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July 2014

Mobilize Workers Action Against Police Terror!

Racist NYPD Murder of Eric Garner

From cellphone video showing Eric Garner being chokeholded to death by NYC cops, July 17. (Photo: New York Daily News)

The racists in blue uniforms of the New York Police Department are at it again. Eric Garner, 43, a black asthmatic father of six and grandfather, was standing on a corner on Bay Street in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island on July 17. He was set upon by cops who surrounded him, put him in a chokehold and dragged him to the ground. Soon he stopped moving. EMS medics did nothing to help him. Why don’t they apply CPR to get him breathing, a bystander asked. Instead, cops and medics stood by and watched him die.

The chokehold has been banned in New York for 20 years, but they have never stopped. There have been over 1,000 chokehold complaints since 2009 alone, and you can be sure this is only a fraction of the number of times the deadly tactic was used. No cop was ever seriously disciplined for this. What was different this time was there are videos showing the encounter from start to finish. They went viral on social media, as outrage spread over another cop killing of a black man in NYC.

On the video you can hear Mr. Garner saying “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe” over and over, but this didn’t stop the killer cops as they choked the air out of his windpipe and lungs. Did he die of a heart attack, from his asthma? Makes no difference: Eric Garner was chokeholded to death. It was racist murder by the NYPD, and it was intentional.

The cops’ story is he was resisting arrest. Like hell. In fact, they had been called to the scene about a fight. But Mr. Garner, known on the street as a peace-maker, had already broken it up. He was a big man, 350 pounds, but he was called “the gentle giant.” The police knew him well, having arrested him more than 30 times, mostly for the same bogus “crime” of selling “loosies” – loose cigarettes people buy because they can’t afford the astronomical taxes on a pack.

Mr. Garner was not “resisting arrest” – another phony crime. He was protesting the constant police harassment: “I didn’t do shit! I was just minding my own business,” Garner can be heard telling the cops in one of the videos. “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me,” he added. “I’m tired of it.. It ends today. Please just leave me alone!” But they wouldn’t let him alone. Eric Garner was targeted by murderous cops, he dared to talk back, and so he was killed.

“It Ends Today”: Eric Garner's Parting Words Become Rallying Cry

Elisha Flagg, sister of Eric Garner, center in blue, leads a march on the 120th Precinct on Staten Island, July 22 following a vigil demanding justice for her brother who was killed by New York City police. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)

At vigils and protests in the ensuing days, Eric Garner’s desperate cry, “I can’t breathe,” and his parting words, “It ends today,” have become rallying cries. The cops belong behind bars. And not just Daniel Pantaleo, who applied the chokehold and who has provoked numerous complaints of brutality. All the police involved are accomplices. Moreover, the EMS medics who did nothing are also guilty, of dereliction of duty if not much worse.

On July 25, Rev. Al Sharpton and Mr. Garner’s family formally asked for a federal civil rights probe of the police chokehold murder and EMS non-action. At the funeral service at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn, Sharpton said a federal civil rights violation resulted in jail for racist cop Volpe who brutally tortured Abner Louima. But what about the cops who murdered Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Sean Bell and so many others? They all walked, because the “justice” system stands by the police, the guard dogs of capital.

Internationalist photo

A sign held by Internationalist Group supporters who attended Eric Garner’s funeral recalled the 1994 racist cop chokehold murder of Anthony Baez who was playing football on a Bronx street. A second IG sign read: “Workers Revolution Will Avenge Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Troy Davis, Marcelo Lucero, Patrick Dorismond, Rekia Boyd” – the list goes on and on of black lives snuffed out by killer cops, racist vigilantes and black-robed judges. As a third sign declared, “The Capitalist System Is Racist to the Core.”

What Is To Be Done?

The Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin asked that question over a century ago and it’s still the right one to ask. There has been a lot of justified outrage expressed over the killing of Eric Garner, and some calls for cosmetic reforms, but nothing that gets to the root. New Yorkers Against Bratton are calling to fire the police commissioner. William Bratton was named top cop by Republican mayor Rudolph Giuliani in the mid-1990s when police swooped down on black neighborhoods, arresting thousands of people on so-called “quality of life crimes.” Now Bratton’s back, and pursuing his same “broken window” strategy.

Bratton arrogantly announced that nothing would change in NYPD policies as a result of the killing of Eric Garner. Sure, they may do some “retraining” about use of force, but that won’t stop kill-crazed cops who keep on choking their victim as he complains he can’t breathe. It also won’t put a dent in the astronomical arrest numbers – almost 400,000 a year in a city of 8 million. Even after massive protests against NYPD victimizing young men for the crime of “walking while black,” Brooklyn teachers say their 13- and 14-year-old students are regularly “stopped-and-frisked” on the way home from school.

NYC top cop William Bratton (left) with his boss, liberal mayor Bill de Blasio speaking to the press, July 17. Democrats are crowing that de Blasio avoided a riot. But the racist NYPD is still up to its dirty work.  (Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty Images)

But what about Bratton’s boss, Bill de Blasio? Vacationing in Italy, he declares his full faith in Bratton. The liberal mayor has gotten a free ride from protesters, who hated the snarling racist Giuliani, plutocrat mayor Michael Bloomberg and his top cop Ray Kelly but many of whom love “progressive” Democrat de Blasio, even though he appointed the police commissioner and approved Bratton’s tactics. Not us. As an Internationalist sign declared: “Bloomberg/Kelly, De Blasio/Bratton, ‘Stop and Frisk,’ Chokeholds: It Doesn’t Stop – For Workers Revolution!”

At the time of his election last fall, we said “De Blasio Will Be ‘Bloomberg Lite’.” He has to be: as a leader of the capitalist Democratic Party, he takes his orders from Wall Street and Washington. Even though our headline angered many liberals, de Blasio’s first six months in office proved us right: a green light for charter schools; closing of Long Island College Hospital despite repeated community protests (including some grandstanding by de Blasio himself); calls for raising the minimum wage forgotten; and now backing up the killers-in-uniform, the NYPD.

De Blasio never pretended he was going to do away with “stop and frisk,” just “reform” it. Now there are calls to reduce the number of “quality of life” misdemeanor arrests. Many if not most of these are no crime at all, like putting your feet on a subway seat. Selling untaxed “loosies”? Abolish the punitive tobacco tax! Turnstile jumping? Rip out the turnstiles and have free mass transit! “Broken windows” lead to major crimes? Like what? We don’t see Wall Street executives who looted the U.S. Treasury for trillions of dollars getting stopped and frisked!

The New York Times (25 July) reports: “All told, since 1994, the police in New York City have arrested more than 1.3 million people for misdemeanors who had never been previously arrested for a penal-law crime….” The reason for this arrest mania is not some “compstat” computer system or a particular strategy or tactic, not is it limited to the NYPD. The purpose of this racist mass incarceration, of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” is to put millions of African American, Latino, Asian and poor youth in the chokehold of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state: subject to the revolving door of jail, parole, constant harassment, monitoring, surveillance and joblessness.

Get another police chief? Like Kelly who arrested 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge, had his cops pepper spray and slam them to the ground and sent Cecily McMillan to jail for the crime of “resisting” when cops grabbed her breasts? (Before heading the NYPD, Kelly led a U.S. imperialist police force in Haiti under Democrat Bill Clinton.) Replace the chokehold with tasers? Are they kidding? Tasers kill too. The issue is not just policy or personnel but power, and the answer to endemic, systemic racist cop terror is to mobilize a greater power than the police, greater even than the capitalists they serve and protect.

That power is in the hands of the working class, and the many millions who suffer at the hands of the NYPD and their Wall Street bosses. The response to heinous crimes like the murder of Eric Garner should be to massively mobilize NYC workers and the oppressed in class-struggle action. Notably, Eric Garner’s mother Gwen Carr is a train operator for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and his sister Elisha Flagg is an MTA bus driver. Several TWU Local 100 members came out the funeral Wednesday, some there to show their solidarity even without knowing that this terrible crime had hit their union sisters. The TWU should strike to shut the city down in protest against this cold-blooded killing of their members’ brother and son.

But that can only be a first step. We need to break labor and the black, immigrant, poor and working people free from the stranglehold of the Democratic Party, to build a multiracial, class-struggle workers party. Capitalism survives by making its wage slaves’ lives hell. It will take nothing less than workers revolution to put an end to this system of racist police repression and make Eric Garner’s last wish a reality. ■