Above is a video of political scientist Erica Chenowyth, author of Why Civil Resistance Works: the Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, giving a TED talk on the empirical data that shows nonviolent action is successful more often, and more often successful, than violent revolution. Put simply, it is easier to join a peaceful revolution than a violent one. To succeed, a revolution needs about three and a half percent of a given population to join; contrary to the conspiracy-addled imaginations of the III-percenters and the ‘open carry movement,’ a nonviolent revolution has a much simpler route to achieving critical mass than a violent one. Secondarily and significantly, peaceful revolutions are less likely to result in tyranny. I’ll return to those points, but here is important commentary from Max Fisher at the Washington Post, who has also studied the issue:

One thing I found is that an uprising becomes about 50 percent more likely to fail if it turns to violence. It seems to be the case that once protesters pick up guns, it legitimizes the state’s use of overwhelming violence in response. In other words, security forces are much more likely to open fire — and individual police or soldiers are much more likely to follow that order — if the opposition is shooting at them. That’s a human reaction, since people don’t like to be shot at, but it also matters for the government’s internal politics. Uprisings can often cause a crisis of legitimacy within the government, particularly if the relationship breaks down between the head of state and the military and/or security forces, which can in turn cause that government to fall. The more violent the uprising, the more likely that it will internally unify the regime.

Keep in mind that the state almost always has the military force at its disposal to crush just about any uprising. This is particularly true since the end of World War I, after which most states acquired tanks, machine guns and other tools that almost no rebel group could match on the battlefield. I found that an uprising is half as likely to succeed if the military intervenes directly and that this far less likely to happen if the uprising remains nonviolent.

Using violence also tends to reduce public support for an uprising. Chenoweth thinks this is because a violent uprising is more physically demanding and dangerous and thus scares off participants, but I’d add that violence is controversial and can engender sympathy for police and soldiers at the other end of dissidents’ rifles. A violent uprising can end up polarizing people in support of the government, whereas a government crackdown against a nonviolent uprising will often reduce public support for the regime.

I have a couple of caveats here. One is that this arrangement naturally tends to favor regimes which are willing to use violence, intimidation, and injustice to oppress a peaceful uprising — in other words, it actually rewards tyranny sometimes. The other is that Chenoweth’s trend line, which seems to show an increasing rate of success for nonviolent revolution since at least the 1950s, tracks the broader development of civil society, global literacy, and media — in other words, the social and technological climate for nonviolent revolution is better than it was in previous eras.

These items have been hanging out there for a few years, but I call attention to them now because of the high-stakes battle unfolding in New York City, where a mayor elected on a wave of activism against the various abuses of the NYPD is having his legitimacy challenged by the head of the police union.

New York City’s top progressives have backed away from any direct confrontation with the city’s largest police union, even as union leaders continue to criticize the mayor following the shooting of two officers.

But the silence of non-police unions may not last long into the new year.

That will depend on the actions of Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, and whether he continues his public campaign against Mayor Bill de Blasio, sources with knowledge of union thinking say. Unions were instrumental in getting de Blasio elected and are considered among his closest allies.

“Those that are closer to traditional institutional players will probably, hopefully, be more willing to shun those who are using an inappropriate tone,” one senior union official told BuzzFeed News.

The political crisis is being driven by Rudy Giuliani and other hyper-partisan police boosters on the right — basically, the same authoritarians who gave us the ‘broken window’ and ‘stop-and-frisk’ policies that accompanied the disturbing and disproportionate rise in police deaths of black males. Max Blumenthal reports:

AlterNet has obtained emails revealing plans to organize a series of anti-de Blasio protests around the city until the summer of 2015. Billed as a non-partisan movement in support of “the men and women of the NYPD,” the protests are being orchestrated by a cast of NYPD union bosses and local Republican activists allied with Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor who recentlycalled on de Blasio to “say you’re sorry to [NYPD officers] for having created a false impression of them.” The first rally is planned to take place at Queens Borough Hall at noon on January 13.

Joe Concannon, a failed Republican State Senate candidate and current president of the Tea Party-aligned Queens Village Republican Club, is the main organizer of the burgeoning anti-de Blasio protest effort. The retired NYPD captain and former Giuliani advisor is a close ally of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch. Lynch generated national headlines — and cheers from rank and file cops — when he claimed that de Blasio “has blood on [his] hands” just hours after Ismaaiyl Brinsley murdered Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

Reviewing the social media scene where NYPD officers hang out, Blumenthal says that the thin blue line “has descended into raw racial paranoia” — mostly in its loathing of Al Sharpton and anyone connected to him, but also by descent into racial majoritarianism:

On a Thee Rant forum, commenters homed in on Noerdlinger’s race (she is black) and her gender. While one commenter described her as “a weed soaked cum dumpster low life POS,” another officer wrote of her and her partner: “The bit-ch will be bugging mofo’s ass, if she hasn’t done so already, about making nigge-r noise in court and he will begin clobbering her, and then junior will jump in and snap his neck!”

“They’re born N I _ _ E R S , live like N I _ _ E R S and usually die like N I _ _ E R S,” a police commenter added. His language was typical of commentary appearing on the forum whenever Noerdlinger’s name was mentioned.

When de Blasio remarked this month that he had instructed his son, Dante, to use extra caution when engaging with cops, Thee Rant commenters lit up the chat boards. In a typically lurid thread, a Thee Rant commenter made light of the struggle de Blasio’s daughter, Chiara, has waged with substance abuse. “Somebody should slip her a ‘hot bag,’” a fellow officer who called himself Thisroundsoneme replied, suggesting a cop plant drugs on her to frame her for possession.

A Staten Island grand jury’s refusal to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo for strangling Eric Garner to death was not only a cause for celebration at Thee Rant, but an excuse for a new wave of racist tirades. “F u c k  Black America, their equal or worse than whites, when speaking of Racism…” wrote Eddie R, a forum commenter. “F u c k  Diversity, it’s not working and never will work…”

“The latinos are about 24 percent of the population as opposed to the 13 percent that negroes comprise. Perhaps that is why our ‘brethren of color’ are using any excuse to act up,” another NYPD commenter added.

Make no mistake, the Klan is on the side of these cops. Rudy Giuliani has pushed white supremacy disguised as police solidarity for years. There will be another test tomorrow with the funeral for Officer Liu, and then the voluntary moratorium of BlackLivesMatter protests will end, and in all likelihood anti-police violence protesters will have a much easier time achieving 3.5% public participation than police apologists arguing for the status quo of disproportionate policing on minorities and illegal choke-holds for minor offenses. Speaking of which, police are protesting Mayor de Blasio’s management through a work stoppage that

has helped contribute to a nose dive in low-level policing, with overall arrests down 66 percent for the week starting Dec. 22 compared with the same period in 2013, stats show.

Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame.

Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent — from 4,831 to 300.

Even parking violations are way down, dropping by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241.

Drug arrests by cops assigned to the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau — which are part of the overall number — dropped by 84 percent, from 382 to 63.

Reduced policing of the exact categories of minor offenses that made the NYPD such a pervasive, oppressive, and lethal presence in the first place? That is a delicious irony. If crime rates do not correspondingly jump, then the entirety of the Giuliani policing formula is exposed as a fraud, and de Blasio’s skepticism of pay hikes is entirely warranted. The risks of this strategy go beyond rhetoric, for it provides an opening for de Blasio to clean house; parking tickets have nothing to do with any dangers on the street.

This counterrevolution within the NYPD is clearly leadership-driven, and can be squelched by firing leaders who allow the work slowdown.

The status quo is desperately trying to falsely frame this crisis as a choice between police and criminals. In fact, the status quo is police who act like criminals, then let the criminals run rampant when they don’t get their way, and that is a hard sell even without the racism. One potential result of this scenario is the extension of the de Blasio revolution into the NYPD at its most radical and full-flowered form. The police would doubtless scream ‘tyranny,’ but they would get over it, and then the people of New York might just like the new, more peaceful normal. That would be revolutionary.

4 thoughts on “Nonviolence, Revolution, And The NYPD”
  1. The terrible thing about this entire situation is that there are extremists on both sides of the equation. Those are the people that exacerbate the situation in order to accomplish their agendas. The hyperbole from both sides cloud the issues.

    1. Here we go the the pathetic weak sauce lie “both sides.” Meanwhile, back in reality, the fact that cops can and do get away with murder still exists.

  2. Matt, we share many of the same political ideas. I have missed you. Would you like to speak on the telephone (though I daren’t post my telephone number in this space)? My masterpiece is now “live,” as the children say, at table41thenovel.com There is a reference to you within the text. Joseph

  3. Al Sharpton in the White House is a real benefit, right? What a POS thug doing more harm to Blacks thank any other ever!
    Obama ‘most racist president’ in American history.

    Want to talk about a real Black man of great character, talk about MLK or Pediatric Neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson. Not some self-serving Black thug like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. What the he!! have they accomplished in their lives anyway?

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