The unprecedented scope of the uprising this past week reflects widespread discontent on various levels – and widespread disdain and criticism for the racist and repressive role of the police as an institution in the USA. The immediate issue is yet another police murder of a black man — the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis cops. But the protests have often mentioned other recent police killings of black people.
We demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the many other hundreds of black people murdered by police in the past year. Since the point blank cop shooting of Oscar Grant in 2009, more than 200 people have been shot and killed by the police here in the Bay Area – Mario Woods, Alan Blueford, Kenneth Harding Jr and others. Just in the last few days Vallejo police shot and killed a young man on his knees with his hands raised. No cop in Vallejo has been disciplined for deadly force in the past decade despite the many shootings by police.
The problem is very deeply entrenched in this country. The police have long been allowed a special legal immunity from prosecution and given a free hand to keep the “lower orders” in their place. The first professional police force in the USA was created in the 1790s in Charleston, South Carolina for the purpose of keeping slaves under control. In the north the first paid police forces arose with industrial capitalism and a “dangerous” class of property-less wage-workers employed in the early factories – and subject to periodic unemployment and food riots and strikes. Thus the police were set up with the dual role of protecting both white supremacy and class oppression.
Local budgets throughout the USA are weighed down with vast budgets – for noise weapons and Humvee’s and body armor and endless raises while the sanctity given to the police budgets by the Chamber of Commerce types leads to less money for public services that can provide housing and health care and education.
Even though police are often recruited from the working class, they are no more working class than are the supervisors and managers who police us in the workplaces. Cops are supervisors of the streets. They are part of the bureaucratic control class that includes middle managers, judges, prosecutors, corporate lawyers and military brass. Their job is to run the corporations and the state and keep everything going for the benefit of the wealthy owning class at the top.
Part of their institutional position in the USA is their separation from any real civilian control. And the special privileges of police unions exist to support the repressive role of the police. That’s why police “unions” are allowed to negotiate over discipline and participate in official investigations of police violence and illegality. This allows them to push back against periodic popular pressure on politicians or police chiefs after the latest outrage. Police unions almost never show any solidarity towards other workers in struggle – because they are an arm of the repressive system.
Workers can stand up to them — as bus drivers have done during this uprising, refusing to haul police or prisoners captured by the cops. This is a position that has been backed up by locals of the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union.
Abolition of the police is thus a revolutionary demand. An amazing aspect of the present moment is that some members of the Minneapolis city council are now proposing to disband the Minneapolis Police Department. City councilman Steve Fletcher has described their city’s police department as “beyond reform” and a “protection racket.” “Several of us on the council are working on finding out what it would take to disband the Minneapolis Police Department and start fresh with a community-oriented, nonviolent public safety and outreach capacity,” he says.
This uprising has achieved an amazing scope — large mass marches day after day, not only in big cities, but extending far out into suburbs — such as Walnut Creek, Clayton and Santa Rosa here in the Bay Area. Not only big urban centers but protests in small towns out on the prairies, such as Fargo North Dakota or places like Tyler, Texas.
A Morning Consult poll says that the protests are supported — either strongly or to some extent — by 54 percent of Americans. This is vastly more support than achieved by the astro-turf, business-supported “re-open” protests to end shelter in place protections against the pandemic. Those were only supported by 22 percent. According to another poll, three-fourths of Americans see the killing of George Floyd as a sign of the underlying problem of racial injustice in USA.
This wide support — and the intensity of the moment — reflects a whole series of things coming together and bearing down on the working class majority. In the midst of the pandemic millions have lost their employer-dependent health care, and more than 40 million have filed for unemployment benefits under a creaky unemployment system — a third of those who have filed have not received any money yet. And racial disparities are on display in the pandemic also: The deaths to black and Latino people have been far higher than among whites.
The more than 150 wildcat strikes in the past two months are another aspect to the current discontent — including many strikes over unsafe working conditions such as lack of personal protective gear. And with people losing their income and not having money for food, rent strikes are also on the rise. And meanwhile the Congress focuses on more billion dollar bailouts for business interests. Thus in this situation the oppressive and wretched reality of present American institutions bears down on millions.
The multi-racial crowds of young people in the protests are there partly because they are fed up with the engrained racist patterns of police violence and thus express solidarity with the victims of this violence. But it’s also in their own interests to participate in this uprising because multi-racial solidarity is needed for effective struggle for the changes that would benefit them. Many see their own dire prospects and see the way they are treated as disposable by the Lords of Capital.