In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, the wrath of the people of Minneapolis, Saint Paul and surrounding communities has been unleashed. As plans to defund and (perhaps) abolish the Minneapolis Police Department continue, the police have withdrawn their active presence from some parts of Minneapolis. This is to be welcomed. The police never really protected the majority of us and our neighbors, especially those of us marginalized by race, poverty, country of origin, gender, and/or sexuality. It is literally, legally (by repeated court decision), not their job to protect the people, and for a long time now, they have been actively harming people with no repercussions whatsoever.
Let’s be clear: Reforming and regulating the police is not what we want. We can do much better than prolonging the life of this doomed, repressive institution, but to do better, we need to plan how to do better.
Many people’s attention is now turning to the formation of armed self-defense groups to protect our communities. This development should be welcomed and encouraged. It is the legal and moral right of the people to bear arms in legitimate self-defense. However, this needs to be done right if it’s going to be done at all. Here are a few guidelines to consider.
Inspiration. Our motivation should be to protect all of the people in our communities, and especially those marginalized in society at present. No exceptions. Protecting the people means shielding them from physical harm as well as conflict and emotional trauma, not swaggering around with weapons in a misguided display of machismo. We don’t look for trouble. We look to keep trouble away from our neighbors and loved ones. We de-escalate conflicts by open, humble and generous communication with our neighbors. Whenever possible and practical, without putting others at greater risk, we retreat before resorting to any kind of physical force. We are not there to be cops. We are there to be friends, and to build peaceful communities through friendship and trust.
Similarly, we cannot and should not ever use lethal force to defend private property, except against attacks that endanger the lives of the people who live and work there. Black Lives Matter. Property does not.
Independence. Community self-defense groups should have no ties with law enforcement, with politicians, or with non-profit corporations. We all know that the Republicans serve the racists and the rich, but the Democrats are not our friends either. The Democratic Party in particular hand out millions of dollars in loans, development aid, and tax breaks to large and small businesses that prey on low-income workers in our communities, while repeatedly trying to end the freedom of the people to protect themselves through the legal possession and carry of firearms. We have no business allying themselves with Democrats and I suspect they wouldn’t want us anyway. Similarly the police. We cannot simultaneously cooperate with, and oppose the existence of, the people and the institution who violently murdered George Floyd, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Fong Lee, and many others.
Insurance. Without any particular respect for the police, politicians, or courts of law, we nonetheless must follow the letter of the law in order to minimize our vulnerability when practicing armed community self-defense. If we choose to carry firearms, we must purchase them legally and obtain carry permits from the State of Minnesota. We must be aware of the legal limits for use of deadly force by private citizens. We must seek out instructors and train diligently, both by dry-firing weapons at home with dummy rounds and by regularly visiting the shooting ranges that Minneapolis will not allow within city limits. If we are going to be out on the streets in a security role, we should try to buy and wear body armor to reduce risk of fatal gunshot wounds. No one should be carrying firearms, let alone serving in a security role, when under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Inclusiveness. People from every part of our neighborhoods must be encouraged to take part in community defense and to give their consent to it, even if they choose not to be personally involved. This must be true regardless of their race, age, gender, family status, religion, ethnicity, or nation of origin. Priority must be given to the involvement of those who are marginalized by the capitalist system, especially Black, Indigenous, and other formerly or currently colonized people.
Some Black, Indigenous and other people of color may prefer to form their own groups with others of a common experience. This is a natural, healthy part of decolonization, and should be encouraged and supported. There is nothing preventing an inclusive, neighborhood-oriented group from working together in coalition with identity-focused groups that prefer to maintain their independence.
Improvement. Personally, collectively, neighborhood-wide and movement-wide, we all need to be continually improving our abilities and capacity. We learn to carry first aid kits as well as pistols. We study first aid and CPR as well as firearms use. We learn de-escalation and conflict resolution as well as physical self-defense. We memorize and teach the four cardinal rules of firearm safety, and the four “D”s of threat response: Deter, Detect, Delay/De-escalate, and Defend Deliberately and Decisively.
As the police fade out and disappear, we can build strength, community, solidarity and security in Minneapolis in a way that they never could.