Cop Watch Los Angeles, Taking Direct Action Against the Police State
by Joaquin Cienfuegos member of CWLA - South Central Chapter
Cop Watch Los Angeles, as an organization, is fairly new; but the idea of taking direct action against the oppressive state and racist institutions has existed for centuries. From black farmers in the South organizing themselves and arming themselves to start a Klan Watch, to defend themselves from the Ku Klux Klan, to organizations like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee observing the police with notebooks and voice recorders in Los Angeles, to the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, which armed themselves and organized oppressed communities to defend the people and their neighborhoods from the police and the state.
Cop Watch L.A. (CWLA) exists for similar reasons because police terrorism still exists today and is connected to a system that kills, brutalizes, harasses, exploits, subjugates, and jails people on a daily basis. CWLA is one tactic in the process of people liberating themselves and taking ownership of the struggle and their oppressed communities.
I want to discuss two patrols that the South Central chapter of CWLA experienced in the last few weeks. One displaying the situation that our people and our communities are facing, and two, proving the potential of the idea of patrolling the police.
On New Year's Day, 2007, CWLA went out on a patrol of the South Central Area of Los Angeles. Usually we see many cops in the area near the University of Southern California, a private university in the middle of South Central that many privileged students attend. Officers are usually out protecting the white upper-middle class students from the residents of South Central. We passed through this area as we were headed back to our office. On Figueroa and Adams we spotted officers and a cop car. It looked like they were searching a car.
Three of us walked up to the scene, a person with a video camera, a liaison (which is a person who talks to the police if they approach us), and a note-taker.
It was a traffic stop. Two white male cops stopped a Brown brother, and had him in the back seat of their car already in handcuffs. When they noticed us, the police still went about their business; but it seemed like they were scared, they were trying to be as careful as possible. They called a tow truck, but they let the Mexican brother get his belongings from the car and then they let him go as well, but they towed his ride.
We ran up to him and started talking to him, and gave him our card with CWLA contact info. It looked like he was going to walk and catch the bus, so we gave him a ride home. On the way to his home he talked to us about where he was from, and about his work. He works in construction and has a second job at Popeye's Chicken. He is undocumented so he can't get a license, but needs a car because both jobs are far from each other and from his home. He told us that it was the 3rd car that was taken away from him.
Fox (serial number: 36630) who was the arresting officer, a white bald-headed male cop, is a reason why we call the police an occupying army. What this Mexicano went through on this New Year's evening is nothing new for colonized people. Working class or unemployed people of color, women, youth, and queer people deal with these experiences on a day to day basis. What is specific to this brother, is that he is an undocumented worker, who works two jobs that are usual for undocumented people of color. The car he was driving was a means to get to one exploiting job to another, then to get home to rest. This system benefits from his work and for a pay that no one can survive on; which is why he needs a second back-breaking job. The system forces this brother into the shadows through police repression, so the only work available are those two jobs. The police are a tool in this colonial system which oppresses people of color on stolen land, and created a border that only serves their imperialist interests.
We then dropped off the brother at his house, and told him to contact us when he had to go to court so that we can go there and support him. Even though we know that these are our experiences in our communities, one can't help but get emotional when you hear the stories that this brother told us about his daily struggle.
Two weeks before that patrol, on December 18, 2007, Cop Watch LA had another patrol in South Central. We had a similar traffic stop on Broadway Place near Martin Luther King Blvd. Two Brown brothers were stopped by Latino male and White female cops. We got there early in the stop, and the two cops were just asking questions. There were four of us this time, one person with a video camera, one person taking notes, another was a police liaison, and the last was point on outreach and flyering to the community.
The police noticed us, and immediately changed their tone towards the people they had against the fence. They all of a sudden started smiling, and playing good cop. They allowed the two brothers to make phone calls, and they were able to get a family member with a license come and pick up their car so it wouldn't be towed. This took them a while. Eventually their family came, and we gave them flyers, the cops talked to them, and also saw the flyer in their hands and read it. They allowed the family to take the car, and even escorted the family with their siren on. This to us was new, we had never seen cops in South Central treat people this way, and we knew it was because we were there, and had our camera on them. One of the brothers who was stopped walked by and we gave him a flyer, one of the members of the patrol talked to him, and told him that the reason they let him go was because we were there, and he thanked us.
In CWLA we understand that a larger struggle has to be waged to end police brutality, and a revolutionary movement has to be built in our communities to end the police occupation. We want to create liberated autonomous zones for people to have self-determination, and self-organization as oppressed people. Cop Watch LA is part of that process. We want to show people and empower them so that they can also take direct action against the police, and defend themselves and where they live so that we won't be victims of the police anymore.
The revolution has begun, see you in the streets.