Protests continue across the country

To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
December 14, 2014
RE: The growing toll of those killed by the police

More news and background on
the struggle against police murders

by Mark Williams, Communist Voice Organization

In the past weeks, protests have gripped the country in response to police murders of unarmed black victims and grand juries setting the involved white officers free without even a trial. This terror is another episode of the long history of the cops and courts beating down the working class, the poor, and especially the black and Latino poor.

On November 24 a grand jury failed to bring charges against Ferguson, MO white cop Darren Wilson for shooting down unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. Wilson instigated a conflict with Brown from inside his patrol car, drew his gun, and opened fire after Brown fled down the street.

Soon after this, a 12-year old black kid, Tamir Rice, was shot to death by a white cop in Cleveland, OH. The boy had been playing with his toy gun in a park. Someone called the police, telling them the gun may be a toy. The patrol car pulled up and a white officer shot and killed Tamir instantly. The incident was taped and proves that he was killed in less than 2 seconds when Tamir didn't immediately drop the toy.

Then on December 3rd a Staten Island grand jury refused to bring charges against Daniel Pantaleo, the white policeman who killed Eric Garner with a chokehold. Pantaleo was assisted by a bunch of other cops who helped murder Garner by crushing his head into the pavement while the helpless victim repeatedly pled "I can't breathe". The alleged crime? Selling loose cigarettes! Unfortunately for the police, the entire incident was videoed on the phone of a person a few feet away. Still the prosecuting attorney, whose role is to show whether there'senough evidence for the grand jury to bring the case to trial, managed to belittle the overwhelming evidence he had against Pantaleo and present it in a confusing way, and made it possible for the jurors to let Pantaleo walk free.

The protests

The black masses are not going to take it. And they have gotten massive solidarity from white and other non-white workers and students. After the Ferguson verdict of Nov. 24 that city was consumed with demonstrations day and night, some angrily confronting the police who resorted to violence, tear-gassing and mass arrests of over 400 in a failed attempt to quell the outpouring. Solidarity spread with numerous protests of hundreds or thousands in cities from coast to coast. In nearby St. Louis there were walkouts by high school and middle school students. After the Garner decision, high school students from six schools walked out along with some junior high students.

Three days after the Ferguson verdict, some 130 people were arrested in Los Angeles during protests. The MetroRail 7th St. Metro Center Station was temporarily closed because of nearby actions. There was a march to the Twin Towers Correction Facility that called for the release of the arrested demonstrators and severe punishment for the killer cops. Activists also rallied at a couple of police stations and also protested the police shooting of a mentally-ill local man, Ezell Ford, who was, of course, black and unarmed and was, of course, supposedly reaching for an officer's gun. The police were supposedly investigating Ford but don't say what for.

Garner's death was a new spur to action in the Oakland/San Francisco area. 25 activists chained themselves to the BART area cars that are the main transport system connecting the Bay Area. Service was shut down to a major San Francisco station. Another action by 125 people shut down the West Oakland station. On December 5 hundreds marched through downtown San Francisco shouting slogans including "Fuck the police!" and "The whole darn system is guilty as hell!" On December 6 there was a march which managed to shut down Market Street for a couple of hours.

Elsewhere in the area, hundreds of protesters marched through Berkeley. They confronted a massive police presence but refused to submit even when the police fired tear gas. The next day 500 demonstrators marched right back to the downtown area from the university's Sproul Plaza shouting "Out of your houses and into the streets!" Traffic was blocked, but drivers cheered in support. Meanwhile protesters also forced the closing of two BART stations. And elsewhere hundreds of people climbed past lines of the California Highway Patrol onto Highway 24 in Oakland.

    But the most powerful of the actions occurred in New York City after the December 3rd announcement that officer Pantaleo would go free despite the video showing his murderous chokehold on Garner. The masses erupted, bringing various sections of the city to a halt. The Brooklyn Bridge was taken over by thousands of demonstrators. Times Square and Union Square were occupied. A large "die-in" took place at Grand Central Station, and a march went through Harlem. Other pockets of protest occurred. One might imagine all this would lead to conflicts with motorists, but the establishment media concedes the motorists were honking in solidarity with protestors weaving their way through lines of cars in the streets.  A lot of the above events were nearly simultaneous, giving the appearance that the whole city had been taken over! There were also failed attempts to block the Lincoln Tunnel and a brief blocking of an artery leading into the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

The demonstrators shouted "Black lives matter!", "Hands up, don't shoot", "Being black is not a crime!" and "I can't breathe!" (repeating the plea of Garner while he was strangled by killer cops). Others were militant cries for struggle such as "No struggle, no peace, Fuck the police!" and "Garner and Brown, Shut it down!"

It has been said that NYC Mayor de Blasio did not go all out to restrict the protests because of his sympathy to the cause. Yet on the second day of the protests, 223 were arrested. And he worked to corral actions when the opportunity presented itself.

December 13 actions

December 13 was a designated day for nation-wide protests. Thousands of people traveled to Washington, DC from around the region and rallied to proclaim solidarity with the victims of racism and police brutality. A section of the DC demonstrators made their way through a Wal-Mart which caused the slave-wage employer to briefly ban anyone from entering.

In New York City, there was a huge march estimated at 20-30,000 people by some sources that finished at NYPD headquarters. Crowds gathered in Times Square. Demonstrators also congregated in Foley Square, where there are local, state and federal courthouses and City Hall nearby. People massed on the Brooklyn Bridge. Some protestors compared the NYPD to the Ku Klux Klan while the cops again exhibited their hostility to having their brutality exposed by arresting over 200.

Major actions continued through the streets of Oakland and San Francisco. Several thousand marched and there was a big "die-in" in the streets.

Demonstrators in Chicago managed to race across the Dan Ryan Expressway and briefly block traffic. They also marched in Chicago's Loop area. In Boston, protesters gathered at the State House steps and the Boston Commons and marched on the Nashua St. jail. There were 23 arrests. In St. Louis crowds of marchers shut down many popular streets. Protesters in Atlanta blocked downtown streets and a highway in Dallas was temporarily shut down.

Already activists are promising more actions.

The movement has grown to the point where basketball superstar LeBron James and other professional athletes are giving gestures of support to the victims of the police.

Get out of jail free -- via the grand jury

How is it that the grand jury let off both officers Wilson (Ferguson) and Pantaleo (NYPD)? Grand juries aren't regular trials that decide guilt or innocence, but merely if there's enough evidence to go ahead with a trial. So the limited amount of evidence a prosecutor needs and other rules make it very easy for the prosecutor. Indeed federal prosecutors win nearly every case they present to grand juries. Theoretically the purpose of grand juries is just to prevent completely frivolous trials from taking place.

Not having frivolous trials sounds good. But in reality the prosecutors don't always bring cases against the police despite how much evidence of wrongdoing there is. Or if they bring a case, they can hide or obscure evidence, present botched legal views to the jurors, etc.

In cases where the prosecutor is intent on bringing an indictment against social activists, they can do the opposite: they can take some inconsequential or made up "evidence" to help railroad the activist.

In the Ferguson case there was massive evidence against officer Wilson. In the NYC case, the evidence against officer Pantaleo was irrefutable even for the higher standards of a regular trial. If these prosecutors could not win an indictment in these cases they were almost certainly not trying.

Let's look a bit more at the Wilson case. Wilson testified roughly as follows. He drove up to Brown and his friend and told them to stop walking in the street and move to the sidewalk. Brown ignored his request and walked away. Wilson threw his SUV into reverse, came aside Brown and opened his door into Brown and grabbed Brown's arm. Wilson grabbed Brown's arm but couldn't hold him. After Brown hit him in the face (no photo shows anything on his face but a little pink spot), Wilson drew his gun and threatened to shoot, and then Brown grabbed for Wilson's gun. Then Wilson fired twice, hitting Brown's hand. Brown fled and then Wilson got out of his car firing. Wilson allegedly feared for his life. So Wilson killed Brown though the unarmed Brown was over 40 yards away.

Now this is Wilson's account. It shows Wilson being completely reckless and gunning down Brown at long range, where an unarmed man could do little to threaten him. It shows Wilson needlessly drawing his gun and threatening to kill Brown just because he couldn't hold Brown's arm. But what of the statements of witness? They are not uniform but at the very least they raise crucial questions. According to a PBS Newshour report, a big majority confirms that there was some interaction at the patrol car before Brown was shot dead. So some kind of scuffle likely happened at that point. But the testimony paints a picture that Brown was running away when shot and among the 29 witnesses, 16 said Brown had his hand up when fired upon and only 2 said he didn't. This would be a serious matter that a regular court trial should examine. Instead Wilson walks free.

As for Pantaleo, the grand jury transcript remains hidden. But it is hardly needed to find some new information in the transcript because the video itself establishes his guilt.

Only one of the people at the scene where Garner was choked to death has been indicted by a grand jury. He is Ramsey Orta, the man who videoed Garner being murdered! He was busted a few weeks after police saw him take the video and after holding a memorial for Garner. Police say Orta committed a crime when he allegedly handed a gun to a 17-year old woman. But they admit they had no fingerprints at the time and were awaiting DNA tests to prove his charge. Garner's wife was also arrested on another charge. Orta contends that the charges are false; just revenge for exposing their killing of Garner. That's reasonable. But even if Orta committed a crime and the timing of his indictment was just coincidental, one thing is clear. The grand jury system works one way for the police and another way for those exposing killer cops.

The "broken windows" policy and Garner's death

The atrocities by killer cops are not merely some random acts. Behind the police murders against blacks and poor people in general are the policies of the top police authorities and capitalist politicians, conservative and liberal alike. One of these is the so-called "broken windows" policy adopted in New York City. It played a role in the overwhelming police response to Garner for supposedly selling a few cigarettes.

"Broken windows" focuses on intense policing of minor infractions like Garner's. It also targets things like spraying graffiti on subway cars, or jumping subway turnstiles, or panhandling and vagrancy. In short it was aimed at the poor, many of who were black or Latino. According to the criminologists who first advanced the theory, it was aimed against social programs and didn't care about the living conditions of the masses. One of the founders of the theory brags that this theory "undermine[s] the decades-long assumption that only large-scale social and economic change could prevent crime; it also meant that breakthroughs in crime prevention could come from the Right" (George L. Kelling, City Journal, Special Issue 2009, 'How New York became safe: the full story')

Indeed, the Right was enthused. Republican Mayor Giuliani took it up with a vengeance along with his police commissioner William Bratton. Conservative Mayor Bloomberg loved it. And the present mayor and liberal, Bill de Blasio announced he still believes "in the core notion of the 'broken window' theory". In line with this, de Blasio has Bratton, Giuliani's thug, as his own police commissioner. Bratton has tripled the arrests of panhandlers and spiked the arrests for low level crimes in public housing projects. True, Mayor de Blasio has criticized the enormous amount of racial profiling by the city's cops. But de Blasio still holds to the basic core of "broken windows". Don't change social conditions which would reduce begging or similar low level crimes. Just keep harassing and arresting the poor. Or shoot them dead if they quarrel.

Racist justice and capitalism

The justice system is designed to protect the rich and punish the poor. And as the capitalists step up their exploitation and cut social programs to save their profits, it is no wonder that all sorts of drastic measures are taken against the masses. Deteriorating living conditions lead to crime, and stopping crime becomes the banner of the rich to further bully the masses. The judicial system resorts to finding new ways to keep the working masses down and especially keep poorer blacks and Latinos "in their place." Racial profiling, the mistreatment of Mexican immigrant workers, massive jailings, attempts to limit voting, cannot be separated from class oppression. At bottom, when the capitalists can deprive one section of workers of their rights, it is easier to keep all workers down.

The capitalists have control of the political system, too. That's why little or nothing is done by them to change the situation. Republican conservatives side openly with most every police atrocity. Giuliani and others have stated that no one should object to the police murder of Garner because, in Giuliani's words, it "helps to create this atmosphere of protest and sometimes even violence." President Obama meanwhile speaks of making the justice system more equal while leading the austerity drive of the capitalists. He is intent on carrying out the austerity drive that is ruining the masses economically, setting them up to be preyed upon by police in the poor neighborhoods. He has deported record numbers of immigrants and his own plans for the millions of immigrants remaining deny them full rights, just as the capitalists demand.

The outlook of the black bourgeoisie

The racist atrocities have aroused the masses and shown the ability to temporarily bring "normal business" to a halt. In some places protests have taken place every day for weeks on end. This flurry will not last forever, but the struggle will continue.

The longer this wave of anti-racist struggle lasts, some basic differences within it will become more clear. There are leaders like the Rev. Al Sharpton who give fiery speeches but support Obama who carries out austerity measures against blacks and others and deports Mexican immigrants. After racist vigilante George Zimmerman was found innocent of killing Trayvon Martin, and only went to trial because of weeks of protests, Sharpton proclaimed the justice system worked!

Another leader with a long history of keeping the struggle within bounds tolerated by the establishment is Jesse Jackson. He has expressed sympathy for the recent protests. At the same time he reiterates his view that the root issue behind racial and economic disparity is the lack of black capitalism. He calls the next phase of the civil rights movement "access to capital". In recent speeches Jackson recommends buying shares in Microsoft and other tech companies and trying to get top executive jobs.

Of course there should be no discrimination against blacks in any job including executive positions. But Jackson's idea that this will solve the racial and economic problems of the black masses is false. Capitalists of all nationalities exist by exploiting the masses, and the more the black bourgeoisie develops, the stronger its ties to the dominant white bourgeoisie and the established power structure, including the police.

The anti-racist movement

The degree to which the movement can alter the present system of justice, and the speed at which it can do it, depends on how strong the influence of the workers and poor is. Obama, Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, or Mayor de Blasio are not racists in the normal sense of hating black people, but their class outlook confines them to asking for small changes at the rate the bourgeoisie can tolerate. Racist practices flourish and past victories are threatened.

This need not be the case. But the degree and speed at which the racist system changes depends on the strength of a trend in the movement representing the lower economic rungs of the black population and the working class and poor as a whole. This is who suffers the most and has the most need for fundamental and rapid change. This is who most needs to fight discrimination and extra police brutality against blacks or any part of its class because such brutality can be extended to all workers. This is who is ground down by laws and courts. This is who gets sent off to jail while the bankers and the employers can escape punishment and turn jails into private profit-makers.

The ordinary masses are giving life to the present demonstrations. The more they have their own organizations and voice, the better things will be. The more they will have their own demands and slogans and determine what types of mass actions to have. And they can work to bring more people into the struggle at the workplaces, communities and schools. More radical groups can have their own leaflets explaining the connection between racism, the justice system and capitalism itself. This is what will help sustain the struggle when the present outburst fades and put it in a position to give new power to the next explosion.

Fight the cops and courts! Fight the racist system!

No to capitalist 'justice'!

Take the fight against racism into the streets!

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Posted on December 14, 2014.