|Written by La Voz de los Trabajadores|
|Monday, 03 October 2011 04:16|
|From protests sparked by the killings of Charles Hill, Kelly Thomas, and Kenneth Harding by California police to the alarming numbers in Chicago: 43 shot, 16 killed by police there. From the convictions of several New Orleans officers for the Danzinger Bridge murders and cover-up to the London riots. And sadly, to this list, we can now add the tragic and sickly execution of Troy Davis, a black man, by the racist state of Georgia for a crime that the whole world knows he did not commit. Nowadays, it seems that every time we turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, or log onto the Internet, we learn of a different story of police brutality.
The frequency of such stories is a story all its own. For one, it flies in the face of the popular notion that there are just a few bad apples out there; that bad cops are few and far between. To the contrary, cops engage in violent criminal acts all the time and such actions frequently lead to unwarranted deaths. Beyond the stories reported in the media, we could look at available statistics regarding police brutality such as the recent report by the National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP) which found that in 2010 in the U.S., 247 people died at the hands of “police misconduct.” And such cases of police violence and murder are occurring all over the country.
This is because police brutality is intrinsically connected to other social problems, namely poverty and racism. People in poor communities throughout the United States face impoverished lives in which there are scarce economic and educational opportunities available. Due to the inherently racist nature of the American capitalist system, the poorest communities are most often the ones that blacks and Latinos call home. Therefore, it is natural and should be expected that crime rates in such communities are sky high. Lacking opportunities, many poor people perceive that engaging in criminal activities (i.e. robberies, drug trafficking, etc.) is their only way of survival. The capitalist system which dictates the workings of our society is unable to give everyone jobs and opportunities to effectively root out and prevent crime. Instead, the media and the bourgeoisie portray poor people of color as inherent “thugs” and “criminals,” and racist police, who almost never reside in the places they patrol, are sent in to such communities to deal with the people and often do so by means of violence and extermination. Furthermore, the police use the public’s concern with crime as an excuse to brutalize and harass individuals in minority communities regardless of if they have committed crimes or not. As Kenneth Harding’s mother told the San Francisco Bayview, “They look at us like we don’t matter and treat it as ‘who cares if they die? It’s just one less person to deal with.’”
Kenneth Harding was killed by San Francisco police for being so poor that he could not pay his bus fare. In Orange County, Kelly Thomas, a homeless and mentally-ill man, was beaten to death by police because they suspected that he was burglarizing people’s cars. In Chicago, where blacks account for 83% of the victims in the police shooting spree, black unemployment is a staggering 21% and 1 out of every 3 black Chicagoans lives in poverty. Had these victims not had to deal with problems of poverty, homelessness, and unemployment, it is likely that they would not have been involved in violent engagements with police and that they all would be alive and healthy. However, the U.S. government, as evidenced by the continued budget cuts to education and social services and programs, has no intention to better the lives of the poor and the oppressed. Such a task is a task of the people.
We must build a national movement against police brutality. Too often struggles that erupt in response to police brutality are geographically confined to one city or small region. For example, in 1992, the Rodney King riots stayed in California and in 2009, the protests and riots in the wake of Oscar Grant’s murder by Oakland police did not expand beyond Oakland. As the countless stories of police violence and murder in communities across the nation demonstrate, the problem of police brutality is not a local issue. Therefore, those struggling against police violence in their communities should unite with others doing the same in other parts of the country.
This is the key to increasing our forces and multiplying our power. Imagine how much stronger the movement demanding justice for Oscar Grant would have been, had there been uprisings in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, etc. instead of just Oakland. Our movement could have went much further if it expanded beyond disgruntled youth (justifiably) smashing windows in Oakland and turned into youth shutting down high schools, colleges, and universities across the country and workers doing the same in their factories and workplaces on a national scale. The current struggle that continues against the murderous BART police would be stronger if we were able to enlist the active support of our brothers and sisters struggling against police brutality where they reside.
Concretely, this would mean reaching out to activists and organizations fighting against police violence in places like Orange County, Chicago, New Orleans, etc., learning of their struggles and informing them of ours. To facilitate this process, La Voz encourages the idea of holding a national conference against police brutality. With such a conference, we could establish a national network that could distribute information about incidences of police brutality and coordinate strategy and actions against such episodes. For example, our movement in the Bay Area would have a stage to promote the practice of civilian surveillance of the police with cell phones and cameras, a tactic which was crucial to educating and mobilizing the public after Oscar Grant’s murder by BART police and continues to be used in other cases today. The right to film the police is under attack in several states and we must defend and exercise this right on a national scale.
Such a national movement against police brutality must also demand economic remedies to eliminate the root of criminal activity, which the police use to justify their racist and cowardly attacks on our communities. La Voz agrees with Tracy Siska, the executive director of the Chicago Justice Project, who told Colorlines that “the police department isn’t the answer,” and that instead, we should be “finding ways to fund real livable wage jobs in communities where this type of violence is prevalent.” La Voz demands full employment with fair wages and a free, quality education for all, as well as more public funds dedicated to social services that the poor rely on, such as food stamps and childcare. This is the real solution to the problem of crime in our communities, not the racist police who are criminals themselves.