From Ferguson to New York


Participants at the Speak-Out outside of Hunter College on 3 September, 2014.


Stop Racist Police Terror

When a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri shot down Michael Brown and cops left his body lying in the street for hours, it set off an explosion of mass anger. Young and old, the population of this more than two-thirds black town had had it with the white cops and their racist bosses who lord it over the place like it was a plantation. No matter what the rulers tried, they couldn’t squelch the protests. From the start, St. Louis County police deployed the military arsenal they had been building up to put down black unrest.

It didn’t work – in fact it backfired. Shock built nationwide at images resembling upheavals against bloody dictators in the Middle East, Palestinians rising up against Israeli occupation, or mass protests in the black Soweto Township in apartheid South Africa. The snarling dogs recalled Birmingham in the most violent phase of repression against the civil rights struggle. Militarized policing drew particular attention, with liberal Democrats and even right-wing Republicans lamenting it (after lavishly funding it). All the firepower didn’t stop nightly protests by angry youth fed up with police harassment, and now the murder of a young black man as he held up his hands saying, “Don’t shoot!”

Next came the curfew. While Obama made hypocritical speeches about protecting the right to protest, his fellow Democrat, Governor Jay Nixon, ordered protesters off the streets, supposedly to stop looting. Protesters defiantly stood their ground until the barrages of gas and gunfire drove them away. Then the results of the independent autopsy came out: Michael Brown was shot six times, twice in the head. Militant protests broke out again. This time the cops attacked demonstrators hours before the curfew went into effect. The Nixon ordered in the National Guard. Mass arrests followed, together with denunciations of “outside agitators.”

We stand with the embattled people of Ferguson, Missouri, and hail the courageous youth who have refused to be intimidated by everything the racist rulers have thrown at them. The fact that they have fought back against the police has thrown the ruling class into a national crisis. The police murder of Michael Brown reverberated around the country because this is no local issue. It came just weeks after Eric Garner was chokeholded to death on Staten Island by New York City police. Across the United States, cops kill over 400 people a year, and won’t be stopped by calls to limit their hardware. Systemic police violence must be fought by mobilizing labor, black, and immigrant power as well as youth opposed to racist repression nationwide.

Because racist police brutality and cop terror is endemic in American capitalism, it can’t be stopped by a few reforms. For gunning down Michael Brown, Darren Wilson definitely belongs behind bars for a long time. Many are calling for him to be arrested, indicted and tried, while chanting “No justice, no peace.” But we know there is no justice for the oppressed in the capitalist courts. The ruling class stands by its “special bodies of armed men” (in Engels’ famous phrase), who serve and protect the interests of capital. Their job is to keep poor and working people down, which is exactly what they’ve been doing in Ferguson.

What happened in this white-ruled black Missouri suburb is not just the result of local racism. It directly reflects militarization of police forces throughout the United States. How was it that Bearcats and mine-resistant ambush-protected armored vehicles, sound cannons and heavy-duty weaponry suddenly showed up on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson? Along with helicopters circling overhead, they come from the Departments of Defense, Justice Department, and Homeland Security under a program that sends billions of dollars of equipment to local police in the name of fighting “terrorism.” As Ferguson was turned into a war zone, a reporter recorded a protester shouting at a line of police, “You gonna shoot us? Is this the Gaza Strip?” In fact, high-level police officials from the area have traveled to Israel to receive lessons on occupation. For its part, the NYPD has its own office in Tel Aviv.

The result of these programs is that run-of-the-mill police actions across the country increasingly resemble military operations, with the general population as the enemy. While this has been intensified by the “war on terror” since 2001, it dates back to the creation of SWAT teams in the late 1960s and the “war on drugs” starting in the 1980s. From the beginning, it’s been a bipartisan effort. Ruling-class critics were mainly concerned that paramilitary tactics in Ferguson weren’t working. If protesters had been shocked-and-awed into submission, there wouldn’t have been a peep from Washington. As soon as the National Guard was brought in, the complaints stopped.

However, the greatest threat is not that this is a boondoggle, but that the authorities are gearing up for internal war. They publish studies on it, formed a military North American Command to prepare for it, and used the 2013 Boston Marathon attack as a practice run for locking down an entire metropolitan area. Internal war against whom? The target is poor, black, Latino, immigrant, and working people who dare to resist. Moreover, the police recipients of Pentagon largesse are contractually required to use all that stuff within a year of receiving it. So what’s happening in Ferguson was no one-shot deal, we’ll see those images again, most likely soon.

With the election of Barack Obama there was a lot of talk about a “post-racial America.” The reality is very different. In fact, in recent years there has been a rise in racist reaction. This is the core of the rabid rightist opposition to Obama, despite his capitulation to right-wing pressure at every step. It is accompanied by mounting attacks by police, security guards, and vigilantes against blacks and immigrants. Last year there was the NYPD murder of Kimani Gray in East Flatbush, Brooklyn and the racist verdict freeing the killer of Trayvon Martin in Florida. This year it is the NYPD murder of Eric Garner, the Missouri cop killing of teenager Michael Brown, and an ever-growing list across the country.

What we’re facing is not some crooked cops run amok, a few bad apples, an out-of-step police chief. It’s a whole apparatus of racist repression in the service of imperialism, “the highest stage of capitalism.” The increasing virulence of the attacks reflects entrenched local racism, certainly, but also the worldwide economic depression since the 2007-08 financial crash, and endless wars of terror waged by the United States in the Middle East and around the world.

Today, as clouds of tear gas and volleys of flash-bang grenades engulf Ferguson, many young people have marched in protest, as they did in 2013 for Trayvon. Whole sectors of the population may be beginning to see, as our placards have proclaimed, that “Imperialist War Abroad Means Racist Repression in the U.S.” The key question is how to fight this escalating racist-capitalist assault. What’s needed above all is revolutionary leadership. In this fight to rip racist oppression out by its roots – in this country born from chattel slavery – the struggle for black liberation is and has always been central. To put a stop to racist police brutality and murder, we must fight for revolution, a socialist revolution to overthrow capitalism.

National Crisis Sparks Protest at CUNY

On 3 September, a “Speak-Out Against Racist Repression from Ferguson to New York” was held at CUNY’s Hunter College campus. This report is followed by edited excerpts of some of the speeches.

The police murder of Eric Garner in Staten Island, followed by that of Michael Brown and the military/police occupation of Ferguson, Missouri, brought a wave of outrage across the United States and around the world. Anti-racist young and working people of all ethnicities took to the streets in solidarity with the Ferguson protesters and the families of Brown, Garner, and others targeted by deadly police brutality. A backlash emerged, with collections taken up for the officer who gunned down Michael Brown. In New York, “support our police” forces raged against the teachers’ union for joining a march in solidarity with the Garner family. Faced with the unending horror of racist police terror, the question was posed, in the words of the old miners’ song: “Which side are you on?”

The Obama administration did its job for the ruling class, which decided some time ago that it would be useful to have some “black faces in high places” to help administer the system of racist oppression called capitalism in the United States. Having funneled high-tech weapons to police across the country, while waging ever-expanding wars abroad, they tried to head off protests with speeches about non-violence (for the oppressed only). Meanwhile, Nixon mobilized the National Guard to try to terrorize the black people of Ferguson. Attorney General Eric Holder, seconded by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, worked to drown mass indignation in illusions about police “reform.” These are the same illusions pumped out every time revulsion against systemic police violence has reached crisis proportions.

At CUNY, police harassment is a fact of life for innumerable students. Activists building for the Speak-Out noted students’ responsiveness to the point that police brutality is endemic because “U.S. capitalism is racist to the core” and has been since its origins in chattel slavery. Nor is CUNY a stranger to repression, as shown in the crackdown against last year’s protests against the hiring of ex-general David Petraeus and the Trustees’ push for the suppression of “expressive conduct” aimed against the most basic rights of protest. Reflecting this, hours before the September 3 Speak-Out, organizers’ table inside the Hunter campus was shut down by campus police.

The Speak-Out drew upwards of 75 participants. Immigrant restaurant workers came down from the Bronx as part of a delegation from the Laundry Workers Center organizing group. A group of African American workers from the New York Blood Center, located near Hunter, was drawn to the protest. Apart from the Internationalist Clubs, which initiated the event, and Class Struggle Education Workers (CSEW), the CUNY “left” was almost completely absent. However, many people who had never participated in any kind of protest before stepped forward to voice their views and experiences.

Portia, CUNY Internationalist Clubs and CSEW: “Join with us today in this Speak-Out Against Racist Repression, from the murder of Michael Brown and the racist occupation of Ferguson, Missouri to the case of Eric Garner and all those killed by the NYPD. It’s not a case of ‘some bad apples’ in the police – this is a system of racist police brutality built to enforce capitalist power. In Ferguson, anti-racist protesters were facing assault rifles, tanks, and all kinds of military equipment, to back up the police power that killed an innocent teenager just because he was black. We see this repeated over and over again. These killings happened within a short time in 2014, but this goes back centuries in this racist capitalist country that was built on slavery. We need to speak out against the system that causes the murders of black and Latino youth in order to protect its profits, to protect its chokehold on the working class and other oppressed groups.”

The rally discussed the facts behind each of the names on a poster listing some of those killed by the NYPD, among them Kimani Gray, Ramarley Graham, Anthony Baez, Eleanor Bumpurs, Patrick Dorismond and Alberta Spruill, an African American city worker who died of a heart attack when police kicked down her door and threw a flash grenade into her apartment in Harlem. When we reached the name of Sean Bell, an African American woman student spoke out:

B., Hunter student: “Sean Bell got shot up on the day of his bachelor party, coming out of a strip club in Jamaica, Queens. Fifty bullets were shot into his car….They said he had a gun, but he didn’t. For that he got killed, a few hours before he was supposed to get married. So: for Sean Bell!”

Continuing down the list of names, one of the rally organizers asked, “How many of you remember the case of Amadou Diallo?”

A woman student responded: “I live up there, on Wheeler Avenue, and he just lifted up his wallet right outside his apartment and they shot him down, as many shots as it would take to kill an elephant: 41 shots. They searched his body and there wasn’t anything except his wallet. None of the officers went to jail. So then they open up a clinic named after Amadou Diallo, and where they killed him, they named that street Amadou Diallo Place. I used to watch what the [NYPD Street Crimes Unit] – people used to call them “the goonies” back then – was doing. Luckily they didn’t catch me. They went around in black unmarked cars, with about four white police officers in the car.”

Mario, Internationalist Club: “A few months before the Ferguson incident, a young man was detained. His name was Victor White III. It is amazing how this young man died. He was arrested [on March 3 in Iberia Parish, Louisiana], and the police searched him but found nothing on him. They handcuffed him and put him in the back of the police car. All of a sudden this young man was dead! They said he killed himself. How in this world can a person handcuffed behind his back, who had been searched, shoot himself in the right side of his chest? His name must have been Houdini. He was 22 years old. Remember his name, Victor White III, look him up. Enough is enough!”

Morgan, CSEW: “We live in an upside-down system. It’s a system that set itself up violently, and we live on top of that violence. The U.S. has a ‘Defense’ Department that’s the greatest aggressive force in world history, an offensive juggernaut, an imperial system. The ‘Justice’ Department is based on violent repression. Michael Brown is seen as a violent individual because he’s black, but the violence comes overwhelmingly from the ‘Justice’ Department and the prison complex. When protesters try to point out that this ‘normal’ tragedy shouldn’t be normal, there’s further violence with deployments of the military. They want you to accept this kind of capital punishment, with unarmed people murdered by police – people called ‘violent,’ coded as ‘dangerous,’ and put to death.

The problem is who is in power. We need people who experience the brunt of this system to marshal the power that they do have. This is the point about potential union power. When we go on strike we’re going to be shutting things down in a system that wants it to be ‘normal’ when they kill people. When we go on strike they will call it illegal, since we have the Taylor Law in New York State: if you’re a transit worker, or a teacher, it’s illegal to go on strike. They say it’s essential services so how dare you shut it down – just like the bank bailout was ‘essential,’ just like their wars are ‘essential services’ because you need to ‘defend’ capital’s expansion as it takes over resources and destroys populations.

What we need is a new system, where we are in power. Who is ‘we’? Those who are not in control of capital, those who work, who work extremely hard, or are unemployed, those who have suffered in this system, are put in prison, have been disenfranchised. When they are in power, it will be a system we can all live in, and we can respect each other for the first time in history. And that’s why we need a revolution.”

Hunter student: “When I was 17 I was arrested; I fell in with the wrong crowd of guys one night. I got off with a slap on the wrist, even though I resisted arrest because they were undercover officers. The same police department gunned down an unarmed black teenager named Denzel Curnell; that was earlier this year [in Charleston, South Carolina]. The same police department that laughed and said “boys will be boys,” because I’m white, and it was in the South, later gunned down a boy who was about the same age as myself. Why does “boys will be boys” only apply to white boys such as myself, and how long does police violence have to go on until things change?”

Gordon, GC Advocate editor: “I can offer you all an anecdote about my personal experiences as a black man with the police in this country. My parents are from Jamaica and as I was growing up here in the United States, my father would always tell me that every time I interacted with the police I would have to be respectful, do what they say, really toe the line, because otherwise I would run the risk of suffering severe bodily harm. I don’t imagine that many white folks – and I grew up in a mostly white neighborhood – got that kind of talk from their parents. So if we fast-forward a few years, I was living in Philadelphia. Similarly to [the Alberta Spruill case], there was a police unit which came to my apartment at 4am; they didn’t use a flash-bang grenade, thankfully, but they broke down the door. They didn’t have a warrant. They put me under arrest, and I was handcuffed. They said I “knew” what I did. They showed me a picture of a black man – clearly not me, with a different complexion, he was older, he was bald, he had a different weight. They looked at his picture, they looked at me, then they un-cuffed me and said ‘Well, it’s all the same to us.’ And then they left.

A year before that I was also arrested, for what one of my friends called ‘being black in public.’ This was also in Philadelphia. I was walking to meet a friend after work, and I saw a black man being brutalized by the police. They were accusing him of resisting arrest. The arresting officer was a white man, he had called him a ‘nigger.’ The fellow that was being placed under arrest said, ‘OK, I don’t want to be arrested by you, have someone else arrest me.’ Then they tased him three times, and he was charged with ‘terroristic threats,’ which in Pennsylvania means up to three years in prison, because he supposedly threatened to fight the police officer. A 16-year-old girl filmed the tasing and was punched in the face [by the cops] and her phone was smashed on the ground. I and the arrested man’s brother were arrested for allegedly ‘inserting ourselves’ into a police investigation. The judge pressured us to plead guilty or no contest, but we both pleaded not guilty. When the trial date came around we were told the charges had been dropped for lack of evidence. We both testified for the arrested man, and he got off, because it was a ludicrous charge. He was lucky that he survived being tased three times in the space of about two minutes.

Police brutality, particularly against blacks and Latinos, is not something that’s unique to New York or is an anomaly in Ferguson. It is something that is part and parcel to the social system which we currently inhabit. So – it needs to go.”

Gerónimo, worker at Liberato Restaurant and activist with the Laundry Workers Center (translated from Spanish): “My name is Gerónimo; I am a Mexican worker at a restaurant in the Bronx. We are here to support you and for you to support our struggle too. I’ve been working about eight years in a restaurant where they were not even paying us minimum wage. We’re fighting against this. We’re fighting for all the workers, in any restaurant or any other kind of work. Many people work 60 hours or more without getting overtime. In my case, I work 54 hours a week but they’ve never paid me overtime. We support you students, we hope that you too will win in your struggles, and we thank you for your support.”

Will, Hunter student: “I haven’t experienced police brutality against myself, but I can say something about the capitalist system that we live in. I’m sick and tired of living in a society where I have to go into debt in order to get an education. And then lots of us will be forced to do something we don’t like as a job, in order to get out of debt. Student debt is the only kind of debt that you can’t get out of, ever. If you declare bankruptcy, you still have to pay your student debt back. If you die, it goes to your spouse or your children.

We need to make huge changes in this capitalist society to get ourselves free. The police brutality against people of color in this country is the same kind of brutality that this country perpetrates on other people of color overseas. It’s just oppression so the people in power can make more money. It’s the same kind of oppression that’s been going on since the founding of the United States. First slavery, then slavery was overthrown and it became Jim Crow; then that was overturned and now it’s locking people up or killing people on the street. Things are not changing, and they won’t change unless people stand up and have their voices heard.”

Hunter student: “The Michael Brown shooting and the killing of so many young black men is a crisis for our generation, whether you’re white, black, Latina, anything – you should be concerned about this attack on people of our age group. You can pretend that you’re ignorant, that you don’t want to look up anything about it or get involved, that it’s ‘too political’ – but it’s a crisis. When someone your age has a likelihood of being shot down for no reason, you should be afraid and you should be angry.”

Hunter student: “It’s called police brutality, but it’s really a war being waged against people of the cities by the police. That warfare is waged not only through physical violence but economic violence, like gentrification, running people out of their homes, out of their neighborhoods. It’s a systematic approach of oppression. And that war won’t end until people do something about it.”

Sándor, CSEW: “Where ‘race’ and racial oppression come from is the capitalist system. This isn’t just ‘a theory.’ It’s what you find out when you look at history. Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri. The Dred Scott case originated nearby. Dred Scott was a slave in Missouri whose owner had taken him to a free state. He sued for his freedom and the case went up to the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Taney famously declared that black people ‘had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.’ We go from the Dred Scott case to the killing of Michael Brown and that of Eric Garner here [In New York City], with a death sentence on the spot. First they kill them, then they try to kill their character.

On August 23 a march was held for Eric Garner’s family. Union leaderships often don’t do what they should, but in this case the United Federation of Teachers supported that march in solidarity with the Garner family, as did the CUNY faculty/staff union. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association launched a campaign against the teachers union, saying how dare they take an ‘anti-police’ stand by marching that day. A lot of teachers say: How could we not stand with our students? Who is being targeted by stop-and-frisk? You can see it at CUNY too, at the subway exit at Hostos Community College in the South Bronx, and lots of other places.

For unions to take a stand against racist police brutality is important, but it’s only a beginning. How many petitions have there been about these issues – and what have they accomplished? But what if the unions didn’t just go to a march but actually used their power against racist terror? For example, the people who drive the subway and the buses – their sons and daughters continue to be targeted by the police under Mayor de Blasio and his appointee Bill Bratton. The next time the NYPD carries out one of these racist murders, the transit workers and other unions should shut the city down. Wall Street can’t get its workers if there’s no subway. We’re talking about the power of the working class. We won’t get anywhere with illusions in the Democratic or Republican parties – only by exercising that power.”

Hunter student: “It’s no coincidence that as the National Guard was called in to occupy Ferguson, the occupation of Gaza turned extremely violent. Working people have to be walled off by the state, and when those walls don’t work the state will use violence to keep those working people down. You can see that clearly when the military National Guard was called into Ferguson to restore ‘order’ and when the Israeli Defense Forces were sent into Gaza to kill Palestinians. The state will always use violence to defend profit, from this part of the world all the way to other parts of the world. The struggles of minorities in this country are intimately linked to Palestinian struggle and those all across the world for people who are oppressed.”

Amy, Hunter College: “As a Hispanic woman, I’ve been living in the Bronx the majority of my life. All too many of us are more comfortable leading our own individual lives than caring about what’s going on. Yet we’re witnessing systematic violence against the very people who have been here since slavery. Then there’s the social question of how people are divided up: light-skinned against dark, I have money and you don’t – these are all derived from capitalist ideas. You are idolizing the very thing that’s oppressing you!”

Rally organizer: “Those that organize against racist police terror – or against the oppression of women, or against wage theft and other things discussed here today – are usually radicals. Being radical means getting to the root of things. That’s what we have to do to the bottom of racist police brutality. We’d like people to think about the idea that racial oppression and police violence are related to capitalism; about connections between racist repression here and imperialist war abroad, between racial oppression and the oppression of women; and what we mean by class struggle and socialist revolution.”

A discussion followed on the struggle against the militarization of CUNY and how ROTC and military recruiters target working-class students:

B., Hunter student: “That’s how they got me – ROTC. I bumped into a recruiter outside of my house. He was doing all this convincing, to get me straight from high school. I actually did it, but thank God I got out of it. I don’t think you should be fighting for something when you don’t understand what it’s about. I signed up right around the time the war started. We were being sent to Iraq. I found out that 250 people from my unit ended up passing away. I feel like you should be informed, rather than letting these people brainwash you with all these promises that aren’t really going to happen. We could make a difference if we stand together and fight together.”

Allison, Internationalist Clubs: “This isn’t just some issue of police ‘reform.’ We don’t need ‘nicer’ police, we don’t need ‘better training’ for police. The police are trained. And we’re not only talking about situations like Ferguson and the situation with the killing of Eric Garner. We’re not talking about a few renegade cops being more aggressive than necessary. We’re talking about police officials traveling to Israel to learn occupation tactics. We’re talking about police being supplied with military equipment and armored cars, even in places in rural Maine.

This isn’t just about ‘excessive militarization’ of the police force. This is the nature of the police, the armed force of the state. And we don’t need to make sure that the police ‘Serve and Protect,’ because they already do. The police do not serve and protect ‘the people,’ not black, Latino, immigrant workers. The police serve and protect exactly what they were created to serve and protect: the capitalist system. And capitalism thrives on racism. Just as the U.S. imperialist operations in other countries serve the interests of capital abroad, the police serve to repress those within this country who pose a threat to the existence and stability of capitalism. But I also wanted to say that this system is not eternal. It’s actually very sick, and we need to do more than try to patch it up and treat the symptoms. We need to put forward a revolutionary program that can challenge and overthrow the existing system itself, because that is when we will begin to see the end of tragedies like this, and the end of racism.”

A rally organizer spoke about how the origins of the police in the U.S. lie in the “slave patrols,” established by the slave owners in the South. Charleston, South Carolina then created a uniformed, armed paramilitary force in 1783 to control the city’s large slave population, with other Southern cities following suit. Half a century later, Boston established the first paid police force in the North, followed by New York. The speaker also pointed out that the system of armories, like the one on 67th Street across from Hunter College, was set up in the wake of the Great Labor Uprising of 1877. In St. Louis, Missouri, one of the hubs of that mass labor revolt, black and white workers united in militant struggle that led the capitalist class to build up its repressive forces against the threat of social revolution. This is vividly depicted in the documentary “1877: The Grand Army of Starvation,” produced by CUNY’s American Social History Project.

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