“The prevailing ideas [in society] are those of the ruling class,” said Karl Marx. Carried a step further, this stroke of profound clarity can deeply influence and govern the behavior of a myriad of societal institutions, both public and private. Underlying hostility exists in many of them, particularly toward people of color, yet whites outside of a certain class may experience it, too. The bedrock of this discord is found in the philosophy and practice of the capitalist state itself.
Open and hidden agendas are contained in both sectors, with their inherent mission to primarily serve the interests of the wealthy, the corporations and the oppressive machinery of government on many integral levels. Targeted populations are the subjects of stringent social controls, lest they be allowed to duplicate the “turmoil” they created in the latter period of the 20th century and today where resentment remains for what they audaciously did to upset “peaceful” rule.
Michelle Alexander highlights this vindictive practice in her book “The New Jim Crow.” The “war on drugs” was its stated agenda and its long discredited excuse. The hidden agenda was meant to roll back the modest gains wrested from the rulers during the turbulent 1950s and 1960s via the Civil Rights and human rights struggles.
Eric Garner, who was killed on July 17 when a cop, attempting to arrest him for selling untaxed cigarettes, wrestled him to the ground using a deadly chokehold, was born into this soon-to-be emerging environment of government reprisal. It was under the highly offensive regime of Mayor Rudolph Guiliani (1994-2001) that then New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton perfected his infamous “broken windows” theory in the 1990s. In the main, Latinos/as and Blacks were the experimental subjects. They notoriously ballooned the prison-industrial complex against their will. Even so-called squeegee-men were driven from the streets.
They were relegated to the status of noncompetitors in a dwindling job market. After all, even then corporations had begun “investing” overseas in pursuit of cheaper labor. What is to be done with a marginalized surplus population that can’t be removed outright?
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio rehired Bratton after running on a platform of reining in the excesses of police “stop-and-frisk” practices. Both President Barack Obama and de Blasio have used elements of African ancestry to curry support — and to muffle potential opposition from within communities of color as they fulfill their political and financial obligations to the ruling class.
Eric Garner fell into the category of the expendable — not to his family or community — but to those who wield tremendous power in the operation of this society. The NYPD remains one of the central vehicles used to carry out this disgraceful task. Putting aside Bratton’s proposal for so-called “more training” for police, in the police academy and in the larger society, police are encouraged to view folks like Eric Garner with disdain and contempt. They are, after all, “outsiders.” Besides, police can move up in rank and salary with a significant number of street busts, can’t they?
Demand justice for Eric Garner
Eric Garner’s family has every right to pursue all the avenues available to them in their quest for justice. The finding of “homicide” in his death by New York City’s chief medical examiner is an important piece in that effort. However, shouts of “Amen” should be backed up with words of caution. The injustices committed in Rodney King’s and Trayvon Martin’s cases tell us that the media, lawyers, Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association leaders and the state itself will lock arms to help their troops escape vigorous prosecution in the face of overwhelming evidence pointing to their guilt.
There are cries from a variety of sources that claim “the system is broken.” This sentiment fails to take into account that its very design and construction assure that the system does precisely what it was set in motion to do: oppress a certain class of people so as to prevent them from being in the position to effectively challenge the rule of those in power.
The disappointment for those who mistakenly believe that the “system is broken” lies in the illusion that by rubbing elbows, eating meals, swallowing drinks and getting elected to public office with those who hold real power, they have arrived at a measure of acceptance and equality. It is false.
Ramsey Orta has been rewarded for his temerity in recording Garner’s demise at the brutal hands of the New York police on his phone camera. Early on Aug. 2, he was arrested on an alleged gun possession charge. It is payback.
Police frame-ups are not unusual events. A classic case in point is the crude and grossly dishonest framing of freedom fighter and journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, imprisoned in Pennsylvania for well over 30 years. Supporters remain determined to free him. Enthusiasm in this monumental endeavor remains undaunted — and rightly so.
New York City Councilmember Inez Barron is leading a march, along with others, in the Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn to protest the 75th Precinct’s infamous rating as the number two district in New York for issuing summonses against its Black and Latino/a residents. The protest will also denounce recent police abuse of Black women. In well-to-do neighborhoods, this kind of insult never happens. Venture to guess why?
Already the usual suspects, as political Pied Pipers, are blowing their horns and selling woof-tickets amid the cries of “No justice, no peace!” Oppressed communities have been down this potholed avenue before.
Outgunned ideologically, politically and militarily, under-siege communities must develop new strategies, based on scientific class analysis, that will provide time-honored — and newly minted — methods of responding to unmistakable examples of state-sponsored terrorism. Embedded in this construction must be an uncompromising spirit of resistance akin to the dynamic example being displayed, at great sacrifice, by the people of Palestine. It is suited to the situation found in these environs.
Workers World newspaper produced the best editorial this author has read about police and their mission, entitled “Police are not workers.” Published years ago, it should be reprinted today.
Henry Hagins is a co-chairperson of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC).