The 2020 Archives Part I: What is a state? Who owns violence?

Nathalie E. Amazan
11 min readNov 28, 2022
Photo taken by Richard Grant in Long Beach, California protest, June 2020.

This article was written by me in June 2020. The complete original is republished below.

Personal Reflections on 2020 Black Lives Matter Uprisings or the American Spring?

“Because of the way this society is organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect there are going to be such explosions.” — Angela Davis (Link)

George Floyd (Rest in Peace and Power) joins the millions of Black bodies buried under this Earth who have been murdered by the state.

We know that Black people were brought to the Americas as property with no intention of being treated as citizens. We know that the state affirmed this when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Black people have “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” [1] We know that American policing has multiple origins that all coalesce into protecting the foundation of America as a white-supremacist settler-colonial state: our police force originates from slave-patrols, controlling and pushing Natives off their land that we now occupy, and suppressing rebellions of the working-class who are constantly exploited under capitalism. In almost all cases police are not prosecuted for their brutality under the same law they are tasked with enforcing. We know that the criminal justice system is not just, at least not to us: those who are marginalized by this state, those of us who are Black, non-white, poor, queer, trans, ‘undesirable’ immigrants. We know that the police are arms of the state which has never acknowledged or repented for its atrocities done and continues on millions of people here and throughout the world. We know all of this, so why are we appealing to this same state for justice for Floyd or for any of the thousands upon thousands of Black people murdered by the police? The logic does not follow. Appealing to the state for justice is like appealing to Trump for a competent and coherent speech; one cannot produce the other. A bad tree cannot produce good fruit; the police representing and enforcing a violent state in the simplest terms is a rotten tree that we need to chop down quickly and plant anew on fertile soil if we are to ever see any viable sustainable future of true justice and peace.

The only way to rid our country of state violence is to organize for the abolition of the mechanisms and logic of state violence. Embracing an abolitionist framework offers us a chance to engage in massive social reconstruction; the type of social reconstruction that should have followed the end of chattel-slavery. The transformation of American society through abolition is an explicit fight against white-supremacy as a system of power which upholds anti-Blackness/racism, capitalism, hetero-patriarchy, and imperialism. Abolition is more than just abolishing the facilities and institutions of state violence such as prisons and police (although this is definitely a part of it), but about building the type of society in which prisons, police, and the violent state that upholds these institutions can no longer exist; in which they are made obsolete. This type of massive social reconstruction requires fundamental, i.e. radical change and massive dissent- the type of energy and numbers in rebellion we are witnessing today.

While at recent protests in New York I found myself dumbfounded, confused, and sad witnessing the ways in which people are seemingly disorganized in strategy and coordination, and lacking intention in tactics. We cannot in one sentence demand to ‘take the system down’ while in the next urge people to only ‘vote them out’ or for police to be in solidarity with us begging them to take a knee in ‘support’- this is hypocritical. No one has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people oppressing them, so why do we think it is going to work for us now? Why do we believe the state, the police, and the ‘justice’’ system are our allies? We are hurting ourselves if we continue with this strategy for ‘freedom’ because it will be a strategy of perpetuating state violence.

America has never known peace. Justice and peace cannot prevail without a transformation away from our violent historical foundation which continues to govern throughout our society and especially through policing and incarceration. We must take an explicit stand against the white-supremacist state and an explicit stand for building ethical, loving, compassionate, stronger communities if we are to ever live in true peace and justice.

If you are pleading for peace right now then join the rebellion in your communities by getting organized. We can engage in massive education through educating ourselves, friends, families, and community members; we can organize political education trainings such as what to do at protests like how to shield, move, and escalate. We need to better coordinate with people within and across communities of what we are demanding and strategically engage in direct action that gets us closer to our demands. Rather than loot small business (especially not in Black and Brown neighborhoods like the Bronx) we should discuss what it means to tactically go after the objects and buildings in our communities that represent violence and seriously explore what it means to defend ourselves against the state.

Of course, we must use all the tools at our disposal to reduce harm to our communities including the state apparatus when appropriate, but we should also, be implementing alternatives to this white-supremacist state today within our communities. What if we turned occupied precincts into community-run spaces for free food or medical attention? What if we organized and coordinated national boycotts right now of corporations that have been reigning violence on lives of marginalized people here and throughout the world? What does using the internet beyond social media look like? How can we communicate in more discreet and strategic ways that are not freely opening ourselves up to state surveillance? What can past revolutionary organizing teach us? For communities that do not already have alternatives to calling 911 for mental health, drug, or other harmful situations, we should learn from and uplift those that do. We should be defunding the police en masse, investing in the people, and training community mediators. We can be supporting, and initiating where there aren’t, schools for young people that teach accurate cultural-historical education. The alternatives to a society without state violence already exist and are in our imaginations- we should use this moment to grow them into sustained life.

We are going up against an incredibly violent and organized state, we cannot afford any disorganization. If we are allowing police to direct our protests then it is not a protest, it is a state permitted demonstration at best and a parade at face-value. Our protests are not protests if they are not intentionally fighting or pushing back against state-violence. It’s clear and critical that we need better coordination and education before, during, and after protests between community organizers, our leaders, and the people. We cannot afford our protests to be a spectacle for the ‘gram or Twitter; I witnessed way too many people posing and not enough action. When Assata said “we have nothing to lose but our chains,” she did not mean it as a cute rallying cry, it means literally putting our bodies strategically on the line, breaking the chains of our minds, and getting coordinated and organized to go up against an organized violent entity; this is our duty of fighting for our freedom.

We need leadership that does not lead alone, but facilitates the leadership of people within our communities to collectively use our skills, talents, and values to fight for liberation. Our leadership needs to elevate and listen to the needs of those most marginalized and help guide all of us through the necessary battles for our freedom. We need coordinated organization and clarity of who and what we are fighting against and most importantly: what we are fighting for; it is increasingly clear that the state as currently structured is not sustainable nor conducive to dignified life.

We must abolish the mechanisms and logic of state violence.

We already have a platform of demands from the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) following the eruption of the Back Lives Matter movement only a few years ago [2]. We can guide our protests under these demands so that they are intentional and yielding the change that Black and marginalized people have been fighting for since the inception of America’s colonization. There is already work being done to achieve some of these demands; plug into that work in your communities and if you do not see that action, educate yourself and connect with those around you to start.

There are other community based organizations who have demands as well, find them, challenge them to embody more, and plug-in. We do not, cannot, and should not wait on the state to deliver; we need to organize ourselves to achieve our demands. This is for our survival, all of our survivals.

If the state decides to take accountability and incline towards peace then it shows that, in part, by putting their arms down against protestors and conceding to long standing demands of Black and marginalized peoples demands such as for reparations, defunding and dismantling police, freeing our incarcerated, divesting from exploitative practices, investing in universal health and education of our communities; essentially giving up their absolute power. But, the state continues to deploy heavily armed soldiers and allow militarized brutal police to terrorize us. The people cannot be required to keep a fabricated idea of peace in the face of routine violence.

We cannot be afraid to take our rightful share of justice, of love, and of living free from oppression. We must be willing to fight for this share by any means necessary. Although the founding of this country unequivocally meant freedom for a few, the Declaration of Independence nonetheless authorizes the people with an absolute right to alter or abolish the state if it is destructive to our lives, liberty (safety), and pursuit of happiness. Our state is beyond destructive for millions of lives here and globally who have been killed, lynched, incarcerated, beaten, occupied, disregarded, and displaced by the state. We have to shed our fear and our comfortable complacency to come together within our communities to organize for revolutionary change. We cannot wait for the state to freely give us their so-called justice or our rightful share- that is not their mandate. The people have a mandate for justice, love, and freedom and we should appeal to ourselves. All marginalized people and those tired of living under organized state violence need to be in community with each other; we need to educate, protect, support, and coordinate with one another; we can no longer allow the state to have a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.

If we want revolution, then we better start getting into formation; this can be a revolution if we start organizing like it is. We have to move with intention and mindfulness in all that we do. The chaos that we are seeing now is the energy that has been built up for centuries; we should now move it towards organized chaos. There can be no peace with the violence that the state has claimed legitimacy over and that we too often allow. We need to shed the fear that has been instilled in us and know if we got each other, if we got organization, and if we got love for one another then we can surely win; anything built can be destroyed and replaced with something better.

We all need to be abolitionists in this revolution or else we are doomed to losing this moment as fleeting futile screams with no sight of any future of justice and peace.

“The real content of any kind of revolutionary thrust lies in the principles and goals you are striving for, not in the way you reach them.” — Angela Davis (Link)

When we get there

Question everything
Struggle in the present for the world we wish to live in
accept tragedy as inevitable
like the laughter of healing
pain unavoidable
truth is coming at roots
lifting liberation from twisted tongues forcing mother out for colonizers’ boots to drag into our homes,
us out onto ships of wet bones, cold trails, graveyards, one in the same
they were not invited
but we are a hospitable people who
embody the teachings of Jesus bronze and wooly better than any church on stolen land could ever even begin to think of what it could mean to love a neighbor without exception
to clean the feet of guests
empty cabinets for their sustenance
we understand life is sacred
exist in community with the inalienable rights of air, water, land, and the heavens
know where you come from,
who you come from?
know the emotions that color your veins blending yesterday into today where past is future is past and present and forever is non-linear
don’t be discouraged if the peculiarities of tomorrow signify regression
we are more than our present circumstances
freedom without imagination is emptier than good without love
freedom without freedom is too often the cause of destruction
If you’re not writing for freedom
What are you doing then?
free your soul
free the world
Siege on Gaza dripping blood in the sea
Blowing second hand ash into the river
not enough ventilators for the children growing up in open air prisons
plantations of legal exploitation
history doesn’t repeat
just keeps going on till we do something different
What does it mean to no longer feel state violence?
What is a state?
Who owns violence?
What is my body if I cannot identify it?
Who am I really besides a kid too scared to sleep so never fails my dreams of reaching peace of the holy land of revolution where we can be whatever we wanna be without being scared to sleep
without working lungs out dry,
worry about blood pressure getting too high or how to survive the next days rent or demolition
where Michael Brown’s still living, Trayvon Martin’s first Black man to fly on the moon with an airplane and Sandra Bland is President
where return to land of who we come from is an expectation
where trauma no longer carries the magnitude of air inescapable as breath
where I do not cry writing a poem I don’t know if I can see the future of
I’m young and
alive so how can I be a pessimist
Baldwin, take the wheel
take my hand guide me towards the land of holiness revolution
of love liberated from suffering suffocated by human beings scared of their death so they made us to hate and divide
trying to conquer life is impossible
didn’t they know
spirit never dies
trying to conquer life is impossible
didn’t you know
spirit never dies
don’t we know spirit never dies
we got centuries of warriors living when we look in our eyes
aint starting from scratch
got foundations of tradition
empathy as community ethic
past is future is past and present and forever is non-linear
don’t you remember?
spirit never dies
spirit never dies
spirit never dies
don’t you forget
when we get there.

© Nathalie E. Amazan, all rights reserved, 2020 / Originally published in Falastin Magazine (Volume 4, Issue 3)

Continue Education (edited down from the original 2020 version):

Article: “What is Prison Abolition?” by John Washington (Link)
Documentary: “13th” directed by Ava DuVernay (Link)
Book: Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Y. Davis (Link)
Book: Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur (Link)
Virtual Panel: “How to End the Police State” hosted by Verso Books
Virtual Teach-In: “Covid 19, Decarceration, and Abolition: An Evening with Ruth Wilson Gilmore” hosted by Haymarket Books (Link)

[1] Dred Scott v. John F. A. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857)

[2] Movement for Black Lives, Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform, available at: