The leaflet reproduced below was distributed by supporters and friends of the LRP at demonstrations in Baltimore on Saturday, May 2, 2015. It has been slightly edited for clarity. We also note that the curfew was lifted by the mayor the next day, and the state of emergency was ended on May 6.
Yesterday’s announcement that six cops face criminal charges for the murder of Freddie Gray is an important and hard-fought victory. Make no mistake: the charges don’t prove that the system works; the charges prove that when it comes to winning even a little justice for the system’s victims, only mass struggle works.
In the last five years, while Maryland cops have killed unarmed Black men dozens of times, until now just 2 percent of those killer cops have faced charges. The difference this time was the uprising of struggle in Baltimore that revived the Black Lives Matter movement against racist police injustice across the country.
This victory was won by the tens of thousands of Black youth and others who rose up in protest in response to Freddie Gray’s murder, marching for justice every day. And yes, this victory was won by those who vented their anger in riotous rebellion, fighting back against the cops’ provocations, leaving patrol cars burning and stores looted.
Most who participated in the riotous rebellion would themselves recognize they need more powerful, organized and constructive means of struggle. They were right to want to target those that profit from their misery as well as the state forces that hold the masses down. Most would surely embrace forms of struggle that avoid unnecessary destruction and help the masses become more organized and in control of their destiny.
But people fought with the only means they could find in the face of generations of sellout leaders who have betrayed the masses in exchange for a share of capitalist wealth and power – sellouts typified by the Democratic Party’s Baltimore Mayor Rawlings-Blake and President Obama who branded them “thugs” and by bankrupt “civil rights” leaders who preach “peace” while the oppressors wage war.
Now this country’s ruling class of capitalist profiteers, and the politicians who are their tools in government, fear that the Baltimore rebellion could inspire further struggles targeting capitalist wealth and power. That’s what forced the ruling class to press charges against the killers of Freddie Gray.
Beware, however: where repression and occupation by the police and National Guard failed to end the protest movement, the ruling class hopes to use these charges to raise illusions in the system and bring the struggle to an end.
Baltimore state’s attorney Marilyn Mosby as much as admitted that it was the uprising of protest that won this victory when she announced the charges against the killer cops. “To the people of Baltimore and the demonstrators across America,” she said, “I heard your call for ‘no justice, no peace.’” But in words aimed against the idea of struggles continuing until justice is won, she added: “Your peace is sincerely needed as I work to deliver justice on behalf of this young man. To those that are angry or hurt or have their own experience of injustice, I urge you to channel your energy peacefully.”
But justice for Freddie Gray has not yet been won – the cops who killed him have not yet been convicted. Prosecutors have a long history of charging cops when mass protests give them no choice, only to work with them behind the scenes to see them freed or treated leniently by the courts. To keep up the pressure, mass protests in Baltimore and across the country must continue and grow, demanding justice for Freddie Gray and all victims of police injustice.
Meanwhile, as Mosby and other Democratic Party politicians try to take credit for bringing the killers of Freddie Gray to justice, they continue to oversee the state’s crackdown on the city’s real fighters for justice. While the cops charged with killing Freddie Gray are free on bail, scores of Black youth and others who rose up in protest continue to face criminal charges and remain in prison. Many who are accused of no more than property damage have been hit with bail requirements higher than Freddie Gray’s killers!
And at the request of Mayor Rawlings-Blake, National Guard soldiers with their weapons of war and armored vehicles continue to occupy Baltimore, backing up the police in trying to intimidate the masses and squash the struggle. The curfew they enforce is targeting working-class and poor people of color while life goes on as normal in better-off neighborhoods, and it is having devastating effects on workers whose working hours or entire jobs are being cut as a result.
Protesters are right to continue to target the mayor and the rest of Baltimore’s rulers, demanding: Drop the Charges and Free All Arrested in the Rebellion! National Guard Out! End the Curfew! Convict and Jail the Killer Cops!
The Baltimore rebellion has not only revived the Black Lives Matter movement against racist police injustice that swept the country last year, but it has challenged this country’s racist capitalist system, its ruling class and the political figures who front for them more directly than before.
When the Black Lives Matter movement began after Michael Brown was shot to death in broad daylight in Ferguson, Missouri, it was easy for the outrageous poverty and oppression suffered by Black folk there to be seen as being a consequence of the enduring legacy of racist segregation. After all, while the majority of Ferguson’s population is Black, they faced an overwhelmingly white police force, a white mayor and an almost all-white city council. And under these conditions it was easy for the election of Black officials to be promoted as a solution to the blatant injustices.
But in Baltimore, the mayor, city council president, police chief, state’s attorney and half of its police force are Black. Indeed, despite electing Blacks to all levels of power for decades, Black working-class and poor people in Baltimore suffer levels of poverty and police injustice and brutality, just as outrageous as those in Ferguson. That’s because the entry of Black people into positions of corporate and political power could do nothing to change this country’s capitalist system. Capitalism is based on exploiting the working class for private profit, and it relies on the racist oppression of people of color to divide and conquer the working class and supply the system with super-exploitable labor.
The great struggles by Black people, culminating in the civil rights movement, the ghetto rebellions of the 1960s and 70s and the Black Power movement, defeated Jim Crow segregation in the South and opened new opportunities for advancement for a minority of people of color. But the entry of Blacks into the political establishment served to create new illusions in the system: it strengthened its base of support and helped stop the struggles of Black working-class people from leading the whole working class to unite in a struggle against capitalism.
The global capitalist system’s stagnation over decades has driven the capitalist class and its governments to boost their profits by cutting spending on social programs, intensifying exploitation, and expanding repression by the police and prisons to keep the working class and poor down. All this has hit Blacks and all people of color hardest.
The election of Barack Obama as this country’s first Black president raised new hopes that electing Democratic Party politicians was a way toward a more just society. Instead, Obama’s presidency has proven that the Democrats are just as much a party of capitalism as the Republicans. After the economic crisis broke out in 2008, Obama bailed out Wall Street with trillions of dollars, while the working class was left to drown in rising debts, falling wages and unemployment. And in this, Blacks and Latinos have faced the sharpest fall in living standards and the worst injustices at the hands of the system’s state of cops, courts and prisons.
Because the rebellion in Baltimore confronted conditions of racist police injustice and poverty that have been presided over by so many Black Democratic politicians for years, it can mean that working-class and poor people begin breaking from placing their hopes in Democratic politicians and toward mass struggle against the entire system. Mass protests against racist police injustice can grow and raise demands against the economic attacks facing working-class people as well. From the struggle against school closings and budget cuts to the movement of low-wage workers to win a $15-an-hour minimum wage and union organization, there are many opportunities for struggle against racist police injustice to lead to broader working-class struggles.
The most politically conscious and militant fighters in the struggle are already learning not to rely on the politicians and sellout “leaders” who want to divert the movement away from the direct action of struggles in the streets and toward passively voting for politicians who can betray them. A new leadership has to be built that will unite the struggles of the oppressed and the whole working class.
From our point of view as revolutionary socialists, the struggle has to become consciously aimed against the capitalist system as a whole, including the governments and police whose role in society is to defend that system by any means necessary. The more that working-class people test the possibilities of reforming the system, the more they can become convinced of the revolutionary socialist view that the capitalist system will have to be overthrown to win their demands.
By showing the great power that the workers and oppressed people have when we unite in action and become more organized to fight for their interests, mass struggles can show that revolution is not only necessary but also possible. Only when working-class and oppressed people hold a state power of our own will we be able to solve these problems by building a socialist society of freedom and abundance.
To best lead today’s struggle forward and to prepare for the revolution that will be necessary to solve society’s problems of exploitation and oppression, the most politically conscious and militant workers and youth must begin to come together to build a revolutionary socialist party leadership – the only real alternative to the Democratic Party and its local sellout misleaders. That is today’s most urgent task, and we urge readers to contact us to discuss these ideas further.