Saturday, July 27, 2013

Police murders and militarization of US society a threat to all workers

by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

While things have no doubt changed since I lived in Europe over 40 years ago, one stark difference between there and the US is the power and role of the police. Here in the US, they can kill without recourse, this is particularly so when it comes to black folks, and young black men in particular.  Those who regret their lives are disrupted or their baseball game delayed because a freeway is blocked or some unruly people (more often than not white middle class youth) smash some windows, should consider that the racist cop who rained a barrage of racial epithets on Oscar Grant, the young black worker killed by Transit police, was fired due to these protests. 

The cop that shot Oscar Grant in the back as he lay on the ground surrounded by police would never have gone to jail at all had it not been for the street protests. George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the murder of Trayvon martin shows that the courts cannot be relied on to protect black youth.  The courts unfortunately cannot be relied upon to protect the rights of any worker as they are institutions designed to protect and further the interests of capital.

I saw three youngsters on a double decker in London last year getting in to it with two unarmed cops. They were not behaving properly I thought so myself, but the cops also didn’t approach them correctly.  Still, the youngsters gave the cops what for and as they were descending the upper deck for their stop one of them looks at the cops sitting in the back and called them “Baboons”.  The cops up and chased them and the last scene I saw was them giving a stern talking to the kids at the bus stop. I thought to myself, “They deal with cops here in the US like that they could be dead.” They got a bit too close to them and if a cop’s threatened here they can kill you no problem.  The same with the London riots last year.  Had they happened here, there’d be a lot more dead bodies.

You only have to watch US TV to see that we are a very violent society, young children see guns and shootings on TV daily and it’s portrayed in a way that it appears as natural as can be when we know that for a normal person, simply getting in to a tense and heated confrontation with another person is upsetting never mind killing them.

Last week, Reuters reported on the differences between the power of the police in Europe and here in the US.  According to Der Spiegel, the total number of bullets German police used in all of 2011 was 85.  Police in most other industrial countries are trained to avoid shooting with “fatal intent” whereas here in the US, “lethal force” is more often than not the norm. Of those 85 bullets fired by German cops in 2011, “…49 were warnings shots, 36 were aimed at criminal suspects, 15 people were injured, and 6 were killed”, Der Spiegel adds.

In the US, cops have to file a report every time they use their weapon in the line of duty but there are no statistics “readily available” according to RT.  But we have some idea of how things are from daily events.  Bruce Springsteen made a song “American Skin 41 shots to highlight the death of the New Yorker Amadou Diallo who was shot 41 times by cops while siting outside his apartment.  A 19 year old was killed by LA cops last month after being shot 90 times.  “The same month,” the New York Post reports, “…New York police fired at a suspected murderer 84 times.  While the man was wounded, “the punk incredibly survived,”.

Crime has declined in the US perhaps due to the incarceration of close to three million people mostly for petty crimes, people that capitalism has abandoned. But in the aftermath of 911 and the rise of the Occupy Movement as part of the rising opposition to US capitalism’s efforts to put the working class on rations, US society has become increasingly militarized beefing up the police and special fascist type units as well as using drones and massive surveillance methods to root out dissent. According to USA Today, “instances of excessive force or “other tactics to violate victims civil rights” increased by 25 per cent from 2001 to 2007.”

In another 2006 six case, plain clothes and undercover New York police shot at Sean Bell more than 50 times a day before his wedding. Bell was killed, and three of his friends were critically injured. The case was widely compared to that of Diallo.
The phenomenon is so common in America that the term ‘contagious shooting’ – the idea that cops reflexively open fire because others are doing so – has entered the national vocabulary.
Perhaps one incident that spurred experts to coin the term was a 1995 Bronx robbery where officers fired an incredible 125 shots at a suspect who did not even fire back. “They were shooting to the echo of their own gunfire,” a former police official told The New York Times.  
One officer told the daily in 2006 that “the only reason to be shooting in New York City is that you or someone else is going to be killed and it’s going to be imminent,” and thus you fire as many shots as necessary to “extinguish the threat.”
Ironically, one officer even said, “until we have some substitute for a firearm, there will always be a situation where more rounds are fired than in other situations.”

You get a lot of support for this macho culture from trolls that have found themselves a safe place in the Internet culture where they can play cop and more often than not espouse racist and anti-worker views. But beefed up police forces have never made life safer for the working class.  The police as well as troops have been used historically to break strikes, sometimes with the most brutal results. The social role of the police makes them naturally the enemy of workers and organized Labor as their entire existence is based on defending laws that are made by the capitalist class in the interests of the capitalist class.  Troops, as workers in uniform are somewhat different when used in this capacity, and much more likely to be won over when workers are on strike or in open struggle against the bosses and the police.. The police can be neutralized at best by the united power of the working class in action; they are not workers in the same way.

Recently cops shot a man's dog after the arrested him as he was on a public sidewalk videoing their actions.  Apparently he didn't turn the music down in his car quick enough.  The dog tried to defend its master so the cops shot it.  It is on film at the end of this commentary but it is a disturbing scene so be warned animal and human lovers, the dog appears to suffer.

In the recent labor disputes here in the Bay Area where we saw a four and a half day strike by BART (mass transit) workers, the issue of safety on the job and as well as the safety of passengers is an issue. This is an issue or all public employees (and some private like UPS drivers for example) especially teachers, transit and utility workers as well as USPS employees.  I worked in areas where youth unemployment was as high as 30% or more and crime was rampant.  For teachers, all the ills of capitalist society are brought in to the classroom. But the answer to these real problems from organized labor and workers as a whole is training programs run by the Unions in every community and a massive investment in social infrastructure, education, transportation and real public housing, not beefing up the state security forces.

Jobs and more jobs is the key.  Increased militarization of society and more police will be used against unionized workers as we are forced to strike to defend ourselves against the capitalist offensive.  We are not exempt from police violence, we never have been.  By defending our communities and especially the poorer communities, many of them communities of color, we can build a united and powerful movement to fight back against the austerity agenda of the 1%.

 We need this united movement for there is plenty of bullets for the rest of us if the 1% feels their interests are threatened.  US police will not only use plenty of bullets to halt our offensive, the Germans will abandon their tolerance for German workers and ammo consumption will skyrocket there too.

Let’s not fool ourselves. Let’s remember which sections of society are our natural allies and which are our natural enemies.

This what the occupation of America's urban areas really means.

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