Mayor de Blasio announced at a press conference on Tuesday that he would veto a City Council bill to make police chokeholds a crime. This, after whole world saw the horrifying video of Staten Island cops placing Eric Garner in a chokehold and killing him, despite his pleading “I can't breathe” eleven times!
In the aftermath of Eric Garner’s murder, de Blasio offered a few words of sympathy for the concerns that people of color have with the police. But since then he has rejected every demand for reform by the protest movement against racist police injustice. In particular, he has vowed to continue the “Broken Windows” policy that orders cops to prioritize cracking down on petty “quality of life” misdemeanors in predominantly Black and Latino working-class neighborhoods.
De Blasio won election in large part thanks to his promise to end the “Stop and Frisk” policy of Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. But that policy was ruled unconstitutional before he took office by a Federal judge. “Broken Windows” has proved to be just a continuation by different means of the same harassment of working-class and poor Blacks and Latinos.
“Broken Windows” got more than 20,000 New Yorkers arrested every month for misdemeanors like subway fare-dodging. Almost 90% of those arrested were people of color – the same percentage that were “Stopped and Frisked.” And it was “Broken Windows” that directed the cops in Staten Island to target Eric Garner for selling loose cigarettes on the street, leading to his death.
The cops’ rebellion against the mayor has led many people opposed to police brutality to think that de Blasio must somehow be on our side. That rebellion truly began when police “union” head Patrick Lynch responded to the killings of the police officers in Brooklyn by claiming that de Blasio had “blood on his hands” for encouraging the protests against police injustice. That speech signaled the cops to turn their backs on the mayor, even at the funerals for the dead police.
But the cops’ real enemy was not the mayor but the protest movement. The cops recognized that it had succeeded in focusing the public’s attention on the shocking video of Eric Garner’s murder, raised awareness of the daily harassment and brutality that working-class and poor people of color suffer at the hands of the police, and won unprecedented support for its demands. Confirming this, opinion polls showed that in New York, a clear majority of people recognized the injustice of the decision to allow the cop who killed Eric Garner to escape facing criminal charges.
There was a method to the“madness” of the cops’ rebellion. They knew that fulfilling their quota of arrests under “Broken Windows” requires more brutality on their part and inevitably more deaths. They fear that while the cop who choked Eric Garner might have escaped punishment, the next cop whose brutality is caught on video might not get away with it. The cops can’t do their real job of intimidating working-class and poor people and people of color if they are worried about being recorded every time they beat up, let alone kill, someone. They want political leaders who agree that cops must be above the law. They are demanding a re-affirmation of their right to continue and extend their intimidation, brutality and murder – and to stay unpunished when they get caught.
Because the cops are the armed fist that the capitalist class needs to rule, de Blasio is rewarding them with concessions and now they are returning to implementing “Broken Windows,” with fines and arrests for petty violations rising again.
It is worth noting that while the mayor and police commissioner both acknowledged that the police had engaged in a work stoppage by refusing to implement “Broken Windows” for weeks, they took no action against the cops and the unions for their illegal action. Their patience with the cops’ rebellion is in stark contrast to when real workers strike, as with the transit workers in 2005. Then, the city hit individual workers as well as the union with heavy fines and other punishments and jailed their union president.
Nothing makes Mayor de Blasio’s willingness to keep the cops above the law clearer than his promise to veto the City Council bill that would criminalize police chokeholds. He said, “I don’t think [chokeholds] should be made a matter of a legal prohibition; I think it should be handled by department policy.” But the NY Inspector General’s report on chokeholds, released just before de Blasio’s announcement, makes clear that the NYPD’s policy is to allow cops to get away with choking citizens just like all their other forms of brutality.
And that’s not the only City Council bill on the police that the mayor is opposing. He has also come out against the “Right to Know Act,” which would require cops to identify themselves and explain the fact that people have the right to refuse to be searched when they are stopped in the street without the cops having reason to believe they committed a crime.
Now de Blasio is attacking the protest movement itself. He never criticized Lynch for saying that he and the protesters have “blood on their hands” for supposedly inspiring Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s shooting of the two cops in Brooklyn. But de Blasio is now condemning protests against the police for saying “inappropriate, reprehensible, sick things” about police officers. He has even sent lawyers to the Federal court to appeal a judge’s decision that ruled that the city cannot make mass arrests of protesters without warning. Patrick Lynch has welcomed de Blasio’s concessions: “We have seen a marked and welcome shift in the mayor’s tone regarding anti-police protests,” he said thankfully.
As Marxists, we in the League for the Revolutionary Party understand that the struggle between the two major classes of society, the capitalist profiteers and the working class they rule over and exploit, is the central driving force in society and politics. The two major political parties, the Republicans and Democrats, both serve the capitalist class; the Democrats use their image as friends of the working class and people of color, as well as their influence over sellout trade union and “community” leaders, to hold back mass struggles when Republican policies threaten to provoke too much unrest. And the state apparatus of cops, courts and National Guard is the armed fist of the ruling class, a constant force to maintain order over the masses regardless of which party is in power.
That is why the mayor and the police share a common interest in setting aside their differences. They both want to end the protest movement that was setting an example of struggle that the rest of the working class could learn to follow.
The movement desperately needs a united mass protest to regain its momentum. Martin Luther King Day should have been a tremendous opportunity. Tragically, since the huge rally and march on December 13, some left groups have only called rival actions on different days of the weekend, sometimes competing against one another at the same time.
Worse, various Non-Governmental Organizations have also called competing actions for the January 19 holiday. “Against Police Violence,” a nationwide NGO that has not been significantly involved in the protest movement in New York before now, announced a march starting at 2pm downtown and marching to the courts at Foley Square. Then the Justice League called a march starting at noon uptown in Harlem; their event was then endorsed by other NGOs that have been involved in the struggle like Make the Road NY, which has mobilized significant numbers of people to come to protests so far.
These NGOs, which depend on funds from government and private capitalist sources, present themselves as organizations building reform struggles. But as the Democratic Party has lost support over the years, such NGOs have stepped into the void, winning support by offering advocacy and social services while mobilizing people to vote for the Democrats at election time. And now they are serving the Democrats by misleading protesters away from challenging de Blasio.
This is particularly clear in the case of the Justice League, which after the massive march onDecember 13 secretly met with the mayor without consulting any of the other groups in the movement. While de Blasio did not agree to any of their demands, the Justice League described the meeting as “productive” – just gaining a seat at the table with the mayor was enough to satisfy their need to claim “influence” in order to secure more funds from donors. But de Blasio emerged from the meeting to proudly announce that the discussions with this “group of young activists who want to heal, who want to bring police and community together” had produced one agreement: the mayor claimed that the Justice League had promised to work with the police to identify anyone who wants “undermine their non-violent peaceful progressive movement.” Weeks later, the Justice League website still has no statement denying de Blasio’s claim that they agreed to be snitches.
More importantly, the Justice League has announced that their 12 noon rally in Harlem will march to … the United Nations. Anywhere but City Hall, where the cops’ boss, Mayor de Blasio, governs. Or Gracie Mansion, where he lives. And their call for the protest goes to great lengths to raise no demands on de Blasio like ending “Broken Windows” and not vetoing the City Council’s chokehold bill and “Right to Know Act.” It even labels “Broken Windows” as “the NYPD’s policy” and not the mayor’s.
Members and supporters of the League for the Revolutionary Party will participate in all these protests, but we will seek to convince people to march against de Blasio, whether at City Hall downtown, or Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side, to press the movement’s essential demands.
The fight for justice for victims of police abuse and for reforms that limit police powers can win limited and temporary relief from some of the worst abuses. But these struggles have an even greater significance: they can begin raise revolutionary consciousness. Already, more and more are learning that the essential role of the police and the rest of the state apparatus of courts, prisons and soldiers is not to protect and serve the people, but to protect and serve the capitalist ruling class against most of the people – the working class and poor. Brutality and murder are part of their job. Racism was created by the capitalist system to divide and conquer the working class and the police necessarily enforce that oppression.
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 they 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 the working-class and oppressed people hold a state power of their own will they 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.