Chris Manor of Utah Against Police Brutality 

Educating citizens about their rights during police encounters

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  • Chris Manor

Chris Manor is an organizer with the activist group Utah Against Police Brutality (Facebook.com/UtahAgainstPolicyBrutality), which began with street-level protests in response to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Utah residents Dillon Taylor and Darrien Hunt. Currently organizing a cop watch (legal recording of police activity by community members), UAPB also educates citizens about their rights during police encounters—what they should and shouldn't say to officers—and the legal leeway the police have in investigating citizens. Manor also works as a IATSE Local 99 stagehand and writes for Fight Back! News, a Minneapolis-based publication.

Who are your biggest ideological influences?
I read the classics like Marx and Lenin, as well as more contemporary philosophers like Alain Badiou. However, as far as influence goes, it's the things that happen in the community that get my attention. While I can interpret events through a particular ideological lens, it's the people I meet who are struggling on a day to day basis with injustice that motivates me. Ideology is only the story we tell ourselves. What counts and matters most is how our actions change the world around us according to our ideas of justice.

Isn't a red state like Utah a difficult place to be a socialist?
Utah being a red state doesn't mean the entire population is dedicated to conservative politics. Furthermore I don't think the dichotomy between red and blue, i.e. liberal democrat and conservative republican is at all interesting politically. Politics happens when communities decide what issues matter to them, be it immigration, LGBTQ rights, worker's rights, and through collective action they strive to improve the conditions of their lives. You'll notice that the Black Lives Matter movement didn't start from the premise of electoral politics or parties. They started in the streets. Now you have some politicians pandering for votes by appropriating the slogan.

As far as being a socialist in Utah, there are still labor struggles here, there are still unions. People are still homeless and living in poverty. The conservative attitude only acts as a justification for those with the privilege to get by. Utah, and the southwestern portion of America, has only occupied this territory for some 150 years. Before, it was Mexico. When you look at America as class struggles, as occupied territories with oppressed nations struggling for self-determination it really broadens your understanding of politics beyond elections cycles.

Utah's earliest European immigrants lived in a communitarian society, albeit a theocratic one. Do you think there might still be cultural room for communitarian political ideology in Utah?
I think that's the issue with Utah. The conservative nature of politics is already found in a communitarian form. Bishops can provide measures of welfare and relief to members struggling to get by. The church undertakes humanitarian efforts. The organization of everyday life through the Mormon church, (I speak here as a non-member, never having been one) is socially orientated as opposed to strictly individual. The problem is that its found on incredibly exclusionary principles and practices. There's no room for differences and those who question the long standing practices and policies don't usually stick with the church or find themselves excommunicated. Will the church ever move past its patriarchal foundations? Who knows?

What policy changes could radically reduce police brutality?
Police Brutality is a social problem as well as a systematic one. What does this mean? It means that we will require a social solution to the problem. People will have to organize and take collective actions to bring about change. Furthermore, the system will always defend the actions of law enforcement. We need to change the framework which allows an officer to get away with a shooting. A police officer currently has the ability to use deadly force based on what they "reasonably believe" is happening in the heat of the moment. I don't know about you, but "reasonable belief" is way to loose a term to allow for the use of deadly force. Police only have to use that magic little phrase, "I feared for my life" and they can shoot with impunity without facing so much as a jury trial.

Without changing how officers are permitted to use deadly force against the community they presumably serve and protect, issues such as body cameras aren't going to be able to do what we want. Dillon Taylor's shooting was caught on body camera and DA Sim Gill used the letter of the law to justify the shooting. If the officer could only shoot in direct response to an existing threat, not a mere belief, many officers would be facing charges.

How can Utahns—regardless of political affiliation—battle police violence?
The issues impact all members of the community. The goal of course is to unite as many people around collective actions. It's like I said about ideology, ideology is an imaginary fiction we use to attach meaning to our actions. Whether you're a libertarian who tells themselves that they are fighting the police state from destroying civil liberties or you're telling yourself that you're a Chicanx in occupied Aztlán fighting against a racist criminal justice system, the real question to ask oneself is how are your actions changing reality?

People in Utah can get involved with groups like UAPB or start their own group. I always make a distinction between groups and the movement. I think the movement is made up of different groups, where each group will focus on something different and use different methods of work to accomplish their goals. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X are a good example of this. They both existed as contemporaries, espoused different views, worked together when they had common goals, separate when they disagreed. The lesson to draw is not everybody has to work on the same thing or work in the same way. From my experience with organizing and activism, the movement is an ongoing process that people respond to. The lessons we draw from our different experiences are what determine whether or not we are right or wrong in what we do, not the most pure ideological stance one takes.

What projects is UAPB is currently focusing on?
Utah Against Police Brutality has started organizing a cop watch. The idea behind cop watch is that anybody from the community can take it upon themselves to record police encounters. People at the UAPB meeting decided they wanted to organize this and we will be going out in groups to monitor the police. At the same time, we're going to teach people what their rights are in a police encounter, what they should say and shouldn't say to police officers. Any person in a police encounter should only say "Am I being detained or am I free to go?" Cops have a job to do when they interact with the public, which includes investigating. They can and will use everything you say against you as evidence. They are allowed to lie to you and use information they get based on lying.

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