On April 26, 2015, the first black US President, Barack Hussein Obama, stepped to the podium at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner to engage in frivolous banter with fellow politicians, corporate media hounds and comedians dressed in their finest tuxedoes and gowns. A mere 40 miles away from the White House, the youth in Baltimore, Maryland exploded in mass rage against the death of Freddie Gray from injuries sustained while in police custody. His spinal cord was 80 percent severed and his vocal cords were crushed. He fell into a coma, and died a week later from those injuries. The words of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois still ring true for black workers and youth: “A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect.”
The death of Freddie Gray and the protests by thousands of Baltimore youth filled with righteous anger in recent days shows the continued relevance of Black Lives Matter which forced the issue of police killings into the light of day. Now the National Guard has been put on alert as unrest spreads and a curfew has been imposed.
Protests are being called in New York and across the country for Wednesday, 29 April. This could be the beginning of the reemergence of the movement on a national scale. On 1 May, Local 10 of the historically militant International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in the Bay Area is planning to walk out and shut down the port of Oakland in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. May Day protests around the country should take up demands for justice for the victims of police violence.
The real ’Wire’
After months of handwringing in the mainstream media and from leading Democratic politicians, there is no still no serious plan brought forward to address the brutal policing of poor black communities and the lack of a decent future for black youth across the US. Let us examine the deadly recipe that produced the rage in Baltimore.
The death of Freddie Gray, along with so many other women and men in Baltimore, shows the real face of poverty, drugs, official neglect, law enforcement surveillance, deindustrialisation, and endemic racism.
Despite having a black Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the residents of this majority black city are the victims of a corporate agenda that places downtown Baltimore above the needs of the Gilmor community in which Freddie Gray lived and died. The example of a dilapidated basketball court in the Gilmor houses, which the city authorities have refused to refurbish for fifteen years despite the community raising the money to do so, tells the whole story.
The police are viewed as an occupying force that is there to oversee, contain and control the black working class and youth. Baltimore law enforcement has a long and notorious record. There have been pleas for federal oversight dating back to the 1980s. A recent New York Times article titled, ‘Baltimore’s ‘Broken Relationship’ with Police’, explains that more people have been killed in Baltimore by the police than in most other cities similar in size.
“Baltimore police officers killed 127 people over two decades ending in 2012, with a marked uptick in 2007 and 2008, according to the F.B.I.’s voluntary survey of justifiable homicides by the police. The police in Las Vegas, who cover that metropolitan area with a similar-size force, killed 100 people over the same period.
“Last year, The Baltimore Sun reported that taxpayers had paid $5.7 million since 2011 in judgments or settlements in 102 lawsuits alleging police misconduct. A. Dwight Pettit, a lawyer who specializes in police misconduct and represents Tyrone West’s family in a wrongful-death suit against the city, said he had ’20 open cases right now,’ and was flooded with requests for representation.”-http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/25/us/baltimores-broken-relationship-with-police.html
“Zero-tolerance policing” was introduced and promoted by Martin O’Malley, Baltimore mayor from 1999 to 2007. O’Malley, a Democrat, subsequently became governor of Maryland and is now said to be eyeing a race for the presidency. The zero-tolerance policing doctrine is akin to the “broken windows” approach, leading to mass arrests of people for small infractions to “deter” them from committing more crimes. It has led to a whole generation being swept up in the criminal injustice system, destroying families and locking up huge numbers of innocent people for the “crime” of being poor.
Baltimore is Ferguson on a bigger scale
The details of Freddie Gray’s injuries and subsequent death are tragically not unheard of in Baltimore, as police take suspects on “nickel rides” in police vans before bringing them to the police station. This has led in other cases to people being paralysed. Gray’s death comes alongside the killing of Walter Scott in South Carolina and the failure to convict the cop who killed Rekia Boyd in Chicago.
The US ruling elite is in a quandary of what do to about the constant attention being drawn to cases of police violence cases. Some in the elite want to bring in reforms but within very narrow margins. The Ferguson report from former attorney general Eric Holder and Justice Department Civil Rights Division following Michael Brown’s death described the levels of racism, leeching by city officials on the backs of poor people and outright corruption. On the other hand, the new and first black woman attorney general Loretta Lynch has been described by Black Agenda Report as “Condoleezza Rice with a Law Degree”. She will continue the historically cozy relationship between law enforcement, prosecutors, and Justice Department.
The possible reforms prescribed in the Ferguson report could be a starting point to organize for more serious reforms to address the crisis of police violence and state-sponsored terror. But achieving even basic reforms will require a militant, uncompromising, consistent, and national coordinated social movement by the working class and poor under the banner of Black Lives Matter.
Fight the powers that be!
“…Got to give us what we want
Gotta give us what we need
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be”- Public Enemy
The outrage in Baltimore speaks to the urgent need and task to build a cohesive national movement. Black Lives Matter is at a crossroads. After the wave of protests at the end of last year, there is not a clear direction or leadership despite important local links developing in some areas between BLM, Fight for 15, and rank-file union activists reflected in the April 15 low wage worker strikes and the protests against the killing of Tony Robinson in Madison, Wisconsin. The developments in Baltimore are a new opportunity to give direction to the fight nationally.
In the broadest sense, what is necessary is to forge unity around a programme to end police violence and poverty? This means challenging the corporate political establishment, including its black wing, which has colluded in keeping institutional racism intact through the ‘war on drugs’ and mass incarceration. But behind the politicians stand the capitalist system, which in the US has always used racism to keep working people divided and which will never agree to the decisive steps necessary to break down racial discrimination. This can only be accomplished by the multiracial working class fighting for an egalitarian socialist future.
The mass movement must be rooted in what we need and what we want, to be fully respected as human beings. We must seize the time now! We have a world to win; A socialist world!
Socialist Alternative demands:
• Indict the cops whose actions led to Freddie Gray’s death. Police Commissioner Batts should resign now. Drop the charges against arrested protesters.
• End “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” policing with elected civilian boards with full powers over the police. Independent anti-racist candidates from community organisations and unions should run for these boards. End the policies which have led to mass incarceration of black youth.
• Stop the militarisation of the police! For the billions being spent on police weapons to be put towards schools, child care, health care and other community services.
• For economic justice! For a $15 an hour minimum wage, guaranteed jobs for all, and a massive investment in public education and transit paid for by taxes on the super-rich and corporations.
• Build mass protests against racism and poverty! For community organisations, unions and socialists to come together in coalitions to build coordinated days of action alongside “Black Lives Matter” for racial and economic justice.
All out on 29 April in solidarity with the people of Baltimore! Use May Day to step up the pressure! The whole system is guilty!