By ERWIN FREED
Since the beginning of Derek Chauvin’s trial, police around the country have killed an average of three people a day. Thirty minutes before the triple guilty verdict was reached, Columbus, Ohio, police murdered 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, who had called 911 for protection. After fatally shooting Bryant, the cops are seen on video chanting “Blue Lives Matter.”
The police in this country serve one interest—the capitalist class and the racist social order they uphold. U.S. cops are the culmination of hundreds of years of violent displacement, white supremacist vigilantism, and murderous strikebreaking. There is no reforming a system fundamentally based on maintaining racism and capitalist control of production.
Bipartisan attack on protest rights
The 2020 movement sparked by George Floyd’s murder demonstrated without a doubt the energy for change that is pulsing through the veins of young people, the Black community, and virtually every facet of American society. The ruling class is carrying out a two-sided strategy to force people out of the streets. The first part is using Biden’s presidency and sentiment against the Jan. 6 Capitol riots as bipartisan cover to pass increasingly restrictive anti-protest laws. The second part is mobilizing police and National Guard Troops against activists demanding justice and accountability. Pictures and videos from Brooklyn Center and Twin Cities show a scene of military occupation. We can expect cities and towns all over the country to attempt to utilize the violent arm of the state to silence dissent.
This move toward facilitating police and military violence is being carried out in tandem with increased rhetoric by many politicians, including Democratic congressional leaders and President Biden, for moderate police “reforms,” including gestures such as weeding out the “bad cops” like Chauvin. In a more institutional sense, this tendency is also shown by the creation of “citizens’ academies” in many cities, sponsored by local police departments as well as Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As part of these academies, city residents, particularly young people, are often allowed to participate in “ride-alongs” with the cops. Activists in Chicago mobilized to have that location of the ICE program temporarily shut down. These trainings are fully endorsed by the Democratic Party.
The intersection of these two strategic methods brings with it a third, equally disturbing, axis. That is the increasing prevalence of “grassroots” right-wing vigilantism and organization. The types of anti-protest laws that are being proposed and passed encourage and legalize fascist violence. In Florida, the reactionary “anti-rioting” bill, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law on April 19, allows people to drive through street demonstrations with no personal liability for injury.
At the same time, police departments themselves are “honeycombed” with fascist elements. The ritualistic chanting of “Blue Lives Matter” after the murder of Ma’Khia Bryant is just one small example. Equally telling is the analysis of former FBI official Javed Ali, which backed up the claim of high-ranking Oathkeeper Jim Arroyo that the militia is filled with and trained by active-duty police.
Mass mobilization needs mass organization
Activists are responding to each new act of repression and manifestations of daily police violence. The Democratic Party has consistently shown itself to be on the cops’ side of the movement.
Derek Chauvin’s trial shows the importance of mass mobilization in the fight against police terror. Without the upsurge that put 20 million people in the street, he would almost certainly have gone with less than a slap on the wrist. There is no institutional means of reining in killer cops. A million community review boards and “sensitivity” training sessions will not have any effect. The movement is correct in calling for disarming, defunding, and dismantling all police departments.
The energy to win these demands is a palpable part of today’s political landscape. Bringing together activist, labor, and community groups into broad, democratic, and disciplined mobilizing committees is necessary to turn this energy into a fighting force that can win.
Independent labor actions can be key
The movement won a significant victory on April 14 when union staffers and rank-and-file workers convinced National Guard troops to vacate the St. Paul Solidarity Center. That action is just a small example of what is possible with a fighting labor movement.
The fight against police violence and for Black liberation has already made significant impacts on workers’ class consciousness. There were a number of solidarity strikes, including dockworkers and graduate employees and literally thousands of smaller actions on the job. The recent union drive at Amazon in Bessemer, Ala., a shop with a majority Black workforce, was explicitly inspired by the BLM movement last summer.
The next stage in this struggle must have a larger role to play for organized labor. Imagine the power at the movement’s disposal if every time the police abused their power, workers went on strike until justice was served.
In order to really be able to participate in the struggle against police violence and for racial liberation, the unions must expel police from labor organizations. Cops are not workers. They are the enemies of working people and oppressed people. Cop “unions” are institutions of the bosses. A useful illustration is the fact that Kimberly Ann Potter, the murderer of Daunte Wright, was president of her police union. Meanwhile, FOP members and locals all over the country have donated thousands, if not millions, of dollars in support of Kyle Rittenhouse, the right-wing vigilante who shot and killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., last August.
Political struggle now
Police brutality does not come out of thin air. It is a component part of an economic system based on exploiting workers, stealing land from Indigenous people, and destroying the natural world. We call that system capitalism.
To be successful, the fight against police brutality must also be a component part of the fight against capitalism as a whole. At the same time, victories won by the mass movements like the triple conviction of Derek Chauvin, are victories against the system. They show working people and oppressed people the power they can wield through collective action.
Taken together, the urgency for building nationwide organizations of struggle is on the order of the day. What is missing from the ferocious and growing fights for social justice are centralized, democratic, and broad spaces for building the movements. Worker and community activists are coming together on local levels to discuss program and strategy for the movement. These models need to be extended beyond small pockets to become the main means of organizing. Only in this way can the current political vanguard connect with broader layers of society to develop slogans that can bring millions into the street and on strike.
This is no time for taking side roads and attempting shortcuts around the hard work of fighting for political leadership and clarity within the social movements. Through active intervention in this process, revolutionaries and organic working-class leaders can come together to give a vision for a society without police.
By building and broadening the struggle at every moment, the fighting capacity of our class will grow. Through mass mobilizations, socialist education, and the experience of police violence, ruling-class betrayals, and the unending crises of capitalism, the mass base for the revolutionary struggle will develop. Now is the time for centering politics and possibilities. Now is the time for building revolutionary organization. We invite all who are interested in this side of the struggle to contact us at Socialist Resurgence and to get involved with our organization!