Monday, July 18, 2016

Baton Rouge killings. Are we really surprised?

Baton Rouge: Police arrest protesters July 9th
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I want to raise some points about yesterday’s shootings in Baton Rouge where another group of cops were shot and as I write three of them are dead.

It goes without saying that we have to oppose these killings. We have to oppose them first of all because individual actions like these are a harmful to the workers’ movement; they are harmful to the black people’s struggle against centuries of racist oppression. They are acts that may temporarily satisfy the desire for revenge by the perpetrator. They may be seen by some as a just response to far greater acts of violence carried out by the state against the individual, his or her family, community, religious group or race. But these type of responses do not take the struggle forward, they arise when individuals can see no other way to oppose racist oppression and the general economic and social oppression they face. They are acts of despair.

I can assume with some confidence that a contributing factor that drove the shooter, an ex marine named Gavin Long, to kill these cops at this moment in time with the understanding that he will sacrifice his own life, is the almost daily murder of (often unarmed) black men by state security forces around the country. We have to recognize also that Long served in the military as did the shooter of five policemen only a week before. Imagine putting one’s life on the line for one’s country yet fearing losing it at home at the hands of the very state you defended, or thought you were defending. Under these conditions, it is not hard to understand why someone might resort to this.

But we must be clear. These events, the killings in Baton Rouge and Dallas, will undermine the movement and popularity of Black Lives Matter and the growing movement against racism and police brutality that has been taking place up to now.  It will strengthen the racists and not help those white workers who are so far unable to overcome that “stop in the mind” to quote the great English historian Christopher Hill, and instead embrace without fear and trepidation the reasons why the slogan and movement around Black Lives Matter is appropriate, as it appears in our society today that they don’t.

Many workers of all races are appalled at the murder of black people, as they are daily “hunted down” by the police as Philandro Castile’s mother so aptly put it. But these acts of individual retribution will not help build the unity of all workers that is necessary if racism and police brutality is to be ended. Only the unity of the working class can end racism as only the unity of the working Class can end capitalism. And as Malcolm X stressed, “You can’t have capitalism without racism”. Malcolm X chose his words carefully and this can only mean we cannot end racism without ending capitalism.

The struggle for a better world and to end racism has to be a conscious struggle and the strategy and tactics necessary to accomplish this determined collectively, by black folks and by workers from all backgrounds committed to this end. Long’s decision to do what he did was not a collective decision. If Gavin Long’s tactic had been discussed among any group of black American workers, and this is a group I have worked with and lived with my entire 43 years in the US, they would have not supported it I can guarantee it. They would have done what they could to prevent it. It is not the method advocated by Black Lives Matter and practically every other African American organization fighting racial oppression.

This is despite having to listen to police chiefs, politicians and other public figures talk about the need for us to “come together in this hour of need” or words to this affect when cops are killed. We do not hear this when unarmed black men are “hunted down” in the streets of our cities. Workers are not called out on the streets to “come together” for anything other than sports events and other diversionary activities.

And here’s another point that I want to make. It is workers that serve in the military of all nations. It is workers that are sent to fight workers in other countries in these wars to defend corporate profits. What we have in the US is an economic draft as the sons and daughters of the 1%, and their political representatives like the Bush’s and Obama’s, will never face the horrors of war that children of the working class and poor do. A permanent pool of unemployed is a good thing for the military; it provides the war machine with youth who have few other options.  In this process, young working class men and women are brutalized and trained to kill. They become physically and psychologically damaged through the experience.

We can and should oppose what Gavin Long has done. He didn’t discriminate; he killed black cops as well as whites. But it’s quite likely as a Marine he killed a lot more people in his visit to Iraq than he did yesterday in Baton Rouge. He was a trained killer. That’s what being a Marine is about, taking orders and not questioning them. He is not condemned for killing foreigners. In fact, he is seen as a hero for that. He is called a warrior and the more foreigners he would have killed, the more medals and praise would have come his way from the very people now condemning him. If we were to criticize his killing of these people we would be labeled un-American and traitors. Chelsea Manning informed of us of activities like these and got 35 years for it.

The training a worker like Long receives at the hands of the state is used to defend US capitalism in its global war against workers and its rivals. It is also used internally and has been so historically to break strikes and suppress social unrest. But soldiers are workers in uniform. They are not cops and in different times, their military training and discipline is useful to the working class. Changing society will not only require a political party of our own but also a workers militia or workers military force. In this sense, the military expertise workers receive that is used to defend the capitalist state can turn in to its opposite; like technology, it depends in whose interests this skill serves.

It is the history of racial oppression that was also on Long’s mind we can guarantee it. Centuries of violence committed against black people by a state based on white supremacy is present in the consciousness of every black person no matter their class background. They are intimately aware of 300 years of slavery when black workers were forced to work for no wages. When they were forced to do so through the most vicious methods, mass murder, lynchings, being burned alive, similar to the methods of ISIS today.  

Even after the Civil War when blacks fought on the Union side by the hundreds of thousands the violence continued. Officials of the Freedmen’s Bureau were astounded at the violence against blacks. Blacks in Texas  “…are frequently beaten unmercifully and shot down like wild beasts, without any provocation.”, an official testifies. One freed slave testified that ‘”over two thousand colored people” were murdered in 1865 around Shreveport. In 1866, after the South was supposedly defeated, whites set fire to a black settlement and rounded up its inhabitants in Pine Bluff Arkansas:  “A man who visited the scene the following morning found  ‘a sight that apald me 24 Negro women and children were hanging from trees all round the cabins’” writes Eric Foner.*

These events are in the mass consciousness of black folks as much as the great famine and English invasions are in the mass consciousness of Irish Americans, even those who can’t point to Ireland on a map and there is a lot of them.

From what I understand, Long was a thoughtful person. Surely one hundred and fifty years later when black men are still dying at the hands of the state, when the racist flag of the confederacy still flew over public buildings built with the taxes paid by black people and the economic conditions of African Americans are at depression era levels him, and other black folk must ask themselves, “Will it never end?”

Louisiana governor John Edwards said of the killings: "There is nothing more fundamentally important than maintaining law and order. … That is not what justice looks like.  We should recognize that this situation is an extreme crisis for the US ruling class. The police are the armed bodies of men whose purpose it is to defend the state and the interests of the class that rules, the laws that they write. They will not tolerate this situation and it will be poor and black communities that will bear the brunt of the increased offensive, certainly in the immediate term. In the aftermath of Seattle back in 1999 and the Occupy Movement of the past period, state security forces have been increasingly militarized.    This will continue and will be used against all workers as resistance to the capitalist offensive grows."

But as a previous blog pointed out, the movement has to have a an approach to the police that can at very least neutralize them and at best split the more conscious layers from the dehumanized and brutal elements. It must offer an alternative.

It goes without saying that as this crisis continues, the role of the heads of organized labor borders on the criminal. It is their failure to offer a way forward that increases apathy politically, that makes it more likely for workers to resort to acts of sabotage on the job and individuals like Long to take matters in to their own hands. They sit atop an organization with 12 million workers in it with tremendous resources and potential power. They are a disgrace.

I have read that Long wrote the following:

“You’ve got to stand on your rights, just like George Washington did, just like the other white rebels they celebrate and salute did,” he added. “That’s what Nat Turner did. That’s what Malcolm did. You got to stand, man. You got to sacrifice.”

I notice he never mentioned Martin Luther King and assume it was due to his commitment to non-violence. While I am not a pacifist, Martin Luther King led a mass movement committed to direct action and toward the end of his life began to talk of the need for socialism and social re-organization. Malcolm X, while critical of King in his early years, came to understand the importance of the mass movement and uniting all oppressed people in the struggle for justice and freedom.

It is these methods, and a mass movement of a united working class against racism and capitalism that the 1% fears most of all and that will end police brutality, not individual acts of retribution,

1 comment:

G de Leon said...

wtf does "oppose the killings" mean? these two young men did not ask our permission? didn't engage in dialogue with BLM or the left. and NO, comrade folks don't simply get a job as a slave patroler. they are self select and are selected for qualities that fill the slave patrol profile. the respectful, those that treat others as equals with dignity are weeded out very early in the process. the few of that type that make it into the slave patrols, are quickly moved off the street. only a new model of safety & crime prevention will give us a measure of security. as a modest proposal... a time honored socialist, anarchist measure... immediate recall of any official- elected or un elected- who violates the rights of injures a citizen.