Baltimore Rises Up
Over Police Murder of Freddie Gray – National Guard, State
Police Impose Emergency Rule
Defend Black Baltimore,
Cops and Troops Out!
For Labor / Black / Immigrant
Mobilization Against Police Killings
Stamp Out Racist Cop Terror – Fight for Workers Revolution
Young protesters were set upon by riot cops on Monday, April 27 as police provoked “riots” as Baltimore exploded in anger over police killing of Freddie Gray.
As we go to press, the state’s attorney in Baltimore has announced that six police officers have been charged with a number of crimes including murder in the killing of Freddie Gray. Under pressure from the mass protests, the authorities decided they had to do something to cool things out. However, long experience shows that indicting police is no guarantee that they will be found guilty of anything at all. And it certainly won’t stop the killer cops from striking again, and again and again.
One need only recall the case of Amadou Diallo in 1999, where a police hit squad fired 41 shots at him as he stood on his doorstep. Four cops were charged with second-degree murder, but all went free. Or the case of Oscar Grant, in 2009, where the killer cop, Johannes Mehserle, got only a slap-on-the-wrist conviction for involuntary manslaughter.
In this case, the absence of specifics about the cops’ actions other than neglect suggests that the murder charges are designed to be dropped or thrown out when protest dies down. Moreover, even though the killers have been charged, there is no guarantee they will even be prosecuted. The New York Times (1 May) reports that, “Officials had cautioned that it could take considerable time for her office to complete its own investigation and decide whether to prosecute.”
There is no justice in the capitalist courts. Only revolution can bring justice.
APRIL 30 – The nationwide outrage over the orgy of racist police murders has reached the flashpoint in Baltimore, Maryland. Every day last week there were protests over the cop killing of Freddie Gray, with over a thousand marching on the weekend. City authorities blamed “outside agitators” for clashes that evening. Then on Monday, April 27 following the funeral service for Freddie, black youth were confronted by a wall of police and the frustration boiled over. As TV screens showed buildings in flames and the media screamed “riots,” the mayor declared a curfew. The governor imposed a state of emergency, ordering in the state police, 5,000 cops from other jurisdictions and the National Guard to put black Baltimore under military rule.
The response of the authorities to protests over the police murder of an unarmed black man is to bring down the boot of massive state repression on the African American population already under siege by the police. President Barack Obama, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Attorney General Loretta Lynch rail against “rioters” as “criminals” and “thugs.” As these black Democrats enforce racist “law and order” against those who rise up against injustice, they repeat the age-old refrains of Southern segregationists. Where were the angry denunciations as the police in this Up South city killed at least 127 people from 1992 to 2012? The population of Baltimore is 64% black, last year 100% of the people killed by the cops were black.
They wring their hands about the “looting” of a CVS convenience store, because it affected private property. Who are the criminals here, the residents of West Baltimore who take home basic necessities like a couple of packs of toilet paper, diapers and bottled water (as photos show), or the multi-billion-dollar corporation that gouges the black poor with high prices? The president and the media screech about rioters “burning down their own neighborhoods,” and blame it on the population – absent fathers, drugs, etc. But where were their laments as the capitalists and their government destroyed jobs, disinvested in poor neighborhoods and sent huge numbers of black men to prison (including Freddie Gray) with their viciously discriminatory drug laws?
National Guard enforcing curfew on Pennsylvania Avenue, Baltimore, April 29.
That’s the logic of capitalism for you. And it is that logic that guarantees that the ruling class will back the cops to the hilt, for they understand full well that the police are the armed fist of capital. All the talk about “accountability” and the need to “build community trust” (Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing) is nothing but PR hype. Cops are the guard dogs of Wall Street, and the would-be masters of the world stand by their snarling Rottweilers. The ruling class labels anyone who resists “thugs.” That’s what plutocrat NYC mayor Bloomberg called the transit workers when they went on strike in 2005. The real thugs and criminals, who murder people with abandon and savagely beat (or shoot) grandmothers, are the cops.
The Baltimore Police Department is a terrorist gang
that terrorizes the communities it patrols. Its killer
cops are not “out of control,” they are doing their job
for the bosses.
U.S. rulers would repeat the 1992 military occupation of Los Angeles that suppressed protest after a court let off the racist cops who beat motorist Rodney King. Today, black Baltimore must not stand alone! Across the country, police unleash their pathological violence against the black, Latino and immigrant poor and working people in order to intimidate. To defeat the forces of repression, we need to bring out a more powerful force, that of the organized working class leading all the oppressed.
In the protests in Baltimore over the last week and a half, a number of unions have been present, including UNITE HERE, SEIU32BJ and SEIU1199. What’s needed now is to bring out labor’s power to shut the city down. In California, the ILWU dock workers in the Bay Area are stopping work on May 1, shutting down the port of Oakland and marching on City Hall to demand “Stop Police Terror!” If the East Coast ILA likewise shut the port of Baltimore on May Day, the reverberations would be felt around the country and the world.
On April 29, thousands marched in Baltimore in the largest protest yet, demanding answers about the death of Freddie Gray and calling to “put killer cops in cell blocks.” In New York over 5,000 demonstrated in solidarity with the besieged population of Baltimore, chanting “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray.” Mayor de Blasio’s police arrested more than 120 people, arbitrarily snatching them out of the crowd to charge them with the “crime” of being in the street. In Washington, D.C., Oakland, Minneapolis and elsewhere there were also large marches.
Over 200 people were arrested in Baltimore as a result of the police crackdown, 100 of them held in jail for two full days before being charged. The Internationalist Group calls to drop all charges and free all those arrested during the upheaval. We demand cops and National Guard out of black Baltimore. And across the U.S. we call for labor/black/ immigrant mobilization against racist cop terror!
Police Murder Machine Grinds Relentlessly On
Last summer it was Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri: unarmed black men set upon and murdered by the police as they were walking along the street. In the fall came the cases of Akai Gurley, gunned down in the stairwell of a Brooklyn housing project; 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot by a cop in a playground in Cleveland, Ohio; and lesser-known cases like the father bringing home dinner from McDonald’s to his family in Phoenix, Arizona. All unarmed, all killed with impunity, no charges brought against the cops.
These blatantly racist cop murders set off a furious reaction. Ferguson rose up and faced down an army of police and National Guard. Around the country, thousands marched in protest. When the grand jury verdicts came in and predictably no cops were charged for the murder of Garner or Brown, tens of thousands hit the streets, night after night, shutting down highways, tunnels and city centers. America’s capitalist rulers were worried: all the weaponry they had been stockpiling to handle domestic “unrest” didn’t work. But the plague of cop terror goes on.
In January there was 17-year-old Jessica Hernandez shot to death by police in Denver, Colorado as she was driving a car with four other teenagers. In February, Antonio Zambrano, cut down by 17 police bullets in Pasco, Washington, followed by Ruben Garcia in Grapevine, Texas and Ernesto Canepa in Santa Ana, California – all Mexican workers, all unarmed. In March, two more unarmed black men: Charly Leundeu Keunang, a homeless African immigrant from Cameroon on Skid Row in Los Angeles, and 19-year-old Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisconsin.
On April 2, Ed Harris was chased down and executed by a 73-year-old “reserve deputy” sheriff in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who said he mistook his revolver for a Taser. The killer is a wealthy donor and friend of the sheriff who in exchange for his bucks gets to put on a badge and gun to play cop. Two days later, Walter Scott, a 50-year-old black worker in North Charleston, South Carolina, pulled over in a traffic stop (supposedly for a broken tail light) while driving a Mercedes-Benz, was cut down by eight shots to the back as he tried to escape the murderous cop.
Then came the murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland.
Freddie was riding a bike when police for no reason decided to
chase him down. Screaming and limp as he was tossed into a
police van, by the time they got to the station house
Freddie’s voice box was crushed, his neck broken and spinal
cord nearly severed. Two weeks later the authorities still say
they don’t know what happened in the van and have given no
reason for the arrest.
Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and police chief Anthony Batts at press conference the morning after calling in the National Guard to suppress protests. Black capitalist politicians and cops enforce racist repression.
After days of saying the BPD was “investigating,” Baltimore police chief Anthony Batts now says the results will not be made public. This is just stonewalling. Whatever happened to Freddie in the van or during his arrest, an unarmed, handcuffed man was killed in police custody. Was he tossed around banging his head in a careening van? Baltimore is the home of the “rough ride.”1 Or was the fatal injury due to a cop putting his knee on Freddie’s neck during the arrest, as witnesses report. While the police maintain their “blue wall of silence,” the fact is that all the cops involved are guilty of murder.
Then there is the absent reason for an arrest. The police only say that Gray fled after making “eye contact” with an officer. Why is that significant? Because the cops had no probable cause whatsoever to pursue and arrest him. They are relying on the case of Illinois v. Wardlow (2000), where, as the police interpret it, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that flight after making eye contact with the police in a “high crime area” is grounds to detain someone. This would allow cops to arrest anyone in a black neighborhood for no reason at all. It’s a green light for racist cop terror.
And that is precisely what Baltimore has lived under for decades. As a black writer described growing up in the city: “To us, the Baltimore Police Department is a group of terrorists, funded by our tax dollars, who beat on people in our community daily, almost never having to explain or pay for their actions” (D. Watkins, “In Baltimore, We’re All Freddie Gray,” New York Times, 29 April). Freddie was the seventh black man killed by the local police in the 12 months.
Last year, the liberal Baltimore Sun 28 September 2014) published a detailed investigative story, “Undue Force,” about the more than 100 cases of people who have won court judgments or settlements for police brutality or civil rights violations in the city. The article summed up:
“Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson. Those cases detail a frightful human toll. Officers have battered dozens of residents who suffered broken bones – jaws, noses, arms, legs, ankles – head trauma, organ failure, and even death, coming during questionable arrests. Some residents were beaten while handcuffed; others were thrown to the pavement.”
In addition to those horrific cases, there are many others. In May 2014, police shocked a 19-year-old meningitis patient, George King, with a Taser five times in ten minutes and choked him into unconsciousness, a coma from which he died a week later. No charges were filed.
Freddie Gray was not the first person to suffer a spinal cord injury in a Baltimore police van: Jeffrey Alston in 2004 and Dondi Johnson in 2005 were both paralyzed after being given a “rough ride.” And while many of the victims of police killing in Baltimore have been passed over in silence by the media, Freddie Gray’s death was not the first to be the subject of extended protest. Tyrone West was killed in a traffic stop in 2013 and his sister and others have kept up weekly protests since then.
The Baltimore Police Department has been the subject of endless suits and investigations. In 1980 the NAACP called for a federal inquiry into the BPD for brutality. After 1999 under Democratic former mayor Martin O’Malley, Baltimore adopted “zero tolerance policing.” This was first implemented by New York City’s racist Republican mayor Rudolph Giuliani under police chief William Bratton, who is now once again NYC top cop under liberal mayor Bill de Blasio. In Baltimore, as in New York, this policy led to huge numbers of arrests and “a highly militarized approach to policing residents,” in the words of the ACLU.
Following the exposé, Baltimore entered into a “collaborative review” by the U.S. Department of Justice over grievances against the police. After Freddie Gray went into a coma but before he died, the feds held a public hearing where hundreds of furious residents, overwhelmingly black, “inundated federal officials with their assertions that city police have been brutalizing residents with impunity” (Baltimore Sun, 17 April). One man said that things had gotten to the point where black residents would have no choice but to “gather our arms and fight back.”
The Sun editors fretted over the cost of the numerous legal actions over police violence, for which Baltimore paid out $5.7 million in settlements and judgments since 2011. Actually, this is peanuts compared to other cities. Dallas paid $6 million since 2011, Denver $13 million over ten years, Minneapolis $21 million since 2003 and Los Angeles $20 million in 2013 alone.2 Then you get into the big league, with New York City shelling out $428 million in 12,000 cases since 2009, and over the last decade, with nearly 500 brutality cases pending.3 *
A notable example was Oakland, California which $74 million to settle at least 417 lawsuits over police brutality. Those include multiple suits against the Oakland police when Baltimore’s current chief, Anthony Batts, headed the marauding OPD cops. In one case, over 150 people were held on buses for over six hours and never charged during a November 2010 protest over the minimal sentence given to the BART cop who killed Oscar Grant. Others concerned demonstrations by Occupy Oakland, including one in January 2012 in which over 400 people were arrested.
For police departments all over the U.S., massive violations of the rights and taking the lives of thousands of people (1,100 killed by cops in 2014 alone) is standard operating procedure. Paying millions for beating, maiming and killing people is dismissed as a cost of doing business, just as Wall Street banks and stock market speculators brush off billion-dollar fines by the Securities and Exchange Commission. It doesn’t stop their criminality one bit. These are the “best practices” of capitalist policing. Freddie Gray’s Baltimore is not an exception but the norm.
Media, Authorities Denounce “Riots”
High school students getting out of school on April 27 faced a wall of riot cops. Authorities from Mayor Rawlings-Blake to President Obama called protests “riots” and denounced protesting youth as “thugs” and “criminals.” The real thugs and criminals are the murderous police.
Protests against the police murder of Freddie Gray have now been officially labeled the “Baltimore riots.” The April 29 Sun led with, “Baltimore descends into chaos, violence, looting.” The freebie tabloid Metro headlined, “War in Baltimore.” Capitalist media and politicians up to the White House demonize black youth, labeling them “thugs” and “criminals” and accusing the protesters of “violence.” But a look at how the supposed “riots” actually began shows a very different story, that they were in response to provocation by racists and the police.
On April 25, the march of several thousand protesters proceeded without incident as the police stayed away. After the demonstration ended at City Hall, a group marched toward the Camden Yards baseball stadium where the Orioles were playing. There they were met by phalanxes of riot police. As the cops pushed them back, the windows of a police car were broken. There was also a confrontation with drunken fans at a bar shouting racial epithets. A second group went to the Inner Harbor tourist area where a journalist reported that he saw whites “jeer, spit, and throw things at protestors and try to hit them.” Store windows were broken.
After Freddie Gray’s funeral on April 27, high-school students leaving school in West Baltimore were met by hundreds of riot cops. A dubious posting was circulating on social media calling for a “purge,” referring to a 2013 movie in which crime was made legal for a night, supposedly to begin at the Mondawmin Mall at 3 p.m. The police also claimed they had “credible information” that gangs were getting together to “‘take-out’ law enforcement officers’.”
“When school let out that afternoon, police were in the area equipped with full riot gear. According to eyewitnesses in the Mondawmin neighborhood, the police were stopping busses and forcing riders, including many students who were trying to get home, to disembark. Cops shut down the local subway stop. They also blockaded roads near the Mondawmin Mall and Frederick Douglass High School, which is across the street from the mall, and essentially corralled young people in the area. That is, they did not allow the after-school crowd to disperse.”
–“Eyewitnesses: The Baltimore Riots Didn’t Start the Way You Think,” Mother Jones, 28 April
This was confirmed by several teachers who witnessed the events, including one who wrote:
“There were police helicopters flying overhead. The riot police were already at the bus stop on the other side of the mall, turning buses that transport the students away, not allowing students to board. They were waiting for the kids. As I sat at the intersection of Gwynns Falls, I saw several police cars arriving at the scene. I saw the armored police vehicle arrive. Those kids were set up, they were treated like criminals before the first brick was thrown.”
–Gawker, 28 April
Moreover there’s a curious aspect to at least one of the fires, by far the largest, at a senior housing project being built next to the Southern Baptist Church which is sponsoring it. Shots of this fire were looped over and over on TV to show the city burning. But the site is in East Baltimore, miles from the West Baltimore area where businesses were trashed and small fires set. At the time, city authorities said it was not clear if it was related to the “riot.” And the pastor, Donald Hickman, was well-known for supporting anti-brutality protesters. Strange.
Now the Republican governor is saying that the National Guard should have been brought in earlier to avoid the “riots,” while the Democratic mayor counters that they didn’t want to use heavy weaponry on 13- and 14-year-olds. Presidential candidates are also weighing in. Obama may add a little rhetoric about “troubling questions” about “police officers interacting with individuals, primarily African-American, often poor.” But the “debate” between the twin capitalist parties is basically over how to better suppress the protests.
While the media plays up the “riots,” the politicians piously inveigh against “senseless violence” that only “tears the city down” (as if they had done anything to rebuild impoverished West Baltimore, where many buildings that were burned down during the 1968 “riots” following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. are still vacant lots). But the fact is that the Monday unrest got the nation’s attention while the days of marches were ignored. As the young black writer D. Watkins quoted earlier wrote:
“We are all starting to believe that holding hands, following pastors and peaceful protests are pointless. The only option is to rise up, and force Mayor Rawlings-Blake to make what should be an easy choice: Stop protecting the livelihoods of the cops who killed Freddie Gray, or watch Baltimore burn to the ground.”
Communists understand and defend black youth lashing out however they can against the all-sided injustice they face, but this in itself is not a strategy. “Getting the attention” of the rulers about police brutality will do no more to solve or even alleviate the problem than did Occupy Wall Street’s brief success in 2011 in “changing the conversation” to talk about inequality. By the 2012 election it was back to normal: money talks. It will take nothing less than a socialist revolution to put an end to the poverty, racism, cop terror and endless war of decaying American capitalism.
Only Socialist Revolution Can Bring Justice
As the media vultures flocked to the city to cover the “Baltimore is burning” story, one of the most cynical and widely despised of the lot, Geraldo Rivera of Fox News, was confronted by an eloquent young black man who gave him an earful.
“I want you and Fox News to get out of Baltimore city. Because you’re not here reporting about the boarded-up homes, and the homeless people on the MLK. You’re not reporting about the poverty levels up and down North Avenue…. But you’re here for the ‘black riots.’ You’re not here for the death of Freddie Gray. Fox News don’t give a damn about these people. This is the real Baltimore. This is where people wake up and wonder where they’re going to go to get a meal.”
Geraldo’s response was to denounce the young man as a “vandal” and to claim that the people in the crowd, who had been demonstrating about police brutality and official cover-up all day, just “want to make trouble.”
What made black Baltimore explode in fury is not only the cop killing of Freddie Gray, it was also the generalized misery in this area marked by astronomical levels of unemployment, disease and physical devastation. Manufacturing jobs in Baltimore have fallen by 90% since the late 1960s, so that today in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood where Freddie lived 52% of the population aged 16 to 64 is jobless, 49% of high-school students have dropped out, 61% of the adult population has less than a high school diploma and 33% of homes are abandoned.4
In the Upton-Druid Heights neighborhood next door, 64% of working-age black men are unemployed, average family income is under $16,000, the mortality rate is double the city average for heart disease, triple the rate for AIDS, and life expectancy is 68. As an article in the New York Times (30 April), “Health Problems Take Root in a West Baltimore Neighborhood That Is Sick of Neglect,” noted: “The fact that 94 percent of its population is black is lost on no one.” What exploded in Baltimore is a toxic mixture of racial and class oppression.
Liberals have made much of the fact that Baltimore has a black Democratic mayor and a black police chief who supposedly tried to cool things out rather than immediately escalate the confrontation like the good ole boys in Ferguson, Missouri city hall did last August. In fact, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is Baltimore’s second black woman mayor, and Anthony Batts is the seventh black police chief. Moreover, the police force is roughly half black, and the city council is majority black and entirely Democratic. And they preside over a system of racist police terror.
Racism is generally treated, even by many leftists, as a matter of opinions, and getting rid of it is assumed to be essentially ideological, whether it is white liberals calling to “check your privilege” or more leftist variants. For Marxists, racist ideas are an expression of the underlying material reality of black (and brown) oppression. Black cops can enforce racist “law and order” as brutally as white cops, just as the repressive apparatus of slavery sometimes included black overseers. To get rid of racism, we must get rid of racial oppression, the keystone of American capitalism.
Moreover, all the various palliatives and supposed reforms to attempt to soften (or at least disguise) the hard edges of police repression have been tried and failed. Black police chief? Black mayor? Civilian review board? Federal investigation? Baltimore has had them all, to no avail. What about admitting “the role of policing in past and present injustice,” improving training and promoting “community trust”? This is the recipe of Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing report issued last month. And its model of “implementing national best practices” was … the Baltimore police under BPD commissioner Batts! So much for that plan.
The capitalist system can permit certain reforms on secondary matters and for limited periods. For a time after World War II certain measures of a “welfare state” were enacted, particularly in Europe in order to stave off the “Communist menace.” But the police are at the heart of the capitalist state, those “special bodies of armed men” that the ruling class depends on in order to rule. And as world capitalism is mired in a continuing economic depression since the crash of 2007-08, the bourgeois rulers must rely increasingly on police-state measures.
The current uproar over police killing of black and brown people owes much to the spread of cellphone cameras, which have brought home the brutal reality of racist repression to white people in a way never before possible. African Americans, Latinos and immigrants didn’t need to see YouTube videos since they had to deal with it personally every day. The actual numbers of unarmed civilians being killed by the police may or may not be increasing, but awareness of its pervasiveness is heightened.
Most importantly, the current evolution of U.S. capitalism has led to a generalization and intensification of repression. With the middle class hollowing out, the numbers of working poor sharply increasing and actual unemployment higher than at any time since World War II,5 U.S. society is looking more like Latin America, and the repressive apparatus is being beefed-up to match. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to wage imperialist war around the world. In this situation, the masters of Wall Street and Washington are not about to turn cops into Officer Friendlys.
A real fight against the killer cops must be directed against the ruling class, its repressive forces and the capitalist system which spawns racist police terror. The Internationalist Group calls to build a revolutionary workers party to fight against white liberal Democrats and black capitalist politicians who are pushing the militarization of the police as hard as reactionary Republicans. We raise a program to fight mass unemployment, through a sliding scale of working hours to divide up the available work and create jobs for all. We call on class-conscious workers to fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants and for workers action to defeat of U.S. imperialist war abroad and the capitalist war on workers “at home.”
The police continue to kill with impunity because they are
doing their job in defending capital and keeping the
modern-day wage slaves “in their place,” just as the slave
catchers did prior to the Civil War.6 Just as it took that
Second American Revolution to abolish chattel slavery, nothing
less than a new revolution smashing the repressive apparatus
of capitalist rule – the bourgeois state – and
bringing the workers to power can put a stop to wanton, racist
- * Correction: The figures for Los Angeles and Chicago were erroneously given as billions rather than millions of dollars.
- 1. “'Rough Rides' and the Challenges of Improving Police Culture,” The Atlantic, 27 April.
- 2. See Radley Balko, “U.S. cities pay out millions to settle police lawsuits,” Washington Post, 1 October 2014.
Chicago’s Homicide Squad was so notorious for coerced
confessions that in 2009 the state of Illinois set up a
Torture Inquiry and Relief Commission to investigate them.
- 4. Justice Policy Institute, Prison Policy Initiative, “Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park, February 2015.”
- 5. The government masks this by simply eliminating the long-term unemployed from its statistics. People who haven’t had a job in over two years are simply disappeared. Actual joblessness doubled in 2008-09 to around 23% of the workforce and has stayed there.
- 6. The first professional police forces in the U.S. were the slave patrols that started out precisely in Charleston, South Carolina in the 1830s.