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Would an anarchist bookstore clerk call the cops if the bookstore was being robbed at gunpoint?

+1 vote
Imagine you are working at an anarchist bookstore. You are seated at the till. You are old and weak, and believe that your ideology is some sort of shield. A young man in a ski mask walks in and pulls out an semi automatic handgun. The man asks for the money in the till, and all the money that you have in your pockets. The man beats you senseless. The man takes the money and runs away.

Would you call the police to report the robbery if you are the clerk?
Would you participate in the robbery investigation if you are the clerk?
If a suspect was captured and the prosecutor filed a complaint against the suspect would you attend the preliminary examination to testify for the government, would you testify at the trial for the government? Would subject yourself to the court-power of the subpoena?
asked Apr 11, 2011 by anonymous
edited Apr 12, 2011
This question, so frequently asked, implies a possible need to reinforce, and even participate in helping to maintain the security of anarchist's. Assuming of course the implausible, that it be always posed in good faith, one is left to wonder how it is that so many (apparently showing so much concern for the consistent principals of anarchist activists) should also fail to assist in providing for that security.
An anarchist has their own morality and way of being, and there is no prescribed code for the way they act. However, as said before, it would probably be a waste of time to call the police in this situation, you won't get your money back.

2 Answers

+6 votes
the answer is either completely obvious, or unknowable (well, actually both).

the straight answer to your question is no, the anarchist would not call the cops, or participate in the legal investigation in any way, because the *anarchist* part is pretty straightforward.

the actual answer is that anarchists live in the world, and have multiple motivations (frequently conflicting) as does every other group (and individual). so the clerk part could potentially outweigh the anarchist part, or the scared person part could potentially outweigh the anarchist part, at least in that moment, or for this situation.

the question assumes not only that the clerk is frail (hence presumably unable to fight back--although there is nothing to keep such a person from having weapons of her own), and that the clerk does not know the robber, and that the clerk is alone (without social resources to do something about the robber). these are all fair assumptions given the reality of life today, but deserve also to be called into question, since all of those pieces of the question are ones that anarchists want to do something about, not just the part about what happens when someone hurts someone else.

(edited to remove formatting advice that has been followed.)
answered Apr 11, 2011 by dot (57,730 points)
edited Apr 13, 2011 by dot
just a point. (hence presumably unable to fight back--although there is nothing to keep such a person from having weapons of her own) the original question never said that the clerk was "her".
nope, there wasn't. i made a decision.
shocking, i know.
I thought the same, I think its based on the general assumption that only a woman would ever find herself defenseless and such a scenario could never occur to a man, even a frail man. I think the question whilst not explicitly saying it was a woman, assumed that such a scenario would never occur to a man, which is of course a flawed understanding of both men and of women(and anyone else for that matter).
actually in my case i made the decision because when gender is not assigned, everyone assumes "male".
however, my small act of resistance (which is getting far more attention than it deserves) of course still plays into the gender binary and so can be considered to be worse than useless.
0 votes
No, in that situation an anarchist would not call the cops.  If the person just wanted money, good for them, they have some now.  If it was an attack because it was an anarchist space, then you better believe there will be retaliation.

It's only ok to leverage cops against nazis, rapists, and stalkers.  But you can leverage the courts against any institution or any ruling class or oppressive person.
Stealing money is not oppressive.

An anarchist would thwart the cops effort to capture this person.
answered Apr 18, 2011 by Taigarun (2,810 points)
By what measure are you determining that "it's only ok to leverage cops against nazis, rapists and stalkers?" I don't necessarily condemn a person for doing so, as anarchists' own track records for dealing with rapists and stalkers leave something to be desired, and nazis would happily wield the force of the state against anarchists, but I do think this brings up some troubling, or at least problematic questions.

If we are speaking of practicality over ideals, I think that is fine in some circumstances, but I also think there should be more to making a choice like that than that it is okay. As I wrote above, I have known people who didn't feel their scene/friends/movement would have their back in dealing with a stalker or with a rapist, and as much as I deplore that that is the case, I have seen shit get handled badly (and certainly have fallen short myself sometimes) over the years. I have a hard time faulting a person socialized by our civilization and seeing the reality on the ground going to the police in such cases.

In the case of nazis, I think it gets even murkier. Nazis would use state power exactly because they covet state power. Anarchists want to destroy state power. While I accept the 'by any means necessary' perspective on fighting fascism, using police (and the courts) does create an interesting paradox in the case of attacking groups who would assume those roles. Other places I see this tension arising would include persuing the prosecution of cops (yes, it puts the individuals in a hardship, but ultimately it reinforces the legitimacy of state power). Of course I am all for people using legal channels, if that is their passion, to stymie the mechinations of state and capital, the legal challenges used in many campaigns come to mind, but I think that if we are to use those means in our fights, we need to be very clear that they are tools and we are not recognizing them as legitimate, simply available and convenient.
If I was in a situation where I could get cops to fight nazis, I wouldn't stop to think about the broader abstract philosophical perspective.  COPS FIGHTING NAZIS.  Go get the popcorn.
It is usually impossible to leverage the cops to do anything we want.  Sometimes it is possible.  
Example: I was at an action with Seattle Solidarity Network.  We were picketing a hotel owned by a slumlord.  One of the slumlords friends gets pissed at us and comes at us with a bat, swinging it around and trying to intimidate us.  We start taking pictures because we think it's funny as shit:  he is clearly breaking the law and we aren't; there are way more of us than there are of him, we would clearly win the fight.

This guy is on some incredible power trip.  He calls the cops (thinking they will tell us to leave or something), and puts the bat away.  The cops show up and start asking questions.  They talk to him first because he called.  A bunch of us intervene in the conversation: "he was swinging around a bat!"  and so forth.  The cops start asking him about the bat and he starts incriminating himself by telling them that he brought out the bat to try to intimidate us so we would leave.  They tell him that is the definition of assault.

The cops don't want to arrest him because he is friends with the slumlord.  The cops can't touch us.  The cops get mad and leave.

In the small picture, we won a minor power struggle against some asshole.  In the bigger picture we put tension on the relationship between the cops and the slumlord.  The slumlord used to have the cops in her pocket, now the cops hate her because she always calls them to complain about people doing legal things.

In order to do this we had to give information to the police (not the most "anarchist" thing to do).  No one got arrested or attacked.  We had a conversation about whether to file a police report and all decided not to.

In general, that which increases pressure and stress on our enemies is good.  If we can get our enemies to fight each other, that is amazing.
That is a good example of an effective way for anarchists to use cops. I think one distinction is that the cops were actually called by the people who were initially trying to leverage them based on an acceptance of state power, which I see as different than invoking them ourselves.

Again, I am not saying we should not ever do so (I would share my popcorn with you in the cops v. nazis bout), but I do think we should be thinking at all times about how to decide when that is appropriate and how to communicate that such choices do not equate with our acquiescence to the cops' power.
cops fighting nazis? HAHA popcorn is on me!