Following the 2014 police murders of Eric Gardner and Michael Brown, activists raised concerns about an “epidemic” of police brutality. Six years later it is clear that Black and Brown communities, living under police occupation, are confronting a very real war.
The numbers do not lie. Documented police killings of people of color since 2014 have averaged three or more per day. Police officers charged for these murders remain in the single digits. Only a handful have been convicted.
This year the video-recorded police murder of George Floyd, who was choked to death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, rocked the world. Protests erupted in U.S. cities, coast-to-coast, leading to global protests against police brutality and historic white supremacy. In a serious challenge to systemic racism, people tore down monuments to historic slave traders and Confederate advocates.
Following the outrage over George Floyd’s death, news surfaced about the earlier police killing of emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. Taylor was murdered when police invaded her home in March on a ‘no-knock’ warrant, firing numerous rounds of bullets at her and surrounding neighbors. This week a grand jury charged one police officer involved in her murder with “endangering [white] neighbors,” but filed no charges connected to Taylor’s murder.
The resulting community outrage and protests were expected. Taylor’s family has launched an important campaign to demand the release of the grand jury reports, including police video.
Taylor’s case, following Floyd’s, opened the flood gates for reports of long buried cases of police brutality to surface. The Taylor family’s courageous stance against the grand juries’ refusal to bring charges against police is encouraging families of other victims of police brutality to speak up.
Unlike Floyd’s murder, Taylor’s was allegedly not captured on video, a situation all too prevalent for many police brutality victims. But even when there is recorded evidence of police misconduct, it is often buried. News of Daniel Prude’s murder by police in Rochester, N.Y., also in March, surfaced only in September.
Now more cases are being aired.
In February, Boston police shot 31 times in three seconds, killing 41-year-old Juston Root, who was on the ground, unarmed and seriously injured after a car chase. This case is now being reviewed.
The Joliet, Ill., police department faces a wrongful death lawsuit involving Eric Lurry, a 37-year-old Black man who died on Jan. 28 after police shoved a baton down his throat while he was handcuffed. They repeatedly hit him and pinched his nose for nearly two minutes. Police later claimed Lurry died from “a drug overdose” and buried a video of the incident for months.
An updated list of Black and Brown victims of police brutality can be found at #SayTheirNames.
These reports come in addition to the murders of two Black men – Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Michael Williams in Iowa – at the hands of racist white vigilantes.
Increased attempts to suppress the votes from Black and Brown communities must also be seen as part of this war.
Attacks on First Amendment rights
Encouraged by Trump, in recent weeks police have been supported by right-wing forces, including the Proud Boys and individuals like Kyle Rittenhouse, who opened fire on unarmed protesters. Since George Floyd’s murder, there have been 66 reported incidents of white supremacists driving vehicles into protests to intentionally injure or even kill demonstrators. The most recent were in Los Angeles, Buffalo, and Albuquerque. Now Trump wants a bill to protect people who attack protesters.
Trump is not alone. Since 2017, legislatures and governors in nearly 20 states promoted bills intended to criminalize protesters, in clear violation of the First Amendment.
For all too long, the failure of the judicial system to hold police accountable for brutality against people of color has emboldened them. Coupled with a political system in which police organizations can pressure or prompt judges to rule in their favor, police have been given impunity to murder people of color.
The increased militarization of domestic police forces has exacerbated the problem. Residents of Black and Brown communities are treated much like occupied people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. U.S. police departments are increasingly using tanks, bayonets, rubber bullets and grenades – weapons of war.
In the 1960s, Workers World Party popularized the slogan “Stop the war against Black America” in response to assaults on the Black Panther Party, Civil Rights activists, and other Black community leaders. We need to revive this slogan as “Stop the war on Black and Brown communities!” and “Stop the war on Black Lives Matter!” But beyond raising a slogan, workers must organize to elevate class solidarity against this racist war and the corrupt capitalist economic system that profits from it.