In memory of Eric Garner
and Michael Brown

To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
December 3, 2014
RE: A new wave of struggle against racism and police murders

On Wednesday, December 3rd, a Staten Island grand jury refused to bringcharges against Daniel Pantaleo, the white policeman who choked and killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man and married father of six. A video of the killing showed what had happened, and the New York City Medical Examiner’s office had ruled Garner’s death a homicide, but the grand jury shrugged. Protest marches immediately began in New York.

This comes as protests continue against the police murder of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. The latest phase of the movement for justice for Michael Brown began on November 24. At that time, a grand jury in St. Louis County declined to bring charges against Darren Wilson, the white police officer who had killed Michael Brown on August 9 in Ferguson, Missouri. Immediately after this decision by the grand jury, protesters took to the streets in Ferguson. By the next day, demonstrations broke out in many cities across the US; from New York, Boston, and Philadelphia on the East Coast to Seattle and Los Angeles on the West, from Detroit and Cleveland in the Midwest to Atlanta in the South, people came out in the street to protest. The size of the protests ranged from small to actions of several thousand people. Protesters declared that “black lives matter”, “being black is not a crime”, “hey, ho, these killer cops must go!” and other slogans.

In Ferguson itself, protests against the murder of Brown have been going on ever since he was killed. From the beginning, the police in Ferguson, the St. Louis County police, and the Missouri State Highway Patrol used brutal tactics to suppress these demonstrations and ended up arresting hundreds of protesters. The Ferguson police have reveled in the use of military equipment. Some people were arrested for simply being at the demonstrations. The police have also threatened reporters and used tear gas against them. The federal government helped keep news helicopters away by having the FAA set up a no-fly zone over Ferguson for private planes. But one police officer was still filmed shouting “Bring it, all you fucking animals, bring it” at protesters.

Demonstrations continued on the following days, and on Monday December 1, there was another round of protest in cities around the country. Actions ranged from sit-ins and die-ins to student strikes at some high schools and colleges; a number of actions blocked freeways, and in the San Francisco Bay area, protesters sought to paralyze BART commuter trains. A wide range of people carried out their own actions.  For example, about 120 military veterans wrote a letter to the Missouri National Guard, which had been sent to Ferguson, urging them to side with the protesters. (http://www.Ifyouonlynews.Com/police-2/military-vets-send-letter-national-guard-urging-them-stand-with-ferguson-protestors/) Five members of the St. Louis Rams football team gave a “hands up” gesture before a game, and so on.

Darren Wilson claimed that his life was threatened in a fight with Michael Brown, so that he had to shoot in self-defense. But Brown was killed 148 feet away from Wilson’s car where the original contact between Brown and Wilson took place. Brown was chased by Wilson and had turned back to surrender, so putting one’s hands in the air has become a symbol of protest against Brown’s murder.

The murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are only two of many police killings of unarmed black people: there was also Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, and on and on. The murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner are just the last of many killings. That’s why they have given rise to such a major response. And they appear to many as a new form of lynching, with the rope replaced by the bullet, chokeholds, and brutal beatings.

The US has an oppressive police establishment. The US imprisons a higher percentage of its population than almost any other country in the world: higher than Russia, higher than South Africa under apartheid, and more than six times higher than Canada. US police also shoot and kill hundreds of suspects every year, and the government refuses to keep an accurate count on them. The FBI records only police killings it regards as justifiable, and underestimates even that. (See the article from the Wall Street Journal of Dec. 3.

The law enforcement system is also profoundly racist. In Ferguson, two thirds of the population is black, but 94% of the police are white. In many situations, black people are profiled. The “war on drugs” is also carried out in a racist way. A number of studies have shown that white people in the US are more likely to sell drugs than black, and yet blacks are much more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for drug offenses. (See the September 30th “Washington Post”,

Yet this apparatus of repression isn’t just aimed at black people. Working and poor people of all backgrounds  suffer from police brutality, although black people are arrested, imprisoned, or killed by the law enforcement system at a much higher rate than other people. Millions of undocumented workers also face a life without rights.

Moreover, the police make money by harassing people. For example, the police are allowed to confiscate the property of those suspected of drug crimes, even if these people are never convicted, or even charged, with any crime. Being black with money in your pocket, for example, is an example of behavior the police may find suspicious, with the money subject to confiscation. Only occasionally can an innocent person get part of his money or property back.

Moreover, while taxes on big business and the rich are being cut across the country, Ferguson has relied on a new source of money. Court fees and fines for legal offenses, in large part traffic violations or failure to pay previous fines, are now the second largest source of income for the city. They amount to one-fifth of city revenue, and they are a major burden on the black population.  So no wonder that in 2013 police issued 24,532 warrants although the population of Ferguson is only 21,135. ( Aside from the heavy financial burden of the fines, workers may be faced with either losing their job if they take time off to appear in court to deal with a minor warrant, or missing the court date and having an increased fine.

If Ferguson were the only city with such conditions, then the protests never would have spread across the country. Instead, many black people see similar conditions all around them, and so do a number of otherworking people. Ferguson is but a symptom of a wider problem.

Ferguson is a sign that the racial discrimination is not a thing of the past. The election of Obama as president didn’t mean that the US had become a “postracial society” without racism and discrimination. The majority of black people still suffer racism and  profiling; the economic woes of the working class still bear far more heavily on black people than on whites — for example, black unemployment is twice as high as white; and the hatred for black people manifested by many hard-core conservatives is a major feature of the current political scene.

Given these conditions, the anti-racist movement is not going to go away. The police murders are continuing, and so the movement will continue too.  This has led to the question of what the movement should do. What type of actions are best? What will it take to obtain justice for the victims of police murders? How can a durable movement be built? How to oppose the demonization of the victims of police murders and, instead, to spread to more working people knowledge of what is going on? How can the movement against racism link up with the movement for economic justice, for a higher minimum wage, and for worker rights? What should the attitude be to the leaders, black or white, who counsel trusting the very system that has shown itself racist to the core? As the movement continues, these and other questions will come to the fore.

The new wave of struggle shows that the struggle for democratic rights is not something that only takes place elsewhere; it also takes place here in the US. There are people who disgrace the name of “socialism” and “anti-imperialism” by saying that the struggle for democratic rights in other countries is a US or Western imperialist plot. They denigrate the struggle in Hong Kong for real elections; turn their back on the struggle in Syria to overthrow the Assad dictatorship; sneer at the struggle in Ukraine that overthrew in February the corrupt and repressive president Yanukovych, and so on. But far from being a Western plot, the democratic struggle has always been a major part of the class struggle in the US and other Western countries. To denigrate the democratic struggle means, in the long run, to help the Western bourgeoisie, not to oppose it. The fight over democratic issues cannot be divided into two parts, a good part against police murders in the US, and a bad part everywhere else.

The anti-racist struggle in the US was a major feature of the tumultuous struggles of the past, and it's still a burning issue today. If the working people and the minorities don't stand up for their democratic rights and oppose police brutality, they will be unable to stand up for their economic rights either. If the police and the bourgeoisie are allowed to make life hell for the blacks, Latinos, undocumented workers, and other minorities, then they will make life hell for the working class as a whole whenever we go out on strike, or stand up in any way for a better world and a new economic system.

-- Joseph Green, editor, "Communist Voice"

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Posted on November 28, 2014.