Over the past year in the United States and across the world, police violence against primarily black and brown working-class people has received renewed attention. The events that followed the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police set off a wave of rebellion and protest beyond the US and across the world. The protest movement was quickly co-opted by sectors of the bourgeoisie, but the aftermath of the heady urban rebellions is that questions about the role of police and racism as tools of the capitalist class in dominating the workers are now asked more frequently than before.
While liberal politicians, NGOs, and activist groups try to paint the constant police violence against black and brown working-class people in the US as an aberration from normality, we know that we must point out the fact that this is in fact no aberration, but the necessary outcome of a system which keeps an entire class of people in a dominated position and needs an armed force to enforce that subjugation.
'A New Day in America'?
In the United States police killings of black people are such a frequent phenomenon that from a young age, black children are given “the talk” by their parents in which they are told that if they are ever pulled over or stopped by a cop, they have the choice of either compliance or death with no in-betweens. But sometimes even compliance isn’t enough to satisfy the bloodlust of the police officer, as all too many families of those slain by them can attest to.
This sort of brutal behavior by cops against black people is nothing new and has a unique history in the United States going back to the beginning of European colonization and the forced importation of African slaves. Some of the earliest police forces in what is today the United States trace their lineage back to the slave patrols that were set up in the Southern colonies and later states to enforce that system of slavery. When slaves tried to flee their miserable lives on the plantation, the patrols were sent after them and caught them. When slaves joined together to rebel against their domination, the patrols were the forces that bloodily put them down. As chattel slavery came to an end following the termination of the Civil War, those patrols transitioned to the sheriffs and cops that we know today, and unsurprisingly inherited their tendency for sadistic violence against black people and the most downtrodden groups of society within the working class.(1)
The story of police in the North is no less rooted in violence, the enforcement of an oppressive class system, as well as brutality against black people. The first modern police forces in the North arose in industrial hubs like New York City and Philadelphia, where a nascent working-class frequently fought back against the cruel living conditions that America’s young bourgeoisie had forced them into. The police arose as a response to the “disorder” that workers caused when they agitated and organized for better lives, and the bosses and the state sent in the cops at the first sign of workers fighting back. Often these workers were from immigrant communities, such as the Irish, Italians, Poles, etc., themselves and not considered “white” at that time, in addition to some blacks in the cities. The story of police in the United States is therefore a story of violence directed against the working class, with a particular target on those that don’t fit the current definition of “white”.(2)
For the last decade police killings and violence against black and brown people but also white people in some instances, have garnered more and more attention outside of the communities that they have historically impacted. The capitalist media has given greater attention to black and brown people fighting back against the issues surrounding police violence, from the rebellion in Ferguson in 2014 to the widespread rebellions in response to the murder of George Floyd in May and June of last year. While every urban rebellion leaves its mark on our society, the effects from George Floyd’s murder continue to particularly linger.
For one thing, the trial of the cop that killed Floyd, Derek Chauvin, has just concluded with a guilty verdict and widespread publicity by the bourgeois media. For those that haven’t seen the gut-wrenching video of his nearly 9-minute death by suffocation, the evidence was obvious but in capitalism where the police are the sacred defenders of the ruling class, they are given a benefit of the doubt that is beyond comparison. Somehow a defense of Chauvin was not just presented in court, but also believed and propagated by some of the most reactionary forces in the United States. Professional liar Tucker Carlson spews copaganda to his millions of viewers on Fox News claiming that Floyd supposedly died of a drug overdose instead of being killed by Chauvin, even when we have the video right in front of us.(3) He is not alone, and his lies are echoed by many on the American right which is even more open than before about its contempt for black, brown, and poor people since Trump’s presidency.(4)
With the guilty verdict, the process of broadcasting to the United States capitalism’s sacrificial lamb is complete. Because at the end of the day, Chauvin’s purpose has been to serve as capitalism’s sacrificial lamb to prove that the system can hold itself accountable for when it murders black workers in broad daylight. The case is currently being lauded by the bourgeois media as “justice delivered for George Floyd” and they point to it as evidence that the system doesn’t need to be torn down, that all we need are minor tweaks of it at most and it will sort itself out. It is the same talk of “a new day in America” as when Biden was inaugurated some months ago. Yet it is all just the same empty words and bourgeois platitudes. The only real justice for George Floyd and all of the other black and non-black workers murdered at the hands of the state’s mercenaries would be the overthrow of the violent system which killed them in the first place, capitalism. The media points to the Chauvin example as proof that killer cops can supposedly be held accountable, yet not only does his imprisonment only serve to add to and strengthen the gargantuan prison complex in the United States, but to believe this story, we have to consciously forget events that we saw happen not even a year ago in front of our eyes.
In September of 2020, the cops that barged into the home of Breonna Taylor, a black medical worker, and fatally shot her six times, were not even charged with her murder.(5) She was murdered back in March of that year when police burst into her Louisville apartment in the middle of the night on a no-knock raid and shot her in her hallway. Like in the case of Floyd and Chauvin, even within the parameters of the bourgeois legal system the cops should have been found “guilty”. Yet even after six months of campaigning by people in both Louisville and across the country for the cops who killed her to be charged with her murder, the Kentucky Attorney General eventually ruled against this. Further insult was added when the cops were charged with something, only this something was the fact that by shooting into Taylor’s apartment, the cops had endangered one of her neighbors.
Even with Chauvin being charged, it is one in a million, only amplified this way by the bourgeois press in order to fool us into believing this is representative of a general trend. It requires us to forget the many cases, sometimes very high-profile as in the case of Breonna Taylor, where the cops got off scot-free with murder.
The verdict also comes out in the context of a wave of recent violations carried out against the working class by the police over the past month. On April 11, Daunte Wright, a 20-year old black man was shot and killed by police not far from where George Floyd was brutally murdered. In Chicago a 13-year old Mexican-American boy was gunned down by a killer cop at the end of March. The video was released in mid-April and showed the boy with his hands up seconds before the officer opened fire. Even hours after the trial in Columbus, Ohio, a 16-year old black girl named Ma’Khia Bryant was gunned down outside of her home by the police that she herself had called in response to people fighting outside of her house.
All of these killings at the hands of the police have again sparked outrage by those who have lost loved ones in this manner over the years. People have taken to the streets and the sorts of riots that we saw during the George Floyd uprising last year have occurred in places like Brooklyn Center where Daunte Wright was killed. The capitalist state has responded in the way that it knows best, brute force. Protestors are met with tear gas, riot shields, police batons and rubber bullets for daring to demand that poor and working class black and brown people at least have the dignity of not being gunned down in the streets where they stand by the cops. Meanwhile Joe Biden, who was presented by the bourgeois media last year as the savior of black people despite his authoring of the 1994 Crime Bill which helped maintain the steady flow of mostly black and brown workers into the prison system, sits removed in the Oval Office and gives credence to the excuses of killer cops. Regarding the cop who killed Daunte Wright, Joe Biden echoed her lie by saying “The question is was it an accident? Was it intentional? That remains to be determined by a full-blown investigation.”(6) Of course it shouldn’t be surprising that the chief executive of the capitalist state will stand up for its hired thugs. Hopefully this can help reveal to more people the fact that Biden and the Democratic Party are simply the new managers of a racist and violent capitalist system that doesn’t change by voting the previous team out of office.
What is the alternative?
Ultimately the police killings of black and brown members of the working class, as well as those of other races, is an endemic problem to the capitalist system. When these sorts of killings happen (as they are bound to whether in Australia, the United States, or elsewhere), communists should be present at the protests and actions that spring up in response, but with the purpose of intervening with a revolutionary perspective that emphasizes how what is needed is solidarity along class lines, and not petty bourgeois racial solidarity which brings with it class collaboration. At the protests last summer we saw this process in action, where the capitalists quickly rushed in to empty the overall message of any class content, and replaced calls to abolish the police with calls for supporting black and brown businesses. This is not a strategy for ending racism, but is instead just a way for black and brown members of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie to maintain their class position and continue exploiting what are usually black and brown proletarians. As communists we have to show solidarity with these workers against their bosses and the cops that prop up their system, not encourage some racial unity between the classes.
All over the world workers have been pummelled by capitalist attacks for half a century. These attacks have intensified in the pandemic and are set to increase still further after it. Although largely unreported, workers are beginning to fight back in greater numbers along class lines. Recently in New York City a large number of food delivery workers protested for better conditions and pay.(7) Given the class retreat of the last forty years this is to be welcomed. Communists will always encourage workers to take steps like this and to go even further, outside of the confines of the legal framework on strikes and picketing. In this struggle we will get no help from unions and parliamentary parties. We must intervene wherever we can to support these struggles and invite new militants into the broader struggle against capitalism. However militant a fight to defend what little we get in the immediate term will never end as long as the capitalist system exists. To change the equation we need to build an international political body uniting workers across the world. Only when we have an international revolutionary organization in our hands that can serve as a political reference point for the rest of the working class will we best be able to fight back against police violence and see a world free from state-sanctioned race and class based killings. In a world without classes, without exploitation and poverty and without a state power which exists only to defend capitalist property many “crimes” will disappear. Given the capitalist legacy not all crime will end but those who act anti-socially will receive real justice from local communities in “People’s Courts”. But we can only make this much needed change through an international communist revolution ending the system of wage labour by overthrowing capitalism and the state.
JC (Internationalist Workers’ Group)
9 May 2021
(1) The Racist Roots of American Policing https://theconversation.com/the-racist-roots-of-american-policing-from-slave-patrols-to-traffic-stops-112816
(2) White Immigrants Weren’t Always Considered White - and Acceptable https://theundefeated.com/features/white-immigrants-werent-always-considered-white-and-acceptable/
(3) How Media Coverage of the George Floyd Story Plays into his Accused Killers’ Trial https://www.npr.org/2021/03/10/975769781/how-media-coverage-of-the-george-floyd-story-plays-into-his-accused-killers-tria
(4) New Conservative Group Would Save ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Traditions https://apnews.com/article/politics-marjorie-taylor-greene-immigration-eefdf9c180f69008d60ed92b9ef2ce03
(5) Q&A: what were the results of the Breonna Talor investigation? https://apnews.com/article/shootings-police-kentucky-racial-injustice-louisville-530bf2a8cad0eded6c7643ef77e9a384
(6) Biden Calls for ‘Peace and Calm’ in Wake of Daunte Wright’s shooting in Minnesota https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/joe-biden/biden-calls-peace-calm-wake-daunte-wright-shooting-minnesota-n1263869