Michael Isaacson, a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was suspended from their position following media attention over a tweet Isaacson wrote claiming it was “a privilege to teach future dead cops.” New York City’s largest police union, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, has called for Isaacson’s permanent firing. A self-identified anarcho-communist, Isaacson is a Ph.D. candidate in economics at the New School for Social Research. The Ticker interviewed Isaacson to find out more about the economist’s situation in the weeks following the publishing of the tweet and to try to understand their side of the story.
Samuel Liff: In your own words, do you advocate for violence?
Michael Isaacson: I advocate for trying to avoid it at all costs. This is something that I’ve been trying to get through to all the press that I’ve spoken to and no one seems to want to print it …
We can’t have private property without the imminent threat of the violence of the state to enforce it …
This focus on violence has brought out a lot of people that aren’t familiar with anti-fascist practices and … only really come out to punch Nazis, go home and, as a result, [they] don’t plan for medical bills or legal support, don’t think about the people around them and [don’t] have the situational awareness that you would need to make sure that you are actually acting in defense of the communities that you claim to support.
On your Patreon page, you claim: “I hunt Nazis. No not [sic] with a gun, but with my research skills.” What does that process look like?
My dissertation, which is still in the works … What I’m planning to do is … to get a whole bunch of Twitter data and map their social networks.
I have some of their financial data from their think tanks. I’m planning to use that in combination with political science data, economic data [and] various event-based data to come up with data-driven solutions both at the policy level, the corporate social responsibility level and for grassroots activists to see what sort of things make their networks break down.
Ultimately, fascism is an aberration from the present society. It’s an outgrowth of the values that we’re taught of competition as being the primary means of social interaction.
I can’t count the number of people who have been coming into my Twitter mentions to talk about human nature, survival of the fittest and the war of each against all, and that’s just simply not biologically how humans survived. This is pretty well-documented in biological literature.
How do you explain your political ideology?
For me, it boils down to “each of us can’t survive without all of us,” that the society that we have now that’s founded on domination fundamentally works against community.
I’m very much about building communities based on friendship, on solidarity, and I think that’s ultimately where anarcho-communism comes from: this idea of building horizontal, mutual relationships, founded on mutual aid, mutual support and mutual defense.
Why John Jay College of Criminal Justice?
John Jay is actually a really, really progressive place. The economics department there is super radical. To me, it makes sense. The student body there is really committed to social justice.
When I was first brought on, the faculty members told me that there had been for years a push on the part of the students and faculty to rename the school the John Jay College of Justice, to just drop “Criminal” altogether.
It just really embodies the ethos of the college in that they really do question this notion of criminality … I’ve never been in a place that I think I’ve enjoyed more than being at John Jay.
How do you justify the tweet that got you suspended?
I want to abolish policing as an institution. Policing is founded on the idea that we cannot fundamentally trust each other, that the only way we can resolve our conflicts with each other is by calling on a force of violence to resolve that for us.
I want my students to not be future dead cops. I want my students to be anything but a cop. I want my students to be social workers so that they can be trained to recognize domestic abuse situations before they escalate to a level of domestic violence and the police need to be brought in. I want my students to be firefighters … civil rights attorneys, defense lawyers. I want my students to be genuinely oriented to helping people without serving the interests of the prison industry and the weapons industry, without being backstopped to public budgets that are getting cut and having to fill in the gap with fines and fees and other forms of criminalization that ultimately, disproportionately, fall on the poor.
I think that my students, by and large, share those values. What I found is that my students are fiercely committed to social justice, even the ones that are planning to become cops.
If they want to change things from the inside, they can work with their unions to advocate for demilitarization so they don’t look like an invading army in the places that they serve.
They can advocate for decriminalization so they’re not a public enemy when they’re acting with people.
What’s your biggest challenge going forward?
It’s a battle for educators to have a public life … Which includes being able to have a political life. We shouldn’t have to hide our political inclinations. I think it does our students a disservice to do so, in fact.
I personally don’t want my students to think that I’m objective because I am by no means objective.
I want my students to know where I stand so they can view whatever I say through the lens of my anarchism and my anti-fascism and come to their own conclusions about the world based on the knowledge structures that surround them.
I’m fighting for educators in general to have the same public life that anybody else would have. I feel like that’s crucial for any sort of democratic society.
What’s your next step?
I’m not sure. I’m working with a lot of groups, I’m building my coalitions. I really want to support all of the educators who are facing the same sort of repression.
I’m fighting for a lot of things on this and I’m building what I think is a pretty sizable coalition as a result. Ultimately, I want to get my job back.
I love teaching at John Jay. I love the students there; they’re all brilliant, dedicated, passionate. They want to change the world and I want to help them … I think being in a classroom is the best way to do that.
This interview was edited for length.