Recently a spate of personal and political hardship (impending divorce, and a healthy dosage of state repression) pushed me from what Freud calls “ordinary everyday unhappiness” to the domain of the crippling neuroses. Despite having a dependable network of reliable friends and comrades, I judged myself to be a burden to those whom I love, and decided to face the heartbreak and uncertainty on my own. Part of this was informed by a juvenile attachment to the stoic philosophy of Aurelius, Epictetus, the hellenophile Nietzsche, and co., according to which external phenomena must wash over one’s visage like waves breaking on a steadfast cliffside. Of course this metaphor, often evoked among in stoic literature, has no place for erosion. And facing down constant nervous exhaustion gives lie to the parable that what doesn’t kill one only makes one stronger; to the contrary, what didn’t kill me left me thoroughly fucked up.
I found myself sobbing uncontrollably, walking the streets with no destination, sometimes for hours at a time, even in torrential rain. Once indoors and alone I would be seized by pains in my stomach and chest inducing shortness of breath and mortal panic. I would summon to mind at once dozens of failures and shortcomings, competing with one another for primacy before becoming at last a deafening cacophonic chorus. I would picture my partner with her new lover and be overcome with grief and rage. The center of my chest became a wellspring of the most intense surges of self-destructive energy I have ever encountered with or without the aid of illicit drugs, and at times I would punch myself hard directly in the head or dig my fingernails into my hands to dull the unbearable onslaught of these hostile emotions.
Not incidentally, I have battled substance abuse for my entire adult life. I have dulled my influx of nervous energy — overflowing whatever scant outlets are available in our society for politically conscious and otherwise creative and romantic people — with booze, downers, uppers, hallucinogens, and the like, since I was old enough to get my hands on these things. Sadly enough it was during times of prolonged substance dependency that I felt myself to truly have a place in the world, as an addict. I woke up with a mission and I fucking succeeded. And being under the influence was the only time I could quiet down my mind sufficient to look at my life with detachment, admit its positive qualities, and like myself. Otherwise I was awash in self-doubt, self-hatred, and associated expressions of nastiness and hostility that continue to derail my adult relationships to this day.
The following is a short piece by Florence Johnston Collective, who have been participating in the anti-police activity here in New York following the acquittals of Darren Wilson and Daniel Panteleo.
“This Stops Today”
Since August of this year (2014), people in Ferguson, Missouri have been in the streets, experimenting with a wide variety of resistance against police violence, spurred by the murder of 18 year old Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. A little over two weeks ago, Darren Wilson was acquitted through a secretive Grand Jury trial of the murder, and last week another police officer, Daniel Panteleo, was similarly acquitted following his murder of Staten Island resident Eric Garner.
For the past two weeks, thousands of people all over the country have engaged in some of the most militant protests this country has seen in decades. In cities where the norm is for protests to be per-approved by the police and for marches to stay on the sidewalk, protestors are taking over and shutting down major highways and bridges. In situations where six months ago people may have been frightened or scattered by the police, they are fighting back, using the cops’ tools of violence against them–throwing back barricades and tear gas canisters, and forcefully releasing their fellow protesters from arrest and incarceration.
At least one New York City march last week began with a reading of Garner’s last words. Before gasping “I can’t breathe” eleven horrific times before Panteleo and his fellow officer made sure Mr. Garner would never breathe again, he said this:
“Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today. Why would you…? Everyone standing here will tell you I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing. Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me (garbled) Selling cigarettes. I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. please please, don’t touch me. Do not touch me.”
What these words reveal, beyond the complete disregard of human life by the police, is the history of harassment Garner faced as someone allegedly involved in the informal economy (the police were supposedly harassing him for selling loose cigarettes, although he was not arrested nor charged), living in a mostly black and working class neighborhood. What they also reveal is that despite the threat of state violence, Garner took a stand against this abuse.