A Letter From Atlanta

Our FreeATL comrade Aimee wrote this, the analysis and anger are dead-on. She is the first person to publicly make these critiques, and will probably be feeling some heat. For context on BLOCS and the Red Dog police unit, see this article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and on CW see this article.

Why RedDog disband and Copwatch APD settlement are NO victory for Blacks

I have recently found my email revealing lists of white leftists and their liberal POC counterparts celebrating two “victories” that I find to be not only insulting but a show of the overt complacency that rules white progressive politics in Atlanta.

The first is the disbanding of the Red Dog unit about a week ago for which BLOCS took credit. There has still been no open dialogue about the real reason that Red Dog was dissolved at this particular time.The victory was claimed in a way that did not challenge the Atlanta Police Dept or draw attention to the white-supremacist power structure that forced the end of Red Dog. When the Red Dog unit murdered 92 yr old Kathryn Johnston, the community responded strongly in anger and pain and no action was taken; when they raided our neighbors home in the West End, broke a Black man's nose and drug him down a long driveway as his children watched, neighbors reacted and still no action was taken on the part of the Atlanta Police Department. However, the raid on the Eagle bar in 2009 proved what I and all Black and Brown folks know all too well, that white people are a protected class to which the city had to award reparations at the first sign of mistreatment.As a queer woman I must press that despite the bar's role as a space for gay and leather culture to thrive, the “we are not the criminals” rhetoric used by the LGBT folks in defense of the Eagle raid victims, not only isolated queer people of color, but made it clear that the white identities of those raided felt challenged by the police's actions against them, and that the lawsuit that followed was in part a way to once more reaffirm their whiteness in the political and social sphere. In the end Red Dog made the error of treating the elite, white patrons of that bar the same way Black folks are treated daily in Atlanta, and for that it had to be disbanded, not because of Kathryn Johnston or the millions of other Black folks that the taskforce has brutalized and murdered in the past couple of decades.

The second is the settlement that awarded members of CopWatch East Atlanta $40, 000 for the confiscation of a camera. Although this is being considered a victory for the left and community people, this was not achieved by the involvement or leadership of those most affected, as CopWatch is a majority white grouping. In fact the settlement was possible because they are a white grouping. The Atlanta Civilian Review Board (ACRB) who sustained the complaint has deemed several other complaints of brutal force to men of color as “unsustained”, one of which involved a documented trip to the emergency room for the victim as well as physical abuse done at a roadblock with a 9 yr old child in the vehicle. The voting history of the ACRB is very telling of the politics of its board members, which are noticeably pro-police and pro-gentrification and anti-Black male. This settlement is by no means a victory for all of us, nor has it achieved any progress as far as how police treats Black people in Atlanta, for most of us it is a confirmation that liberal reformist politics have an idea of justice that excludes Black men and if anything, the settlement terms add to the already long list of flawed reforms APD and the mayor's office have implemented to satisfy the rising number of liberal white gentrifiers who want the Black population controlled, reduced and tamed. For these reasons I would have hoped that the announcement was met with critical conversation instead of the colorblind sea of support I witnessed, after all, the goal here is to abolish police and their brutal occupation of our streets, not to guarantee white leftist activists protection in a space where they already face no real physical harm from a white-supremacist police force and city government.

This letter is written to openly critique the flawed analyses and strategy that have become emblematic of white leftist work, and it is meant to press a dialogue between whites about their reluctance to allow a space for true interracial movement building. In a city that is primarily Black, the refusal to focus on or even actively acknowledge Black issues in lieu of national or international issues is probably the biggest and most common strategic error that the white left has repeated time and time again. I also cringe as I think that in dealing with police and mass incarceration, which is arguably the most damning issue to our community, the groups mentioned and countless others have found ways to still center the conversation and victories around whites and the treatment of whites. And in the few cases that I've spoken to white progressives individually about their arrests, they expressed a fetishist excitement in being caught by the man at a protest, and failed to see that their arrest was neither strategic nor inevitable and frankly, insulting to Black men and women targeted by police daily.

It seems that actors in the white left refuse to admit to their privilege or even dialogue about it publicly or amongst themselves, muting opinions like mine if not dismissing them without response. In a society where racist, social control is pervasive, and colorblindness encouraged, obtaining victories from race neutral politicking, is like dressing a wound with salt bandages; and the painful sting of complacency is unbearable.

- aimee t.

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