Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Oct. 23, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper

Police brutality and national oppression

Whistle blown on racist cops

By Monica Moorehead

Every day in the big-business press, there are references to racist atrocities against people of color. And many times there is an anti-racist response.

But what happens when a Black cop is the victim of a racist attack—and the attackers are also cops? How should those who understand the roots of police brutality—or who have themselves been the victims of such repressive state violence—respond to such revelations?

Take for example the following three instances.

In June 1996, in the predominantly Black neighborhood of St. Albans in Queens, N.Y., a fight broke out between white police and a Haitian American college student named Jens Nerestant, allegedly over an opened beer bottle. An off-duty Black cop named Derrick Sutton attempted to intervene to stop the harassment of Nerestant.

As a result, Sutton was charged with insubordination. He faced a maximum penalty of five months’ suspension with out pay and probation. Nerestant, who was eventually acquitted of all the charges, described the incident as "a total overreaction by the police all because a Black officer second-guessed a white sergeant."

Sutton is not the only cop to expose the state’s racism. So did Stephen Zanowic Jr.—a white former police officer who is now a deputy United States marshal in Manhattan. Zanowic made headlines recently because he went to federal officials to accuse white deputies of discriminating against Black marshals.

Zanowic also revealed that racist deputies used photographs of civil-rights leader Martin Luther King for target practice.

As a result of blowing the whistle, Zanowic became the target of cruel harassment by the racist "good old boys" network.

Zanowic was quoted in the Oct. 5 New York Times: "I found out the hard way what happens when you speak out against inherent racism in the Marshals Service. They don’t investigate the charges. Instead they ostracize you as a weird malcontent and you become the target of harassment and internal investigations."

And finally, there is a case of police brutality within the Chicago Police Department. A Black police officer, Eric Holder, came forward to accuse 11 white officers of assaulting him. Holder said that cops beat him and called him racist names, while he was telling them he was an off-duty cop.

In response to this incident, a number of Black police officers have formed Black Policemen United for Equal Justice.

These three separate developments share a common theme—racism and national oppression. But what makes these particular issues complex and not so cut and dried is that they involve institutions whose very purpose is to carry out state repression against workers and oppressed people.

The nature of the beast

What is the state? Marxism explains that the state is an instrument by which one class carries out organized violence against another. Under capitalism, it is the capitalist class that wields the state against the workers and oppressed.

The ruling class has at its disposal the cops, FBI, courts, prisons and military. Without these hired guns, how could this handful of wealthy families continue to claim ownership of all the vast means of production workers built? And how else could such a tiny parasitic class continue to claim as its own the abundant wealth produced by the working class?

The ruling elite arms the state with weapons, the power to arrest and imprison and carry out executions. The role of the state is to terrorize the masses of workers and oppressed people in order to keep them from rebelling against exploitation and oppression.

That’s the role of the police. When a righteous rebellion against poverty and racism flares up, the cops are there to repress it. When the workers go out on strike for higher wages and job security, the cops are there to support the bosses by beating the workers and protecting the scab labor.

Therefore, the state can never resolve the class antagonisms that exist. Capitalist inequality and injustice go hand in hand.

Only a social revolution that completely overturns these class relations can begin the process of ending the class struggle once and for all. Once the working class takes power and disintegrates the old exploiting class along with its racist, violent state, a planned economy that meets everyone’s needs can finally begin to resolve inequality and injustice.

The importance of fighting racism and national oppression

Where then does the question of racism and national oppression tie in?

There are many oppressed nations of people who have been denied their full democratic rights for centuries and who have been fighting to achieve social equality under capitalism. One vehicle for winning this equality has been to fight for affirmative action—not just on the job or in education, but even within the ranks of the state.

A number of police departments have been forced to adopt affirmative-action programs for women and for the Black and Latino communities—sometimes because of the struggle for community control of the police. It is ironic that these cops of color soon learn that they must be more brutal toward oppressed people than white cops are if they are to be considered worthy as police officers by their white commanders.

These nationally oppressed cops find out that once they put on the blue uniform, it does not erase the racism they face from their white peers. The racism of the state revealed by some cops of color, and by an anti-racist white like Zanowic, is just a small tip of the iceberg of what goes on behind closed doors.

The Suttons, Zanowics and Holders are to be commended for stepping forward with their horrific stories—not because they are members of the repressive state, but because they had the courage to speak out against racism. Their testimony confirms once again that racism permeates the entire fabric of class society.

Any time racist incidents are exposed, it helps lay the basis for raising class consciousness and building working-class solidarity between whites and people of color. Exposing racism helps to weaken the internal relations of the state and tarnishes the clean-cut images within these agencies. That is a progressive development.

The next progressive step would be for these cops to take off their uniforms, toss away their badges and declare to the workers and the masses that they will no longer be armed thugs for the super-rich corporate bosses and bankers. Until then, they will be the enemies of workers and oppressed communities.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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