The national movement touched off Nov. 24 by the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., reached over 170 cities. It is unprecedented in scope, going way beyond this recent killing to take on the front-line forces of the racist, capitalist state: the police. The police are a racist occupation force everywhere there is a community of oppressed people — Black, Latino/a, Asian, Muslim or Native. They are the universal target of the new movement.
No matter what happens next, things will never be the same. Too many tens of thousands have been drawn into extended, militant activity. Too much anger and outrage have been aroused, not only by Darren Wilson but by the Cleveland cops who killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice for having a toy BB gun and the New York cops who shot Akai Gurley in a dark hallway.
Ferguson District Attorney Robert McCullough, pro-cop and racist, brazenly turned the grand jury process into its opposite when he used it to stage a three-month, one-sided “trial” to exonerate killer Wilson without anyone representing Brown or his family being present.
‘Not guilty’ outcome inevitable
This outcome was inevitable. All big-business media commentators knew it. So did the politicians, from the White House on down, and the legal authorities, from the Justice Department on down. But they did nothing to stop it.
The facts were known. McCullough’s father was a cop who had been killed by a Black man. McCullough’s brother, cousin and uncle were also cops. His mother worked for the police department. If ever there was a conflict of interest, that was it.
Of course, grand juries routinely let cops go. District attorneys everywhere work hand in glove with the cops. Only this time, because of the heroic rebellion of the people in Ferguson, the real dirty dealing of the district attorney came to light in the most outrageous form.
Despite these facts, and despite the 70,000 signatures gathered by the movement demanding the removal of McCullough, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon refused to remove him. Nixon had the authority under Chapter 27 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, specifically paragraph 27.030, which allows the governor to intervene through the attorney general of the state.
Ruling class suddenly ‘powerless’ to intervene
Worse, the entire ruling class and the capitalist government suddenly found themselves paralyzed to do anything to prevent this impending disaster, which had been unfolding before their eyes for three months.
Washington can send troops abroad to Afghanistan and Iraq in defiance of the U.S. Constitution, but suddenly it got hung up on so-called jurisdictional barriers. The same government that could hand out trillions of taxpayer dollars to bail out the big banks could not find the power to remove McCullough. The government that has arbitrarily deported millions of undocumented workers without any due process could not find a way to get due process for Michael Brown’s family.
Regrets are now being expressed in the big-business media by hypocritical columnists, anchors and pundits. They talk about more Black police, more training of police, more sensitivity and improving community-police relations, ad nauseam. All to try to sidetrack the spreading rebellion by seeming to show sympathy with the protesters.
But when push came to shove, they did not raise a hue and cry demanding the removal of McCullough and the prosecution of Wilson. They did nothing to effectively stop this racist disaster. Instead they spent their time giving warnings about unrest and rubber-stamping Nixon’s call-up of the National Guard.
Racist nature of the state
What is behind all this hypocrisy and double talk? Why did the establishment side with the police in such an outrageously obvious case of racist injustice?
The outcome of this case was based on the deep historical dependence of the ruling class on its police and a fear of undermining them.
The scientific definition of the state itself, formulated by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels long ago and quoted by V.I. Lenin in his work “State and Revolution,” is as follows: “The state is an organ of class rule, an organ for the oppression of one class by another; it is the creation of ‘order,’ which legalizes and perpetuates this oppression. … [I]t consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons and institutions of coercion of all kinds.”
In capitalist society, the state is an instrument of the profit-seeking capitalists to suppress the working class.
In the U.S., the state is also racist. The growth of mass incarceration of Black and Latino/a youth clearly demonstrates this. But if there is any question about this, one only has to look at the U.S. Constitution, which defined an enslaved African American as three-fifths of a person. Or look at the Fugitive Slave laws, which declared that a slave had no legal standing and no rights whatsoever in the United States and therefore runaway slaves must be returned to their masters. Or the Dred Scott decision of 1857 concerning a runaway slave in Missouri, who was returned to his “master” through a Supreme Court decision.
The “slave codes” were directed against the enslaved and any of their sympathizers. Later they became the “Black codes” against the freed Black population. As late as 1896, in Plessy vs. Ferguson, the Supreme Court declared segregation legal. Meanwhile, segregation had been openly enforced by the Ku Klux Klan after the abandonment of Black Reconstruction in 1877.
So the U.S. capitalist state was conceived while saturated in racism. The very institution of the police grew out of “slave patrols” in the South and “night watch” patrols in the North, as well as out of special “Indian constables” whose role was to suppress Indigenous people, at first in New England but later on in the Midwest, including St. Louis.
The “slave patrols” were used to enforce the rule of the slave masters on the plantations and to track runaway slaves. These patrols foreshadowed formal police departments, which retained their racist character.
According to one study: “[T]he literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners. The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement.” (“A Brief History of Slavery and the Origins of American Policing,” by Dr. Victor E . Kappeler, Eastern Kentucky University, 2014)
Police are capitalist tools against workers
Once the U.S. working class matured with the Industrial Revolution, these racist police forces and the corporations’ private police forces were used to break strikes and battle workers trying to organize unions.
One only has to recall the suppression of the 1877 railroad strike in which St. Louis workers distinguished themselves; the Homestead massacre of 1882 by Carnegie Steel; the 1886 suppression of the Chicago May Day rally for an eight-hour day; the 1914 Ludlow massacre; the Battle of Bull Run in 1937 during the Flint sit-down strike; or the 1937 Memorial Day massacre in Chicago and violent suppression of steel strikes in other states. The capitalist state revealed itself as not only racist but viciously and thoroughly anti-working class as well.
During the Reagan era anti-labor offensive, unions all across the country were attacked by police, scabs were escorted through picket lines by cops, and workers were jailed and arrested.
This shows how dangerous is the stand the labor movement is taking with its hands-off position on the Ferguson struggle. It is a betrayal of solidarity, of the oppressed population suffering from police killings and brutality. It is also a betrayal of the interests of union and non-union workers, who need to know that the capitalist class upholds this racist state and that these same killer cops will be used against low-wage workers and all workers as they fight back against austerity and union busting.