Thursday, October 6, 2016

DOJ Ferguson PD Report. Nothing New

Afscme Local 444, retired

The “Southern police system ... represents a crucial and strategic factor in race relations,” with extreme brutality cases of “Negroes being killed by policemen.”

These words, written some 70 years ago by Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal, were conclusions drawn as a result of his study on race relations in the US. *  It comes as no surprise to many people and certainly not to black folks. But it also shows how worthless these sort of academic studies are when it comes to dealing with the problem of racism in society. They could be used to organize resistance, as a force for change as valuable information is in them. But no, you see, we have freedom of information, but who owns the means of communicating that information to the masses is another issue; stuff like this is better left on the shelf and for the interest of academics.

Workers meanwhile get a dose of sports or (Un) Reality TV shows to keep us occupied. What is more important than Brad and Angelina's divorce. The authorities will not make such details as easily available to the masses as this year’s Raider schedule or Halloween Sale, so it’s our job to seek them out and use them in our struggle against the capitalist offensive becasue if history is going to be brought to the masses, it will be a well scripted version brought to you by WalMart, Disney or Hollywood.

The social role of the police has not changed since these words were written; they are an armed branch of the state and the state is not an institution devoid of class content. The state, or government as we call it, is an organ of class rule. The police are the front lines in the maintenance of class rule. In the urban ghettos where unemployment is high, opportunity limited and potential for revolt strong, they are there to keep order, in other words to ensure no politicized movement for change arises. In times of increased open warfare between labor and capital, they are there to ensure strikes are broken, scabs allowed to work and anti-union injunctions obeyed.

I think most workers, even American workers, would agree we do not live in a classless society and it is inevitable in such a construct that those who govern society, and who are in a minority numerically and who have incredible wealth, want to keep it that way.  The rest of us who work and whose labor is the source of that wealth, are always trying to increase our share of it. Because we outnumber them and at times threaten this set up, the ruling class uses many different tactics to divide us. The most successful tactic here in the US has been racism or more accurately the color line.  In Northern Ireland where everyone was pretty much the same color, religion plays that role.

Buy it here
“The King James version of the Bible . . . does not contain the word ‘race’ in our modern sense . . . as late as 1611 our modern idea of race had not yet arisen.”
Hubert Harrison “World Problems of Race,” 1926 Source

Racism, while having horrific consequences for people of color in the US, especially people of African descent, has harmed all workers. The reason a white worker is paid less in the South than the North is because of racism although that gap is narrowing. Racism has meant workers were divided and alienated from each other, workers’ organizations were kept out or non-existent, and the bosses have more power. Despite years of concessions and refusal of the labor hierarchy to fight back, unionized workers are still better off, we have better wages and benefits and a vehicle that allows us to confront sexism and racism on the job. As individuals we are close to powerless.

That is why all workers and unionized workers especially should speak out and support the protests and movements against racism and police brutality. When the anger reaches the point where people lash out, smash stores, trash cars and in the most extreme, attack innocent individuals, we have to look beyond immediate events. We have to look at the underlying causes of the explosion. We have to look at the facts the media keep hidden.

A few weeks ago I saw some white nationalist on TV talking about the violence that erupts in the urban black communities and how they destroy our cities. When these urban uprisings or riots occur we hear capitalist politicians black and white talk about restraint and how bad violence is; that people should respect property, work through established channels etc. The black politicians are somewhat different as they feel the pressure from the black masses and their own class positions are threatened by the revolutionary potential of the black working class, so they are forced in one way or another to pay lip service to the urban poverty and racism that is the root cause of these social upheavals.  In addition,  for the black middle and upper middle class, the affects of racism have been so acute and prolonged that practically all of them will have a relative sometime or somewhere that has experienced police harassment, actual violence and certainly racism in the courts and justice system itself.

It is institutionalized racism, the racism that is woven in to the fabric of US and capitalist society that weighs heavily on the black population in particular; it’s not just about being called a name. It is the historic exclusion from housing, jobs, education, politics, access to capital and police brutality that is at the root of this crisis.

This doesn’t mean white workers aren’t exploited. Most poor people in the US are white because there are more of us. The millions of Europeans that came to the US from the peasants of Southern Italy to the starving Irish were not here on vacation and rarely by choice. It is the percentages that are so high and as Europeans are white skinned, we do not face this social alienation and discrimination based on the basis of our skin tone. **

It is this incredible social weight that many white workers fail to see. Or when we do, it is not presented in a way that offers a united way out so people close their minds to it, try to avoid it and get on with their lives grateful its not happening to them even though they feel sympathy with the victims of it. Thee is a lot of coercive pressure in US society to keep one's mouth shut. There is a chasm between how workers approach this issue, especially in the rank and file of the unions and the workplace compared to the liberals and the petit bourgeois academic left. White workers are not wrong to think the white liberals solution to the problem will mean they will lose out. The reality is that workers unity is what will ensure we all have a secure future.

The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri provoked an extended period of anger that was replicated in other cities including cities around the world. We have witnessed this so many times in response to events like these and the failure of the courts and justice system to do anything about it. Rodney King, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin Amadou Diallo and so many more examples come to mind.

But these individual events, as tragic as they are, are just the spark that ignites the anger that cannot be contained any longer at conditions that are so overwhelming even the presence of an army of police cannot stop it. As Martin Luther King said, “Riots are the language of the unheard.”, in other words, one cannot condemn people rioting, if one doesn’t condemn the conditions that cause them. We only have to look at early colonial US history when riots and mass meetings, what the authorities called “the mob” were commonplace because the political avenue was closed to most people.***

After Ferguson, the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigated the Ferguson police department. And let’s be clear, this probe occurred for one reason and one reason only, the growth of the Black Lives Matter Movement, ongoing protests against police brutality and racism, including the recent inclusion of sports figures led by Colin Kaepernick and the protests his actions provoked and, yes, riots.

I apologize for the length of this commentary but it can’t be helped. I took the time to review some of the DOJ’s findings. Here is an example of the Ferguson Police Department’s activity and some actual cases :

Despite making up 67 percent of the population, African-Americans have accounted for 85 percent of all traffic stops, and were the subject of 90 percent of the citations and 93 percent of the arrests made by Ferguson police over the last two years.

One of the charges where blacks are cited more often than whites: "Manner of Walking," which is issued to blacks 95 percent of the time.
(my added emphasis)

African-Americans are also 70 percent less likely to have their charges dismissed by a judge.

* In 2014, a black couple let their young children urinate in the bushes at a park. An officer threatened to arrest the parents for allowing the children to expose themselves. He took the man into custody for parental neglect, and when the woman began videotaping the interaction the police officer yelled, “You don’t videotape me!” The officers drove away and the woman followed, continuing to tape. The officer stopped the car and arrested the woman on traffic citations.

* Another woman called police to report a separate domestic disturbance and was given a summons for an occupancy permit violation. She said, according to the officer’s report, that she “hated the Ferguson Police Department and will never call again, even if she is being killed.

* A man was leaving the police station when officers arrived to take custody of another man wanted on a state charge. The officers stopped the man who was leaving and asked for his ID. He declined, saying he didn’t have to provide it. The man also declined to be frisked. Then, when the man offered his ID, the officers interpreted his hand movement as an assault and took him to the ground. The man was charged with two counts of failure to comply and two counts of resisting arrest.

* In July 2012, a police officer arrested a business owner on charges of Interfering in
Police Business and Misuse of 911 because she objected to the officer’s detention
of her employee. The officer had stopped the employee for “walking unsafely in the street” as he returned to work from the bank.

*One white individual who has lived in Ferguson for 48 years told investigators that it feels like Ferguson’s police and court system is “designed to bring a black man down ... (there are) no second chances.”

Other charges include: Disorderly Conduct for giving the middle finger and using obscenities; Manner of Walking for being in the street; Failure to Comply for staying to observe; Interference with Officer; Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer; and Endangering the Welfare of a Child (themselves and their schoolmates) by resisting arrest and being involved in disorderly conduct.

In other words, the black residents of Ferguson were tormented and harassed day in day out by the police. Their lives were a constant cycle of harassment, arrests, fines, late fees, failure to appear notices and arrest warrants and jail time. This is not limited to Ferguson and is experienced to one extent or another by all poor people in this society. The police in urban ghettos are occupation forces.

The DOJ report notes that residents were arrested on trumped up charges because residents used profanity or gave a cop the finger. As the report points out, residents were denied their First Amendment rights so the cops made up other violations like “manner of Walking”.

The DOJ report can be read online here  and it is out in paperback and can be purchased here.

Of course, capitalism is a violent system and all workers are victims of its violence in one way or another. For black people, institutionalized racism, extreme violence and exclusion from the norms of society goes back a long way. But even if we consider the period from Gunnar Myrdal’s study in the 1940’s to today, a couple of things stand out. One is that the US capitalist class is incapable of eliminating racism in society as it is crucial as a divide and rule tactic, sometimes openly and overt, and at all times subtle and covert.  Malcolm X was right when he said, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.”

The other is the incredible tolerance, patience and humanity of people that they have to be pushed to the edge of the abyss before the anger overwhelms them. Death while fighting the enemy is the preferred option. Imagine if the financial and human resources used to defend US capitalism’s profits abroad were used to rebuild our cities, we’d eliminate urban blight and literally create millions of jobs. But that’s not how capitalism works.  

I do not agree with this view, but one can hardly blame some black folks who argue that at the root of this crisis is a conscious plan to eliminate them as a people entirely. It surely must feel this way. It is a staggering condemnation of our society that the situation is as bad today if not worse than when Myrdal wrote those lines. What goes on in our prisons is a crime against humanity, for all people incarcerated, but again, blacks are a disproportionate percentage of that population.

Anyone defending the police and security forces under these circumstances is a collaborator at best and a racist at worst. We know society treats people differently. I cannot be the only male whose wife asked me to accompany her to the auto-repair shop because they treat her differently as a woman. Pay no attention to the white petit bourgeois and their allies in the communities of color who call for you to “check your white privilege at the door” or  “own up to your white privilege”.  This accomplishes nothing except appeasing the conscience of the person that says it.

Black working class people want allies in the struggle against racism and the conditions that they face.  Give credibility to their explanation of the world and how they are treated in it, at the very least do that.  They have never asked for anything more than that. Separate yourself from the white racist capitalist class. Support Kaeprernick and be vocal about it. It’s not rocket science.  Don’t be silent and here’s a concrete example of what will strengthen unity between black and white workers and help all of us next time (probably within 24 hours after I post this) a black guy will be shot by police. Instead of getting to work in the morning and asking how the Warriors did, say, “Damn! Another brother shot by the cops, we have to do something to stop this as the government isn’t. I’m disgusted with our police and justice system.” If you’re uncomfortable with the term “brother” substitute “black guy” or African American if that’s what you feel comfortable with.  You don’t need a Phd in sociology to start there.

Other things unionized workers can do is pass resolutions at our locals condemning what we are witnessing and linking it to jobs, housing, education and other social issues that affect the working class as a whole. Send them to all the higher bodies, labor councils etc. and to municipal bodies like the school boards and city councils. Let them know we are not asleep and we won’t stay silent. We will face opposition from the labor hierarchy in this venture but if we are serious about wanting a future for our children we cannot avoid a confrontation with them as they have the same worldview as the 1%. They see profits a sacrosanct and worship the market as the answer to all things.

Mass incarceration of people capitalism has abandoned, the five million who lost their homes in the crash of 2008, the catastrophe in Flint, a working class city where our government that puts profits before people poisoned the public water supply, the BP spill, the bail out of the bankers, the destruction of our environment, the driving down of wages and conditions that took decades to win------these are all connected and are all union business. It is likely we will see another recession or slump before the end of 2017, we must put a stop to it and we must return to our roots embodied in that great US working class slogan, “An Injury to One is an Injury to all.”

If you don’t condemn institutionalized racism and validate the views of society that most black people have then you can’t condemn riots. If we don’t want riots, unorganized justifiable anger, we must help build the movement, the united working class movement that can organize that anger; that can channel in to a political alternative. We must speak out when the BLM movement is attacked and condemn the “blue lives matter” rubbish for what it is.  We must do the same with the “All Lives Matter” crowd. Of course all lives matter. But obviously black lives not so much. When you ignore the brutal reality some people face or question it when it’s this obvious, it is an insult to them, no wonder they get angry. We can be critical, but not in a way that puts us in the camp of the enemy and those that support the system that lies at the root of the problem, capitalism.

* Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy
** See Theodore Allen’s two volume work, The Invention of the White Race for the theoretical basis for the White Race construct. Also Lerone Bennett, The Shaping of Black America, particularly pay attention to chapter three. Visit Jeffrey B Perry’s website for further information on this subject. In particular here: The Developing Conjuncture

*** For good stuff about this see: Pauline Maier From Resistance to Revolution, Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain 1765-1776
and: Gary B Nash: The Urban Crucible, Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution

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