Black lives matter! The struggle against police murders, brutality and abuse

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Editor's note, June 22, 2015. We are reposting the article below, which originally appeared almost 4 months ago. As the author has stated, "The chant 'Black Lives Mtter' could have been quoted in Selma.... So stop the slaughter and end the repression. Let's make this a better nation and world." The piece is now available in pamphlet form from the Communist Party USA, 235 West 23rd Street, 7th floor, New York, NY 10011.

Where we have come from

Government policy of racist oppression and brutality goes back before capitalism, but with capitalism came modern American slavery.

Our history as a nation shows capitalism and slavery are an especially toxic mix. It has taken tens of millions of lives over centuries.

Turning human beings into commodities to be bought and sold, with no rights and basically worked to death meant a level of viciousness, brutality, and suffering that humanity had not before experienced. Maintaining this system required a long reign of terror to try to prevent people from pursuing freedom. The system of chattel slavery was defeated but racism and racial oppression remains a cornerstone of capitalist rule in our country up to today. After the defeat of the old Jim Crow (U. S. apartheid) in the 1960's, new forms of Jim Crow were created.  The majority of African Americans remained segregated and unequal in most vital areas of life.

Jim Crow extended the reign of terror to keep millions of African Americans and other people of color trapped in poverty, ill‐housed, ill‐fed, poorly educated, brutalized by the police and incarcerated at the highest rates in the world. All of this was not possible without systemic, structural racism, including a policy of racial exclusion, to make it to work. Racial profiling in law enforcement and in private and public employment has a central place in a system of oppression that penalizes people of color with double and triple unemployment rates, poverty rates and incarceration rates that far exceed any other racial group.

To hold Black folks in deep poverty and oppression, to keep the people-‐especially working class people‐-racially divided and antagonistic remains a basic part of U.S. capitalist rule.  It is a central and strategic reason why the ruling 1% can maintain their power and their privilege. Most African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Asian and Pacific peoples who find themselves and their families trapped in a super exploited, racially oppressed crisis state of existence are there not because they are inferior or lack initiative and discipline, or because they are lazy and unintelligent, criminal, violent or childlike. It is the system of racial oppression and terror that's primarily responsible and that is what must be challenged.  That should be the historic mission of all people of good will who want a democratic and humane society with economic and social equality and justice for all.

The same thing applies to the plight of most working people, living paycheck to paycheck and seeing what they thought was the American dream for them and their children disappearing in the daily struggle. The majority of working people are finding the American dream unreachable.

The struggle must and will continue

Since the 1980's when Reagan was elected, with the "New Right" neo liberal ideology and trickle down Reaganomics, things have taken an even more ominous turn. The impact of the structural crisis of U.S. Capitalism meant massive numbers of hard working people, often long term union members, became the long‐term unemployed and underemployed. With the massive cuts in Government social programs accompanied by new repressive "anti drug" laws came severe brutalization by police, and entrapment reached new heights.  Communities of color were basically under siege. Millions were criminalized. The drugs did bring more violence and killing, but who brought in the drugs and the guns? And with anti‐crime racist hysteria, police state methods were imposed. With "three strikes" and higher penalties for crack vs. powder cocaine, the prison population more than tripled. Many lives were lost. Many lives were ruined.

What some like to call, "The Land of the Free," now incarcerates more people than any country in the world. Today an astounding 70 million people in our country have criminal records. This racist, inhumane policy along with war spending was funded with trillions that could have been used to build decent housing and schools and to create good jobs but instead was used to incarcerate millions. All of this horror was rationalized by promoting racist hysteria about crime.  As Michelle Alexander points out in her seminal work The New Jim Crow, being a Black man became synonymous with being a criminal. Fictitious figures like Reagan's Black "Welfare Queen" in Chicago, who supposedly picked up her welfare check in her Cadillac, became his argument for the repeal of welfare.

When Bush Sr. ran for president he used the case of convicted rapist Willie Horton, a Black man who was released on parole when Dukakis was Governor of Massachusetts and committed another crime, to defeat his more liberal opponent. The case was then used to advocate mandatory sentencing. Playing the race card is how both Reagan and Bush Sr. were elected President. While ignoring the deep and growing economic and social problems facing millions of people of color in hundreds of communities across the country, they criminalized the poor and rationalized cutting funds for education and vastly expanding prisons.  Prisons are the largest government‐housing programs in the US today.

The struggle continues

Since the brutal police choke hold murder of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., a broad grass roots nationwide anti‐racist movement has come on the scene calling for justice for all victims of police misconduct and murders, especially of unarmed people of color. They are demanding democratic reform starting with an end to racial profiling, holding police accountable when they violate the law and halting and rolling back the militarization of local police forces. The people are demanding better training in race relations and in avoiding the use of deadly force. "Hands Up/ Don't Shoot" became the rallying cry across the country to dramatize Mike Brown's unarmed posture before he was shot and killed.

"Black Lives Matter" is basically a call for an end to racial profiling and for the police to respect the lives and rights of all people. It is part of the demand to put the focus on poverty and the real causes of crime rather than continuing to build more prisons and hiring more police.The main victims of policies that promote incarceration are Black and Latino young men. Even if they survive the streets and prison, their lives and families are damaged. They are denied the right to vote and since most employers won't hire them, they face a lifetime of unemployment, underemployment and poverty.

Demonstrators are calling for special prosecutors to try cases of police murders of unarmed people, especially when district attorneys, whose first allegiance is to the police, fail to do so. When local district attorneys fail to bring police officers to trial for the murders of unarmed people of color, as in the deaths of both Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the federal government must step in and use the existing federal civil rights laws to bring justice to the victims and their families.

A new movement

The development of this nationwide movement, mainly initiated by African American youth in Ferguson, has activated large numbers of people of all races, nationalities and ages. Like the Occupy movement and the Justice for Trayvon Martin movement, they marched at night for weeks. This tactic spread across the country. The core constituency is youth; black, brown and white coming from the ghettos, barrios, the high schools and college campuses but it is attracting people from all walks of life.

In Ferguson the local police used military level weapons to disperse the unarmed demonstrators.  Yet every night for weeks these courageous mainly African American youth kept on marching.  There was a national outcry and solidarity marches across the country against the killing of Mike Brown and the use of military weapons and brutality against demonstrators. The state and federal governments were forced to speak out. The courage and fighting capacity of our youth, Black, Brown and White, gives the lie to talk about apathetic youth and shows that the younger generation is political and progressive.

Despite irrefutable video evidence in Staten Island and a huge public outcry, including statements from Attorney General Holder and President Obama, the district attorneys in both the Brown and Garner cases manipulated their grand juries to avoid indictment of police. George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin, had a trial that was widely considered a sham.  But in the case of policemen Darren Wilson (Ferguson) and Daniel Pantaleo (Staten Island) they were not even broughtr to trial and got away with murder. In response, nation‐wide marches grew larger and more militant. The families of the victims called for peaceful demonstrations and for the most part, despite police provocations and misleading media images, protests across the country remain overwhelmingly peaceful.

Black lives matter!  The New York City story

In New York City thousands of demonstrators hit the streets night after night for many weeks, blocking and slowing traffic including on main highways. These actions reminded me of the level of mass protest at the height of the civil rights/anti Vietnam War struggle in the 1960s and 1970s. Mayor Di Blasio supported the right of demonstrators to protest peacefully, including the right to carry out acts of civil disobedience. There were some incidents and arrests, but for the most part the NYPD, under orders from the Mayor, were restrained.

This movement for democratic change is broad and is uniting people of differing political views. Every action taken, every experience, if history is any judge, is helping to end racism and raise political consciousness. Many of the newly activated are not just looking at the racist policies of NYPD and other police forces and public officials, but are also looking at structural racism on all levels of society.  Growing numbers see inequality as systemically tied to the capitalist system. Millions of people of good will from communities, campuses, churches, mosques, temples and unions from all walks of life, all across the country were disappointed and angered that neither of the white policemen involved in the killing of Garner and Brown have been indicted and brought to trail. That included professional athletes and well known figures in the mass media. Basketball players warmed up in "I Can't Breathe" t‐shirts to commemorate the last words of Eric Garner as he died in Daniel Pantaleo's illegal chokehold. They understood that this was justice denied and the struggle must continue.

In reaction to the nationwide movement, the extreme right politicians, media, police and police association officials launched an aggressive racist defense of the accused officers and their brutal attacks against the demonstrators. That reaction showed that the demonstrations were having a major impact on public opinion.

Another tragic turn

Then there was another tragic turn in events in New York City. Two NYPD officers were shot dead while sitting in their patrol car in the Bedford Stuyvesant community of Brooklyn.  Officers Wenjian Liu, Chinese and Rafael Ramos, Puerto Rican, were shot by a mentally ill black man in the middle of New York's largest Black neighborhood.  This tragedy gave a green light to the most right wing, racist opponents of democratization of the NYPD.  And they, no doubt thinking they would now have the public on their side, stepped‐up their attacks, placing the blame on the mayor and the movement for police reform.

Right Wing offensive in defense of racism

In the face of video evidence to the contrary, the Republican ultra right continues to push the racist assumption that African Americans are basically criminals, that the police are not racist and are basically doing their job "protecting us".  They argue African Americans are using the race issue to get away with criminality, and they purport that civil rights leaders are all opportunists. National Republican figures like real estate billionaire Donald Trump and Rudolf Giuliani, who have been opportunists all their lives, continue the race baiting and bigotry that has become the stock and trade of the GOP. Former New York City Mayor Giuliani, who was among the worst defenders of racism, argues that Black leaders should be demonstrating in their own communities against black on black crime and not against police murders. On Meet The Press (NBC 12/23/14) in a debate between African American Georgetown professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Giuliani, the former two‐term mayor of NYC charged that, " White policemen wouldn't be there [in the black communities] if you weren't killing each other." He went on to proclaim, "A Black child that was killed by another Black child, why aren't you protesting that? Ninety‐three percent of blacks are killed by other blacks."

Dyson was ready with a response: "First of all, most black people who commit crimes against other black people go to jail; number two, they are not sworn by the police department as an agent of the state to uphold the law. So in both cases, that's a false equivalency that the mayor [Giuliani] has drawn. ... Black people who kill black people go to jail. White people who are policemen who kill black people do not go to jail." Giuliani, in his 'blame the victim' racist frenzy, is obviously ignoring the fact that thousands of African Americans and Latinos who are concerned about the level of crime in their communities are also marching. But those marchers are not calling for more police brutality and murders of unarmed black men, women and children; they are calling for unity and peace. Giuliani continues the deep racist mentality that he displayed as mayor of NYC. The twice‐defeated Republican presidential contender has a long history of open racism. Just look at his speeches against Obama at the GOP National Conventions and again today as he attacks the president for his declaration that the U.S. is not at war with Islamic world. Giuliani is short on political positions but full of arrogant, racist and personal insults.

According to U.S. Justice Department statistics, 84% of white people killed each year are killed by other whites. I think all crime and killing should be condemned. So why are white‐on‐white killings not singled out to be equally condemned? More white people kill white people than Black people kill Black people. This pattern of same‐race homicide is a result of the segregated society in which we live rather than any particular race being more inclined to homicidal behavior, as Gulliani suggests. Secondly, every study of the real life conditions in low income communities of all races shows that the key to lowering the crime rate is reducing poverty. But when police are insulting and harassing people for just "walking while black" they are creating hostility, terror, and hatred against the police who they consider part of the problem and not the solution.

And does job discrimination in private and public employment create tensions and resentment, too?  Indeed it does. The key to lowering crime is not to brutalize and terrorize people, it is to create jobs and build decent schools and affordable housing, healthcare for all. The summer jobs for youth have all but disappeared. But there is room in the prisons for young victims of poverty who end up committing or accused of committing a crime. So many doors of opportunity and economic survival have been closed since Reagan. African American and other low‐income communities have suffered as a result. In the face of long term economic crisis, is there any wonder that crime rates in those communities will go up?   It's about economic oppression. It's about putting profits before people.

Patrick Lynch, voice of racism

Patrick Lynch, the head of the NY Patrolmen's Benevolent Association has become another loud voice for racism. There are over 35,000 members of the New York Police Department, (NYPD) and 23,000 belong to the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA). Lynch launched a hate campaign against Mayor Di Blasio. He called on his members to sign a pledge saying that if they are killed in the line of duty they don't want the mayor to speak at their funeral. Throughout the whole Garner struggle for justice Lynch has been a loud voice defending the accused officers even in the face of video evidence.

Lynch attacked the people marching for justice.  Reverend Al Sharpton, and anyone who has spoken out for justice, is under attack. He actually claimed that Officer Pantaleo did not use a chokehold, causing Eric Garner's sister to wonder whether Lynch and company had seen the same video everybody else saw. Former Mayor Giuliani blamed Garner's death on Garner because "he was overweight".  Besides, he said in one TV interview, that this was not racism because among the cops on the scene was one African American woman cop and she did not speak out against what was going on. Most, if not all, of these ridiculous statements were made after the medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide. Lynch organized police to turn their backs on the mayor whenever he spoke at the funerals of the two slain officers. There were pockets of protest at both funerals of Lui and Rivera and at the Police Academy commencement ceremony for new officers at Madison Square Garden; the Patrolman's Benevolent Association (PBA) was able to organize back--turning protest. They even organized a slow‐down in issuing tickets and making arrests all over the city. They hoped this tragedy would turn the public against the liberal mayor Di Blasio and the movement against police murders of unarmed people of color. Their aim was to cost the city millions in ticket revenue and create chaos on the streets; in fact, the police slow down had no impact on the city's crime rate.

The mayor spoke at both funerals and personally visited the families in their homes. The families were receptive to the mayor and called for peace on the streets and between the Mayor and the PBA. The Mayor also asked that the demonstrations stop until after the funerals. The numbers were diminished but people continued to demonstrate. Thousands of police traveled all across the country to attend the funerals.  In other cities police protested against what they said were demonstrations against police officers who where doing a very dangerous job. They protested that police officers should be appreciated, not condemned for the work they do.

The murder of the two police officers created a problem for the movement. Most movement leaders spoke out and expressed sympathy to the families and said that they were not against cops but were against police misconduct. They insisted that the movement will go on.The first step for the movement was to establish that they were not against police per se but against racism. There was no clear connection between Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the mentally ill killer, and the movement. Brinsley's family insisted that he belonged to no movement, and that they had sought help for his mental illness since childhood. After he shot the patrolmen, he ran into the subway station and shot and killed himself. Earlier that day he had shot his girl friend in Maryland. His mother said she was afraid of him and had also tried unsuccessfully to get him help. This suicidal young man, it appears, was not motivated by any political group or movement. His actions were the actions of a person who is in desperate need of mental health intervention and it's not available to them. This is a huge problem for many families.

Basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Time Magazine 12/24/14) in an article entitled "The Police Aren't Under Attack, Institutionalized Racism Is" got it right. Coming from a family of police officers, both his father and grandfather were on the force, he called the deaths of the two officers a "national tragedy". He went on to write, "We need to understand that their recent deaths are in no way related to the massive protest against systemic abuses of the justice system as symbolized by the recent of deaths‐‐ also national tragedies-of Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, and Michael Brown."..."The killer wasn't an impassioned activist expressing a political frustration, argues Jabbar, "He was a troubled man...." The Amsterdam News, New York City's largest African American weekly newspaper displayed this headline in the wake of the killing of the two police officers, "City in Crisis, Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter".

A dangerous turn

 Patrick Lynch blamed the ambush killing of the two police officers on the Mayor, proclaiming, "There is blood on the steps of City Hall." The overt and covert racism of PBA head Lynch, Rudy Giuliani and former Republican Governor George Pataki as well as the commentators on Fox Network, was a major attempt to isolate and politically defeat the movement and Mayor Di Blasio. All three are part of a right wing Republican attempt to pushback against the rise of anti‐ racism. This was a new and more dangerous turn in the whole struggle. The extreme right wing politically represents the interest of the most reactionary section of the 1%. Lynch's demand was that the Mayor must apologize for calling for reforms in police training and for supporting the right to peacefully protest. When the mayor shared publically that he and his wife spoke to his African American son about being careful with police officers, it enraged Lynch. Calling for calm after the officer in the Garner case was not indicted, Di Blasio showed some skepticism like a lot of New Yorkers, on the grand jury's failure to indict. Lynch and his PBA responded by launching a campaign calling for Di Blasio to resign.

History of NYPD rebellions

This situation of police rebellion against the elected mayor over charges of police racism, brutality and killing of unarmed people of color has happened before. It happened under John Lindsey, Abe Beam, Ed Koch and David Dinkins. The police were able to mobilize public opinion on behalf of the accused officers and they won. That was New York then. Ten thousand cops demonstrated against Dinkins, the city's first black mayor, in September of 1992 and Rudy Giuliani used the heightened racism and anti‐crime hysteria to defeat Dinkins' bid for reelection.

Was this going to happen again with liberal Democratic Mayor Di Blasio with his biracial family and activist background? It may yet happen, but at this writing Lynch and the PBA are not winning the hearts and minds of New Yorkers to the same level as happened 23 years ago.

After all is said and done, it's clear that Lynch is basically defending the 'right' of the police department to practice the most repressive policies and practices. Policies like 'Stop and Frisk', which focused primarily on communities of color, brought out the most violent and bigoted behavior on the part of the police who had monthly arrest quotas from the higher ups.  Communities were virtually under Marshall Law. A reign of terror was directed at young men of color living in poor communities. Is the NYPD enforcing the law or do they think they are above the law? Like former mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, does Lynch believe that people are more violent and criminal because they are non‐white?

The fact is that after "Stop and Frisk" was rolled back, violent crime in the city went down substantially according to the (NY Times Sept. 19, 2014).  The poorest neighborhoods with the highest unemployment and poorest housing and schools in the five boroughs are the areas where millions were stopped and frisked and targeted over the years. It has been reported that the officers did have and may still have arrest quotas that they had to fulfill. Were the police preventing crime, or creating arrests and chaos in communities of color?

Defending the indefensible

What is Lynch, and those like him, defending? Committing acts of racial terror, harassment, beatings and murders of unarmed people of color in the name of law and order cannot and should not be tolerated.

No one who believes in democracy could possibly accept that people of color who live in poor communities should be the target of repressive and violent police policies. But that is the low threshold of legal and moral behavior of the head of the PBA. People who think like Lynch, Giuliani, and a majority of the Congress and the US Supreme Court for too long have been demonizing, entrapping and criminalizing poor folks and especially African Americans. The right to peacefully protest and assemble and dissent from government policies and the right to petition and organize to fight for your democratic rights is a basic constitutional right.

But it is a crime to entrap, to racially profile and to kill innocent unarmed people. The use of chokeholds is against NYPD rules even though they don't enforce it. Following Eric Garner's murder, there is an effort in the New York City Council to make it against the law. With every new police killing across the country the demands that something be done to stop the slaughter of innocent unarmed Black people got stronger. I think most New Yorkers would agree that the police should not be above the law. But the actions of too many officers across the country show that they think they are above the law. Even children have been shot down. The tragic murder of Tamir Rice in Cleveland Ohio is a case in point. Tamir was just 12 years old, a black child playing with a toy gun was shot to death by a white policeman just 3 seconds after arriving on the scene. And then the shooter and his partner left the child to bleed out without any attempt at first aid. Eight minutes later the ambulance arrives and the child was dead. Meantime, when his 14 year old sister attempted to help her brother she was thrown to the ground, handcuffed and put in the squad car.  Next his mother tried to help her dying son and she was threatened with arrest if she didn't calm down. There were a number of protest marches as a result of the police murder of a child. The Cleveland police also staged a large rally called "Sea of Blue".

 License for lawlessness

While in a court of law a defendant cannot use ignorance of the law as their defense. But on December 14, 2014 the Roberts Supreme Court ruled that ignorance of the law by police is excusable.  Only one justice dissented and that was Justice Sotomayor.

There must be eight or ten cop shows on TV every night depending on the market. On those shows, the suspect is rarely innocent and the police are always "prevented" from doing their job by criminals who 'lawyer up' and/or 'take advantage of their constitutional rights.'   But isn't the U.S. constitution there to be used by the people to protect their rights?   Rarely, if ever, do those TV shows give defendants the benefit of the doubt. They all seem to be guilty until proven innocent.

A Wall Street Journal/Quinnipiac University opinion poll                                       

In the heat of the whole situation and with the daily dose of TV and newspaper pro‐cop TV shows and articles it was not clear how much support Lynch, Giuliani, FOX News and other mainly Republican right wing types really had in New York City.

The ultra conservative Wall St Journal (owned by Rupert Murdoch) probably thought it would come down solidly for Lynch, against the Mayor and the movement.  But I think the results of the WSJ/Quinnipiac Poll are more hopeful than negative.

New Yorkers of every background agreed that PBA President Patrick Lynch's statements were too extreme, and 77% said he is hurting his own cause. Even Staten Island, the most conservative and the least integrated of th e five boroughs, was split on Lynch's inflammatory rhetoric. Sixty‐nine percent of New York City residents disapproved of the NYPD's campaign of turning their backs on the mayor. Fifty‐two per cent believed that discipline of the NYPD had broken down. Forty‐nine per cent believed that Di Blasio's statements and actions during his campaign and in his first year as mayor show he does support the police. According to the poll, while a broad majority of African Americans and a slim majority of Latinos believe that statement, 49% of white New Yorkers disagree. Fifty‐six per cent approve of Di Blasio's Police Commissioner Bratton, and 62% percent express confidence in his ability to restore discipline in the police force. Fifty‐three percent have a negative view of Reverend Sharpton while 29% view him favorably. Black, white and Hispanic voters condemned Lynch's statements that Di Blasio had 'blood on his hands'. Fifty-three per cent to thirty-seven per cent of NYC voters approved of the job police citywide were doing. That's 66% to 28% among white voters and 56% to 36% among Hispanic voters, but by 54% to 41% black voters disapproved of the work of NYPD.

But that is not the whole story. It appears that Lynch has a real problem among the membership of his own union, and he is facing a challenge for leadership. He also had a real problem at a recent membership meeting in Queens that broke up with a shouting match over his insistence that the mayor needed to apologize to him. Lynch has now withdrawn his apology demand. In the end, only 5% of the PBA members agreed to sign the pledge not to invite the mayor to speak at their funeral if they were killed in the line of duty. The battle is not over, but the polls show that Lynch was not winning people with his extreme attacks.  It says a lot about the people of New York City who voted for a liberal Di Blasio for mayor, and continued to support him as he faced of a racist campaign to turn voters against their mayor.

The Mayor continues to have a solid base of support in the city because, rather then play the race card like Guiliani and Bloomberg, he supported the right to demonstrate peacefully.  Although the mayor is under tremendous pressure to cave-in to the racist attacks from PBA,  for the most part he broke with the past and did not make public statements in support of the proposal to create a new anti terrorist unit of the NYPD that would also handle mass protest.  The proposal would be to arm the police with machine guns and other military weapons to handle situations such as the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India and "handle large scale protest demonstrations".  There was so much opposition to that proposal coming from the police reform groups that the mass demonstration aspect had to be dropped.  As the Chief of Department James O'Neal explained just one day after the announcement, the Strategic Response Group, as the unit is called, "will not be involved in handling protest and demonstrations... They'll have no role in protest.  Their response is single-fold."  This was a great victory for the movement.

I think this was a wise political reversal that likely came from the Mayor. We don't know what the future will bring but the broad movement to reform the police needs to keep the doors open to winning the mayor to do the right thing as much as possible.  This will strengthen the broad coalition and make victory more possible.  

"Broken Windows"

The Broken Windows program which the Di Blasio administration still has in place is basically a milder version of Stop and Frisk.  It about stopping and harassing of mainly on so called quality of life issues.  In the 90's under Giuliani they harassed the squeegee guys who were mainly homeless black and Latinos trying to make a a few dollars. This is no minor issue.  Eric Garner was murdered under the Broken Windows program because he was selling loose out of state cigarettes. There are several important studies that show that Broken Windows has not and does not lower crime.  But Commissioner Bratton insists that it does. Removing marijuana possession from the list of "quality of life" crimes seems to have been a compromise with the commissioner and those who insist on continuing the program.   I think Broken Windows is another way to criminalize poor folks.  It is another diversion from the fight against poverty.  The Broken Windows program must go.

"war on crime" or war on poor folks?

What are we really experiencing?  In fact, this is a war on the poor.   They authorities  know that high poverty will lead more people to crime in order to survive. 

Across the country there is a growing understanding that racist police methods and mass incarceration of black and brown people is really a way of terrorizing and controlling poor folks. They want to drive poor people out of communities so that the real estate speculators can take over, gentrify and make huge profits.  In the sixties the city officials called it Urban Renewal; the movement called it "Negro Removal".

For years all across the country in cities big and small, urban and rural officials have used police brutality, racial profiling, high incarceration, along with budget cuts, under funded schools, factory closings, hospital closings, high drug use and related crime and violence to make life unbearable in poor working class communities of color especially. To drive people out and open the door so the speculators can make enormous profits. Millions have been victims of these policies.  The fight back may start with the excesses and killings by the police but to win fundamentally it must lead to a united labor and peoples movement fighting for economic and social justice.

That is beginning to take shape.  It is important that the head of the AFL/CIO Richard Thumka has been to Ferguson and put labor on the side of social justice there.  Other union locals and internationals have done like wise.  The United Federation of Teachers nationally and in New York was sharply attacked by PBA for acting in solidarity with the victims of police killings of unarmed people of color.  

Solutions

On February 10, 2015 NY 1, the city's 24 hour local cable news channel, and Baruch College released a poll based on a 100 point index called the S.A.T. SAT stands for "Satisfaction, Approval and Track"; the poll is an indicator of what NY residents think of the Mayor. By those standards, Di Blasio's approval is at 64%. The mayor's approval rating with residents is at 58 percent. Eighty‐two percent of African‐Americans approve of the job he is doing compared with 44 % of white New Yorkers.   These results come after weeks of attacks by the PBA leader, Republicans and the right wing media. Di Blasio's showing in this poll is a positive sign for the Mayor and his progressive supporters.

The People are ready for real solutions.

I think New Yorkers are at a different place today than they were when Dinkins was mayor, or certainly than when Lindsey was in Gracie Mansion.  Are the people of our city ready to support real change in community policing including structural changes in how police are policed?

Establishing real civilian controls over police behavior would be a great step forward. Currently the Police Complaint Review Board is not independent of the police. Complaints are reviewed and processed by the police and rarely do people get justice.

People are forced to take their complaints to the court. Every year, the city of New York pays out tens of millions of dollars in settlements for police abuses and unjustified murders of civilians.

In my view, establishing a civilian control board independent of the NYPD to investigate civilian complaints is necessary. As the police department is an agency of the state sworn to uphold the law, the NYPD must be held accountable for the actions of their employees and for the outcomes of their policies. Everybody who can pass the test and meet the physical qualifications does not make a good police officer.  Bullies and people who exhibit openly bigoted and racist behavior should not be permitted.   Disputes between police and civilians are not conflicts between Individuals with equal power.

As Prof. Michael Dyson stated, the police have the power of the state behind them. They are vested with the enormous power to legally take away a person's freedom, to harm people. Just as government meat or building inspectors need to be policed, the police need to be policed. Most importantly they have the awesome power of life and death at their side. They need to be very responsible in exercising that power. In the day‐to‐day routine contact with civilians they need to be polite and respectful, disciplined and not easily provoked. Protect and serve means nothing if a cop is a brute. Everybody is not suited to become a police officer especially who works in black and brown communities with high poverty with histories of racial abuse and oppression. A real civilian complaint board needs to have the right to appoint special prosecutors and have the ability to suspend, indict and fire police who are frequent abusers.

Recently the head of the FBI spoke at Georgetown on the issue of police community relations. In the speech he made some points that former directors did not embrace and most on the extreme right would not agree with. For example, on the need for police to respond to and get to know the people in the community they patrol, he called for police-community dialog and understanding.

In light of the poverty and harsh conditions of life imposed on communities of color in our country, the role that the police are ordered to play to try to maintain order without justice is problematic.  "No justice, no peace" comes to mind. The crisis of crime is not the fault of the police and the working class people and families confined to these communities.  The solution is not as simple as more communication. Though there does need to be more communication, contact and consideration, improved relationships will not end the current crisis.

Stop the War on the Poor and start winning the War on Poverty

Since poverty is the root cause of crime, to lessen and eliminate crime means that poverty must be reduced and eliminated. That issue is being mentioned more today but it needs to be at the center of the discussion. The FBI Director just mentions it in passing. The elimination of poverty and social injustice is key to ending the crisis of crime. Economists are saying the United States is becoming a low wage/high poverty country. In New York City, according to the Mayor, 47% of New Yorkers are at or near the poverty level.  Most New York City residents are non‐white. That means that racism is felt most sharply by more than half the population and affects the level of economic and social equality for the vast majority of New Yorkers. The majority feels the effects of discrimination, inequality and growing poverty.

The current policies in low‐income communities are to treat being poor as a crime. Therefore you criminalize, and incarcerate the poor to control the poor. That idea goes back to Machiavellian laws in 19th century capitalist England where being poor was a crime.  They had debtor prisons and "poor houses". Then the Irish were considered the inferior group.  Today the police and the criminal justice system are being used to control and contain the low income or no income African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and other people of color are considered inferior.

Want to eliminate homelessness? Eliminate poverty. To do that means turning communities of color into communities of quality affordable housing, quality schools, health care and day care. It means decriminalizing undocumented workers and raising the minimum wage to a livable wage. It means rebuilding urban and rural depressed communities.  Why are they depressed? Mainly because they have been exploited by capitalist landlords and banks.

When big business fails, the government helps them. We all remember when the banks were bailed out. The auto industry was bailed out. They call that help "national interest".  But when tens of millions of Americans are locked in the death grip of poverty for generations the attitude is, "You are on your own" and "Get it together." A much stronger social safety net is needed and it's time to take the offensive on this life and death issue. Rebuilding these communities will create millions of good jobs with a training component with union protection. Schools need to be rebuilt and community based medical clinics need to be created. Today's low‐income neighborhoods need clean and accessible mass transit.  This program will help all working people but affirmative action is needed to make sure that those now left behind will equally benefit.

These changes are only possible with a comprehensive enforcement of laws against all forms of discrimination including racial profiling in both private and public sectors. This program, along with new structures like a Civilian Police Accountability or Control Boards will bring down crime and give hope and a better life to 10's of millions across the country who now are left out.

These changes along with new government structures such as civilian run Police Accountability Boards will be a step towards the democratization of the police.

Where will the money come from?

This program would be paid for by drawing down US military presence around the world and pursuing a foreign policy of peace and negotiations rather confrontation and war. By taxing the rich and super rich and closing the trillions in tax giveaways in the form of loop holes, the gap between the ultra rich and the poor could be reduced and poverty alleviated. Yes, we need to sharply raise taxes on the rich.

Some will ask "Is it worth it"?

The bigger question is can we afford the disasters of mass unemployment, mass incarcerations, underfunded schools, and massive numbers in prisons and criminalized?

What's worse? High crime, high murder rates, police murders, murders of police, families ripped apart by poverty and mass incarceration? Is placing communities of color under virtual Marshall Law O.K.? All this painful destruction is about covering up the great flaw of the capitalist system. The capitalist system cannot meet the needs of all the people. So all this repression and terror happens to keep the dollars flowing to the 1%. That's a lot of suffering. A small percentage of the population becomes very rich, but what about the rest of us, the 99%? It's not a good deal for most of us and we can bring about a change.

A society that builds jails instead of affordable housing is a society in decay and on the path to chaos and economic collapse. What we are experiencing now is a war on the poor, a war that produces millions of casualties everyday in our country. By the way, this is the primary example of White (capitalist) crimes against black working families.

It's time to end the war on the poor and begin the war on poverty. Eliminating poverty means turning millions of impoverished people, unemployed and underemployed people, into consumers, homeowners, and renters. It means their children can make it to college, raise families and live meaningful, productive lives. Why not?  Is it worth it?

You bet it is....

 How can this be won?

The award-nominated film Selma showed how voting rights were won.  It reminds us of the revolutionary qualities of the fight against racism in its more brutal, terroristic ideological and structural form.  This was a monumental struggle for freedom of African American people and it advanced the level of democracy for all.

The revolutionary process is not a sprint, but a marathon. Things can and do change; they do not stay the same. To say that we are making gains is not a call to slow down but to fight harder because we are getting closer to real freedom. The problem of racism, poverty and injustice remains a huge challenge to humanity. It is more dangerous than Ebola and all the diseases that plague humanity. Racism, poverty and injustice is linked to global capitalism and trillions of dollars held in wealth at the top. Humanity, including the American people, is pushing forward to overcome.  We are moving forward.   The pace of change depends on the size and unity of the progressive forces and the divisions in the ruling group.

History is on our side. This is not a call to slow down; it is a call to speed up because we are getting closer to victory.

The great battle today is focused on police crimes. But fundamentally it is the same battle that was fought in 1964 for voting rights. The chant, 'Black Lives Matter' could have been chanted in Selma. It is a call that all lives matter. So stop the slaughter and end the repression. Let's make this a better nation and world.

The movements that we see today are a continuation of the great battles for freedom that went before. If we win the battle at this stage, the struggle will move to a higher level, embracing more that needs to change. If we win this stage in the epic battle for freedom, we will move forward embracing greater demands and bigger issues. Ending police misconduct and murder is necessary to carry out the struggle on basic economic issues like eliminating poverty.

I say that we have to keep on doing what we are doing--building a broader and stronger movement.

There were those who argued that voting rights would never be won. They were wrong. The African American vote is now a critical and decisive part of all presidential races. Without the over 90% African American vote, Obama could not have won.

This battle will also be won!

Jarvis Tyner is Chair of the New York District of the Communist Party USA.

Photo: King Day demonstration in Philadelphia January 2015.   Ben Sears/PA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Comrades,

    A well-written piece which shows the writer is clearly abreast of the issues and is firmly in the Progressive camp. I have two criticisms, however:

    1. It is most definitely not in the CPUSA's tradition to state that "racist oppression and brutality goes back before capitalism". Racism, as DuBois argued, was an ideology invented to justify modern slavery and imperialist oppression.

    Slavery existed way before capitalism, of course. But slaves were not considered 'non-human' or 'inferior'. Not members of the conquering tribe, yes (though not in all cases). Less successful in warfare, obviously. But they were considered people.

    To say this does not mean that capitalism and racism can be equated, as the Trots do. Racism has a life of its own and will not simply die out with the death of capitalism. That is why, as a Party, we wage a special struggle against racism. To my understanding, this analysis of racism is one of our unique contributions to the struggle. To paraphrase DuBois in the Black Reconstruction, "at the heart of the struggle for democracy is the struggle for the rights of Labor, and at the heart of the struggle for the rights of Labor is the struggle for that basic majority of humanity which is Black, Brown and Yellow".

    The second observation I would make is that the issue of socialism is relegated to a few sentences in the very back of the pamphlet. I understand that the intent is to weigh in on immediate measures. A pamphlet should not be a treatise on Marxism. I agree with that 100%. But why not talk about the $15/hr movement, or Walmart? Why not call for community-level coalitions to force fastfood places to pay a $15/hr wage? These issues hit at the issue of superprofits, another of the Party's pioneering ideas. They also hit at the issue of economic rights, which are what Dr. King died fighting to get and which form the basis of a socialist concept of society.

    Posted by Myke Simonian, 06/24/2015 5:54pm (2 years ago)

  • Appreciate this important round-up piece by Jarvis Tyner. The broad solutions addressed here are sorely needed.

    Once while in Hanoi, Socialist Republic Of Vietnam, I witnessed a police action. A pedestrian was hit by a moped. Police, without weapons, appeared quickly. The health of the pedestrian was addressed and the driver of the moped admonished.

    While not directly addressing the above article, when the organized, conscious working class has the reigns of state power, a qualitative change can take place between community and police.

    Posted by Len Yannielli, 04/18/2015 11:14am (3 years ago)

  • The Police, Racism, and the Bourgeoisie Imperative:
    The anti-racist movements against police murders, brutality, and abuse should be linked to the bourgeoisie imperative. In its drive to maximize profits, it is imperative for the ruling class to confront a divided not unified working class. The bourgeoisie imperative becomes even more urgent during times of economic crisis. Racism, actually all forms of discrimination, best serves the imperative. But the ruling class itself is not a monolith. It is divided into a liberal wing and a racist segregationist right wing. The Right-Wing is the staunchest supporter of the bourgeoisie imperative. This explains the irony of a police force that is unionized and working class, but serves the interests, imperatives, and priorities of the Right-Wing. The ‘black lives matter’ movement has taken the correct strategy. Demand police reforms that end racial profiling, hold rogue cops accountable, and bring justice to their victims. Yet make clear that reforms are not attacks on the police per se, but are attacks on racism within police departments. However, those goals become more difficult when members of the ruling bourgeoisie conduct racist campaigns to attack protesters and defend racist police practices. The position taken and/or implied by this right-wing faction is that increased repression will bring peace but without justice, since peace is their goal not justice. But all evidence points to the contrary. It is also a sector of the ruling class that wants a virtual and literal war on the poor, not a war on poverty. As the article points out, being poor is equal to being a criminal. Therefore, the Right-Wing seeks to expand police militarization and the prison industrial complex as it directs the police to criminalize and mass incarcerate poor and minority communities. It is the most reactionary, authoritarian, repressive, undemocratic, and dangerous wing of the ruling class. No wonder rogue cops feel they are above the law with the support of an important sector of the ruling class. Call demagogic former Mayor Rudolf Giuliani, Patrick Lynch of the PBA, and Governor Georgie Pataki exactly what they are. The ascendancy of a viral and extremist wing of the ruling class, perpetuates racism, wages virtual war on the poor, disseminates ‘blame the victim’ propaganda, and institutionalizes the most brutal forms of repression and reaction. All of it in support of the bourgeoisie imperative. Ultimately, they make the fight for an egalitarian multi-racial and multiethnic society difficult but not impossible. The struggle must and will continue. NT

    Posted by Nat Turner, 03/30/2015 7:05am (3 years ago)

  • In a similar way that the whole country could not move forward in material well being and spiritual health before the Civil War in the United States, the country now, cannot move one iota forward without addressing the wretched, crisis condition of the African American.
    The genocide against the African derived people that Frederick Douglass, then W. E. B. Du Bois, then M L K, answered with the positive, monumental struggle for freedom, jobs and suffrage, yet stalks America-North, South and Central.
    In our North America, a robust movement for voting rights, and an end to genocide in all its forms, is afoot. It manifests in the Ferguson Movement.
    As this great article penned by Jarvis reads in its title:

    Black Lives Matter!

    Unity to end racism, police crimes, disenfranchisement, public executions, and the vast inequality that is now, the order of the day (and the destruction of the country), must prevail.
    We hear much noise about the fact that Black on Black crime is devastating the African American community. Almost none of these noise makers recognize the great inequality with which the law is applied- Black on Black crime is treated and administered totally unequally, by the same system of institutionalized racism that structured racism, inequality, and the protections of these ills in the first place, then hastened to protect and justify them.
    That we have a societal set-up that accuses us of self-destruction, then makes it impossible to gain equality, as we pay for this inequality and genocide in millions of ways, is a preposterously cynical and hypocritical societal set-up. This societal set-up is called capitalism.
    We experience double detriments and liabilities as citizenry, enjoying generously speaking, maybe one half of the benefits of society. One recalls that Jesus said that oppressors make impossible demands on the poor, while not lifting a finger to help-certainly this is the case of the corporations and government of the United States of America-toward those-the African derived citizenry, in these racist United States of America.
    However, we have come from the bloody impossible, and though unity and peace with all the peoples of the United States of America and world who Cry Genocide, along with those who voted in the first recognized African American president of the United States of America:

    This battle will also be won!


    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 03/11/2015 11:57am (3 years ago)

  • The police are to serve and protect the citizenry; Black brown and native peoples have long known this to be often untrue. Increasingly working class whites, (especially young whites), know this abuse is morally wrong and is affecting them and their communities more. I think it says that they do not want to live in such a country. The survey's Jarvis cites which includes not just young people goes in the same direction. In the hands of the right wing, police power is used to divide the people. Civilian control of the police must become a high priority of the peoples movement.

    Posted by Shelby Richardson Jr, 03/06/2015 3:26pm (3 years ago)

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