The racist murders of 22-year-old Bobby Russ and 26-year-old LaTanya Haggerty by Chicago police have aroused mass anger. Both cases were triggered by alleged traffic violations; in both cases the victims were unarmed. In the eyes of the racist police, DWB (“driving while Black”) is not only a basis for suspicion but also “justifies” the use of deadly force. Shoot first, ask questions later. And when the shit hits the fan, the cops lie and the bourgeois media backs them up. Within hours of Russ’ death, the ruling class newspapers had begun a smear campaign against him.
Since the first demo in June, the racist attacks have continued. The cops killed a 19-year-old man, Devon Nelson, in suburban Harvey. Witnesses state that Nelson was unarmed and the cops dropped a gun on him after killing him to cover their tracks.
How long can this go on? It is clearer than ever that we need a fighting mass movement to combat the growing national epidemic of police brutality. But what’s being offered in terms of strategy? A boycott campaign against The Taste of Chicago? Far more is needed if we want to put the powers-that-be in Chicago on notice that we won’t tolerate a continuation of these racist and anti-worker attacks.
We need, as a first step, mass demonstrations far greater than what has been pulled together so far. The outrage within the working class in this city, especially among Black and Latino working-class people, is much greater than the number of people that have been mobilized so far. The truth is that any real effort to build and sustain large-scale mass actions requires the full mobilization of the mass organizations of the working class and oppressed.
This means that labor unions, as well as all civil rights and community organizations must be forced to bring out their members. This hasn’t happened yet. The main Black and labor leaderships have barely lifted a finger in the struggle against police brutality. In fact, this is no accident because most of these misleaders back the Democratic Party, i.e. they are politically tied to the same racist system we are fighting against. They backed President Clinton’s racist Crime Bill (which included the call for 100,000 more cops on the streets)!
Nevertheless, the leaders who have the re-sources and influence to call really powerful mass protests must be forced to do so. We urge workers and other community people to raise motions for such action in every organization to which you belong.
This is an important first step. But more is needed. Big demonstrations can be a step towards really using our power as the working class: to build a fight for a general strike policy to be adopted by the organizations of the working class and oppressed in this city. The LRP has been campaigning for the idea of a one-day general strike as the immediate response to police atrocities.
Militant workers in strategically central and heavily-Black municipal unions like the Amalga-mated Transit Union, as well as other unions and organizations, should demand that their leaders adopt such a policy. If Mayor Daley and the bosses knew that working people were prepared to strike, it would strike fear into their cold hearts and they would be far more likely to restrain their mercenary killers. Far more than a passive boycott, strike action threatens the profit-making system which the ruling powers care about so deeply.
Our emphasis on the need to build mass action is counterposed to the political program put forth by the Christian Council on Urban Affairs (CCUA) and the Rev. Paul Jakes. The CCUA calls for federal intervention, an independent civilian review board, and legislation to outlaw the code of silence. But intervention by the federal government will not do anything about the problem in any significant way. There have been countless federal investigations and studies, including after the Los Angeles riot of 1992 - with no beneficial results. The racist anti-working class character of city police forces like Chicago’s is not different from federal laws and policies. The laws that the police carry out anywhere are the laws that preserve capitalism and private property against the workers and poor. Calls for federal investigation and intervention serve mainly to forestall local movements against police brutality, in the expectation of a strong “solution” that never happens.
The idea of an “independent” civilian review board is also a trap. Experience shows that when such boards are set up, they can’t even gather basic information when the police don’t cooperate (as of course they don’t). At best the boards can review complaints and make suggestions - and the police departments are still free to ignore their findings. Review boards don’t have the power to prosecute and punish, a power reserved for the courts and district attorneys who are tied to the police department and the state apparatus as a whole.
Finally there is the empty call for legislation to outlaw the Code of Silence (the cops’ refusal to testify or speak up against another cop). But police cover-up of crimes is already illegal, for all that’s worth. Why are we supposed to believe that if we pass another law the cover-ups will stop? In reality such calls are just designed to pacify us and to change nothing.
From the savage beating of Jeremiah Mearday and the brutal murder of Jorge Guillen to the killings of Haggerty, Russ and Nelson, people are sick and tired of hot air and empty promises. The pro-Democratic Party misleaders dead-end solutions are calculated to chill out the mass anger. The call for powerless reforms go hand in hand with the inevitable new voter registration drive - for Daley and Clinton’s racist Democratic Party!
As revolutionaries, we state openly that communities of people of color which are consistently under attack have the absolute right and need to defend themselves as an immediate defensive measure, and we defend the right to do so. Working-class people of color cannot wait for whites to join in, when the need is urgent for self-defense now.
However, we also believe in raising the need for a fight against racism within the working class as a whole. White workers are already suffering unemployment and attacks on their living standard under this profit system, although people of color get it much worse. There is a basis for united struggle in reality. With the initiative of politically advanced Black and Latino workers, as well as anti-racist white workers, more and more white workers will come to see the need for a united struggle against racism as well as economic attacks.
Militant mass action is necessary in order to restrain the cops. But getting rid of police brutality altogether means getting rid of the system they serve. The cops, Black or white, are armed mercenaries who serve and protect the racist capitalist system - a system that rests on the exploitation and oppression of the working class and poor masses by the ruling class. Racism, above all anti-Black racism, is central to U.S. capitalism. And police brutality which targets Blacks and Latinos above all is part of enforcing a racist exploitative system, attempting to keep people of color in a permanent state of intimidation.
Socialist revolution is the only way to end this miserable state of affairs once and for all. We fight to build an interracialist and internationalist revolutionary party leadership which unites and trains workers and youth who are coming to see the need to overthrow capitalism, with its brutal racism and exploitation, and build a new socialist world. Join us!