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The Internationalist
  June 2017

There Is No Justice for Black People in the Racist Capitalist Courts

Black America Under the Gun

Workers Revolution Will Avenge Philando Castile

Demonstrators with portrait of Philando Castile protest in St. Paul suburb on June 18 against verdict acquitting the cop who murdered him.  (Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Star Tribune)

This proves it beyond a shadow of a doubt: there is no justice for the oppressed in the racist capitalist courts. The acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez, the cop who gunned down Philando Castile last July 6 as he sat in his car in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota, is proof positive that the whole system is rigged to guarantee that the police can kill with impunity.

Philando Castile did nothing wrong. When Yanez pulled him over, he was calm and polite. He followed the protocol that young black men are taught about how to stay alive in an encounter with the police. Philando knew the drill: he had been stopped by cops at least 46 times over the past dozen years. Only six times was it for something that could be seen from outside the car (speeding, broken muffler). He was racially profiled, targeted. And look what happened.

Anyone who saw the heart-wrenching Facebook Live video by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, as millions did, knows. It showed Philando in a puddle of blood as he lay dying after being struck five times from seven shots. Anyone who saw the horrifying police dashboard camera video and audio, as the jury did repeatedly, of the frenzied cop pumping bullets into Philando with his girlfriend Diamond and her four-year-old daughter in the car with him, can have no doubt.

Philando Castile was executed, the ultimate penalty of “driving while black.” And his executioner, killer cop Jeronimo Yanez, walked. It’s the way the system works.

That system is capitalism. From the time it was founded on the bedrock of chattel slavery, racist American capitalism has meant extermination of Native Americans, subjugation of African Americans, persecution of Latino Americans and all-sided oppression. Today the system is based on exploitation of “wage slaves,” as Karl Marx described the working class. Immigrants and Muslims are currently top targets. But there is always an “enemy within” to be hounded.

Philando Castile was a supervisor in the school cafeteria of J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul. He was a member of Teamsters Local 320. The kids called him “Mr. Phil” and he served meals to more than 400 kids twice a day. He knew all their names, and remembered who had which food allergies. He was well-liked by the kids, parents and school staff. To the J.J. Hill community, Castile was a “kind, gentle soul,” as a parent Sally Rafowicz said, “kind of like Mr. Rogers with dreadlocks” (Minneapolis StarTribune, 7 July 2016).

Philando Castile  (Facebook)

Castile was pulled over as he was driving in Falcon Heights, a tiny suburb of St. Paul near the state fairgrounds, so small that it hired police from another suburb, St. Anthony, to patrol it. A 2003 study of racial bias in policing by University of Minnesota law professor Myron Orfield found that in the lily-white suburbs of the Twin Cities, African Americans and Latinos were “up to seven times more likely to be stopped by police” (National Public Radio, 15 July 2016).

When Yanez approached the car, he told Philando he had been pulled over because of a cracked tail light, which was a lie. The cop later testified he stopped the black man because the driver “resembled a suspect in a local convenience store robbery a few days earlier.” What was the resemblance? He said that as Castile drove past, his nose reminded him of the nose the black suspect in the robbery. His nose? That “suspicion” was enough to pull him over and in a matter of seconds shoot him.

As Philando was producing his driver’s license and registration, as requested, he told the officer he had a gun. Reynolds told the officer that Philando had a permit. That was it. Yanez went off, began screaming and started shooting. He never saw a gun. All the trigger-happy cop had to do was lie and say he feared for his life. “Seventy-four seconds after Yanez activated his squad lights, he fired the last of seven shots into the car,” Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Even then, as Castile lay dying, the cop kept screaming not to move. But the jury wouldn’t convict. Not on the minimal charge of second-degree manslaughter (due to negligence), not even on lesser charges of dangerous discharge of a weapon. Hours after the acquittal, the city fired him, saying “the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city.” As if that would satisfy people.

Diamond Reynolds  (Photo: David Joles/Star Tribune)

So why did killer cop walk? There were some highly dubious prosecutorial decisions, like not entering Yanez’ self-contradicting statement to state police authorities into evidence. And the jury was stacked against conviction. A StarTribune profile listed an older woman manager of a gas station with a contract with the police who had pro-cop posts on her Facebook page; a middle-aged white man who grew up around police, had a nephew who is a cop and said it would be difficult for him to be unbiased; a middle-aged white female who had a high regard for police; a retired white man who thought Reynolds’ Facebook video “seemed overly calm.”

More fundamentally, U.S. laws give police “qualified immunity” from prosecution for actions in carrying out their official duties, and the Supreme Court has ruled that even an imagined threat, as long as the cop “reasonably” believed it, is enough to justify pulling the trigger. Ramsey County prosecutor John Choi said “we gave it our best shot” and that the jury’s decision “must be respected,” because that is the “premise of the rule of law.” He added that prosecutors sought to bolster “the integrity of the process.” What the police murder of Philando Castile and its aftermath shows, however, is that in this capitalist system, the “rule of law” is the embodiment of racist injustice.

We are told that “Before Yanez, no officer had been charged in more than 150 police-involved deaths in Minnesota since 2000,” and that he was “the first Minnesota police officer in modern history to be charged with the shooting death of a civilian” (StarTribune, 17 and 18 June). That’s supposed to inspire confidence in the “integrity of the process”?! The reality is that police are very seldom charged with any crime at all for killing a civilian, and almost never convicted. Since 2005, nationwide 82 cops have been charged with manslaughter or murder for an on-duty shooting. That is less than half of 1 percent of the at least 16,000 civilians killed by police over that period. Of those charged, only 13 were convicted, and only one for murder.

The federal government until recently had no count of killings by cops around the country, although it had a sketchy list of “justifiable homicides” by police. Since the massive protests over the police murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in 2014, a number of independent Internet databases of police killings have been established, including by the Washington Post and Guardian newspapers, and the websites Mapping Police Violence, Killed by Police and Fatal Encounters. The last is the most complete, showing 1,760 police killings of civilians in 2013, 1,703 in 2014, 1,545 in 2015, 1,554 in 2016 and 749 so far in 2017.

This is a horrendous slaughter, comparable to that of an occupying military force. And it is racist to the core: the number of African American victims is proportionately two and a half times higher than the number of whites; black men are five times as likely as white men to be killed by cops; and young black men are nine times more likely to be gunned down than young white men (Guardian, 31 December 2015). We have noted before: “Like the death penalty, the massive racist killing by U.S. police goes back to the very foundation of American capitalism on the basis of slave labor. That bloody heritage continues to this day” (see “Democrats Are the Bosses of the Racist Killer Cops,” The Internationalist No. 42, January-February 2016).

Valerie Castile denounces verdict acquitting killer cop who murdered her son Philando.  Minnesota not so nice.
(Photo: Renee Jones Schneider/StarTribune)

And this time it was not in Texas, Mississippi or Ferguson, Missouri – this was a close suburb of St. Paul and its twin city, Minneapolis. It was in the historically liberal state (not so much any more) that prides itself on its reputation for congeniality, “Minnesota Nice.” Not so nice, after all, and not the first time. The cop execution of Philando Castile came only a few months after Minneapolis police shot Jamar Clark in the head, killing him, in November 2015. Fascists then shot and wounded five protesters at a Black Lives Matter encampment (see “Minneapolis: ‘Cops and Klan Go Hand in Hand’,” The Internationalist No. 42).

After the not-guilty verdict was read out in court on June 16, protesters went to the state capitol with signs declaring, “Justice Is Dead” and “On Trial: The System. Verdict: Guilty.” Philando’s mother, Valerie Castile, fervently denounced injustice in Minnesota: “There has always been a systemic problem in the state of Minnesota. And me thinking with my common sense, that we would get justice in this case. But nevertheless the system continues to fail us, the system continues to fail black people and it will continue to fail you. When they get done with us they are coming for you and you, y’all are next.”

That night angry protesters headed to the I-94 highway in St. Paul and shut it down for several hours; 18 were arrested. Last July, hundreds headed to the Interstate to protest, and held it for six hours. Over 100 were arrested as Democratic-Farmer-Labor mayor Chris Coleman denounced the protest as a “riot.” Charges of third-degree unlawful assembly were later dropped, and an absurd bill to charge protesters in “disruptive” demonstrations with the cost of overtime pay for the police who arrest them was shelved. But in the end, Philando Castile was murdered, killer cop Yanez walked, and nothing has changed.

Not only in Minnesota. On June 21, a jury in Milwaukee acquitted the cop who shot and killed Sylville Smith as he lay on the ground. And on June 23, in Cincinnati for the second time a hung jury failed to convict the trigger-happy cop who killed unarmed motorist Samuel DuBose in 2015. In each case, it was murder. In each case, it was filmed. Cellphone cameras, police bodycams and dashcams have indeed changed matters – now everyone can see the full horror of these crimes. But it has not changed the impunity of the murderers in blue one iota. They have a license to kill from their bosses, the capitalist rulers, whether Republican or Democrat.

Demonstrators block I-94 highway June 16 to protest acquittal of the killer cop who murdered Philando Castile.  (Photo: Anthony Souffle/StarTribune)

Various leftists and would-be socialists have weighed in on the killing of Philando Castile. Socialist Alternative posted a June 16 statement on its website from Ginger Jentzen, the SAlt candidate for Minneapolis City Council, who after condemning the verdict goes on to say, “We need restorative justice, housing and jobs programs by taxing the rich, to address the deeper social issues that feed criminal and antisocial behavior, like the violent robberies on the University of Minnesota campus last week.” How repulsive, in talking about the racist cop killing of Philando to relate this somehow to a couple of muggings (reportedly by a “black male and female”)! Who is SAlt appealing to with this garbage?

On top of this, calls to “tax the rich” spread illusions that the vast inequality of capitalism can somehow be altered by tax reforms, while talk of “restorative justice” implies that the injustice system can be made more “people-friendly.” Throw in SAlt’s call for “elected civilian review boards with real teeth: full powers over police department priorities, over the budgets, and with the ability to launch investigations.” It’s all a reformist pipedream, which never has been and never will be realized. Why not? Because it ignores the basic character of the capitalist state as an instrument of repression. Of who? Of us. Don’t believe it? Look around, look at U.S. history.

Socialist Alternative is a social-democratic outfit that incredibly holds that cops are workers. In addition, SAlt’s recipe would take responsibility for the “priorities” and “budget” of capitalism’s police apparatus. In reality, the police are professional enforcers for the bourgeoisie. In 2014, Kshama Sawant, SAlt’s city council member in Seattle, praised the process of hiring a new police chief, saying it was “positive … that a woman will be at the head of what has been and still is a male-dominated bastion.” She hailed the new top cop’s “openness” and “commitment to build a relationship with the community,” as well as her “tiered approach for policing protests,” so that riot police will only be deployed “if absolutely necessary.”1

So last week, when Seattle police shot and killed Charleena Lyles, 30, a pregnant black mother of two, fully aware that she was struggling with mental health issues, Sawant’s response was to petition for a “community-based investigation.” She took the same tack last year when Seattle cops gunned down another African American, Che Taylor, calling for a hearing where the public could question Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. As if that would solve anything. They can petition and question and investigate all they want, but the racist killer cops keep on killing. It’s what they do, and will continue to do until the racist capitalist state is swept into the dustbin of history.

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) likewise calls for “greater community control of policing,” urging that “police intervention must be as restrained as possible, with the use of firearms as an absolute last resort.” And it calls for “Stronger gun control policies, as well as severe restrictions on police use of firearms” as part of a “restructuring of the role of police” (statement on DSA web site, 12 July 2016). To pretend that the police can be “restructured” and “restrained” by a “radical democratic change” is to build dangerous illusions in the reformability of capitalist rule.

As for gun control, the hobby horse of white liberals, this is a threat to black people first and foremost. As Marxists we are opposed to the capitalist state controlling guns and are for the right of black armed self-defense. A disarmed black population would be even more vulnerable to the police, who are armed to the hilt. The program of social democrats like SAlt and the DSA is “color-blind” liberalism, reflected in their support for the presidential campaign of Democratic Party “socialist” Bernie Sanders, who never called to mobilize against racist cop terror. On the acquittal of the cop who killed Philando Castile, Sanders said the justice system “has failed African Americans” and that “major reforms” were needed, “making certain that lethal force is the last response, not the first response.” Where have we heard that before?

Finally, the fact that the police who murdered Philando Castile, Sylville Smith and Samuel DuBose were not convicted, all in the space of one week, underscores the disorienting effect of calls by various reformist leftists to “jail killer cops.” Certainly Jeronimo Yanez and the rest of them should be locked up behind bars for the rest of their lives. But as they go free along with the killers of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Akai Gurley, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Terence Crutcher and so many others, it should dawn on the pseudo-socialists that the ruling class is not about to lock up the snarling guard dogs that it depends on to uphold its rule. In the rare instances where some kind of verdict comes down against one, as with Bay Area cop who murdered Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, it will be a slap on the wrist and they will be out in no time.

CUNY Internationalist Clubs at Union Square protest in New York City on 7 July 2016, the day after cop murdered Philando Castile in St. Paul, MN and two days after Alton Sterling was shot to death by police in Baton Rouge, LA.  (Internationalist photo)

It is the task of genuine revolutionaries to warn that all these supposed reforms – community control, community policing, civilian review boards, disarming and demilitarizing the police, more black police, black police chiefs, black mayors, women police and police chiefs, gay police, dashcams, bodycams, calls to jail killer cops, etc. – are “not only utterly worthless in controlling police violence, they actually serve to legitimize it” (see “Killer Cops, White Supremacists: Racist Terror Stalks Black America,” The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015). The Internationalist Group doesn’t peddle illusions of impossible reforms to the nucleus of the capitalist state. We look to the working class, calling for labor/black/immigrant mobilization against racist attacks, cop terror and deportations.

Following the June 16 verdict, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers put out a statement saying, “We are outraged that the justice system failed today, yet again.” The teachers and other unions also protested over the killing of Jamar Clark. This is important, but expressions of outrage alone will accomplish little. The Internationalist Group has insisted on the need to mobilize the power of labor together with all those targeted by police violence – African Americans, Latinos, immigrants and all the oppressed to put a stop to this racist terror. Not just shutting down the Interstate for a few hours – the Twin Cities should be shut down tight by strike action in the face of such racist atrocities. And the same everywhere else in this nation blighted by murderous racism from before it was born.

It can happen. On May Day 2015, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 shut down the Port of Oakland, California and marched on City Hall at the head of thousands behind a union banner demanding “Stop Police Terror.” What’s key in bringing out the full power of labor to smash this racist system is the understanding that the police are the iron fist of the ruling class. These are the special bodies of armed men enforcing the dictates of capital that, as Marx, Engels and Lenin explained, are the core of state power. If there is outrage and protest, their job is to repress it. The courts are part of the same machinery of the capitalist state. Their role is to ensure that the cops can repress and kill with impunity.

Today the police kill with abandon under Republican Trump. Yesterday they did the same under Democrat Obama. Various liberals and opportunist pseudo-socialists call to join together all protests in a broad “resistance” to Trump. Meaning they want to make a “popular front” with the Democrats, chaining black people to the party whose mayors preside over police murder across the country. Changing which capitalist party is in office will not alter things. We must fight instead to build the nucleus of a multi-racial and multi-ethnic revolutionary workers party that can attack the scourge of racial oppression at its roots.

Kill-crazy cops are an expression of the fact that American capitalism is based on black oppression, the forcible subjugation of the African American population which has continued from the days of chattel slavery through Jim Crow segregation to today’s mass incarceration. Professional police in the U.S. began as slave-catching patrols. The racism that pervades every facet of cop activity – from “stop and frisk” and “broken windows” policing to rampant murder of black, Latino and immigrant “suspects” – is inherent in their function. The police “protect and serve” exploiters and oppressors by repressing the exploited and oppressed. Nothing short of workers revolution will change that.

It is our job to cohere the most conscious and committed defenders of all the oppressed to organize that revolution. ■

  1. 1. See “Killer Cops, White Supremacists: Racist Terror Stalks Black America,” The Internaitonalist No. 40, Summer 2015.