Police and vigilante murders of African Americans rooted in national oppression
Build a militant, mass movement for liberation!
On July 17, Eric Garner, an African American father of six, was choked to death by New York City police, who then went through his pockets instead of calling an ambulance. Three weeks later, Michael Brown was shot at least six times and killed by policeman Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. His body was left in the street and no medical help was called. For more than a week the police refused to release Officer Wilson’s name and turned in no official police report. All of this shows that another cover-up is underway in the murder of Michael Brown.
Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Jordon Davis and Trayvon Martin are just the most publicized of the recent string of police and vigilante killings. Across the country Black and Brown men are being hunted down, some guilty of nothing more than “walking while Black,” while others are accused of petty crimes where the police have acted a judge, jury and executioner. These killings are but the tip of the iceberg. For every murder by police and vigilantes, there are thousands of Black and Brown men and women who are singled out by racist police, racist laws and courts set up for the rich and powerful, filling the prisons of this country.
One of the foundations of U.S. wealth is the oppression of African Americans. For the first 200 years of the British colonies and then the founding of the U.S., millions of Africans were taken from their families, homes and people to work as chattel slaves in the Americas. Millions died in the infamous “middle passage” between Africa and the Americas, and those who survive have been forged into an oppressed nation, with a common culture, language and economy in the U.S. South.
To suppress the slaves’ fight for freedom, the U.S. institutionalized local government militias to put down slave revolts. After the Civil War and the freeing of the slaves, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, founded by former Confederate general Bedford Forrest, along with the with the use of African American prison labor in the infamous chain gangs saw the union of racist vigilantes and the system of police and courts, to enforce a system of U.S.-style apartheid segregation known as Jim Crow. This is at the root of the criminalization of Black people in the U.S.
Legal segregation was broken in the 1950s and 1960s by the African American freedom struggle known as the Civil Rights movement. This struggle not only brought about gains in the rights of, and opportunities for, African Americans, but also set the stage for Chicanos, Latinos, Asians, Native American, women, and LBGT people to launch their own movements for liberation. The 1960s was also a high tide for labor struggles and strikes, and saw the beginnings of many government programs such as Medicare, Head Start, Medicaid that benefitted the elderly, children and poor.
But the 1% who rule America rallied under President Nixon behind a two-fold strategy to deal with the Black Liberation Movement. On one hand, there was a wave of repression, centered around the FBI COINTELPRO to murder and jail African American leaders and organizations such as the Black Panther Party. At the same time, there was a conscious development of a new sector of Black capitalists and government managers. While traditionally Black-owned businesses were based in African American community and needed the support of the working masses, this new sector of elite African Americans was to serve at the highest level of U.S. corporations, military and government. One result is the traditional Black national bourgeoisie was weakened as mainstream corporations took their markets.
We can see this strategy at work today. On one hand there is the militarized response to the protests that rocked Ferguson for more than a week, complete with storm-trooper like police to military armored personnel carriers. On the other hand there are a few African Americans at the highest levels of power, from former military Chief of Staff Colin Powell, to Attorney General Eric Holder, to McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, to president Barack Obama.
But the masses of Ferguson and their supporters from the Saint Louis area and around the country withstood both the police repression and the efforts of established Black leaders to cool out their fight. They rejected the police attempt to criminalize Michael Brown and to justify the shooting. While the media have been echoing the police claims of “outside agitators” across the country, in fact, the vast majority of those arrested were from the Saint Louis area.
The Freedom Road Socialist Organization hails the African American working masses of Ferguson and Saint Louis as heroes for standing up to intense police repression and continuing to fight, night after night, for justice for Michael Brown. Just as the Civil Rights movement attracted supporters from across the country, the fight in Ferguson is drawing people to the struggle today. Political consciousness is spreading, from rap artists who take up the cause to local politicians who side with the protesters and not the police.
New challenges will face the movement. Police body cameras, which many people hope will limit police brutality, are now being turned on the protesters to try to criminalize them. Officer Darren Wilson has not been arrested, and instead the case has been turned over to a secretive grand jury under the direction of a prosecutor with strong ties to the police. Their plan is to drag out the proceedings behind closed doors for months and hope that the movement dies down, allowing them to let Darren Wilson go free.
There is a saying that there are many Black leaders, but there is no leadership. What is needed is leadership from a new generation of Black youth, who can organize and lead the working masses of African Americans in the ongoing struggle for justice, equality and power. Just as the Student National Coordinating Committee or SNCC emerged out of the Feb. 1, 1960 Greensboro sit-in and the wave of civil disobedience against segregation that followed, so today what is needed is grassroots, militant organizations that can rally a broad movement against racist police and vigilantes and for equality and power.
Above all, we must continue to focus on the demands: Justice for Michael Brown! Arrest and jail Darren Wilson and all killer cops and racist vigilantes!