By Worker’s Voice/La Voz de l@s trabajadores
The recent Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who killed the black unarmed teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson Missouri months ago, sparked a wave of indignation and protests in Ferguson, across the country, and worldwide.
The spark and anger grew bigger and bigger as Daniel Pantaleo, a white police officer who killed Eric Garner, a black man, during a police arrest in New York City was also not indicted just a few days latter. Garner was choked to death during a police arrest while screaming “I can’t breathe” 11 times. The same happened to Sean Williams, the officer who killed John Crawford, a black man, inside a Wal-Mart store in Beavercreek, Ohio.
The main argument given to not indict the police officers was that their victims had either engaged in physical struggle with them or refused to obey commands, and that therefore, the officers were reasonably performing their duty when they killed their victims. Darren Wilson claimed he “felt like a baby in his arms” when allegedly struggling against Mike Brown. Witnesses claim the opposite, that Mike had his hands up. Unfortunately, two of these witnesses have been killed.
The message contained in the Jury’s decisions is clear: if a black person challenges a police officer’s authority, refuses to obey his orders, or even worse, engages in physical struggle with a police officer, he will shoot you, or brutalize you, and doing so, he will be considered to be doing nothing more than his job. He will have every right to do so, and will be protected by law. As Darren Wilson said: “I just did my job”.
This reasoning is already outrageous as it is, since police should have no right to brutalize or kill unarmed people under any circumstances. But it gets even worse, because it has been used for years and years, specifically, against black people, brown people, latin@s and immigrants from working class and poor communities. This is the true reason for the police brutality epidemic that took over the United States.
In other words: individual cases of police brutality do not happen randomly, by accident, or only because of “bad cops”. They have structural causes. They happen because the police, for social and political reasons, has become increasingly more violent and racist. Furthermore, these non-indictments will continue to encourage the creating hundreds of new Darren Wilsons.
The Police Brutality Epidemic
In 2013, there were 10,000 more arrest warrants given out in Ferguson than there were actual people living there. For a town of roughly 20,000, this meant on average that there were 1.5 arrest warrants out for every single person in Ferguson. The payment of court fees and fines, as a result of these warrants, allowed the local government to collect $2.6 million in revenue – making it the 2nd largest source of revenue for the city.
In New York City, where Eric Garner is from nearly 5 million people have been stopped by the police in a program known as Stop and Frisk since 2002. 9 out of 10 of these people who stopped are found to be innocent by the NYPD’s standards. Over half of the people stopped have been black people. And this is a city whose black population makes up roughly a quarter, 25%, of its total population. Therefore, roughly 2.5 million black people have been stopped and frisked by the police, in a city whose black population is about 2 million.
In 2014 alone, different police forces have killed Ezell Ford (South Los Angeles, CA), Eric Garner (Staten Island, New York), Yvette Smith (Bastrop County, TX) , Eleanor Bumpurs (NYC, New York), Aiyana Stanley-Jones (Detroit, Michigan), Jacorey Calhoun (Oakland, CA), John Crawford III (Beavercreek, Ohio), Dante Parker (Victorville, CA), Omar Abrego (South Los Angeles, CA) and Alex Nieto (San Francisco, CA). In most of these cases, murders generated a series of demonstrations at the time, but the murderer tended to be acquitted by the courts and not held accountable.
According to a report entitled “Operation Ghetto Storm”, by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement (an African Americans grassroots activist organization) “police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extrajudicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012. This means a black person was killed by a security officer every 28 hours.”
But the role of the police also goes beyond that. Every decision of the 1% (the ruling class), is enforced by the police. When the bankers come to foreclose on millions of homes, they send the police to enforce it. When financial elite, who profit off privatizing education, want to raise tuition, they send the police to enforce it. Ultimately, the police exists to maintain and strengthen social divisions through violence at the service of the ruling class.
A Racist, Justice System of the 1%
A lot of discussion has been raised regarding indictments. First off, an indictment is not the same as a conviction nor an assumption of guilt. An indictment simply means that there is plausible reason for someone to go on trial. So, the threshold for an indictment is relatively low. In fact, it is extremely rare for a Grand Jury to not indict someone. In 2010, out of roughly 162,000 Federal Grand Jury cases, only 11 cases resulted in no indictments. This means 99.99993% of all Federal Grand Jury cases in 2010 resulted in an indictment. It is more likely you’ll be struck by lightning in your lifetime (1 in 3000) or more likely you’ll be injured while mowing the lawn (1 in 3623) than to see a Federal Grand Jury give no indictments.
Yet, just in the past few weeks, we have already seen 4 non-indictments, 3 involving deaths at the hands of the police, and one involving 2 officers brutalizing a black woman. These non-indictments came despite the fact that 3 of these incidents were clearly caught on tape. In fact, in the Garner case, there was 1 indictment given out to the person who managed to capture the entire incident on film.
These Grand Jury decisions on Police Brutality cases are not isolated ones. They are the expressions of a legal system that allows, enforces, and justifies the crimes committed by law enforcement against oppressed and working class communities, as well as attacks against people’s rights. This very same legal system is responsible for the millions of deportations of undocumented immigrants; for the attacks against women’s reproductive rights; for the rulings against same sex marriage; and for the bailouts for the bankers and the wealthy during the recession. It is a justice system of a minority, the ruling class, against the majority of workers and oppressed sectors.
Obama Does not Rule for Black and Working People
Obama’s position since the Grand Jury’s decision has been to sharply criticize “violent protests”, but he has been mild towards the justice system and the police.
Right after the Grand Jury’s announcement of their decision, Obama made a speech urging people in Ferguson and across the country to discourage violent protests, the destruction of property, and looting. At the same time, Obama said that as president, he isn’t supposed to say if the Jury’s decision was right or wrong, or to try to influence the outcome of this kind of process.
In recent speeches regarding the police, and in meetings with Ferguson activists, Obama said he understands how black folks feel, but that changes won’t happen any time soon. Changes should be “incremental” and based on “rebuilding trust between police and community”.
This shows that the Obama administration won’t push for any significant change to fight racism and police brutality. In fact, during his administration, militarization and violence have escalated within police forces.
We should, on the other hand, demand that Obama makes radical changes in the justice system and police structure to stop impunity and police violence now!
For a National Conference against Racism and Police Brutality!
If there is a good thing that has come out of all these tragic episodes, is that people are losing their fear, and there is a growing movement of resistance being created on the streets everyday. Furthermore, a national debate on Racism and Police Brutality has been brought up by the protests.
The government and media have made a conscious effort to portray the ongoing protests as “violent”. They point to looting and burning buildings as signs that these demonstrations are nothing but pointless riots, and lack justification. The problem with this perspective is that it assumes that the form of a riot is devoid of political content or meaning. When people riot, they do not do it for no reason, nor do they do it simply because it seemed like a good idea. A riot represents an outrage that can only be articulated through violence against the current state of affairs, a state of affairs has no longer become tolerable. Faced with mass incarceration, constant police surveillance, and mass unemployment, it is easy to see why riots would break out.
But protests are starting to become more conscious, and are starting take actions that cause political and economic impact. In Oakland, demonstrators are blocking freeways, instead of only the traditional downtown “riot”. In Berkeley, they shut down Bart stations, the Amtrak railroad, and the freeway, with an unexpected sympathy from drivers. There is an ongoing discussion on peaceful versus violent protests. The same is happening in L.A and other major cities.
Initiatives like the ones made by NBA stars LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who were among the players wearing T-shirts that said “I can’t breathe” are very important, because they help broaden and strengthen the movement.
Now, it is Necessary to Coordinate Protests Nationally, so they can have a Common Message, Demands, Goals, and forms of Struggle
More importantly, the movement has to start formulating its own perspective on how to fight racism and police brutality. Otherwise, the Obama administration, the justice system and the police are going to have their hands free to implement whatever measures they want.
There is clearly a rising consciousness in regards to racism and police brutality due to the actions of a relative minority. Actions throughout the country are popping up with similar slogans and demands. The nature of these actions, however, has largely been spontaneous without much coordination. It is obvious that in order to strengthen this movement, that the movement will need to expand from its localities into a cohesive national movement with common demands, strategies, and tactics.
Therefore, organizing bases where discussion on politics, strategy, and tactics must be established in the communities. To give a clearer cohesion and direction to the movement., Workers’ Voice / La Voz de l@s Trabajadores encourages the idea of convening a National Conference against Racism and Police Brutality. With such a conference, we could establish a national network to coordinate strategy and actions nationwide and develop a program against racism and police brutality.
- Black lives matter! No more Racism!
- Stop all Police Brutality now! For the Demilitarization of Police!
- For a new Justice System elected and controlled by workers and their communities!
- For a National Conference against Racism and Police Brutality!
We Need a Socialist Perspective!
Although we must be involved in the struggle against the current state of affairs, we must also be able to fight for an alternative society. In the process of rebelling, the process of destroying the old society, we must also find ways to build the new.
Looking back on recent movements, from Occupy in the US, to the Arab Spring, and to many anti-austerity movements in Europe and Latin America, there has been a common political trend to rebel against the status quo, or even make revolutions, without simultaneously fighting for an alternative system. Workers and the people fight and rebel against how things are organized today, but are not able to simultaneously express, articulate, or fight for a new way to organize things.
If we want a society free of police brutality, of oppression, and of exploitation, then we need something besides capitalism. Because capitalism is a system designed to divide people in order to protect the interests of the wealthy. Rosa Luxemburg, a revolutionary Marxist woman from nearly a century ago, once famously stated that society “stands at the crossroads, either transition into socialism or regression into barbarism.” She wrote this quote in response to the mass slaughter that had become World War I.
Today, we face perhaps even graver problems. Police are not just killing people by the hundreds every year. We still engage in wars for profit. Millions die every year under conditions that could be easily rectified. We produce enough food to end world hunger, yet instead of distributing the food freely, which would hurt profits, it is more favorable, under the capitalist system, to destroy the food. There are more empty houses in the US than there are homeless people. And every day we inch closer to ecological catastrophe as climate change is exacerbated by a system based on endless production, endless expansion, and endless growth, all of which are impossible given the limited nature of resources at our disposal.
Clearly, an alternative is needed. We, from La Voz de l@s Trabajadores, believe that this alternative is to bring all those who fight against Capitalism and make revolutions – the working class & oppressed communities – to power, with the perspective of building a society with no oppression or exploitation, a socialist society.
California, December 11, 2014
Workers’ Voice / La Voz de l@s Trabajadores