On 25 May, police in Minneapolis choked George Floyd, an unarmed black man, who subsequently died. His death was disturbingly reminiscent of the NYPD killing of Eric Garner in 2014. A released video recorded by bystanders shows Floyd repeatedly pleading, “I can’t breathe”, as officer Derek Chauvin crushes his neck for nearly ten minutes.
Floyd’s death ignited days of major protests in Minneapolis, which are continuing. Police escalated the conflict by firing rubber bullets, flashbangs, and tear gas to disperse initially peaceful protestors. This violent response to unarmed protestors stands in stark contrast to the hands-off and non-confrontational pattern of police response to heavily armed and predominantly white “reopen” protestors.
Chauvin has a dozen misconduct complaints against him, a number of which are for excessive force, and are sealed off from public record. He was involved in a fatal shooting for which he received no disciplinary action. But Chauvin is not an isolated “bad apple” – he is part of a corrupt and racist system.
The Democratic Party politicians who run Minneapolis have failed to take meaningful action against police brutality and mass incarceration, for years. Democratic Vice Presidential hopeful, Amy Klobuchar, was the chief prosecutor of Hennepin County—which includes Minneapolis—for an eight-year period. During her tenure, Klobuchar failed to press criminal charges against any of the officers involved in 29 civilian deaths and instead chose to prioritize a “tough-on-crime” stance to shore up support among more conservative Minneapolis residents.
George Floyd’s death comes after recent high-profile killings of black people by police and right-wing forces. Breonna Taylor, an unarmed black woman and EMT (Emergency Medical Technician), was shot to death in Kentucky on 13 March by police who entered her apartment in a “no-knock” raid. Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed black man, was killed while jogging in Georgia on 23 February by two men, one of whom was a former cop. This murder was swept under the rug for over two months until video evidence of the lynching came to light.
After the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot black teenager Trayvon Martin to death in 2012, a movement under the hashtag Black Lives Matter (BLM) emerged on social media. BLM became nationally relevant, with an active on-the-ground presence after the 2014 killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner sparked huge protests and riots calling for an end to police brutality and racist policing. A national network was formed. But without a common programme or organizational structures for discussing and debating, the movement died down by 2017.
Lessons of civil rights and BLM
It is crucial that BLM, or any new banners that may emerge in the current moment, apply the lessons of the civil rights movement and BLM’s own recent history. The civil rights movement made the crucial mistake of relying on the Democratic Party, turning the movement in the streets—which won huge gains—into a surge in the polls that elected Democrats to power. These same Democrats later betrayed the movement. This experience led both MLK and Malcolm X to the conclusion that fighting against racism requires fighting against capitalism.
Today, most major cities, including city police departments and district attorney offices, are controlled by Democrats, whose racial justice rhetoric is often contradicted by their actions in office. Many leading Democratic Party politicians have histories of racist policy making. Hillary Clinton was an architect of the 1994 crime bill that expanded racist policing and facilitated modern mass incarceration. Presidential hopeful, Biden, actively opposed desegregation of schools and was an ardent supporter of Clinton’s 1994 crime bill. During his eight years as President, Obama failed to put forward any meaningful reforms to the criminal justice system. Despite all of this, elements of BLM still endorsed Hilary Clinton in 2016.
The racist policies implemented by the Democratic Party set the stage for the tough-on-crime rhetoric that Trump relies on today to support his racist policies and shore up his conservative base. Trump and the Republicans have set a racist tone in their propaganda and by pushing mass incarceration, police brutality, and anti-immigrant racism through expanding brutal ICE raids and mass imprisoning of immigrants.
Both parties use appeals to racism—more or less well-concealed—to play on, and play up, the racial fears of many white voters. In reality, racism doesn’t benefit white workers. The capitalists secure their huge profits by convincing the working class to fight among itself, whether through racism, sexism, or any other form of bigotry. By blaming white, black, immigrant, male, or female workers for each other’s problems, the capitalists can continue to exploit us, drive down wages, privatize public services, and lower living standards.
As Malcom X famously declared, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” Capitalism is a system built off the backs of slaves and the genocide of indigenous peoples. It will not end racism of its own accord. We need a new party run by and for working people, free of corporate influence, that can dedicate itself to fighting against all forms of bigotry and against capitalist exploitation. Such a party could help build a fighting anti-racist movement out of the recent protests.
To win, the movement must put forward a bold programme that challenges the racist foundations of capitalism and unites the working class by fighting for the gains we all need—a living minimum wage, affordable housing, universal healthcare, an end to discrimination and violence. It needs democratic structures where members can debate, decide, and hold the movement and its representatives accountable. The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) has taken steps in the correct direction by putting forward a concrete programme. But without challenging the profit system, any gains won by M4BL will be rolled back by the capitalists. The struggle against systemic racism can only be won for good by fighting for a new socialist world.
Explosion of anger
The recent riots are an explosion of anger at all of the problems and violence that people of color face. The edges of this anger have been sharpened by the disproportionate impact of the recent economic and health crisis. While riots are not an effective response to oppression, MLK described their nature well: “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquillity and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity”.
The outrage displayed in these riots can be organized into a powerful movement if given structure and a programme to unite behind. Looting and vandalism undercut the movement and are used to justify violent responses from the capitalists and police. But the capitalist class is guilty of a far greater crime: controlling access to basic needs for profit! With an organized movement, involving the unions and a workers’ party, we can redistribute housing, food, and basic needs by nationalizing key industries and fully funding social programmes. The pandemic has put on full display the fact that workers are “essential” in making society run. This means we also have the power to shut down capitalism and rebuild a society that puts people’s well-being before profits.
The first step is to involve the organized working class in anti-racist struggle. Unionized workers should pass resolutions in support of the movement—as ATU local 1005 has done in Minneapolis—and organize anti-racist protests, rallies, occupations, and strikes. People of all races who are seriously prepared to support the struggle against racism should be included in the organizing and planning of the anti-racist movement.
The Independent Socialist Group demands:
- Convict Chauvin, and all officers involved in the death of George Floyd, for murder.
- End racial profiling and “stop and frisk” policies and fire racist police officers.
- Community control of the police through democratically elected committees of workers and community members, with hiring and firing power, the ability to review and create policy, and authority to conduct independent investigations into cases of police misconduct.
- Demilitarize the police. Stop wasting public funds on military technology and weaponry for police departments. Invest instead in affordable housing, universal healthcare, public transit, public schools, green jobs, and other social programs and services.
The Independent Socialist Group calls for:
- For an organized anti-racist movement and a fighting programme to sustain the struggle against police brutality and other forms of systemic racism. For democratic structures to discuss and debate strategy and tactics.
- For coordination with and involvement of unions in anti-racist struggles. Solidarity against racism and all forms of oppression must be a key point of struggle for the whole workers’ movement!
- Organize coordinated protests, occupations, and strikes, defending against police aggression when necessary, but avoiding ineffective looting and vandalism. We should give our anger at the systemic violence committed by the police an organized and effective expression based on the best tactics that encourage maximum participation.
- Unite workers of all races in the struggle against capitalism and the racist inequality and violence that the system was founded upon. For international solidarity against discrimination and imperialism, and for socialist solidarity!