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.