(The first version of this interview appeared in print in the 4th Humboldt Grassroots paper that came out in early 2012. It wasn’t well edited at the time, most of the editorial collective was missing for good reason it was early 2012…)
Hurt, Kristian Williams most recent book, is a collection of articles on the what, where, why and how of torture, and how it must be stopped. Hurt argues convincingly why stricter laws and more human rights observers can’t end torture. Human rights observers are deceived and not given access is not provided full access to necessary information by governments. Thus, tons of torture goes unreported. So to end the practice of torture, we must dismantle the institutions and systems that benefit from inflicting maximum pain and suffering. That means creating a real democracy the prison abolition movement and the feminist movement collaboration described in Critical Resistance 10 conference. How do we dismantle the prison and the police state while keeping people accountable and safe? That conversation needs to be had to find and share solutions to replace systems of oppressions rely on torture with community power that relies on real democracy.
Torture and democracy don’t mix the whole concept of torture is the subjugation and dehumanization of another runs as the complete opposite to the practice of justice, equality, solidarity and the universal freedom of all humanity.
I asked some questions of Kristian Williams.
Also, I have a few questions about a few topics discussed in Hurt:
How has the use of torture terror and physical subjugation you describe in
hurt, played out in your view in the repression against the Occupy Wall Street Protests across the country?
I haven’t really done a thorough study of Occupy and the state’s response.
There are a couple of notorious instances of the cops using pepper spray to
force compliance (UC Davis) or as a kind of gratuitous punishment (NY).
By my reckoning that instrumentalization of pain counts as torture. And I
think it’s telling that those were probably the incidents that proved most
discrediting to the cops. I mean, it really backfired for them and
generated lots of sympathy for the protesters. Of course, the fact that
there was video was crucial to have that political effect.
> I wanted to know more about your work with Critical resistance and
> incite, what your assessment of the current prison abolition movement is,
> where you think it is going, and the political change for real
> democracy(anarchism)needs to go
I haven’t myself done any work with Critical Resistance or Incite
directly, aside from attending the CR10 conference and contributing an
article to the CR newsletter. But the organization I’m part of, Rose City
Copwatch has taken a lot of inspiration from the joint statement by CR/Incite about the need to address community violence without relying on
police and prisons. Part of our work over the past many years has been
advancing the notion that there are and can be alternatives to the
official criminal justice system. We put out a pamphlet a few years ago
profiling quite a number of those existing alternatives. (It’s on our
website, rosecitycopwatch.org.) And that, of course, has a natural overlap
with my intellectual work, especially the afterword to Our Enemies in
I think the prison abolition movement has made impressive strides in the
past 15 or so years. It’s really managed to establish itself as a
legitimate position on the political spectrum — to such a degree that the
state is beginning to co-opt some of the ideas about restorative justice
and the like. And the advances of the prison abolition movement have also
had the effect of completely changing the left’s agenda around policing as
well. It used to be that anti-cop organizing was almost entirely under
the sign of police accountability, but in the past dozen or so years
there’s been a shift more and more in the direction of abolition.
As for next steps: I think we’ve done a pretty good job in pushing the
notion that there could be ways to resolve disputes and respond to
violence that the community controls directly and that doesn’t rely on locking people in cages. But so far we have not done nearly enough regarding actually creating and sustaining those alternatives. I hope
we’ll see more experiments in that area in the years to come.
> What are your suggestions? Do we need to create better anarchist media? Should radicals put more of an emphasis on organizing in their neighborhoods than into protest camps? Do you suggest we protest specific police practices and policies?
Yes. We need all of that. I’m always reluctant to try to tell people
what to do, though, because political strategy needs to be tailored to a
specific context. What makes sense in Portland right now may make no sense in Humboldt — and may not make sense in Portland in six months,
> I know you described how torture is hidden in plain sight in your book,
> but what impact does that tacit knowledge tend to have on people?
> How is a regular person who hasn’t been arrested affected by torture in our society?
Torture has effects far beyond its immediate victims. It also traumatizes
their families and loved ones, it’s disruptive to their communities, it
intimidates those who even just her about it, and it indeed casts a shadow
Over the entire society. It’s a kind of terrorism, and I don’t use the
People are afraid of prison, for example, in large part, I think because
they’re so scared of what happens to people in prison. That fear is itself a
system of control, every bit as real and the walls and the razor wire.
And of course, living in a society stratified by race and class, certain
types of people are vastly more likely to be sent to prison than others.
In particular, Black men are more likely to be incarcerated than any other
group. The effect of that imprisonment, and of some of the things that
happen to them while they’re there, has been pretty devastating to the