New York, Jan. 4 — Over the past nine days, two police funerals in New York got massive coverage in the media, showing ruling class support for the cops. Both funerals were also political demonstrations by the police, demanding to continue their policy of unrestrained racist brutality against oppressed people.
The first, on Dec. 27, for Officer Rafael Ramos, had the character of a state funeral. The White House sent Vice President Joseph Biden to represent President Obama. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio took the podium, as well as Police Commissioner William Bratton.
A week later on Jan. 4, at the funeral for Officer Wenjian Liu, FBI head James Comey represented the Justice Department. Cuomo could not come because his father, Mario Cuomo, had just died. But De Blasio and Bratton both spoke.
Both times, CNN reported, more than 1,100 cops from all over the country were flown in for the funerals free of charge by JetBlue. The media reported that 20,000 cops attended the first funeral and 10,000 attended the second. The politicians and the police commissioner vied with each other to manufacture sympathy for the cops slain on Dec. 20 and to heap praise on the police in general.
It is worth noting that on Dec. 13, over 40,000 people had demonstrated against the cops in New York City for nine hours in the cold.
No pomp and ceremony for the victims
Of course, JetBlue did not offer to fly free of charge those people who marched under the banner #BlackLivesMatter to the funerals of Michael Brown or Eric Garner. Unarmed African Americans who are gunned down, like so many others, by the cops apparently do not merit state funerals. Their families do not merit the glowing, saccharine sympathy poured out by capitalist politicians occupying the highest offices, nor the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised for the families of the police to pay for mortgages and children’s education.
Representatives of the White House, the governor and the mayor did not show up at the gravesites of the victims of the racist cops. The media did not give massive, sympathetic coverage for days in advance about their funerals. The oppressed have to pay for their own funerals, do their own publicity, and fight just to get a small slice of the limelight, even in the most highly publicized cases of police killing. All this while trying to make ends meet.
But there were other aspects about the funerals for the police. First of all, they were meant to undercut the mass resistance that is growing around the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which has mushroomed with unprecedented energy and determination from coast to coast, North to South, in cities large and small.
The media falsely painted the random killing of the two cops by a troubled individual as retribution for the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. This was meant to push the movement back and undercut the growing sympathy it has gathered everywhere.
Restoring the image of the cops
One of the most important political aims of the funerals, as far as the racist ruling class is concerned, was to refurbish the image of the cops and the grand jury system. After the killing of the two cops, the rulers seized the initiative to make them into martyrs. They gave vivid portrayals of their personal lives. They televised their grieving relatives. They dwelled upon the “danger” that the cops supposedly face and all but turned them into saints.
The aim was to blot out the searing image of Eric Garner being choked to death on video by New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo, backed by a gang of accomplices; to put into the background the image of Michael Brown being shot with his hands up, after which his body lay on the ground for four hours. The ruling class publicists used the funerals for all they were worth to drown out the suffering of the oppressed and hush up the crimes of the cops — mercenaries who occupy the oppressed communities.
This country is mired in an economic crisis. The last thing the ruling class wants is for the workers and the oppressed to weaken the cops, who will be called upon in the future to defend the capitalists and put down uprisings of the oppressed.
Struggle between de Blasio and the cops
The funerals also became an arena for the struggle of the cops against civilian authority and any attempt to restrain their racism and brutality. The focus of attention was on the way thousands of cops turned their backs on Mayor de Blasio during the Ramos funeral. During Liu’s funeral, the number of cops turning their backs declined to several hundred, according to the media. This came after Bratton issued a memo disapproving of the tactic. But there was no decline in the cops’ antagonism for any civilian restraint on their racist aggression.
Their movement is an undemocratic, semi-fascist manifestation of defiance. First of all, whatever one thinks of de Blasio and his compromise tactics of appeasement (approving the “broken windows” policy, for example), nevertheless, he was elected with 65 percent of the general vote and 95 percent of the Black vote.
It is widely acknowledged that most of his victory margin came from de Blasio’s stand against stop-and-frisk and for reforming the police department.
Toward the end of the administration of billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, mass pressure and a lawsuit brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights brought about a legal victory against stop-and-frisk. The cops have fought this decision relentlessly; negotiations over its implementation are still going on. Much of the police rebellion is over de Blasio trying to curtail — not end — stop-and-frisk as well as other reform measures, such as “retraining,” body cameras for cops, restructuring the Civilian Complaint Review Board with more liberal members, etc.
What the cops are doing is undemocratic in two respects. They are an armed, racist force trying to overturn civilian authority over them. And they are trying to overturn the results of an overwhelming popular vote, especially the Black vote, that was meant to rein in the police.
The so-called “police strike” or slowdown, in which they have ceased giving out traffic tickets and summonses for minor violations, is directed against de Blasio and the city budget. Ironically, the masses are probably much relieved to be free of this harassment, although it also fills the coffers of City Hall.
Decades of fighting to retain racist policies
As far back as 1965, Mayor John Lindsay, a liberal Republican, was elected mayor largely on the program of police reform. His election came after many cases of police killings and beatings of African Americans and Latino/as. He appointed a commission to investigate the matter and make proposals, which led to one to establish a Civilian Complaint Review Board. At the time, all complaints about the police were handled by the police themselves.
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the same organization presently headed by Patrick Lynch, who says about de Blasio that “City Hall has blood on its hands,” opposed Lindsay back then and fought the CCRB by supporting a referendum to stop it. They plastered the city with posters of a Black man, with a smoking gun in his hand, standing over a dead cop. This racist appeal successfully defeated the CCRB, in spite of a vigorous grassroots campaign to oppose the racist PBA referendum.
In 1968 the racist governor of Alabama, George Wallace, ran for president on an independent ticket against the candidates of the two big capitalist parties, whom he denounced in a fascist manner.
Wallace had blocked the entrance doors to the University of Alabama in 1963 to stop two African-American students from entering. He said at the time, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” Finally the National Guard, under federal control, forced the state to register the students.
When this segregationist scheduled a presidential campaign rally at Madison Square Garden in New York, Wallace posters went up in police precincts around the city. During a mass demonstration against Wallace called by Youth Against War & Fascism, 10,000 protesters battled the cops in the streets. The demonstrators could see Wallace buttons behind the lapels of many of the white cops.
The white police support of Wallace was a demonstration of raw racism and was directed at both the Lindsay administration and the African-American and Latino/a communities.
Struggle against David Dinkins, first Black mayor
In 1989 David Dinkins was elected New York City’s first Black mayor. Although he strengthened the police force considerably, he also campaigned on police reform and introduced a proposal for a Civilian Complaint Review Board. He also ordered the cops to use restraint when putting down a Black rebellion in Brooklyn after a Black child was killed in a traffic accident.
Dinkins also refused to give the cops semi-automatic weapons after they started a public campaign about allegedly being “outgunned by the criminals.” Actually, the so-called “criminals” with high-powered weapons could not have remained free for one day except for the fact that corrupt cops were deeply involved in allowing guns and drugs into the community.
The PBA, led at the time by Phil Caruso, campaigned against Dinkins in the 1992 mayoral election. The PBA was in league with racist, right-wing mayoral candidate Rudolph Giuliani. On Sept. 16, 1992, during a Giuliani election rally, 10,000 off-duty cops, many of them drunk, leaped over barricades and swarmed the steps of City Hall. They assaulted Black people in the area, including a Black woman member of the City Council. They blocked the Brooklyn Bridge.
The cops carried derogatory signs about Dinkins and hurled racial slurs, calling him a “washroom attendant.” Giuliani spoke on the platform with Caruso and riled up the crowd. The cops also assaulted reporters. Ray Kelly was acting police commissioner at the time. There were never any consequences for the police mob.
This is the context in which the struggle for and against “police reform” must be understood. Police reform, given the racist police repression and the level of police corruption in this country, always boils down to curtailing the racist violence of the police and/or their corrupt practices.
The reforms themselves, however, cannot change the repressive and racist character of the police, no matter if Black police are on the force or who is in charge. Black police themselves have testified over and over about their fear of white police, both in uniform and on the streets.
When the movement supports demands for police reform by the Black and Latino/a communities, it should not be because we expect the cops to be transformed. It is to show solidarity with the struggle against racism.
The only way to push the police back is to escalate the magnificent #BlackLivesMatter mass mobilization that has been going on for months and has been growing stronger and stronger.
Put the killer cops and their prosecutorial allies on the defensive. Make them fear the wrath of the people. That is the best way to get any police reform. But the real reform is to get rid of them altogether, together with the bosses and bankers they serve.