Does the slogan “Abolish the police!” have relevance today, or is it merely wishful thinking?
This slogan has been passionately chanted and emblazoned on placards and banners for many years. But it has had special relevance since the police killings of Oscar Grant in Oakland, Calif., in 2009, as well as Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., both in 2014.
The shooting down of Michael Brown was the final straw, the spark that ignited an uprising in that city that received international solidarity, including from the Palestinian people.
While Black Lives Matter first sprung up in response to the vigilante murder of 17-year-old Black youth Trayvon Martin in Florida, it received an extra shot in the arm from the Garner and Brown murders.
Police killings of unarmed Black, Latinx and Native people in the U.S. are not an aberration. They are a tactic employed in the occupation of oppressed communities, just as much as the violence inflicted by white police on the Indigenous peoples of South Africa during the long years of apartheid.
Nor can these acts of genocide be laid at the door of “rogue” cops or inexperienced, “rookie” cops. The brutal and callous attitude taken by the armed agents of the state toward the lives of people of oppressed nations reaches all the way to the top.
This was vividly revealed in a court hearing May 16 during the departmental trial of officer Daniel Pantaleo, the white cop who held Eric Garner in a chokehold long and hard enough to kill him. Pantaleo has never been charged with Garner’s murder and, at most, faces being fired from his job.
What inflamed people in the audience during the court hearing was the revelation that, when informed by text message that Garner was “most likely DOA — he has no pulse,” the officer superior to Pantaleo, Lt. Christopher Bannon, had replied, also by text, “No big deal.”
It is hard to imagine a more callous and cruel response to a person’s death. Only a bigot used to treating Black people as less than human could say such a thing. That this came from a police lieutenant, not just the cop under him, says volumes about the racism and brutality ingrained in the police force at all levels.
When this information was read out during the trial, people in the audience gasped and cried out.
The lieutenant had added to his text, “We were effecting a lawful arrest,” no doubt as an afterthought to cover what he had just written.
A lawful arrest. And what was Eric Garner’s “crime”? Selling loose cigarettes on the street. In other words, he was an indigent person who had no other recourse but to try and get a little change this way to support his family. And for that he was killed.
He had already been arrested three times for this. The cops knew him. They probably also knew he was in poor health, an asthmatic, and had heard him say, “I can’t breathe” 11 times before his death. (It was all caught on camera.) But they didn’t care.
Whether it’s arresting and brutalizing people of color at a rate much greater than whites, mobilizing against progressive demonstrations and striking workers or shaking down small businesses for Christmas “donations,” the police are the first line of defense for a brutal, racist, exploiting social order dominated by the billionaire ruling class.
Yes, police killings ARE a “big deal.” Workers on strike, people on demonstrations, many organizations of the oppressed have all learned to set up their own marshals to keep order. Ways must be found to defend the people without relying on the police.
“Abolish the police” is a timely slogan, and will become even more so as the progressive movements for social justice and people’s power gain strength.