After police officer Darren Wilson executed 18-year old Michael Brown in cold blood on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, the authorities mobilized a military-style force to suppress justifiably angry protests. Unarmed peaceful demonstrators chanting “No Justice, No Peace!” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” in tribute to Mike Brown faced cops with automatic rifles and armored vehicles, tear gas and stun-grenades – and still the protesters came out in hundreds and thousands.
The outrage in Ferguson has advanced the struggle for justice in the face of the terrorism of racist, anti-working class cops. Demonstrators bravely held their ground against the military-like attempts to suppress their rights, forced the name of the killer cop to be revealed and made sure he wouldn’t get away with this murder easily. Their persistence has inspired the fight against state terror and oppression across this country and around the world. Even the Palestinian people under siege in Gaza sent messages of support.
Ferguson is obviously not an isolated case. On July 17 on Staten Island in New York City, cops murdered another unarmed Black man, Eric Garner, by applying a lethal chokehold and shoving his head against the sidewalk while he gasped, “I can’t breathe.” The cops then stood around his apparently lifeless body, only concerned with trying to cover up their crime.
And the carnage continues. Two days after Michael Brown’s murder, cops in Los Angeles shot to death another unarmed young Black man, 24-year-old Ezell Ford, provoking further growing protests. Then on August 20, just three miles from where Michael Brown was executed, cops shot to death another young Black man, Kajieme Powell, who apparently stole two cans of soda from a store and then stood outside waiting for the police to arrive before calling on them to shoot him. Video of the killing shows that the cops chose to kill Powell despite the fact that he was no immediate threat to anyone.
Along with murders there are constant harassments, beatings and false arrests targeting people of color. In New York, the NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” program of systematic, daily harassment of youth on the streets continues, despite the promises of Mayor de Blasio to end the policy. Nationally, immigrants face an escalated assault by the Obama administration that includes record numbers of detentions and deportations. Under Obama, the same brutal local police who kill unarmed Black and Latino men are used to enforce the oppressive Federal immigration laws. And now the government is working out how to more quickly deport Central American children fleeing violence and oppression that stem from the U.S.’s imperialist rule.
Behind this accelerating repression lie worsening economic injustice and racism. As the global capitalist economy goes from crisis to crisis and slides toward depression, it offers working-class youth a bleak future of unemployment or minimum wage labor, along with continual harassment by the police that aims to keep everyone intimidated. This oppression is visited upon Blacks, Latinos and immigrants first and foremost but is also used to suppress the working and living conditions of the whole working class as well as of ever-larger sections of the middle class. Racism is part of the essence of capitalist society.
It is right that protesters demand that killer cops like Darren Wilson, the murderer of Michael Brown, be jailed – their continued freedom only reinforces cops’ confidence that they can get away with murder and increases the likelihood that they will kill more. The police can be pushed back from their current wave of deadly violence if they are met with increasingly organized and massive protests, and if the cops’ ruling-class bosses fear that if they don’t rein in the police, they will face mass struggles that threaten their interests.
To build a powerful movement against police brutality, protesters will have to defy the attempts by the cops and National Guard to use repression to break the movement’s momentum. They will also have to avoid the traps set by liberal politicians of placing hopes in review boards, Federal oversight and a host of other measures. Such phony “reforms” have done nothing to curb police brutality, but they have done much to divert mass struggles away from the streets and into the death-trap of trusting politicians whose true loyalty is to the ruling class. Working-class and poor people can only trust their own power to mobilize and organize in struggle to demand justice for the victims of police terror.
However, mass struggles will also prove that the police can only be pushed back from their worst excesses temporarily. In this capitalist system, the police are armed thugs whose role is indeed to “serve and protect” – not the working-class majority but the capitalist rulers who profit from the economic exploitation of the working class. Victimizing people of color helps turn workers against each other. This weakens the working class as a whole and specifically hinders the possibility of all the exploited and oppressed uniting in mass action to demand an end to the attacks on their lives and living standards.
That’s why we say that police brutality and racism cannot be solved by reforms – only the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state and system can put an end to police terror. For this to happen, not only is mass struggle in the form of protests and strikes necessary; the most politically conscious workers and youth will have to join together to build a revolutionary political party that can lead our class to victories and to doing away with the capitalist economic system and its repressive state apparatus. In sum, we need a socialist revolution.
A few days after August 9 the protests had spread to dozens of cities nationwide. In New York, for example, thousands shut down Times Square and hundreds more protested in Harlem, Queens and Brooklyn. There is great potential for a national movement. Fast-food workers fighting for a $15 minimum wage and unionization have participated in the protests in Ferguson. Along with other low-wage workers, they have been at the leading edge of struggle in this country for economic justice. What’s needed is a united movement against both racist attacks like police brutality and economic attacks like the absence of good jobs at a living wage, Bringing such movements together, with young Blacks and Latinos playing a leading role, could stimulate a revived movement of the entire working class.
But there are obstacles besides the police. We have already seen in Ferguson that “community leaders” as well as officials of Black establishment organizations have a different agenda from “No Justice, No Peace.” Theirs is “Peace with Less Injustice” – but above all “Get Out the Vote,” for Democratic Party politicians who inevitably betray the justice movements that backed them. No wonder these leaders have failed to provide a decisive direction for the protests. Their acceptance of the curfew – and then their attempt to enforce a curfew even after it has been lifted – is particularly shameful.
The only real mass organizations that the working class has in this country are the trade unions, but they are almost universally led by bureaucrats who use their control of the unions to stop workers’ struggles rather than organize them. But organized workers do have a fundamental interest in seeing the strikebreaking police force pushed back, as well as in building the biggest movement possible against economic injustice and all oppression. The unions have the potential means to mobilize tens and hundreds of thousands, if not more.
The idea of fighting for the labor movement to build these protests may seem to many people to be a sick joke given their terrible record in sabotaging the fight for their own members, much less the broader working-class and the poor – but workers face injustice at the hands of police and need to fight back, and to ignore the unions is to let their leaders off the hook and miss an opportunity to advance the cause of a stronger working-class fightback. The community and union leaders should be held accountable to their positions of responsibility – all the while we all must prepare to replace them with an alternative leadership capable of taking the class struggle forward against every form of exploitation and injustice.
For years now, the whole American working class has suffered unending attacks on its jobs, living standards and social services – not to mention civil rights. While the banks that drove the economy into crisis got bailed out, the rest of the country has been left to struggle to survive amid rising unemployment and poverty. And there has been no sustained fightback by working-class and poor people.
Young Black and Latino workers and poor people suffer the worst of all capitalism’s attacks. But with the rebellion in Ferguson and protests spreading around the country, they are setting an example for all working-class people, showing that it is long overdue that they stand up against the system’s attacks and organize mass struggles in defense of their lives and living standards. Young people of color have played this leading role before – the ghetto rebellions of the 1960’s inspired an upsurge of strikes and organization by workers of all races, along with mass protests against U.S. imperialist policies abroad.
At that time the capitalist system was still relatively prosperous and could afford to make serious concessions. But today the world economy is teetering on the edge of another Great Depression and the ruling class is on the attack. Mass struggles can push back these attacks and even win some improvements temporarily. But to put an end to the worsening misery of life under capitalism these struggles will have to culminate in working-class revolutions that overthrow the ruling class so that society’s wealth can be used for the benefit of the masses of workers’ and poor people.
The working class desperately needs to push aside the capitalist politicians, liberal reformers and bureaucrats who hold back their struggles and replace them with a new revolutionary working-class leadership, armed with a clear vision of the path ahead and how to achieve it. Such a vanguard party leadership cannot be created at the last moment; it must begin to be built in the struggles of today.
We think the most politically conscious workers and youth will come to see, through the experience of struggles today as well as the study of Marxist theory and the history of past struggles, that the working class can and must overthrow capitalism and build a better, socialist world. Workers need a new political leadership – a revolutionary working-class party that fights for the best possible defense today while drawing the lessons from every struggle to convince our fellow workers, over time, of the need to overthrow the capitalists. That means replacing the capitalists’ rule with a working-class state power dedicated to building a society of abundance, freedom and justice for all.
1. The court decision of August 2013, in which a judge ruled that the stop and frisk program had to be modified, has been upheld. A Federal appeals court recently rejected a request from the NYPD to overturn the ruling. However, the “remedies” that the court has ordered are yet to be implemented – and would not be a significant improvement in any case. They include the establishment of an independent monitor, more police training, a pilot program for “body-worn cameras” so that cops will video their own stop and frisk incidents, and a vague call for “community input.” For details see failedevidence. wordpress.com/2013/08/15/nypd-stopfrisk-decision-part-ii-remedies-ordered/.