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The Internationalist
  January  2016

Bring Down “King Rahm” with Workers Action!

Chicago: “16 Shots, 400 days”

Protesters outside the office of Rahm Emanuel after Chicago mayor announced firing of police chief Garry McCarthy, 1 December 2015. (Getty images)

Chicago is where it all comes together. The cold-blooded execution of Laquan McDonald by 16 bullets from a cop’s gun in October 2014, and the suppression of the police cruiser dashcam video of it for more than 13 months, until a county judge forced its release, has generated outrage pointing straight to the top of the political hierarchy. Mayor Rahm Emanuel (who was Obama’s former chief of staff) clearly engineered this cover-up and blatant obstruction of justice, in order to prevent his defeat in a hotly contested runoff election last spring. The mayor’s insufferable arrogance has finally caught up with him. Even cynically firing the hated chief of police hasn’t stopped the outcry, as calls for the mayor’s resignation multiply.

But the police assassination of Laquan and of many other black Chicagoans is not just about “King Rahm” and his “take no prisoners” style of governing. The deadly racism of the police, their regular use of deadly force against unarmed civilians, the impunity of killer cops are part of the M.O. of the political machine that has ruled Chicago for decades, from Boss Richard J. Daley from the 1950s to the ’70s, to Richard M. Daley from 1989 to 2011, to Rahm Emanuel today. They also reflect the massive poverty and pervasive residential segregation magnified by the discriminatory policies of the corporate interests who run the public schools. And it’s all part of a nationwide system of racist repression and mass incarceration devised to maintain control of the Northern ghettos following the enactment of formal equal rights in the 1960s Civil Rights laws.

By the time the video of Laquan McDonald’s murder was released, everyone knew what it would show, which didn’t make it any less shocking or sickening. A swarm of police cars is seen descending on him as he is walking away rather than lunging at a cop, thus contradicting the lying statement put out by the police department at the time. Plus there was the intimidation of motorists who witnessed the shooting, the lack of audio on the police videos, the missing 80+ minutes of the Burger King surveillance tape and other irregularities. Numerous political analysts and black leaders have said that had the video gotten out before the election, support for Emanuel and his accomplice, Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez, would have plunged.

Moreover, despite 400 days of “investigation,” Alvarez’s belated murder charge against killer cop Jason Van Dyke contains almost nothing beyond a description of the video, and the fact that motorists’ accounts don’t contradict it. And Van Dyke is only charged with first degree murder, when prosecutors normally “throw the book” at a shooter intending that some charge should stick even if others didn’t. An indictment intended to fail? Recall the case of detective Dante Servin where a judge earlier this year grotesquely found him not guilty of involuntary manslaughter, saying he acted deliberately and not recklessly in shooting Rekia Boyd and thus should have been charged with murder one. Result: the killer goes free!

Everyone also knew that once the McDonald video was out, there would be more demands to release evidence in other cases of police killings of African Americans. Unsealed a few days later, a dashcam video of the shooting of Ronald Johnson, a week before the murder of Laquan, showed clearly that he was running away. Even so, the killer cop was not charged. In the case of Cedrick Chatman, 17, who had a cellphone not a gun and also ran from the cops, a former police commander who viewed the dashcam video recommended the trigger-happy cop be fired. He was overruled, his report rewritten, and the video is still under seal. In another case, Calvin Cross, 19, also unarmed, was chased by three cops who fired 45 shots at him from four guns, including an assault rifle at point-blank range, in 2011. Again, no charges against the cops.

The way the system has worked is that the city would pay millions in blood money to the families without admitting guilt, so the cops could go on killing with abandon. The family of Cedrick Chatman received $2 million, Rekia Boyd’s family received $4.5 million, Laquan McDonald’s family received $5 million, even before they filed suit, on the condition that the video not be released and they not talk about what was on it. Nor were these isolated cases. During the period from 2008 to 2014, Chicago cops killed 118 people, mostly black; since 1986, more than 1,600 people have been hit by police bullets; and over the last decade, amid a fiscal crisis, the city paid out $521 million, over half a billion dollars, in police abuse cases (Chicago Reader, 20 May 2015; Chicago Sun-Times, 14 April 2014).

The fact that such information now finds its way into the big-business press is due to the fact that some sectors of the ruling class have concluded that Rahm Emanuel has become a liability. A New York Times (2 December 2015) editorial slammed the Chicago mayor’s cover-up, saying his administration had “lost credibility” and “the residents of Chicago will have to decide” about how to evaluate him. Even the mayor’s good pal, Illinois’ right-wing Republican governor Bruce Rauner (who opposes any minimum wage at all), says he is “very disappointed” in his former protégé. Rauner helped Emanuel land a job as an investment banker in 1998 where he raked in $16.6 million in two years, with no prior banking experience – an obvious payoff.

Demonstrators calling for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to get out durng 18 December 2015 march. But replacing him with another capitalist politician won’t stop racist police murder. It’s the capitalist system.  (Scott Olson/Getty)

Emanuel is not only a key ally of Obama but was a senior advisor to Bill Clinton in the 1990s, responsible for a host of reactionary policies including notably the North American Free Trade Agreement. He also tried to “out-Republican the Republicans” in vindictive deportations of immigrants. The mayor certainly deserves to be driven from office, by workers action against both capitalist parties, the billionaire donors who finance him and the machine that runs Chicago on behalf of the bosses. For Emanuel to be replaced by some other Democrat or Republican or “independent” bourgeois politician will do nothing to end the racist police terror which is how the capitalist rulers rule Chicago, and have for more than a century and a half.

Police brutality and murder in Chicago are legendary. The press now cites the cop riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention, where white middle-class liberal and radical youth were viciously attacked. But there’s no denunciation of the December 1969 assassination of Black Panther Party deputy chairman Fred Hampton by the Chicago Police, Cook County state’s attorney officers and FBI as part of the notorious COINTELPRO program. Nothing about the 1937 Memorial Day massacre of striking workers at Republic Steel either. Nor about the 1886 police murder of striking Harvester workers and the police attack on a protest rally the next day at Haymarket Square, leading to the execution of the revolutionary anarchist workers leaders, the Haymarket martyrs commemorated every year on the International Workers Day, May 1.

Then there was the “Midnight Crew” run by former police commander John Burge. From 1972 to 1991 this supposedly “rogue group of detectives” routinely tortured people, with at least 119 documented cases, overwhelmingly black South Side residents. The cops used electric shocks, burning with lit cigarettes, handcuffing to hot radiators, putting cattle prods to genitals, beatings, smothering and simulated Russian roulette. In 2010 Burge was found guilty of perjury (since the statute of limitations on torture had run out!), but is already out of jail. After the state legislature passed a “Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission Act,” and an investigation by the Commission was held as well as a federal grand jury, this past May Chicago paid $5.5 million to surviving victims.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and then police superintendent Garry McCarthy, 25 November 2015. Five days later McCarthy was out, Emanuel is still there. (EPA)

More recently there was the marauding elite Chicago Police anti-gang unit that used an unconstitutional anti-loitering law to terrorize whole neighborhoods. When its members were caught running drug rings, it was overhauled in 2000 and replaced by the Special Operations Section. This unit was then disbanded in 2007 after revelations about illegal arrests, holding people hostage, robbing people for personal gain and even hiring hit squads to kill other members of the unit. That squad was replaced by the Mobile Strike Force which used many of the same brutal tactics, and in turn was disbanded by Emanuel in 2011 along with another elite corps, the Targeted Response Unit. Still the cop terror against black Chicago continued.

Under Rahm Emanuel’s administration, along with the racist police murders of young black men, there has  been extensive infiltration and spying on political activists, notably during the 2011 Occupy protests and around the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago, when three youth were arrested on trumped-up terrorism charges of conspiring to attack police stations and an Obama campaign headquarters, and to shoot an arrow at Mayor Emanuel’s house (Chicago Reader, 18 March 2015). And there is the ongoing scandal of the Homan Square “black site,” a West Side warehouse where the London Guardian newspaper revealed “at least 7,000 people held off-the-books there” for interrogation, including beatings, shackling and denial of legal counsel (Guardian, 22 February and 15 December 2015).

Demonstrators protest outside Homan Square “black site” where prisoners were held “off-the-books,”  beaten and denied rights.
(Chandler West for the Guardian)

Police terror is so ingrained in Chicago, spanning the whole period from the mid-19th century to the 21st, and so integral to ruling-class domination, that merely reforming methods, disbanding units, changing personnel and ousting the political leadership will achieve little. The racist brutality and mass jailing of young black men in particular are not the result of “bad apples,” “rogue units” or particular policies, but a regime like Jim Crow segregation instituted to deny democratic rights to African Americans (as well as Latinos, immigrants and other oppressed groups). Now that nothing short of a deep-going social revolution can clean out these dens of corruption, persecution and murder.

So what can be done about it today? Some are calling for a new, really independent “independent” police review board. But that would be just as toothless as the Office of Professional Standards which preceded the current IPRA, because the power is in the hands of the state. Emanuel’s supposed “reform” is buying 1,400 more tasers. The taser is a weapon of intimidation and torture, and it can damage and kill. Cops will use it indiscriminately, including to “punish” someone who doesn’t show the proper respect (remember the Texas Ranger who threatened to “light up” Sandra Bland). It is quite possible that cops who might think twice about letting loose a fusillade of bullets might increase the use of torture with tasers.

A real fight against racist repression must be waged politically. The police have bosses, and for the last 80 years those bosses have been Democratic mayors, working hand-in-glove with the bankers and the Chicago Board of Trade. There have been numerous demonstrations denouncing the murder of Laquan McDonald, including a march called by Jesse Jackson’s bourgeois PUSH organization on Black Friday, the post-Thanksgiving shopping day, targeting upscale stores on Michigan Avenue, also known as the Magnificent Mile. But Democrat Jackson tried to give the mayor a pass, fleeing from a rally at the Water Tower as black militants shouted “Indict Rahm” (Chicago Sun-Times, 28 November 2015).

The bottom line is you can’t fight cop terror without breaking the stranglehold of the Democratic Party that presides over it. If mobilized independently of and against all the capitalist parties and politicians, the power of the working class can shut down “the city that works.” The unions, from ATU transit workers to USW steel workers to the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), must use their muscle against racist police repression. The impact could be tremendous: just remember how the 2008 United Electrical Workers occupation of Republic Windows and Doors sent shock waves around the country. But in the recent protests, the union tops only endorsed the “respectable” march by Jesse Jackson, which was aimed at taking the heat off the Democrats.

The Chicago Teachers Union is key. Emanuel ran for mayor in 2011 by declaring war on the CTU, and Chicago teachers in general. With his “take it or leave it” strong-arm tactics, the bully boy mayor forced a week-long CTU walkout in 2012. The strike was solid and the ranks militant, but despite leadership claims of a victory, the resulting contract was a sellout that was rammed down the throats of the delegates who initially rejected the deal..1 Now another strike is being forced on the CTU by Democratic mayor Emanuel and Republican governor Rauner, the former best buddies who used to vacation together in Colorado. If they don’t cough up $480 million to plug a budget hole, School District tops are threatening 5,000 layoffs of teachers and staff.

Chicago teachers demonstrate during 2012 walkout. Strike was powerful, but reformist CTU leaders, unable to take on the capitalist state, rammed through sellout contract. Needed: a class-struggle leadership.  (Atomazul/Shutterstock)

On December 14, the teachers union announced a 96% vote in favor of a strike (88% of the entire union membership) if negotiations break down. A teachers strike would be exactly the opportunity to unite the poor, African American, Latino and working-class population of Chicago behind a key sector of labor, the 30,000-strong CTU, in a powerful class struggle against all-sided racist oppression. An article by journalist Sarah Jaffe on the possible strike notes that “the teachers’ fight meshes well with the movement that is challenging police violence” (Truthout, 18 December 2015). It points to the disinvestment in the impoverished South Side and West Side that forms the backdrop to police marauding.

But to make use of that potential requires a leadership willing to take on the capitalist rulers and their state. This means not only demanding lower class sizes, an end to racist school closings and a halt to massive standardized testing, but striking over these demands in a direct challenge to Illinois law that limits teachers unions to bargaining over wages and working conditions. It would highlight the fact that only two high schools in black neighborhoods have librarians, while the private University of Chicago Lab School where Emanuel’s children go (as did Obama’s) has 18 librarians. It would point out that 74% of the 6,400+ arrests in schools in 2010 were of black students, and another 22% of Latinos (Project NIA, Policing Chicago Public Schools, Gateway to the School-To-Prison Pipeline[January 2012]).

The CTU under Karen Lewis is led by the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE), a reform group that claims to represent “social unionism” as opposed to “business unionism.” In practice what that amounts to is at most “partnership” with community groups and raising demands such as opposing closing schools in black neighborhoods, which are then dropped in negotiations..2 What it does not mean is gearing up the union to take on the Democrats and the capitalist state. On the contrary, in 2012 the CTU leadership endorsed Obama, who with his education “czar” Arne Duncan, former CEO of the Chicago schools, has spearheaded the attack on teachers unions. And in 2014 it endorsed Democrat Jesus “Chuy” Garcia against Emanuel.

A number of reformist left groups are active in CORE, notably the International Socialist Organization (ISO), which counts CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey and other CORE leaders among its supporters. The ISO occasionally pretends to have one degree of separation from the Democrats, such as over the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, even as it tries to snuggle up to them just short of endorsing (as it did with Obama in 2008). But in the unions, it is another matter. In October 2014, ISO supporter Sharkey, then acting CTU president, ostentatiously hailed Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, introducing the long-time Democratic pol as “the next mayor of Chicago” at a union dinner even before CTU delegates could discuss or vote on whether to support him..3

Likewise over the Chicago police killing of Laquan McDonald. In endorsing a call for “Civilian Police Accountability Council,” which will have no more effect on criminal police action than the present Independent Police Review Authority, CTU vice president Sharkey declared, “The CTU is not anti-police and never has been” (Second City Teacher, 8 December). But the entire history of the U.S. underlines the basic Marxist understanding that the only way to eradicate racist police brutality and murder is to sweep away the whole capitalist state apparatus, of which the police are key, and replace it with workers rule.

To swear that the union is “not anti-police” is a loyalty oath to capitalism, and a guarantee that nothing will be done about rampant cop terror against African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, Asians, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and all poor and working people.

Chicago shows how deeply embedded racist police terror is in modern American capitalism, and why it cannot be eliminated without overthrowing that system. It also shows that facing an implacable enemy, we need to mobilize the power of the working class together with all the exploited and oppressed sectors in sharp class struggle. That requires a fight to throw out all wings of the labor bureaucracy, old-line business unionists and reformers alike, who keep the unions chained to the Democrats. We need to forge a leadership in the unions on a program of class struggle, counterposed to the class collaboration of the reformists, and above all to build a workers party to lead that struggle forward to socialist revolution, here and throughout the world. ■

  1. 1. Chicago Teachers: Strike Was Huge, Settlement Sucks,” The Internationalist special issue, November-December 2012.
  2. 2. And sometimes “social unionism” or “social justice unionism” doesn’t include even the most basic solidarity with the oppressed against racist violence. CORE by-laws do not mention racism, and in New York City a sister organization, the Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE), grotesquely refused to support an August 2014 march against the police murder of Eric Garner on Staten Island. Instead, it scandalously called to “unite” with “our brother and sister officers”! (As in Chicago, the ISO, Socialist Alternative, Progressive Labor and other left groups are active in MORE.) In contrast, Class Struggle Education Workers (CSEW), a union tendency politically supported by the Internationalist Group, marched with a contingent, calling to “Mobilize Labor/Black/Immigrant Protest Nationwide Against Racist Police Terror” (see “MORE Takes a Stand … With the Police,” in The Internationalist No. 38 , October-November 2014). The CSEW also demands cops out of the schools.
  3. 3.The depth of cynicism of these pseudo-socialists is stunning. An article on “Political controversy flares up in the CTU” (5 November 2014) by Lee Sustar on the ISO’s socialistworker.org web site reported that Lewis’ personal endorsement of García “raised hackles among CTU members.” In covering the union political dinner, the article details how the CTU constitution requires that any endorsement be first approved the union’s political action committee, which hadn’t yet made a recommendation. It also reports members’ desire to “raise broader questions about the union’s support for Democratic politicians” after the CTU leadership endorsed Democratic Illinois governor Pat Quinn, “a one-time reformer turned union-basher.” What the article didn’t mention is how ISO supporter Sharkey ostentatiously hobnobbed with Quinn and effusively embraced Garcia.