The Fight for Abolition: FTP as Precursor to the 2020 Uprisings
In DTP’s recently published Decolonial Operations Manual, the group refers to FTP as “A Precursor to the Abolitionist Uprisings of 2020.” Additionally, the document crucially regards the FTP actions as an “[assertive] [push] back on police power in a way unseen since the uprisings of 2014 that were sparked in Ferguson.” Indeed, it is important to examine the demands present in the FTP formation’s comminiques as an evolution of many conversations brought to light during the early days of the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as a precursor to many of the discussions being had as part of the Uprisings. In the early stages of the Black Lives Matter movement, mainstream liberal media centered the trope of defunding or reforming police through, for example, investment in body cameras or sensitivity training. While many movements may have pushed for abolition on the ground, the loudest conversations largely centered concepts of police reform. However, during the Uprisings of 2020 that followed the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others, these conversations undeniably made the shift towards questioning the institution of police as a whole, with calls for abolition becoming widespread both on the ground and within some mainstream liberal media outlets (Decolonize This Place, 2021).
During the height of the Uprisings, New York Times published an opinion piece by abolitionist scholar and activist Mariame Kaba, entitled, Yes, We Mean Literally Abolish The Police. Kaba’s article brought forth conversations being had on the ground, including those part of the FTP protests that had happened more than half a year before the Uprisings. Kaba’s article centered the idea that, as a violent white supremacist institution derived from slave catchers, the police could never be reformed. Additionally, Kaba referenced the work of communities in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Dallas, towards cutting police budgets and redirecting those funds towards social programs and public infrastructure. Indeed, a large shift in discourse has pointed to calling into question the exorbitant amount of funds allocated to police in cities across the United States, whereby the funding of social programs and public infrastructure often falls to the wayside, heavily impacting many of the same low income communities of color that are so heavily policed in the first place. It is precisely these arguments that undeniably made the rhetoric of the FTP formation and movement a true “precursor” to the conversations brought forth by the Uprisings of 2020 (Kaba, 2020).
Despite glimmers of hope and excitement in the prospect of police abolitionism gaining traction in liberal mainstream media, it becomes ever more vital to keep the priorities and non negotiables of the movement in line. Too often, these scenarios become grounds for compromise, neoliberal co-optation, and empty sloganning. Reed noted that, “the benefit and the caution of abolitionist politics becoming mainstream, is that if it doesn’t retain [a]... concrete analysis, then it's… easy for [statements like] ‘abolish the police’ to become ‘defund the police’ to become ‘invest money in police cameras.’” The danger in a lack of concrete analysis became immediately apparent, even in the heavily abolitionist messaging of the Uprisings of 2020. For example, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser invested in a large sidewalk mural that read “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” despite Bowser’s proposition to increase the city’s police budget by fifty percent in 2021. Such messaging can placate largely liberal audiences, leading to false notions of progress (Reed Interview on February 22, 2021, Chayka, 2020).
Examples such as the one in D.C. point to the retention of concrete analysis as being an invaluable tool to any movement, one which FTP undeniably understood and utilized fully. Though FTP took place on a smaller and more localized scale than the Uprisings, the distribution of communiques and principles of unity, diversity of direct action tactics, and imagery used to represent the movement were all significant in this concrete messaging. Perhaps most obvious, is that a formation whose acronym can be interpreted as “Fuck The Police,” leaves very little room for liberal co-optation. Such a statement says everything that it needs to say, and more. The straightforward nature of FTP’s messaging was largely communicated through imagery that both led up to, and became part of the actions themselves. As the communique’s and principles of unity put forth by the formation encouraged autonomous action, the movement was anti-establishment at its core. From the placements of stickers and graffiti in subway stations across New York City, to banner drops in different locations, the movement was militantly autonomous and grassroots (see figures 3-7). While any movement can become vulnerable to co-optation, both the models and principles through which FTP operated, provided a concrete political and tactical ideology through which individuals and affinity groups could autonomously align themselves.
Figure 3: Stickers and fliers are used to “edit” the MTA’s $40 billion racist and classist ad campaign (Decolonize This Place, Facebook)
Figures 6 and 7: Excerpts from the Decolonial Operations Manual show glued MetroCard readers, emergency gates zip tied open, sawed turnstiles, and the use of banners and stickers on MTA property. (Source: Decolonize This Place, 2021)