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August 2014

Outrage Over Cop Murder of Michael Brown Throws Capitalist Rulers Into National Crisis

Mobilize Across U.S. Against
Racist Police Terror in Missouri

August 18: Police in Ferguson, Misssouri advance on several hundred demonstrators protesting the cop murder of Michael Brown August 9. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

For Labor/Black/Immigrant Mobilization Now!

Stand with Protests Against Military / Police Occupation
Drop Charges Against All Arrested Protesters
All Cops and Troops Out of Ferguson, Mo.!

AUGUST 19 – When a police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri shot down an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, and cops left his body lying in the street for hours, it set off an explosion of mass anger that hasn’t stopped. Young and old, the population of this more than two-thirds black town had had it with the almost entirely 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. Right from the start St. Louis County police deployed the military arsenal they had been building up to put down black unrest: armored cars, snipers with high-powered rifles, tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, the works. Didn’t work.

In fact, it backfired. There was nationwide shock as the images resembled 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, Alabama 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 murder of a young black man as he held up his hands saying, “Don’t shoot!” So under pressure from Washington, Democratic governor Jay Nixon brought in a black state highway patrol official to take command.

Above: Michael Brown had just graduated high school and was about to start vocational college courses in a week. Below: police left Michael’s body lying in the street for five hours as a threat while they went after residents who complained about the wanton murder. (Photos: Facebook; Twitter)

Captain Ronald Johnson did the Officer Friendly routine, walking with protesters, promising to pull heavy armor off the streets, speaking to church congregations about his own teenage black son (“who wears his pants saggy”). Simultaneously, black Democrats Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson came to town to cool things out. Thinking that those in power were finally listening, the mood shifted, people celebrated. The euphoria lasted barely a day. When local police finally released the name of the killer cop, Darren Wilson, after days of stonewalling, they also tried to smear Michael Brown as a “suspect” of shoplifting. First they murder him, then they assassinate the victim’s character. Furious protests broke out again, and the armored cars were back.

Next came the curfew. While Democratic president Barack Obama made hypocritical speeches about protecting the right to protest, Democratic governor Nixon ordered protesters off the streets at midnight Saturday, supposedly to stop looting. The protesters defiantly stood their ground for an hour in the rain until the barrages of gas and gunfire finally drove them away. Then on Sunday the results of the independent autopsy by Dr. Michael Baden came out: Michael Brown was shot six times, all from the front, twice in the head. Militant protests broke out again. This time the cops didn’t wait and attacked demonstrators hours before the curfew went into effect. On Monday morning the governor ordered in the National Guard.

Now mass arrests have begun, with 78 protesters booked in the last two days. In line with local politicians’ denunciation of “outside agitators,” a number of people from New York and California have been yanked out of crowds by the cops. Among them was Carl Dix, a leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), who said, rightly, “There are no ‘outsiders’ in the struggle for justice and liberation.” Meanwhile, President Obama piously appealed for “justice,” “healing” and “coming together going forward” – along with calls to maintain “public safety.” The first thing to be done for the safety of the public in Ferguson is to get the cops and military out of town, and drop all charges against everyone arrested since August 9.

August 13: Youth defy police in Ferguson to protest murder of Michael Brown. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Internationalist Group stands with the embattled people of Ferguson, Mo. We 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 crisis nationally. The police murder of Michael Brown reverberated around the country because this is no local issue. It came only a few weeks after Eric Garner was chokeholded to death on Staten Island by New York City police. Across the U.S., cops kill well over 400 people a year, and they won’t be stopped by calls to limit their hardware.

The military/police occupation in Missouri must be fought by mobilizing labor/black/immigrant power and 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 modest reforms. Killer cop Darren Wilson definitely belongs behind bars for a long time. Many are calling for him to be arrested, indicted and tried, and vow to keep up the pressure, chanting “No justice, no peace.” But as Marxists we know that there is no justice for the oppressed in the capitalist courts. The ruling class stands by its guard dogs – the police “serve and protect” the interests of capital. The cops’ job is to keep the poor and working people down, which is exactly what they are doing in Ferguson.

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.

Nationwide Militarization of the Police

August 13: St. Louis County Police confront demonstrators in Ferguson, Misssouri with armored vehicle, body armor, assault rifles and sniper aiming at the crowd. Equipment supplied by federal government under the guise of fighting “terrorism.” The terrorists are the police. (Photo: Whitney Curtis for The New York Times)

What has happened in this white-ruled black Missouri suburb is not just the result of local racism (see box), it is a direct reflection of the rampant militarization of police forces throughout the U.S. Those Bearcat and MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) armored vehicles, the LRAD (long-range acoustic device) sound cannons and heavy-duty weaponry that suddenly showed up on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, along with the police helicopters circling overhead, are part of a national program in which the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security are pumping billions of dollars of equipment into beefing up local police forces in the name of fighting “terrorism.”

Some of this is disposing of surplus war materiel: the Pentagon’s “1033” program has provided over $4 billion in left-over armor, ammo and weapons from Iraq and Afghanistan to domestic police agencies. The Homeland Security Department supplied $34 billion in “terrorism grants.” So now police in Fargo, North Dakota (average homicide rate, 2 per year) have assault rifles in every squad car, Kevlar helmets to withstand battlefield-grade ammunition, and a $250,000 armored truck (with rotating turret) “just in case.” St. Louis County got a $360,000 Bearcat, night vision goggles, body armor and three helicopters (New York Times, 15 August). And of course, if they have it, they’re going to use it, as they are now doing in Ferguson.

“Is this the Gaza Strip?” No, it’s Ferguson, MO, USA. Protester throws back tear gas grenade fired by police at demonstrators. (Photo: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Residents of Ferguson are well aware that their city has been turned into a war zone. A Los Angeles Times reporter recorded a protester shouting at a line of police in fatigues, “You gonna shoot us? Is this the Gaza Strip?” In fact, high-level police officials from the area have traveled to Israel to receive how-to lessons on occupation. This included St. Louis County police chief Timothy Fitch, who attended an Anti-Defamation League-sponsored “National Counter-Terrorism Seminar” in 2011 to “study first hand Israel’s tactics and strategies” (Rania Khalek, “Israel-trained police ‘occupy’ Missouri after killing of black youth,” Electronic Intifada, 15 August). The NYPD is so tight with Israel that it has an 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 “war on drugs” starting in the 1980s, and to the original creation of SWAT teams in the late 1960s. And from the beginning, it has been a bipartisan effort.

A recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union (“War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing” [June 2014]) reports that 90 percent of all large U.S. cities have SWAT (special weapons and tactics) assault teams, as do 80 percent of small towns. Moreover, 80% of the hundreds of SWAT raids it investigated in 2011-12 were in order to serve search warrants: terrorizing people on the basis of mere suspicion. A New York Times (9 June) article by Matt Apuzzo reported:

“Police SWAT teams are now deployed tens of thousands of times each year, increasingly for routine jobs. Masked, heavily armed police officers in Louisiana raided a nightclub in 2006 as part of a liquor inspection. In Florida in 2010, officers in SWAT gear and with guns drawn carried out raids on barbershops that mostly led only to charges of ‘barbering without a license’.”

In the shock wave set off by events in Ferguson, liberals have criticized militarized policing focusing on the absurdity of supplying armored cars to townships in rural Maine. Ruling-class critics were mainly concerned that the heavy-handed paramilitary tactics weren’t working. Note that the ACLU study only objects to “excessive” militarization, i.e., “overkill.” 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? Forget about Al Qaeda, the target is us, the poor, black, Latino, immigrant and working people who dare to resist.

The military equipment was always intended to be used to quell “domestic disturbances” (by which they don’t mean family quarrels) and “racial unrest” (what they used to call “race riots,” meaning when black people fight back against racial oppression and racist attacks). And in fact the police recipients of the Pentagon largesse are contractually required to use all that stuff within a year of receiving it. So what’s happening in Ferguson, Mo. is no one-shot deal, we’ll see those images again, most likely soon.

Build a Multi-Racial, Revolutionary Workers Party

With the election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States there was a lot of happy 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. And it is accompanied by mounting racist 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 black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. This year it is the NYPD murder of Eric Garner, the Missouri cop killing of black teenager Michael Brown, and an ever-growing list across the country.

What we’re facing is not some cracker 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 imperialist capitalism. The increasing virulence of the attacks is a reflects entrenched local racism, certainly, but also the worldwide economic depression since the 2007-08 financial crash, and endless U.S. wars of terror 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 the Internationalist Group has declared on our placards, that “Imperialist War Abroad Means Racist Repression in the U.S.”

Internationalists at August 13 protest in Harlem to denounce cop murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. (Internationalist photo)

The key question is how to fight this escalating racist-capitalist assault. What’s needed above all is revolutionary leadership. Black Democrats like Jesse Jackson Sr. and Al Sharpton are only trying to divert and defuse struggle in order to aid the government. In New York, Sharpton called a mass march over the Verrazano Bridge to protest the police killing of Eric Garner, but then backed down under pressure from fellow Democrat, mayor liberal Bill de Blasio, and his police commissioner Bill Bratton. Instead he is now holding an August 23 march on Staten Island calling on Democratic president Obama and his corporate lawyer attorney general Eric Holder to launch a federal civil rights investigation – in order to keep protest under control.

Nevertheless, the August 23 march has become a referendum on racism, as reactionaries attack the United Federation of Teachers for participating in what they call an “anti-police” march. Thus class-conscious teachers, students, immigrants and workers will join in marching while fighting for a program of militant class struggle against cop terror.

On the social-democratic left, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has mainly done reporting, denouncing racism but raising no demands at all. Its main competitor, Socialist Alternative (SAlt), demands that “the whole Ferguson police system be put under scrutiny” – meaning nothing – and calls for “community controlled policing,” supposedly overseen by union and community representatives. This is a sinister call for collaboration with the cops. SAlt would have you believe that cops are workers, a deadly illusion as cops are the armed fist of capital. It is ABC for Marxists that the police are the core of the state, and no matter who supposedly “controls” them, they will uphold racist capitalist “law and order.”

A smaller social-democratic outfit with a local in St. Louis is the Workers International League (WIL), affiliated with Alan Woods’ International Marxist Tendency. Unlike SAlt, WIL warns against illusions in “community control of the police,” but a statement on the murder of Michael Brown echoes the capitalist media in denouncing “riots,” “looting” and “vandalism”:

“while we can sympathize with the reasons for the riots … riots can never bring about fundamental change…. Furthermore, the looting and vandalism will only damage our own neighborhoods and give the powers that be a convenient excuse to dismiss the legitimate issues facing the youth. Riots provide a convenient distraction for the media.”
–Socialist Appeal, August 12

Revolutionary Trotskyists urge protesters to direct their anger effectively at the capitalist state, but in contrast to these reformists we defend the youths who raged against the racist cop murder and demand that charges be dropped against all those arrested. The real looters are the giant corporations (including QuikTrip, whose gas station was torched and whose $11 billion a year in revenue comes from soaking communities like Ferguson).  

"Stolen Lives" banner listing names of hundreds killed by cops at August 16 protest in Ferguson. (Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP)

The most prominent left group that has been active in Ferguson is the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party, which mainly promotes the thought of its cult leader Bob Avakian. The RCP also works with liberals like Cornel West in the Stop Mass Incarceration Network, and with the National Lawyers Guild on the Stolen Lives Project, whose banner listing hundreds of names of the more than 2,000 killed by police since 1990 has been prominent in the Ferguson protests. Despite its name, the RCP these days is putting forward a program that doesn’t go beyond liberal/reformist demands – such as calling to “fire the police chief” and for “a full accounting of what happened” – with a little rhetoric about revolution tacked on to spice it up.

The RCP chants “The Whole Damn System Is Guilty as Hell!” but doesn’t say that system is capitalism. Nothing about communism either. Strikingly, in several articles on Ferguson the RCP never once mentions racism, which isn’t easy given the blatantly racist repression. Yet the key point for genuine revolutionary communists to stress is that the struggle against racism and for black liberation requires a program for workers revolution against capitalism. We defend the RCP against the red-baiting authorities, and demand charges be dropped against Dix and all those arrested. But in Ferguson as elsewhere what these Maoists put forward is the politics of reformism, as they pitch their message to liberals rather than pointing a road to revolution.

The hard truth that revolutionary Marxists must state plainly to the masses is that all these supposed “reforms” will do nothing to change an unreformable capitalist system that was founded on slavery, and which in one form or another has continued black oppression ever since. A new police chief will do nothing more than placing state highway patrol official Johnson “in charge” did: put a black face on racist repression. Limiting the flood of heavy weaponry from the Pentagon and Homeland Security won’t stop the killer cops. In New York City under liberal mayor de Blasio, who campaigned to “reform” the racist stop-and-frisk tactics, cops murdered Eric Garner with their bare hands.

The fight to put a stop to racist cop terror must mobilize the force that has the power to bring the capitalist system to a grinding halt: the millions-strong multiracial working class. St. Louis labor has a special responsibility to oppose the police/military occupation of Ferguson, but as elsewhere the political program of union officialdom is to elect Democrats. And while the mayor of Ferguson is a Republican, the St. Louis County executive and Missouri governor who control the cops carrying out the repression are Democrats. The key to mobilizing workers power is to oust the bureaucrats and break with the Democrats.

What’s urgently needed is to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party. Not some insipid “mass party of labor” (WIL) or “independent left-wing, anticorporate candidates and coalitions” (SAlt), but a party that can lead all the oppressed in sharp class struggle to bring down capitalism and install a workers government. It would call on workers, blacks and all defenders of democratic rights to mobilize massively in the streets against cop terror, demanding that all police and military get out of Ferguson, now, and initiate integrated labor/black defense guards against racist attacks. It would also call for a massive program of public works under union control, and for a shorter workweek with no loss in pay to provide jobs for all.

Internationalists at August 18 New York City protest in solidarity with Ferguson. (Internationalist photo)

The militarized police and National Guard invasion and occupation of black Ferguson, Mo. is the face of racist repression in the U.S. today, as endless imperialist wars abroad “come home.” An effective fight against cop terror here is inseparably connected to the struggle to mobilize workers power to drive the U.S. out of Afghanistan and Iraq and to defend those fighting against imperialism. It is necessary as well to join with immigrants who face arbitrary seizure by the police and hundreds of thousands of deportations a year. As an Internationalist Group sign noted at an August 18 protest in New York, “Immigrant Workers in NYC Say: Stand With Besieged African Americans in Ferguson.” We demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants.

The way to put an end to the terror of the ruling class against the exploited and oppressed was shown almost a century ago in the revolutionary program of Lenin and Trotsky, who together led the 1917 Russian October Revolution. This means combating all illusions in capitalist “justice,” or appeals to Obama and his top cop Eric Holder, who terrorize the world, from drones in Yemen to prisons in Guantánamo. We emphasize that racist repression is a bedrock of American capitalism, as it has been since slave patrols in South Carolina in the 1830s became the first professional police force in the U.S. To put an end to it, we must replace the dictatorship of capital with the rule of the working class.

From New York to Ferguson: Mobilize workers’ power to smash racist terror! Black liberation through socialist revolution!

Capitalism Is Racist to the Core
Black Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!

Ferguson, Mo.: A History of Entrenched Racism

It’s no secret that the police and military assault on Ferguson, Missouri is shot through with racism. Police chief Jackson and his police force act, as does the nearly all-white city council, like they’re in a Southern town back in the days of Jim Crow segregation. It’s no accident. Under the “Missouri compromise,” Missouri entered the union as a slave state. Missouri slave owners formed militias to stage bloody incursions into free Kansas, such as Quantrill’s Raiders who burned Lawrence to the ground and provoked guerrilla war with abolitionist John Brown. Dred Scott, then living in St. Louis, sued to win his freedom, but was told by U.S. supreme court chief justice Roger Taney that black men “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” a decision which set the stage for the Civil War that finally abolished slavery.

St. Louis County broke off from the city in the late 1800s as a refuge from the “urban ills” of the growing railroad, river shipping and manufacturing hub. As blacks moved north during World War I, St. Louis County towns kept them out by enacting restrictive covenants which banned home sales to non-whites and were only outlawed by a 1948 Supreme Court decision. These were then replaced by zoning laws designed to achieve the same purpose by requiring large lots and prohibiting apartment buildings. As the black population of St. Louis grew and the civil rights movement led to the end of formal segregation, the 1950s and ’60s saw a massive exodus of whites from the city to the suburbs in St. Louis County.

By the 1970s and ’80s, between “white flight” and the collapse of industry, St. Louis suffered massive depopulation, and is now down by almost two-thirds since 1950. The city gained notoriety then as the “used brick capital” of the world. As poverty spread in the inner city, many black middle- and working-class families migrated to North County towns. More recently, whites have been moving back to the city, which as a result of gentrification went from 28% white in 2000 to almost 50% white a decade later. Since 1990 Ferguson has gone from being 74% white to 70% black. But political power remained in the hands of white politicians who held all but one seat in the city council and school board, while a 96% white police force held blacks in check.

Although over one-fifth of the population in Ferguson lives below the official poverty line, what’s notable about Ferguson is that this is not a ghetto rebellion of the jobless but a revolt of a working-class and middle-class African American community against an entrenched white capitalist power structure. There are major profitable companies in the area: the corporate HQ of Emerson Electric ($24 billion a year in sales) is in Ferguson; another major area employer is Express Scripts ($105 billion a year), the mail-order prescription supplier. But very little of this revenue finds its way into municipal coffers. Instead, the second largest source of the town’s revenue ($2.6 million last year) is from … traffic tickets, fines and court fees.

Moreover, five out of six tickets issued in Ferguson are to blacks, who are twice as likely as white drivers to be pulled over. As one resident put it, “Everybody in this city has been a victim of DWB [driving while black]” (Washington Post,13 August). Or as another said, quoted in a recent report by the Arch City Defenders, “in North County, if you’re black, they’re going to stop you” (Newsweek, 14 August). According to the public defenders’ report, last year the Ferguson municipal court issued 24,532 arrest warrants, more than one for every man, woman and child in this town of 21,000 people. So the racist police are not only brutal repressors, they are parasites feeding off the black population. ■