Since September 11, ruling class politicians and media have swamped us with propaganda about us being a united nation standing together. The wars on Afghanistan and Iraq only increased the hype.
Now a series of incidents of racist police brutality and murder have provided new and tragic exposure of this nationalist lie. The truth is that America is as divided as ever by racism and class exploitation and oppression, and it’s getting worse.
First was the police murder of Harlem resident Alberta Spruill. At just after 6am on May 17, the police knocked down the city workers’ door with a battering ram, looking for a suspected drug dealer. They threw a flash grenade inside, and then twelve cops stormed in with guns drawn, forcing her into handcuffs. As a result of this legal “breaking and entering,” Spruill, 57, suffered a heart attack and later died.
Because an informant misdirected the police to Spruill’s apartment, the cops say it was an accident and Mayor Bloomberg has apologized for what he calls a “terrible mistake.” But the cops who murdered Alberta were following standard (racist and anti-working class) operating procedures. It was an inevitable result of a racist police force that invades, shoots or throws grenades first, and asks questions later, particularly in Black, Latino and immigrant neighborhoods. This sort of gung-ho raid would never happen in a rich white neighborhood. In fact the police have admitted that this was the fifth time since this past Fall that an apartment has been “mistakenly” broken into by the police, and all of the “mistakenly” raided apartments belonged to Black residents.
Then on May 22, police broke down the door of the Espady family’s apartment in the Bronx. The cops said they were looking for drugs and guns, but found nothing. That didn’t stop them from putting a whole family in handcuffs, including 12 year old Jennifer Espady, who had guns pointed directly at her face. No one was killed in that raid. But later the same day, another innocent person of color was not so “fortunate.”
Reminiscent of the murder of Amadou Diallo in 1999, another West African immigrant, Ousmane Zongo, was shot and killed by a cop. Police raided a downtown storage center where alleged CD bootleggers rented storage rooms. After arresting suspects, an undercover cop encountered Zongo, who rented a separate storage room for his work of restoring African art pieces, and shot him five times. Police have tried to tell the unbelievable story that the unarmed Zongo attacked the cop and tried to take his gun.
These racist crimes by the police should trigger massive protests and outrage. They come at a time when the working class across the country, particularly workers of color, and particularly in New York, is getting hit with layoffs, pay cuts and budget austerity, as well as facing rising police terror.
Alberta Spruill was a city worker and member of local union DC 37 for 29 years. The same morning she was killed by Bloomberg’s cops, 2,000 city workers received pink slips from the Mayor in the mail. While racist police brutally take individual lives, the Mayor is ruining the lives of thousands with layoffs, and the lives of millions with budget cuts, slashing funding to everything from education and sanitation to firehouses.
There should be massive protests expressing our outrage at these latest crimes of racist police brutality. Mass demonstrations could also demand an end to the budget cuts and layoffs that are hitting the entire working class, and hitting Blacks and Latinos the hardest. And while the whole working class needs to unite and fightback, because they’re getting hit hardest Blacks and Latinos can take the lead in the struggle.
But just when the ruling class’s “United We Stand” propaganda is being exposed, Democratic Party community leaders are seizing on the most pathetic gestures by Bloomberg as evidence that there’s still hope. Bloomberg quickly attended the funeral of Alberta Spruill on Saturday morning. In apparent contrast to the previous openly-racist Mayor, Giuliani, he apologized for her death. But he made sure that he didn’t stay too long before he rushed to Gracie Mansion to preside over Giuliani’s latest marriage (at tax payers’ expense) and toast Frankenstein and his bride.
Of course the City’s politicians have barely complained about the cops’ latest atrocities. Perhaps more surprising to some have been the muted tones of protest from Al Sharpton, the city’s most prominent opponent of police brutality. Sharpton could have exposed how the fact that Bloomberg acts “kinder and gentler” than Giuliani makes no real difference to police brutality and he could have called for a struggle against him. Instead, he announced to the mourners at Alberta’s funeral “We’re going to be big enough not to get into name-calling with City Hall, but we’re going to get into policy change.” But the need to unmask our racist rulers isn’t about name-calling, it’s about telling it like it is so that there can be an effective struggle against them. The ruling class’s unofficial policy of murderous, racist police terror will not change, and will only get worse, until the rulers are threatened by massive, angry struggle.
Just when Bloomberg is nervous about being unmasked as an anti-working class racist, Sharpton has stepped in to save his image. His new strategy is to act as if Mayor Bloomberg is sincere and can be worked with. He went so far as to shake Bloomberg’s hand at Alberta’s funeral and welcomed him. “It’s good that you’re here,” Sharpton said from the pulpit, “... and you should make sure that we never have to be here again.” But far from lifting a finger to reign in the cops before these recent tragedies, Bloomberg encouraged them.
Since he announced his Presidential campaign, Sharpton’s been making an effort to appear more “responsible” and has been giving the police and Mayor a free ride. When he first condemned the recent police killings he explained: “It seems that we are beginning to see a pattern of police misconduct again reminiscent of some of the days we thought we put behind us.” We who? The fires at Ground Zero were still burning when the ruling class began seizing every opportunity to bolster the cops’ image and give a green light to racist police terror. Most outrageously in New York, the courts overturned the guilty verdicts against the cops who assisted and covered up the torture of Abner Louima in 1997.
The cops got the message and their racist, anti-working class attacks have been getting worse ever since. From the regular beatings and frame-ups, to the shooting of numerous unarmed men including Haitian immigrant Georgy Louisgene by cops from the same precinct that tortured Abner Louima, and Dominican community activist and musician Santiago “Chago” Villanueva by Jersey cops (see Police Terror Since September 11: The Red, White and Blue Wall of Silence, in Proletarian Revolution magazine No. 65), the police have been on a rampage. Bloomberg even went so far as to deny a march permit to an anti-war protest in February that Sharpton attended, and then sent the cops to attack the peaceful rally with pepper spray and batons, arresting hundreds. Sharpton never really believed things had changed; he just wants people to think they had so he can more easily move into the mainstream and distance himself from the protests of the most oppressed.
Sharpton’s not the only community leader who’s avoided really challenging the patriotic hoopla. In response to the murder of Alberta Spruill, Harlem Assemblyman Keith Wright, said: “in the case of Ms. Spruill, [the police] have to understand that this is Harlem, not Iraq.” Cops in New York are, though on a smaller scale, acting like the U.S. military in Iraq, which is shooting Iraqi civilians for peacefully protesting or so much as looking suspicious. Blacks and Latinos have long known that the racist cops at home act like an occupying army. Wright’s acceptance of this in Iraq is disgusting, and his idea that the cops will put American patriotism before their racism is ridiculous. In fact the cops’ racist terror at home is deeply connected to U.S. imperialism’s aggression around the world.
The world economy is in crisis. The U.S. is in a recession and headed for worse. To save their falling profits, the U.S. capitalists must intensify their economic exploitation, both at home and abroad. September 11 gave the ruling class cover to advance its military aggression abroad, most recently by seizing oil-rich Iraq to boost its profits and increase its advantage over rival imperialist competitors like Germany. At home, the “war against terrorism” has been used to justify a massive escalation in the state’s police powers. Appeals to “patriotic unity” have been used to cover advancing the class war against the working class, with tax cuts for the rich, and budget cuts and layoffs for the working class.
Racism and repression are key to the ruling class’s comparatively more peaceful war at home. They use racism to divide the working class, setting whites against Blacks, Latinos and immigrants to prevent a united struggle and use workers of color as a pool of super-exploitable labor. But intensified exploitation risks sparking mass fightbacks. So the police must work overtime to keep the masses intimidated, particularly the most oppressed. Before September 11, mass protests against racist policing had exposed “racial profiling” and politicians and the media treated it as a dirty word. September 11 allowed the ruling class to revive racial profiling against Arabs, muslims and all immigrants, preparing for its intensification against all people of color.
Massive protests against racist horrors like the murder of Alberta Spruill are urgently needed. But few expect them to happen. After all, if Mayor Bloomberg’s destruction of thousands of lives through layoffs have only faced token opposition, what sort of response can we expect to the racist murder of just one Black woman? It’s not that masses of people are not angry and would not respond to a call to action. The problem is that the community and union leaders whom the masses look to are opposed to such a struggle.
There should have been a general strike that shut the city down against Bloomberg’s budget cuts and layoffs. But the leaders of the city’s unions have allowed Bloomberg to lay off thousands of their members without a fight because they are committed to the capitalist system and do not want to mobilize a struggle that could threaten the system’s interests. Indeed the union bureaucrats enjoy a very privileged position in the system as highly paid bureaucratic brokers between the bosses and the workers. A rank and file with a sense of power would threaten the bureaucrats’ positions too. And the union tops know that with profits falling, the system can less and less afford to tolerate jobs and other gains workers won in the past, let alone concede improvements.
The Democratic Party politicians like Al Sharpton are just as committed to working within the limits of the capitalist system. They are just as aware of how the system can less and less afford reforms. After Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond were killed, Sharpton demanded all sorts of reforms to the police with the backing of huge protests, but not one reform was won. Today, some supportable demands like ending the cops’ no-knock entries and use of stun-grenades are raised, though they would do little to restrain the cops. Other demands like for an independent civilian complaint review board have been tried many times and only acted as diversions from the struggle and whitewashed the cops.
The only thing that’s ever succeeded in forcing the cops to back off from their racist terror tactics for even a moment has been the fear of massive struggles. Thus the cops briefly retreated in the face of the mass protests after the killing of Diallo and Dorismond. But as soon as those struggles were misled into pressure for hopeless reforms and voting for Democratic Party politicians, they died down, and the cops got back to their dirty work with a vengeance.
Capitalism needs racism and racist anti-working class police. They cannot be reformed. But in the course of mass struggles that can win temporary victories, the masses of workers and poor can gain a sense of their tremendous power and class interests. To unleash that huge potential power, it will take a fight against the misleaders who hold back the struggle.
Mass struggles will show more and more workers that their class has the power not just to win reforms, but to put an end to all oppression and exploitation by overthrowing the capitalist system that breeds them. The League for the Revolutionary Party is dedicated to building a revolutionary leadership committed to leading the working class to overthrow capitalism and build a communist society of freedom and abundance for all. Building the revolutionary party is thus the key not just to the ultimate revolutionary solution to racism, exploitation and war. It is also the key to mobilizing the most effective mass struggles against the ruling class’s racist, anti-working class attacks today.
There’s no time to waste in beginning to build the revolutionary party in every community, union and everywhere else the workers and oppressed must struggle against the capitalists’ attacks. If you’re interested in learning more about our organization and its views, get in contact with us!