Racism is as American as apple pie. United struggle by the working class will end it.
The murder of Michael Brown, a young black man, in Ferguson, Missouri by a white policeman on 9 August 2014, and the exoneration of his killer by the US ‘justice’ system, touched off a powerful wave of protests on the part of the local, mostly black, community, which then spread across the cities of the USA.
These protests were met from the very first by a highly militarised police force, using tear gas, plastic bullets, and even live bullets as weapons of first response, while dressed as though they were on the front line in some occupied country. In fact, Ferguson was indeed placed under occupation, with curfews, armed outposts on strategic street corners and armoured cars driving at speed around the city, with the be-goggled ‘GI Joe’ look-alikes manning heavy-calibre machine guns sitting menacingly on top.
As the protests raged across the USA, with some wonderful examples of internationalist solidarity and unity in a number of places around the world, the US police continued to give us further examples of their willingness to kill black people at will, without any fear of punishment.
“I can’t breathe”
During this same period, on 17 July 2014, in New York, Eric Garner was wrestled to the ground by police and held in a chokehold that had supposedly been banned in the NY police department since 1993 – although in 2013 alone, New York City received 233 allegations of police chokeholds being used.
Eric Garner’s ‘crime’ was selling ‘loose’ cigarettes on the street. A witness filmed his unprovoked murder and captured Mr Garner’s last words: “I can’t breathe!” Once again, there was no punishment. Yet another grand jury backed police violence against the black community. In fact, it is the witness who now faces prosecution for filming the police murder.
Just a few months later, on 22 November, a 12-year-old child, Tamir Rice, was shot dead by a policeman in Cleveland, Ohio – this time within two seconds of the patrol car pulling up! Once again, the murder was filmed, but this time by a surveillance camera with no sound. The officer who carried out the murder claimed he gave a proper warning to the boy, who then supposedly went for the toy gun in his waistband, this could not possibly have happened in the incredibly short time between him getting out of his car and shooting Tamir.
Actually, the officer must have had the gun in his hand while the car was still in motion, as events happened at such speed. The officer, Tim Loehmann, had two years previously quit his job with a suburban police force after his supervisors determined that he had had a “dangerous loss of composure” during firearms training and was emotionally unprepared to cope with the stresses of the job. The Cleveland police now admit that they did not review Loehmann’s previous personnel file during background checks carried out at the time of his hiring.
The racial make-up of Cleveland is 53 percent black and 37 percent white, while its police department, numbering 1,551 persons, is worse than the reverse of that, with just 25 percent of its officers being black. The figures for Ferguson are even more striking.
‘Skid row’ savagery
Incidents of abuse and physical harm to poor people by US police occur daily, and another filmed killing of an unarmed black man occurred on 1 March 2015 in Los Angeles. A black man known locally as ‘Africa’, and later named as Charly ‘Africa’ Leundeu Keunang, was targeted by police – apparently as a suspect for a robbery. Africa, who had been living for some time on San Pedro Street, in an area nicknamed Skid Row because of the extremely high level of homeless people existing there, was filmed having an altercation with some of LA’s finest.
The video starts with Africa swinging his arms at four police officers who have him surrounded. One officer then drops his nightstick and punches Africa until he sinks to the floor. The cop then stands over his victim and two more police officers are seen to arrive. A woman passing by picks up the nightstick and waves it at the officers while saying something inaudible. Two of the cops then wrestle her to the ground and put her in handcuffs.
Meanwhile, the remaining officers carry on with their abuse of Africa, who is still on the ground but attempting to get up. The film picks up the buzzing of a taser, and the police admit that this was used, but have said that weapon had proved “ineffective”. Africa reaches his hand out towards the cops who are causing him so much torment. Five shots later, he lies dead – posthumously accused of trying to snatch a cop’s gun.
The protests and demonstrations at racist police violence and murder continue in towns and cities across the United States. Such has been the strength of feeling that the department of justice was forced to write a report on policing in Ferguson.
This report, although at the time of writing of this article is not officially published yet, seemingly backs up the complaints of black residents in large measure. According to US media, it has revealed that a black motorist who is pulled over is twice as likely to be searched as a white motorist, even though searches of white drivers are more likely to turn up drugs or other contraband. Moreover, minor, largely discretionary charges such as disturbing the peace and jaywalking are brought almost exclusively against blacks. When whites are charged with these crimes, they are 68 percent more likely to have their cases dismissed.
Resignations have followed the leaks of this report – as if a few older, relatively high-up city officials taking their pensions early is going to convince anyone that the US police leopard has changed, or is even thinking about changing, its spots!
As if to underline the point that no one believes that there is any appetite to change the ‘style’ of policing in the US by those who rule – and reflecting the righteous, pent-up fury of the oppressed masses – two policemen were shot at a rally outside Ferguson police department on Wednesday 11 March, neither fatally. A 20-year-old man, Jeffrey L Williams, has been charged with the shootings.
Various people try to excuse the obviously racist mindset of the US law-‘upholding’ organisations and establishment by citing the existence of black police officers, some of whom have also engaged in acts of brutality. These excuses are easily dismissed.
That some black people may choose to join the organisations that have been a part of their own oppression is not unusual, and can best be understood as people trying to escape their own bad situation by individualistic means – the route of least resistance. Moreover, where a black police officer uses violence, especially against a white person, he is far more likely to be found guilty of the offence and punished than is his white counterpart.
Racism – American DNA
So why is this institutionalised racism so prevalent in the USA? After all, the current president is black – surely that proves that racism is at least on the way to being vanquished?
To answer the second question first, the US imperialists are not stupid. It was quite timely for them to run a black man for president, especially considering how his predecessor George W Bush had succeeded in increasing the hatred felt for US imperialism by people around the world to an ever-greater extent. Obama’s acceptance by much of the US elite is not proof that they do not continue to foster and use racism to rule at home and abroad.
The first question appears somewhat harder to answer, as all imperialist states use discrimination against minorities to divide the working class and protect their own parasitic position. However, the USA seems to be far more racially divided and far more aggressive towards its minorities than most.
One reason to consider when looking at police violence in the USA is the fact that most city, state and national authorities want to be seen as ‘tough on crime, tough on criminals’, and so the nod is given to police departments that tough is good and any stepping over the line will most likely see the culprit defended by the racist and pro-cop ‘justice’ system.
At the end of the day, the fact that the authorities want aggressive policing is obvious from the huge quantity of military vehicles, body armour and weaponry that is supplied to US police departments. And aggressive policing means hitting the poor. In the USA, although the poor come in all hues, you can usually guarantee someone is poor by looking at the colour of their face. If they are black, Latino or Native American, and especially if they are also young, they are likely to be poor!
There is also the violently racist history of the US from the landing of the Pilgrim Fathers to the modern day to help explain the excessively murderous policies imposed on racial minorities. The indigenous Native American peoples, were all but wiped out – slaughtered with the active assistance of the representatives of Christianity.
Many white bishops and priests, from the time of the first landings and into the 20th century, called from their pulpits for the extermination of the ‘godless heathens’ describing them as ‘non-people’. Those who sought the land inhabited by the indigenous people happily followed the words of God’s representatives on earth as their guide. Many of these sanctimonious souls also took part in the innumerable massacres of whole villages, where no one was left alive and where so many women and children died long, drawn-out deaths preceded by the most inhuman tortures.
If the Native Americans were the first ‘non-people’ in America exterminated for vast profit (ie, in order to gain land and mineral rights) after being designated as less than human, then the Africans and their descendants, who were ripped from their homelands in their hundreds of thousands and brought to the Americas as slaves in ships of death, were certainly the second.
Churches and their representatives once again played their part in condoning these crimes, condemning entire peoples to ‘animal’ status – beasts of burden that could understand words and follow the commands given, and even reply. At best, slaves were presented as being permanently childlike, unable to handle any great responsibilities or understand morality. Either way, they were treated as expensive property, and, while they could be beaten and disfigured for training or punishment purposes, they were not generally slaughtered without what could be considered ‘good’ reason – such as running away or as an example to others – as that would have been tantamount to throwing money away.
A real difference in treatment came with emancipation following the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1865, after the Civil War. As ‘free’ persons, black people in the US were no longer ‘of value’ to an ‘owner’ – and yet the perception of black people as less than human persisted. This was the time when lynching in great numbers really took place. Although black people were now technically able to vote, poll taxes, acts of terror (often perpetrated by groups like the Ku Klux Klan) and discriminatory laws kept huge numbers of African Americans disenfranchised, particularly in the south.
During this time, segregation, racial discrimination and expressions of white supremacy all increased, as did anti-black violence such as lynching and race riots.
Lynching exposed by Ho Chi Minh
In an article entitled ‘Lynching’ published in La Correspondance Internationale, a journal of the Communist International, in 1924, the great Vietnamese revolutionary leader and internationalist Comrade Ho Chi Minh described vividly and with sickening realism what a lynching really was.
He gleaned his facts mainly from newspaper and witness accounts, which were quite easy to obtain, as the US establishment, especially in the south, was quite candid about the practice. Comrade Ho explained to his readers that, in spite of the years of formal emancipation: ” American Negroes still endure atrocious moral and material sufferings, of which the most cruel and horrible is the custom of lynching.”
Ho cited the following statistics: “From 1889 to 1919, 2,600 blacks were lynched, including 51 women and girls and ten former Great War soldiers.” Further: ” Among 78 blacks lynched in 1919, 11 were burned alive, three burned after having been killed, 31 shot, three tortured to death, one cut into pieces, one drowned and 11 put to death by various means. ”
We do not find out what the ‘various means’ actually were, but, considering the grisly list above, we can only guess at what horrors those 11 people faced before the death came to relieve their sufferings. We do learn some of the ‘charges’ that were brought to ‘justify’ these sickening crimes.
One person was accused of ” having been a member of the League of Non-Partisans (independent farmers); one of having distributed revolutionary publications; one of expressing his opinion on lynchings too freely; one of having criticised the clashes between whites and blacks in Chicago; one of having been known as a leader of the cause of the blacks; one for not getting out of the way and thus frightening a white child who was in a motorcar “.
In 1920, there were 50 lynchings and by 1923 that was down to 28, but these figures increased again every time black people engaged in a serious struggle for civil rights.
It was common for newspapers to report in gory detail on lynchings after the event (not to condemn the organisers or show any pity for the victim, of course), and many lynchings were even pre-organised and openly advertised on the front pages of those newspapers.
“The New Orleans States of 26 June 1919 published a headline running right across the front page in letters five inches high: ‘Today a Negro will be burned by 3,000 citizens’, while on the same date, the Jackson Daily News published on its front page across the first two columns in big letters ‘Negro JH to be burned by the crowd at Ellistown this afternoon at 5pm’.”
Ho Chi Minh’s article also highlighted 708 lynchings of whites over a space of 30 years – a number that included 11 women. ” Some for having organised strikes, others for having espoused the cause of the blacks.” And so it was revealed that when white workers stood with their black brothers and sisters they met the same fate.
But imagine what they could have achieved for all workers if they had stood in solidarity in far greater numbers. Police and other killings, then as now, have nothing to do with crime and everything to do with the repression and division of the working class.
In today’s USA we see that:
1. African Americans comprise 13 percent of the US population and 14 percent of known drug users, but 37 percent of the people arrested for drug-related offences.
2. African Americans make up 57 percent of the people in state prisons for drug offences.
3. Studies show that police are more likely to pull over and frisk blacks or Latinos than whites. In New York City, 80 percent of the stops made were on blacks and Latinos, and 85 percent of those people were frisked, compared to a mere 8 percent stops of white people.
4. After being arrested, African Americans are 33 percent more likely than whites to be detained while facing a felony trial in New York.
5. In 2010, the US Sentencing Commission reported that African Americans receive 10 percent longer sentences than whites through the federal system for the same crimes.
6. In 2009, African Americans were 21 percent more likely than whites to receive mandatory minimum sentences and 20 percent more likely to be sentenced to prison than white drug defendants.
7. In a 2009 report, two thirds of the criminals receiving life sentences were non-whites. In New York, it was 83 percent.
8. The US Bureau of Justice Statistics concluded that an African American male born in 2001 had a 32 percent chance of going to jail in his lifetime, while a Latino male has a 17 percent chance, and a white male only 6 percent.
9. In 2012, 51 percent of Americans expressed anti-black sentiments in a poll; a 3 percent increase from 2008.
10. Every 40 hours, a black person in America is killed by the police.
Today, we do not see the huge crowds going to a lynching as if it were a public picnic as of old, but the police gunslingers fulfil the same role as the lynching organisers of those days. In fact, the ‘law-keepers’ were always party to those hideous murders, as much as the newspapers that advertised them and the sick bastards who carried out the deeds with impunity.
Each killing by the police brings the racial divisions inside the ringleader of world imperialism to the fore; each one is aimed at driving workers apart and brings succour to the real rulers of that nation.
The US has always been a racist state, in spite of legal sops to try to stave off the drive for real equality, coupled with the brutality meted out to those perceived to be leading that drive. And it is this same racism that provided, and still provides, the ideological underpinning of US imperialist oppression around the world.
When white and black workers stand together as one and defend each other as if they were the closest family members, they will terrify US imperialism and they will, hand in hand, take bold steps towards socialism at home and towards removing the repressive US boot from the necks of so many around the world.