In Defense of Black Bloc at NYC Protests

via AMW

On the Breonna Taylor March

On September 23rd, Breonna Taylor is dead; there is no justice. Another court upholds white supremacy, acquitting the murderers. Days earlier, a call had been circulated in New York City’s activism community for autonomous action at Barclays, emphasizing “No Good Cops, No Bad Protesters, No Megaphones, No Peace Police.” By 8, Barclays was flooded with activists, organizers, and allies numbering close to 1000.

While the language of “No Bad Protesters” and “No Peace police” is common amongst abolitionists, anti-fascists, and anarchists, many within the broader Black Lives Matter movement were shocked to see the Black Bloc. One protester accused the Black Bloc of being outside agitators and inciting violence. Another questioned why the Black Bloc insisted on thoroughly disguising their identity. In the most dramatic incident, one organizer confronted the Bloc while they were peacefully marching with the larger group. The organizer accused the Bloc of putting other protesters in harm’s way and threatened the Bloc with violence if they did not disperse. The threats of violence to the Bloc escalated as other protesters filmed members of the Bloc, producing evidence for the NYPD and the Federal Government that could be used in their ongoing assault on activists. When asked to stop filming, one protester began yelling at the Bloc, accusing them of being white agitators bringing negative media attention to the protest.

Overall, the crowd exhibited a widespread misunderstanding of what the Black Bloc is. Black Bloc is an organizing tactic in which activists dress in black to disguise their identity, avoid surveillance, and minimize the risk of police retaliation. Disguise allows the Black Bloc to de-arrest other protesters without fear of future retribution. While Black Bloc often attack corporate and government property, a broken window or a scorched precinct is nothing compared to the murder committed by the police and white supremacists. Protesters also failed to understand that members of the Bloc also grieve for Breonna Taylor and for the miscarriage of justice. Bloc members are protesters who have shown up at countless other protests and who feel that other tactics are necessary to achieve police and prison abolition.

Black Bloc is a tactic, not an organization. As activist Harsha Walia puts it, “tactics can be effective, they can be ineffective, but inherently they are neither,” so instead they must be evaluated “in specific contexts.” The accusations hurled at the Black Bloc during the march are worth confronting within the larger context of months of protesting since George Floyd’s murder. If we allow disagreements over tactics to divide us, we will not only fail ourselves, but those who are imprisoned and murdered by the state.

Where Have All the Anarchists Been?

Anarchists and anti-fascists have been organizers, allies, and accomplices throughout the George Floyd Uprising. The burning of the Third Precinct in Minneapolis, the bravery in fighting the Department of Homeland Security in Portland, and the removal of confederate statues are examples of autonomous actions in which anarchists and anti-fascists participated. In New York specifically, Black Bloc strategies were applied to keep protesters safe throughout the summer, including during the reactionary curfew, blue lives matter counter protest, Portland Solidarity march, and at Abolition Park. The use of the tactic effectively defended barricades from police attacks, physically protected other protesters, and de-arrested seized protesters.

On the ground, protesters raised four concerns about Black Bloc’s participation: 1) violence 2) risk to other protests of arrest or police violence 3) whiteness 4) negative media coverage. While these activists acted in bad faith by physically and verbally attacking the Bloc and placing protesters in danger by filming, these strategic questions should be considered in good faith as we collectively oppose white supremacy, policing, and prisons.

1. Violence: Critics claim Black Bloc incites violence through vandalism and property destruction.

This criticism can be separated into a question of why property damage is valid and whether it encourages other forms of violence against people. Black Bloc justifies property damage through attacking the connective tissue between white supremacy and capitalism. The Louisville Metro Police Foundation, a private entity raising money for the police department that murdered Breonna Taylor, has board members from Kroger, White Castle, KFC, GE Appliances and public sponsors from Wendy’s, PNC Bank, and the United Parcel Service (UPS). In attacking corporate targets, the Bloc stresses abolishing the police cannot happen without severing the influence of private corporations over our lives. While other activists may question the effectiveness of these tactic, destroying corporate property should never distract from the real violence inflected by police and prisons.

Why do likeminded anti-racist protesters focus on property damage over the injustices of police and prisons? When a fellow protester yells at the Black Bloc, they shift the march’s focus from the real violence enacted by the police. They do the work of conservative media and the police by focusing on so-called “bad protesters” instead of the repeated acts of violence carried out by the police. Since police violence is always a presence at New York protests, activists would be better served working with the bloc to prepare for inevitable violence from the police.

2. Arrests and police violence: Critics claim Black Bloc incites police violence and encourages arrests

The truth of the matter is the police put protesters in danger, not Black Bloc. What differentiate Black Bloc from more liberal strands of the movement is that Black Bloc acknowledges the violence of the police is always present at protests. From peaceful vigils to sit-ins, the police have been increasing their violent attacks on protesters over the last month.

When an activist critical of the Bloc worries about the risk of arrests, they confuse the victim of state violence for the perpetrator. They betray those engaged in the same struggle by accepting the police’s violent crackdown on activism. With the Trump administration’s escalating violent rhetoric against activists and ongoing violence committed by white supremacists, Black Bloc illustrates the need for collective anonymity for protesters to protect themselves. The federal government targets and encourages right-wing violence against activists. Black Bloc acknowledges the need for safety and privacy against these forces. Given the murder and disappearance of many activists involved in the Ferguson Uprising, such protections are essential for current activists.

3. Whiteness: Critics argue Black Bloc is white people coopting the struggle against police and prisons

To anarchists of color and indigenous anarchists, this is insulting. Many come from oppressed identities, joing Black Bloc because they are frustrated with lack of commitment to liberation amongst other organizers. While many within the Black Bloc are white people, there are contradictions concerning the role of white people in the movement. On the one hand, it is common to urge white people to take the front line at protests to protect black people. On the other hand, when white people take the front line through Black Bloc, they are criticized as coopting the movement. To square the two, Black Bloc should be considered another form of taking the front line, of putting one’s body on the line in the struggle against police and prisons, of accepting the state persecution that may follow.

At the same time, white Black Bloc participants must constantly be self-critical. Racism does infiltrate organizing spaces. Disagreeing over tactics should never escalate to racist attacks on other activists. White Black Bloc participants must turn the advantages accrued from being white against the white supremacist foundations of society. This demands abolishing whiteness within organizing spaces through building transformative justice processes, creating accountability, and stamping out racism in ourselves.

4. Media: Critics argue Black Bloc attracts bad media

At the march, this claim was made by someone filming the Black Bloc. Filming places Bloc members in legal and physical danger from the state. To those who film, know that your camera is a cop.

To those who are concerned with the media, it is worth being realistic. The mainstream media has largely ignored protests in NYC after June. They do not care about the violence the police commit beyond ratings. Right-wing media will demonize the protests regardless of the involvement of Black Bloc. Media coverage is not a means to liberation. In many ways, the media is an impediment, as they allow self-interested leaders to coopt the movement for their own advantage, such as with the #8CantWait campaign that distracted from more radical calls for police and prison abolition. The media is not concerned with presenting a vision of abolition. At the end of the day, the struggle is to build power within communities, to allow people to have control over their own lives, not to get favorable bylines.


As the president and armed white supremacists threaten protesters with violence, activists should not play into right-wing narratives by demonizing the Black Bloc. Instead, the question always concerns whether the usage of the tactic is appropriate to the context. Given the absence of meaningful justice for Breonna Taylor and the increasing police violence in New York City, Black Bloc is a tactical response to police repression, surveillance, and the need to strike against the supporters of white supremacy. Instead of rejecting the tactic outright, other activists should consider how to work with emerging Black Blocs to communicate security and intelligence needs and to truly shut shit down. Black Bloc is an embodiment of “No Justice, No Peace.”

Pressingly, activists should learn from the security culture cultivated by the Black Bloc, the way in which anonymity is prioritized in order to protect other activists from future state repression. While activists uncomfortable with Bloc assume its presence brings violence at protests, the reality is violence is ever present due to the continued existence of the police. The violence against Ferguson activists should force contemporary activists to consider security and privacy.

In the end, we are all involved in the same struggle against police, prisons, and white supremacy. The Black Bloc is another way in which we keep us safe.

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There are 27 Comments

I know Harsha. She's an important reference and organizer when it comes to Left activism in Canada. I also know the black bloc she's referring to... the one that appeared in Van back in '10, then did some wins during the Toronto G20. I know because I attended the very same demos they went to, hung out briefly with their leading figures, even slept with one, to my eventual dismay...

These people were anarchists as far as you consider maoists and other socialists to be anarchists. I believe Harsha's for real as far as above ground activists go, but let's just not confuse wine with beer.

Let's also not underestimate the reality of professional activists being paid fat checks for making volunteer protesters be their foot soldiers...

I think I follow you but I want to make sure I understand the last paragraph and the subject line. It seems you're saying that, while the "George Soros funded black bloc" is an exaggeration, it's not entirely a myth: the black bloc activists themselves don't get paid, but they are (probably unwitting) footsoldiers of professional activists who are paid, and who have deeply unanarchist politics. Yes?

They sometimes are... depends on the dynamics by which they engage in street protests. I know it'd be exaggerating to say that "black bloc are footsoldiers of professional socdem activists", but it's not completely untrue.

Over the years I've learned that the most important part in knowing other people is what are their motivations, where's their heart and mind at, what's driving them, and put their positions and opinions on the backseat. Anyways, these are cheap... while taking an actual stand on your own, that's demanding.

I was pretty close to those events as well. I'm not sure your reduction is useful or fair tho?

To suggest that mass mobilizations involve the broader left milieu of activists and that makes everyone their "footsoldiers", is a strange way to frame anarchist street activity. Like, there's was undercover cops in those blocs (verified infiltrators, not just alex jones talk here), there was completely clueless people, there was plenty who were around in the lead up and involved in the organizing, in conflict with other groups in the left milieu but still wanting the disruptions to happen because reasons ... this is just what mass mobilizations are: a pile of messy contradictions.

Put another way, why cede the high profile activists even more of the credit than they already get?

and I recognize you're saying it in a true but not true tone ... but even still.

this strikes me as one of those classic post-left bad faith critiques where everyone who does anything visible is somehow a fool or a puppet. the ghost of aragorn whispering strugglisssmooo ....

trying to argue with...

overall, the issue with street demonstrations is that they do give themselves into very easy manipulation, it is in a sense a de-facto battlefield. While i agree it's an exaggeration to say that black blocks are are puppets, where the puppeteers are these snobby socdems, people who participate in street demonstrations are often blind actors for trending causes.

and how is that conclusion a useful observation?

look, I'm always left wondering if the post left critique is saying "I do other things now because they're a better use of my time", which is obviously, their choice and fair enough and all that... or is this just snark directed at more combative anarchist praxis?

i don't mean any disrespect to you cuz I don't know anything about you but like, you realize this argument ends up awfully close to that lenin quote about "useful idiots", right? that's basically my concern here

clearly seeing problems with the inherent structure of street demos is useful on a couple of different levels...are there a golden set of points and facts that can direct anarchists on a better course of action? I overall dont have a problem with protests or riots but having done my share of the former i dont see them as being particularly useful. Its a shame that every single time people react rationally to an absurd society by rioting, its so quickly put down and condemned by society. Of course, rioting also i would think has a burn out effect that would keep them from really being a threat to the deeply established structures of power as well.

I'm suggesting to you that this isn't clarity at all. Quite the opposite!

To say - "useful idiots" or "footsoldiers" equals "the black bloc or riots sometimes or whatever" is so vague as to be completely fucking useless. So, rather than identifying a specific problem, we are in fact, only floating a narrative here, a remarkably disempowering one. A narrative frequently used by the detractors and enemies of combative autonomy, no less!

Now, this is definitely just my opinion but hey, you asked!

Are then street demos something that always need to be defended? I do think that understanding how people at demos can get used for some purpose other than a desire to fight what they originally intended to fight does clarify the said demos. Ideology and the manipulative designs of people are tricky business, are you implying that a narrative has to be perfect in order for it to be useful at all? Seems like you are arguing for the sake of arguing, i don't see why every time your bullshit detector goes a little haywire you have to go off on a tangent about how certain perspectives are "useless", useless or useful for what, for who? I don't really want to be useful unless were talking about people who i actually know or care about.

are you just losing the trail now? this thread was about specific events that I participated in and whether any of the public face activists could have been said to be influencing anything except perhaps some of the discussion afterwards, especially around the denunciations.

They fucking didn't have this influence. It just simply wasn't the case. We were not their "footsoldiers" and although I'm being polite about it, that's an outrageous claim.

So here I am, someone who knows the truth as much as could ever be possible, pushing back on what, to me, is a bizarre misrepresentation of the events I participated in and I'm floating my own theory about why: post left critique often gets bogged down in disempowerment.

My bullshit detector is working just fine friend ;)

the comments, they were talking about general activism...

"These people were anarchists as far as you consider maoists and other socialists to be anarchists. I believe Harsha's for real as far as above ground activists go, but let's just not confuse wine with beer.

Let's also not underestimate the reality of professional activists being paid fat checks for making volunteer protesters be their foot soldiers..."


"To suggest that mass mobilizations involve the broader left milieu of activists and that makes everyone their "footsoldiers", is a strange way to frame anarchist street activity. "

So no, nobody was attacking your precious demo, your BS detector was/is going a little haywire.

"They fucking didn't have this influence. It just simply wasn't the case. We were not their "footsoldiers" and although I'm being polite about it, that's an outrageous claim."

well said, don't know why you went off on these other tangents.

*sighs*....i known i don't do my civic duty of always reading the articles before i engage in people's lively conversations on here, but hey, the website is up. I can use it, i can also be argumentative as i've been told is part of my personality.

So .. you can't be bothered to scroll through the entire thread ... we've found the problem! ding ding ding!

You spent more time typing than reading ... *disappointed emoji*

or is than a different anon ... ffs @news. Sigh. These "tangents" are related imo

ok then. I'll try again, if you'll indulge me?

I'm not emotionally invested in this particular instance of getting my ass kicked by the piggies, it's pretty uninteresting overall, not to mention ancient history, so don't mistake this for that.

What I'm trying to get at instead, is these garden variety narratives of futility, where, for the sake of argument, we'll say anarchists from the US and Canada, frequently seem to confuse "we're really bad at fighting and organizing" for "street demos are dumb and I'm way too smart for that shit."

I have a lot of contempt for that confusion, you see. It's a bit too convenient. So that's all I'm really getting at here. Clear enough?

"Snobby post leftist" just because I don't want to participate, I also dont rely on anarchist narratives to make decisions, I mostly just rely on my own experiences. However, the anarchist analyses/narratives have helped me understand the world we live in better than many of "the words of the wise". In that regard, I see street demos overall as being extremely limited. A lot of the reason for this IMO is they typically occur in urban areas, which are designed for confinement and control by capital/authoritarians. Not to say that cities couldnt be different though...

sure but I'm not personalizing any of this, it's not aimed at you, how could it be? have no clue who you are or what you've done, etc.

however, the functions of a narrative in the wild, can be observed over time, shaping the discourse. that's what I've done here and I attribute at least some of this phenomena to post-leftism, having had dozens of discussions like this one.

it could even be a pendulum swinging, ya know? the post-left analysis, much of which I appreciate, has made its observations and slowly become a bit stagnant too, just like the left.

is the purpose of the post left critique, and the obvious pitfall is anarchists themselves being less of a threat to right wingers to a degree. However, im certain that leftist politics in the states are not in any way a formidable adversary concerning fascist praxis. I really wish the left here had more of a psychology geared towards pragmatism...but then again, i dont know how that hypothesis would play out. People get into politics because the spooky nature of it helps them feel more energized and gives their lives a little meaning.

well shit! That's exactly why I've been running off at the mouth about this crap all day. "psychology geared towards pragmatism" as you say, couldn't agree more! as in, that's why I don't like narratives of futility and overly critical reductions of complexity.

cuz the sad trombone just goes wah waaah. doesn't do anything else! just makes that damn sound over and over.

dont you think looking outward around you, at the world that doesn't give two shits about the stuff we talk about on here, a little disappointing (if not depressing)?

I don't spend much time staring out the window at the rain, no.

The reason why the post leftist analysis becomes stubborn is that it ignores the freedom of practice and thought, or cancels the co creation of readers, and only becomes an academic. Anti logos is not a traditional critical theory, but a practice. The so-called academy has a Platonism root, which is why we must oppose it. David Graber pretended to disagree with the Academy in order to defend its Platonic roots. The false anarchists planted everything on the post left to preserve their decadent millennial religion

"If we allow disagreements over tactics to divide us, we will not only fail ourselves, but those who are imprisoned and murdered by the state."

apparently some ppl on the east coast have some powerful liberal narratives to deal with

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