Articles on Ferguson and Black Uprising reprinted from the November-December 2014 issue of The Organizer newspaper -- Int'l Electronic Edition Text Only
"EDITORIAL: Ferguson and the Struggle for Black Freedom Today":
When Pat Bailey, an elderly Black woman in St. Louis County, learned of the grand jury exoneration of Darren Wilson, the white cop who murdered Michael Brown in Ferguson, she was not surprised. She told The Guardian of London, “I’ve lived long enough to know that if you’re African American in this country you’re not considered a human being.”
Hundreds of thousands of people – mostly Black youth – have taken to the streets in more than 1,100 cities across the country echoing Ms. Bailey’s anger with chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace!” The demonstrations, many of them spontaneous outbursts of rage, have continued week after week — which is unprecedented.
The list of Black victims of racist police violence -- growing numbers are calling it genocide -- increases by the day.
List of Victims Grows by the Day -
• There was Michael Brown, whose killer was let off scot-free by a grand jury in the pockets of the white cops and a prosecutor at their service – a decision that sparked outrage across the country.
• There was Dontre Hamilton, who was shot 14 times by police officer Chris Manney in a public park in downtown Milwaukee. A Starbucks manager had called the police to remove Hamilton from the public park near their business, where he was resting after a long walk.
When officer Manney responded to the call by Starbucks, he woke up Hamilton by illegally patting him down and poking him with his baton. Hamilton reacted by grabbing the baton, so Manney shot him 14 times. A Starbucks worker wrote that Hamilton never touched the officer. Manney claimed Hamilton hit him with his baton, but he sustained no injuries and no bruises. There were no marks on his body. (This was verified by photos from the DA's office.)
• There was Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was killed by a Cleveland cop after waving around a pellet gun. The officer, Timothy Loehmann, shot Rice within two seconds of arriving on the scene.
• There was Eric Garner, whose killer, police officer Daniel Pantaleo, was also exonerated in the murder of Garner despite the fact that the chokehold that killed him was recorded on a cell phone video that was viewed by millions of people the world over. The medical examiner had already ruled the case a homicide, caused by a chokehold by officer Pantaleo and the compression of Garner's neck and chest.
* The list goes on and on. Police killings of unarmed Blacks are becoming virtually a daily occurrence. Police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes extra-judicially killed at least 313 African-Americans in 2012, according to a recent study. This means that a Black person is killed by a security officer every 28 hours.
“Obama’s “Window-Dressing” Met with Derision -
In a desperate attempt to put out the spreading fires of rebellion, President Obama has twice addressed the nation to give lip service of concern over these police killings but mainly to urge support for “law and order” and for the institutions designed to safeguard such order. He and Attorney General Eric Holder have also held a meeting with “civil rights leaders” to devise “window-dressing” solutions to the mounting crisis.
But as Black Agenda Reporter editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley wrote in a recent BAR posting, “the game is up. . . . Obama’s sleight-of-hand distractions have finally worn thin.” Kimberley notes, for example, that Holder’s speech at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was continuously interrupted by protesters and that Obama’s grand announcement for federal funding of police body cameras was met with loud derision.
Mychal Denzel Smith, a contributing writer at The Nation magazine, reports that on the campus of Vassar College “a student told their administration that putting body cameras on security guards was like ‘Band-Aids to a bullet hole.’” Smith continued, “I was in attendance and was struck by just how literal that phrasing was. We are being choked and shot with impunity, and yet all that is being offered to us in response is a means to relive the experience over and over again.”
Call for Federal Prosecution Grows -
Kimberley then affirmed what more and more people across the country are saying: “The only person standing in the way of federal prosecution is Obama himself, and the masses of Black people know it.” Kimberley continued: “The police must stop killing Black people with impunity, and nothing will make that less likely to happen than the sight of Darren Wilson and his partners in crime sitting in federal prisons.
“The cry of protests must remain loud but also quite clear. There must be a unified call for federal prosecution. No one should be confused by obfuscation and lies from a president who acts when he wants to. . . . [T]here is plenty of case law to support a federal civil rights prosecution. George H.W. Bush did it in 1992 after the police acquittal in the Rodney King beating case, and Obama can do the same in 2014.”
“Instead of ‘Hands up, don’t shoot,’ protesters must turn to a very simple, one word chant. ‘Prosecute!’ Every time Eric Holder or Barack Obama or a high profile misleader turns up in public they must be met with this very simple demand.”
No sooner were these words published in the Black Agenda Report than the National Action Network (NAN) headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton issued a call for a demonstration in Washington D.C. on Saturday, December 13, with the explicit goal of demanding federal prosecution of Wilson, Pantaleo and their other partners in crime.
LFN Urges Support for Dec. 13 March in DC -
The Labor Fightback Network, in a posting issued December 4, urged labor and community organizations and activists nationwide to mobilize in Washington, D.C.
“Given the failure of state or local grand juries to act, pressure must be placed squarely on the federal government. We in the Labor Fightback Network have no illusions that it will intervene on its own and charge those responsible -- in the first place in Ferguson and Staten Island -- with violations of the Civil Rights Act. After all, the Justice Department was supposedly considering taking action in the Trayvon Martin murder case two tears ago but has done nothing by way of follow through.
“This time it can be different. This time it must be different! The pervasive anger and outrage in the Black community and its allies in this showdown struggle for justice must be translated into action and the building of a new movement of millions that will eclipse anything we have seen before. The starting point is mobilizing for the December 13 action in Washington.”
Democratic Demands and the Struggle for Black Liberation -
A great many activists in the Black Liberation Movement have expressed strong reservations about lining up to go to Washington behind the Rev. Al Sharpton, a well-known political opportunist. This is understandable.
Others ask whether fighting for federal prosecution will make any real dent in the structures of institutional racism. After all, as Mychal Denzel Smith points out, “Police officers are not regarded as citizens beholden to the law. They are an armed force charged with maintenance of a status quo steeped in white supremacy and anti-blackness. Key to the reign is the suspension of a belief in the rule of law. Whatever tools they require to carry out their actual purpose, the public and the courts are eagerly ready to provide.”
This is absolutely true. But this does not mean that Black activists, and more generally working people as a whole, should not fight like hell for basic democratic demands – including the demand for federal prosecution under the Civil Rights Act, a huge gain of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
It is true that the 1965 Civil Rights Act and all the democratic rights won during this period have been constantly under attack. Many provisions of this Act, in fact, have been rolled back by a recent Supreme Court decision. Basic democratic rights are never safe under capitalism in the epoch of imperialist decay – and this is especially true of the rights won through pitched revolutionary battles by Black people.
Moreover, what kind of equality is there for Black people when they are the last hired and first fired on the job, when they are homeless and forced to live in squalor, when they are denied access to education and to their own history, and more?
The fight to preserve basic democratic rights for Black people and for full equality, just as the fight to put an end to white supremacy and systemic racism, can only be won through the methods of class struggle. As such this will require, on the one hand, the creation of an independent Black political organization that fights for self-determination for Black people, and, on the other hand, the creation of a Labor Party based on the trade unions and progressive Latino and Black political organizations. In fact, these two struggles are intertwined.
The relationship between the labor and Black Liberation struggles was articulated effectively by the Freedom Now resolution adopted by the Socialist Workers Party in 1963. It stated, in part: “While the labor and Black movements march along their own paths, they do march to a common destination, and the freedom of Black people from oppression and of the workers from exploitation can be achieved only through the victory of their common struggle against capitalism. . . .
“Because Black people are doubly exploited, their struggles have exceptional effects on the social and political life of this country. Their fight for simple democratic rights tends to upset the status quo. Their special demands introduce unsettling elements into the consciousness of the working class as a whole, disturbing the relations between the classes and inside the classes. Their independent action serves to spur, stimulate, awaken, excite, inspire, divide, unite, and set into motion other, bigger forces. . . .
“There is no inconsistency, in logic or practice, between organizing or reorganizing the Black Liberation movement along independent lines and achieving alliances with other sections of the population. Many Blacks view doing the first job as an indispensable condition for successfully doing the second. They believe – correctly, in our opinion – that they must first unite, shape and orient their own movement. Only then will they be able to bring about an alliance of equals, where they can be reasonably sure that their demands and needs cannot be neglected or betrayed by their allies. . . .
“There is a deep desire by the Black masses to determine their own destiny – to have their own organizations, their own leaders, their own strategy, tactics and programs. This requires breaking with the parties of their oppressors and organizing to challenge their political monopoly.
“The idea of a Black party, a civil rights party or an equal rights party, is not a new one. Representative Adam Clayton Powell has talked about it on and off during recent years. . . .
“The creation of an independent Black party running its own candidates would rock the whole political structure to its foundations. It would throw the Democratic Party into a crisis. Without the majority of Black votes that it now gets, it could never again hope to hold national power. The only place it could go would be down. Organized labor would be faced with an excruciating dilemma too. Its coalition with the Democrats is justified on the ground that the Democrats can ‘win.’ But when it becomes plain that they cannot win, the unions would be forced to reconsider their whole political policy.
“Advocates of a labor break with the old parties would get a bigger and better hearing from the ranks. Thus the creation of a Black party would benefit not only Black people but their present and potential allies.”
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"Is This Ferguson or Baghdad?" by Jim Hays:
St. LOUIS -- A week before the grand jury issued its verdict in the murder by white police officer Darren Wilson of Black youth Michael Brown, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a "state of emergency" in the St. Louis area.
Mass hysteria was fomented by the local and national media and by government officials about possible riots and "outside agitators." More than $170,000 of new riot gear was ordered for Ferguson alone. School officials readied for emergency closures, as people were told to board up their businesses and stockpile food. A unified command of local police, highway patrol, and National Guard was put into place. Forty-five FBI agents were mobilized to scare activists and set up stings.
Ferguson and North St. Louis County came under U.S. military occupation, just like Baghdad – and much of the same equipment used in Iraq was deployed in Ferguson. All of this because of growing opposition of large sectors of the population to decades of police repression that was reflected in the Michael Brown killing.
What Way Forward?
The grand jury exoneration of officer Wilson was a foregone conclusion. There was no cross-examination of Wilson, as prosecutor Bob McCulloch relied almost entirely on the cops as prosecution witnesses. In more than 20 years of office, McCulloch had never, in fact, indicted one single police officer – despite decades of police violence against the Black community.
In the aftermath of the grand jury decision, many activists argued that the police should set up committees to investigate themselves – which is wrong. The police, instruments of oppression and repression, cannot monitor themselves.
Others, however, argued for the creation of a Civilian Review Board, controlled by the Black community, with the power to hire and fire police officers and to investigate any wrongdoings – that is, a review board with teeth (unlike so many of the phony review boards that have been set up nationwide to put out the fires of rebellion while only slapping the wrists of the murderous police officers from time to time).
Debates have also heated up around what to do in the political arena. In the recent St. Louis County general election, the Democratic Party establishment narrowly won the election for county supervisor -- as a large group of African-American politicians called the Fanny Lou Hammer Caucus backed the right-wing Republican on the ballot.
Very significantly, at the last moment, Zaki Baruti, a leading Black community activist, ran as a progressive write-in candidate. His 3,665 voters consciously had to go to the polls to write in his name as a protest vote.
Baruti is president of the Black Nationalist UAPO. He has been to Africa often and worked closely with former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to oppose the 2011 US-NATO attack on Libya. Baruti is a retired East St. Louis schoolteacher and former vice president of the AFT local there. He is now one of the organizers of the Justice for Michael Brown Committee, which includes the Nation of Islam as well as the UAPO.
In St. Louis County there are many local elections that are officially non-partisan, such as school boards and city councils. The radicalization of many Blacks and working people, especially the youth, opens the door for several independent progressive candidates or slates in the future.
A whole new layer of youth have been radicalized nationwide by Ferguson, including college students, unemployed white youth, Chicanos, and Arab Americans. On August 30 and October 11, thousands came to St. Louis.
On October 12, Socialist Organizer held a public meeting in St. Louis that was attended by 56 activists from many cities and backgrounds. They came from Buffalo, New York City, Washington DC, Kentucky, Texas and beyond..
Dave Young was the featured speaker at the SO forum and spoke about the militarization of the police departments across the United States with training from the Israeli Army. He also linked the struggle in Ferguson to the struggle of the people of Palestine, particularly in Gaza. Leticia of Latinos in Action also spoke.
The influence of the Ferguson resistance is growing worldwide. From Ferguson to Ayotzinapa, Mexico, the struggle continues.
* * * * * * * * * *
"FOR BLACK CONTROL OF THE BLACK COMMUNITY", A Presentation"
We are reprinting below excerpts from a resolution adopted by the 1969 Convention of the Socialist Workers Party that deal with “Black Control of the Black Community.” The method and specific demands in this section of the resolution are relevant today, 45 years later, at a moment when a radicalization of Black youth is underway in the aftermath of the most recent murders of young Black men around the country. The full resolution can be accessed at: [http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isr/vol30/no06/blacklib.html]
The resolution puts forward a Program for Black Liberation that includes immediate, democratic and transitional demands that can galvanize a vanguard of revolutionary Black nationalists and their supporters and that can serve to link up with broader sections of the workers’ movement, most notably the labor movement, to fight for a unified class solution to the depredations of capitalism.
The coming American Revolution will be a combined revolution of oppressed nationalities fighting for their liberation with the social liberation of the working class as a whole. While some of these demands may be out of date considering the time that has passed, the basic postulates still hold to this day.
The resolution is based on the Marxist understanding that all oppressed people have a right to democratically determine their own future in defense of their own community, by any means necessary. Socialist Organizer stands on the shoulders of this document and reprints excerpts here to generate the necessary discussion for the development of a coordinated Black-led fightback against the ravages of racism in America today. – The Editors
Black Control of the Black Community (excerpts from SWP 1969 Resolution on Black Liberation):
It is a basic democratic principle that a people should have the right to decide its own affairs. Therefore the central demand of the liberation forces is for Black control of the Black community. This is an indispensable step towards freeing the Black masses from domination by the white racists who benefit from their exploitation.
The demand for Black control of the Black community has a number of attributes that give it an extremely powerful potential for mobilizing the masses in a revolutionary direction.
The demand for Black control has been raised spontaneously in thousands of struggles across the country. It is obviously a demand that speaks directly to the needs and present understanding of Black people. At the same time, Black control of the Black community is a democratic demand. It is based on something which even the ruling class says it believes in — the right of people to have democratic control over their own lives and communities. Thus the resistance the power structure puts up against this struggle will help to expose the hypocrisy of the ruling class on one of the central issues which it uses to brainwash and enslave the masses — its proclaimed adherence to democracy.
At the same time, the struggle for Black control is profoundly revolutionary, because it poses the question of who will have decision-making power over Black people: themselves or the capitalist rulers. The realization of this aim can build Black fortresses that will be centers of Black counterpower to the white power structure in the principal cities of the United States.
As they develop within the Black communities, struggles targeted to win control over specific institutions and agencies can pave the way and prepare increasing numbers of people for the all-inclusive goal of total control of their community. These partial struggles, carried out around issues such as Black control of the schools, can be extremely important because through them encouraging victories can be won. These victories, even if limited to specific areas, can help to raise the confidence of the community in its own power and lay the basis for broader future struggles.
The following demands can help promote this process:
1. Replace police occupation of the Black community with a community-controlled police force drawn from residents of the community.
2. Black control of all government funds allocated to the Black community and control over all plans for renovating and constructing housing and other communal facilities and improvements.
3. Community control over all institutions in the Black community, such as hospitals, welfare centers, libraries, etc.
4. Establish community councils to make policy decisions and administer the affairs of the Black community. These councils should be composed of representatives elected by workers in various community institutions – factories, hospitals, educational institutions – as well as delegated elected on a block basis.
The local councils or boards of control should be joined together on regional, state and national levels, the aim being to create a National Council of Black Communities. This should be composed of elected, not appointed, delegates representing the local constituencies.
Such a National Council could work out common policies and speak with one voice on all matters affecting the communities as a whole and their relations with all other forces and agencies. It would thus exercise far more authority than any single community could. To prevent the National Council from bureaucratic usurpation of power, elections should be held regularly and delegates should be subject to recall at any time so that they remain under the control of the local committees they represent.
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
“Something Different About These Demonstrations”, Scott Cooper of Boston, Mass.:
There’s something different about these Ferguson and Eric Garner demonstrations. It’s difficult to put one’s finger on it, but there are some elements that can be described. One is the spontaneity of the actions and, more important, that they are ongoing. So, for instance, in Boston demonstrators rallied after the Michael Brown grand jury decision, but then after Garner they began again and ended up shutting down the subway and blocking a lot of traffic intersections and even trying to close down the main highway into the city. It wasn’t just young people, but lots and lots of families from all walks of life. Lots of older people. Lots of white families with small children. Lots of people who don’t typically show up for these things and who told reporters, “Enough already. I had to be here.”
And then there’s the young people. Often, there’s a kind of – for want of a better word – joyousness in the opportunity to march and demonstrate. There’s none of that. It’s boiling-point anger and frustration. And that may be some kind of tipping point. I’m not sure; we’ll see.
Another element that’s different is how cops in various parts of the country are reacting. We have to acknowledge that regardless of how we might view and analyze the police as a group, there are many individual police who joined their forces out of a desire “to serve and protect.” You can tell who they are at a demonstration. They openly express solidarity. They will tell older people that they’re ashamed by the actions of people who wear the blue uniform. We should have no illusions: those same cops will likely smash in a head at a given moment, but still there’s something qualitatively different about these reactions. It reminds me of when we used to gather on Saturday mornings in Brookline, Mass., years ago, to keep the abortion clinic open and keep Operation Rescue from blocking the entrances. Brookline cops told me once, “We’re so glad you guys show up every Saturday. We support a woman’s right to choose.”
The demonstrations have raged in city after city. In some cities, the police have dealt with demonstrators in very different ways than we’re used to. Nashville, Tennessee is an example. The police there handed out hot chocolate and bottled water to demonstrators. The police chief didn’t want to challenge protestors who set out to shut down Interstate 24. He gauged – and he explained this to the media – that letting people exercise their 1st Amendment rights without interfering would be better than hours of standoff. That’s not just a tactic; it reflects some belief in the 1st Amendment, too.
Contrast that with cities like Portland, Oregon, where the cops preemptively blocked bridges and highway on-ramps, keeping the protestors off them but causing the exact same “inconvenience” for drivers and the city.
I think, again, there’s something qualitatively different about these demonstrations and who they are attracting. If it is a tipping point, it’s a small one. The next flare-ups will come when the Cleveland authorities decide what to do with the cops who killed the 12-year-old boy at the playground. But in the meanwhile, the rulers are certainly worried about this even small tipping point. No wonder the phony police operation known as the New Black Panther Party has reared its head again, claiming a plan to assassinate the Ferguson police chief at the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. There are elements that want to turn this multiracial, multi-age movement of fed up Americans into a race war, because divide and conquer has served the rulers so well in the past.
R.W. of Chicago, Ill.:
I can understand the sentiments of the BAR columnist [Margaret Kimberley, advocating for federal prosecution of white cops]. But, I am
obliged to point out that prosecution by the feds is NOT an answer. The federal structure is NOT an alternative to the local and state fascists of this settler colony. A colony that is the executive and de-facto owner of global imperialism.
Is not the Federal Judiciary a critical deceptive part of the system that is the mass criminal the imperialist beast people call the U.S.?
The demand for prosecution has NEVER worked as it has been tried over and over again. It is time that people actually learn history because if the historical grasp is weak, as in this case, although undoubtedly well meaning, the concepts will be of no value.
What U.S. judicial process has ever addressed the oppression and exploitation of Africans? Cite anything that nullifies the essential
practice of the racists -- mass lynchings, systemic managed slow deaths from lack of food, homelessness and the constant state murders
of the U.S. fascists.
Why would anyone still harbor the false belied that the U.S. Constitution and court system will prevent the system that it is a critical part?
Let us not drift into a fancy fairy tale world where things just work out if that were true, then why hasn't it happened?
L.Y., of Brooklyn, N.Y.:
The Rev. Al Sharpton, contrary to what you may believe, is not a recognized leader of the Black community. He is a political operative of the Democratic Party.
In no statement that he has issued about the National March on Washington on December 13 is he calling for the federal prosecution of the white police officers who murdered Michael Brown, Eric Garner and so many others. If he did that would be another matter. What he is calling for is new legislation to make the police “more accountable” and “more balanced racially” – and that’s not going to make one dime’s worth of difference. He is not demanding federal prosecution because he does not want to challenge Obama, Holder and the Democrats. He does not want to put them on the spot.
We in New York City will be marching on December 13 – not in D.C. with Al Sharpton, and we will be demanding federal prosecution.
C.C., of Harlem, N.Y.:
Is prosecution the answer given the large number of these murders across the USA?
While I agree that prosecution might force the hands of some police, I seriously doubt that given the historic character of racism -- which
is part and parcel of political life in the USA -- that justice will be served long term. Africans’ descendants must come to the table as
one to open a dialogue on the scope and scale of police oppression and aggression that is approved by more than government institutions. The genocidal campaign kills in numerous ways: mass poverty, homelessness and inadequate housing and health care, mass incarceration, low-birth-weight babies, denial of access to a quality education, war on Africana and Ethnic Studies etc.
The question that needs addressing is whether the body of laws enshrined in the U.S. Constitution can serve the needs of Black, Brown, and Indigenous Peoples. The legalist Nieman addresses this issue for the 200 years of the Constitution. His answer to the question at that time was no. I suggest that we take a look at his work, and I think we may come away as demanding a Constitutional Convention
where for the first time African Descendants of U.S. slavery will be at the table equal to British, Dutch and French in constructing a body of laws that serves all the People.
This does not and must not remove the guilt of slavery, mass murder and genocide that must be fully addressed and ameliorated with a referendum and reparations for African Descendants.