Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The History and Experiences of Cop Watch Los Angeles


Written for the International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest.

http://www. revolutionprotestencyclopedia. com/overview. asp

Joaquin Cienfuegos

Cop Watch LA/Revolutionary Autonomous Communities


Word Count: 761

Cop Watch is a North American activist network dedicated to monitoring and documenting police brutality and harassment in various cities. Although the first group to call itself “Copwatch” emerged in Berkeley, California in 1990, the tactic of using citizen patrols to observe the conduct of the police can be traced back to the Black Panthers, the Brown Berets, the Los Angeles Chapter of SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee),and the Deacons for Defense and Justice in the South. The activities of Cop Watch chapters range from photographing, videotaping, and publicizing instances of police abuse and harassment, to holding “Know Your Rights” workshops and other events to arm people with information about their own communities, as well as to develop alternatives to policing and prisons. While some chapters have a non-interference policy when it comes to police and are largely focused on the watching part, other Cop Watch groups have taken a more militant stance.

Cop Watch LA (CWLA) is one such group that extends its activities beyond passive observation. According to their mission statement, “CWLA is a program dedicated to the struggle that will end police terrorism through collecting information on and observing police activity, by offering support to those caught in the criminal injustice system, fighting for change without a reformist consciousness, and working side-by-side with oppressed communities to create revolutionary alternatives to policing, prisons, and all systems of domination, oppression and exploitation.”

On July 11th, 2005 the Los Angeles Police Department murdered 19 month-old Suzie Lopez Pena in Watts, California. At the time the Los Angeles Chapter of the Southern California Anarchist Federation (SCAF-LA) was organizing and holding meetings in South Central Los Angeles at Chuco’s Justice Center, a community center that houses the offices of the Youth Justice Coalition, Critical Resistance, and the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality. In response to the Pena murder and the recent LAPD murders of Devin Brown, Deandre Brunston, and Gonzalo Martinez, SCAF-LA joined the “Stop Terrorism and Oppression by the Police Coalition,” out of which Cop Watch LA was born.

After SCAF-LA disbanded, the working class youth of color members of SCAF-LA created the Revolutionary Autonomous Communities (RAC), whose aim is to define and organize around principles of autonomy, self-determination, self-organization, mutual-aid, revolution, and self-defense. The alliance of RAC and CWLA created a more revolutionary type of police monitoring group because it upheld the idea that the community itself had to take up the tactics and strategy of organizing and defending themselves from the occupying force -- police and all law enforcement agencies of the state. Heavily influenced by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, The Ejercito Zapatista por Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), the Magonista Movement, the Horizontalist movement in Argentina, the Especifista anarchist tendency, and other revolutionary indigenous movements throughout the world, RAC and CWLA presented their guidelines, goals, and mission to the community. One of the central organizing principles of CWLA – that members couldn’t patrol in a community they didn’t live in or weren’t invited to by the people who live there – led to the diccusion of CWLA local chapters in South Central Los Angeles and Long Beach, Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, Watts, Santa Ana, and other parts of the city. They also built alliances and strong communication ties with organizations doing similar work in Los Angeles (eg. Los Angeles Community Action Network, the Black Riders Liberation Party, the Youth Justice Coalition, Frente Contra las Redadas, as well as the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in New York and the Move Organization in Philadelphia.

CWLA has participated in the defense of the South Central Farm, supported the Cardenas family who filmed their relative being beaten by two Hollywood cops while choking him, observed the police at the May 1st, 2007 immigrant rights march (which was brutally attacked by the police), and initiated a learning process to deal with internal conflict by holding talking circles to heal the community while maintaining the struggle.

SEE ALSO: Anarchism, United States; Argentina, social and political protest, 2001-2007; Black Panthers; Latin American Punk Rock and Protest; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Zapatistas, EZLN and Chiapas uprising;

References and Suggested Readings

    Cop Watch LA (2005) Cop Watch LA. Available at www.copwatchla.org (downloaded June 1, 2008).

    Greene, H.T. (2000) Understanding the Connections Between Race and Police Violence. In Markowitz, M.W. and Jones-Brown, D.D. (Eds.) The System in Black and White: Exploring the Connections Between Race, Crime, and Justice.

    October 22 Coalition (1999) Stolen Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement. New York: October 22 Coalition.

    Walker, S. (2005) The New World of Police Accountability. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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