Mike Brown, Sunday’s Ferguson Rebellion & the Struggle for Black Liberation

Photo via @UrbanCusp
Photo via @UrbanCusp

Ferguson, a working class suburb north of St. Louis, erupted with outrage this weekend over the murder of Mike Brown, an 18-year-old African American boy, by a police officer. While mainstream media outlets largely ignored yet another police killing of an unarmed black youth, hundreds of grieving Ferguson residents took to the streets in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and demanded justice, many raising their arms and crying in unison “Please don’t shoot me.”

Witnesses of the murder say that Brown was walking to his grandmother’s apartment when a police officer in a patrol car told him and a friend to “get off the street.” Brown and his friend continued walking when the officer exited his car and fired a shot at the two men. Brown put his hands in the air and began to get down on the ground while the officer fired repeatedly, killing him. The Ferguson police department claims that Brown attacked the police officer and was shot afterwards, despite eyewitness accounts to the contrary.

It is clear that Mike Brown’s murder is yet another occurrence of the rampant police violence targeted at people of color across the United States. Last month, NYPD officers murdered Eric Garner, an unarmed black man selling loose cigarettes. In an under-reported incident in April in Philadelphia, two police officers in plain clothes shot 20-year-old Phillippe Holland, an unarmed African-American pizza delivery driver, after he drove away from them, thinking the officers were attempting to rob him. Holland did not die but was severely injured after being shot in the head, neck, and back.

Sunday night’s vigil in Ferguson was met with a heavy police presence. As the protest wore on, some participants engaged in looting and a local gas station was burned down. These actions represent the growing frustration and anger with unpunished police brutality, flagrant racism, and income inequality in America’s black working class neighborhoods.

Many onlookers are calling this looting “violence,” whereas a careful look reveals that the only “violence” that resulted in the injury of a human being yesterday was perpetrated by the state and by the police. Unfortunately US law under capitalism (and in turn the US media) prioritizes the preservation of corporate property over the destruction of black bodies.

Every capitalist state relies on this type of violence to reinforce and maintain property relations and systemic oppression. The police in such a state do not exist to protect and serve a diverse working-class, but the (largely white) ruling class and their corporations.

The question of Black liberation, however, does not easily reduce to a simple class question. There are special circumstances involved in the oppression of black people that require special attention and demands. The Ferguson rebellion cannot be dismissed as an unorganized or random occurrence and should not be called “the wrong way to express frustration.” Rebellions occur when a critical mass of oppressed people feel they have no other way to impact an unjust situation. Time and time again, police officers who brutalize people of color are treated with impunity, and Mike Brown’s friends and family now have no reasonable expectation of “justice” from the state. A police officer kills a black person every 28 hours in America. Nothing can bring our Mike Browns or Trayvon Martins back from the dead, and no amount of vigils or peace walks seem to be able to stop police violence in the future.

The Ferguson Rebellion demonstrates that working class people of color who are the victims of police brutality are actively seeking some alternative to our feckless elected leaders’ promises to “investigate” the police or “hold officers accountable.” All working class people–that’s you and me and everyone who is angry about Mike Brown’s death– need to build powerful organizations with an eye not just on punishing aberrant individual police officers, but on fundamentally overturning America’s racist police state and the capitalist system that relies on it.

Here in Philly there is a long history of police repression and corruption. The other day we were greated with the news of yet another scandal involving stolen drugs, money and planted evidence. Not only do the residents of Philly’s working class neighborhoods have to deal with unemployment, poverty wages, crime, and cuts in basic services, but we also have to suffer violence at the hands of those who are supposed to ‘protect and serve’.

We cannot rely on the city, state or feds to prosecute corrupt or violent police officers. We need independent democratically elected community police review boards with the power to investigate, discipline and dismiss racist, corrupt and violent officers. We need an end to ‘stop and frisk’. We need an end to the ‘war on drugs’ that is criminalizing our youth. We need decent schools and jobs in our communities.

It is the task of socialists to fight racism and all oppression with class unity, to build strategic channels for righteous anger that funnel energy towards dismantling the weapons of the ruling class, especially the weapons that overwhelmingly brutalize our black and brown brothers and sisters. These multiracial revolutionary channels will be built as we struggle together for a just socialist world. We stand in solidarity with the protesters in Ferguson and will be out this Thursday at 7pm at Love Park to stand alongside all Philadelphians building a movement against racist police brutality in our city and across the US.

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And Just Over the River….

Chris Christie’s  Savage Assault on Workers

Governor, Chris Christie,  renewed his attacks on public employees in New Jersey this week. Citing the so-called “Cadillac Tax” on health benefits under Obamacare, which he claims will further raise the tax burden on the state’s citizens, he called for more cuts in public worker health care and pension benefits. Calling public employees greedy, he claimed that workers’ “excessive” benefits will further damage the fiscal health of the state.

In his February, 2014 budget address,  Christie unveiled his plan for a further assault on the public employee pension fund. His call for more “reforms” translates into more pain for public employees. While he promised to make the scheduled state contribution of $2.25 billion, the pension fund will remain underfunded due to the long-term withholding of the state contribution by past administrations, both Democrat and Republican, going back for years. Christie has promised “extreme measures” to force Legislative Democrats to a compromise. The Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) which serves 770,000 current and retired workers is underfunded by $40 billion.

When Christie took office, he unleashed a stunning attack on public employees, with the cooperation of a wing of the Democratic Party led by Senate President Steve Sweeney.  Sweeney, an Ironworkers’ International Union Vice-President, is a tool of the powerful South Jersey Democratic machine that is controlled by political heavyweight and health care industry executive, George Norcross.  Norcross was, until recently,  one of the co-owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer. This time around, Sweeney has expressed his unwillingness to reopen the pension debate.

The savage political attack against New Jersey public workers mirrored similar attacks of public employees in Wisconsin and elsewhere.  State workers were forced to pay higher pension contributions and increased health insurance premiums, as well as higher co-pays for medical and dental care.  State worker pay was frozen and the retirement age was raised to 65. Education funding, school lunch programs and community legal programs also suffered massive cuts.

In 2015, a four year suspension of collective bargaining over health benefits will end.  The Christie administration will begin negotiating new contracts with the state worker unions and the expectation is that he will push for further cuts in benefits and pensions.

This latest “reform” effort comes as Christie remains embattled over the “Bridgegate” scandal and accusations of misallocation of Hurricane Sandy Relief funds. Getting tough on public employees is a way for him to divert attention from his woes and allows him to look tough as he contends for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Despite his austerity measures,  New Jersey still has high unemployment and has not benefited from the so-called recovery.

On May 14, 2014, Christie vowed to withhold the full pension contribution despite his legal obligation to fund state pensions. He has threatened to take back as much as $2.43 billion over the next two years in order to balance the state budget. Once again, public servants are the victims of the inability of the Governor and legislature to come up with enough money to fund state government programs. On June 30th, he used the line-item veto to slash the State pension contribution by $681 million.  This cut was upheld in court on June 25.  Public employee unions are preparing to renew their court challenge in the coming weeks.

The attack on pensions, in both the private and public sectors, is part of the neoliberal assault on the living standards of working people. The ruling class is seeking to make the working class in the United States, and internationally, pay the price for recovery from the current economic crisis.

The ruling class is intent on cutting the social wage to the bone. This means slashing and, if possible, privatizing social services and public education. Part of this has meant the demonization of public employees, especially teachers.

Over the past 30 years, the number of US workers covered under defined benefit pension plans has slipped from about 38% to below 20%. Pensions are often replaced with 401K, or some other defined contribution plan. These plans take the burden of retirement income off of employers and place them on the workers themselves. This shift from defined benefit pensions to defined contribution plans has been a feature of many two-tier union contracts, where new hires get fewer benefits than workers already in the workplace.  This sort of two-tier set up undermines the strength, solidarity, and cohesiveness of unions.

The two-party duopoly is fraying at the edges. This does not mean that an alternative to the two capitalist parties will appear overnight or will be built easily. Illusions in the “progressive” character of the Democratic Party persist. The Democrats are skilled at diverting the energy of mass movements into safe channels of electoralism.

What is necessary, both in New Jersey and nationally, is a fight back by working people against the one-sided class war being waged against us. In part, this will require building a working class political party that fights for the interests of the 99% and not Wall Street. Such a party would fight for jobs for all, for a $15/hour minimum wage, a national health care system and the right to organize and strike to name a few. The election of Kshama Sawant in Seattle, and the success of local independent labor candidates in Ohio  and the State Representative campaign of  Socialist Alternative’s Jess Spear   point  to the possibility that a new working class political party could take shape.