers, leftists, and others used physical force and intimidation to insure the relative docility of the crowd, at times shoving and ejecting people wearing masks, throwing bottles, or even cursing at the police. Here, counter-revolutionaries, reactionaries, pacifiers, and reformers hope to outmaneuver the insurrection and to crush its revolutionary horizon. This should be impossible.
The experimental powers and rhythms that are splitting America open, exposing it to uncertainty and transformation, must compose themselves into a plane of consistency. There should have been space and time established to meet and to discuss. We need churches, parks, radio stations, collective houses, centers, businesses, or any place that can host a public event to combat the idiocy of the reformers and the police. Perhaps a false organizational front group could have made a bold statement to the press calling for deeper and bolder forms of disorder. Perhaps a small band of dedicated people could have extended the imagination of the rioters with a well timed disruption of a news station – as occurred during the 2008 Greek insurrection – or with a highly destructive flash mob they could have renegotiated the balance of forces for the coming week. Is it too impossible to imagine a collective of herbalists and acupuncture students organizing a temporary clinic, advertising treatments for tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets? What recently-evicted apartment complex could have been taken over and transformed into a laboratory of revolutionary potential? These skills, powers, capacities, and tools do not develop overnight.
It is clear that something is growing between the No Dakota Access Pipeline blockade, the ongoing nation-wide prison strike, and the movements and uprisings against racially-motivated police killings. There has been a great outburst of protest energy since Ferguson, and especially since the beginning of the year. We must continue to elaborate on and intensify the insurrectionary process, to build what we can, where we can and smash what is within our reach. Living and fighting together. The powers established in the breakdown of apparatuses must be made irreversible, or else new controls will emerge which are less attackable, more obscure, more resilient. The most dedicated cannot satisfy ourselves with riots alone.
Truth is in revolt.
Keith Lamont Scott