A Summer of Police Terror... Why? And What Can Be Done to STOP It?

August 15, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


It has been a summer of unceasing police terror and murder of Black and Brown people. And it has been a summer of roiling tension, anger, outrage, and outbreaks of resistance. Just this past week alone has witnessed a Department of Justice report on the Baltimore pig department. And, another outrageous murder, by a pig in Milwaukee—of 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith—followed by a righteous rebellion against that.

What is going on? And what needs to be done?

Alton Sterling

Philando Castile

Philando Castile

Charles Kinsey

Charles Kinsey

Paul O'Neal

Paul O'Neal

Korryn Gaines

Korryn Gaines

William Bowers

William Bowers

A Month of Police Terror & Murder

On July 5, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police tackled Alton Sterling, pinned him down, tased him, and then shot him dead in cold blood. His supposed “crime”? Selling CDs outside a store with the proprietor’s permission.

Who does something like that? Why aren’t they in jail right now?

Two days later, in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, police murdered Philando Castile. His fiancée, Diamond Phillips, was in the car with him, with her four-year-old daughter, and heroically live-streamed the murder to the world on Facebook. Philando Castile, a respected and beloved nutrition supervisor at a high school, had been stopped for driving while Black over 50 times before police murdered him in cold blood.

Who does something like that? Why aren’t they in jail right now?

On July 20, Charles Kinsey, a Black behavior therapist, was bringing a young autistic man, who had wandered away, back to his group home. In response, North Miami police pointed automatic weapons at Kinsey and ordered him to lie on his back with his hands up. Kinsey complied and tried to calm his patient. Moments later, one of the pigs shot Kinsey—still on his back with his hands in the air. Then these pigs flipped him over and handcuffed him—and also handcuffed the young autistic man. In this case, both Charles Kinsey and his patient survived.

Who does something like that? Why aren’t they in jail right now?

On July 28, Chicago police shot and killed Paul O’Neal. Under the spotlight of months and months of exposure, protest, and outrage, police released video eight days later. It shows them blasting away at this unarmed Black youth as if they were playing a video game or on a hunting trip. Police have no explanation for why the body camera of the pig that murdered Paul O’Neal stopped working just as the murder took place.

Who does something like that? Why aren’t they in jail right now?

On Monday, August 1, a team of Baltimore County cops went to 23-year-old Korryn Gaines apartment in suburban Baltimore to serve her with a warrant for a traffic ticket. Police claim Gaines threatened them with a legally registered shotgun. But who was threatening whom? Korryn Gaines was a Black woman trying to defend herself and her five-year-old child. She was literally under armed siege by police who illegally entered her apartment. Police murdered her and shot her son.

Who does something like that? Why aren’t they in jail right now?

And on August 3, 51-year-old William Bowers–a homeless white man–was riding a bicycle at 9 pm. That is the only explanation that LA County sheriffs have given for why they tried to pull him over. Sheriffs deputies claim Bowers ran. They opened fire, killing him.

Who does something like that? Why aren’t they in jail right now?

This is just one month of police terror and murder in America. And this list is far from exhaustive.

Why are we still fighting for justice in 2015?

"Why are we still fighting for justice in 2015?" is a clip from the film REVOLUTION AND RELIGION: The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion; A Dialogue Between CORNEL WEST & BOB AVAKIAN. The film is of the November 2014 historic Dialogue on a question of great importance in today's world between the Revolutionary Christian Cornel West and the Revolutionary Communist Bob Avakian. Watch the entire film here.

When police murder people–vastly disproportionately Black and Brown people–in this country over and over and over again, and don’t get punished, what can you conclude except that when they do this, they ARE doing their job?

This has to STOP! This is not something people can adapt to and live with, and still really be human beings. So we have to dig into what is behind this. And act on THAT basis.

The “Pattern and Practice” of the Department of Justice: All the Better to Eat You With

When the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) writes reports criticizing police departments, it identifies what it calls “patterns and practices” that these police departments carry out that violate the U.S. Constitution, or that are racist.

But there is another “pattern and practice” going on: Under Barack Obama, in particular, there has been a “pattern and practice” where, after police murder an unarmed Black person—and the murdering police are not even charged with a crime, or they walk free after they are charged—the DOJ comes in and issues a report that in part exposes illegal racist police brutality in these police departments. It happened in Ferguson, Missouri, after people rose up in outrage, and after the pig that murdered Mike Brown was not indicted. It happened in Cleveland, where there was no indictment in the police murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

In fact, just days after all charges were dropped against the pigs that murdered Freddie Gray, the DOJ came out with a report on the Baltimore Police Department. And so people are supposed to think: “At least Freddie Gray did not die in vain. The Department of Justice put out a report that criticizes the practices of the police and calls for reforms.”

But how can anyone with the capacity to think critically and a functioning heart find solace in that? What kind of “changes” are coming when murdering pigs walk free—sending a message that this IS the police doing their job?!

At the same time that they are intended to chill and divert outrage into the quicksand of relying on the system, these DOJ reports do have to acknowledge enough reality to have some credibility. And what comes out in that light is damning. The DOJ report on the Baltimore PD paints a picture of a situation where the nation’s eighth largest police force doesn’t even pretend that they are not targeting Black people for harassment and arrest. In a city of about 620,000 people, the police make several hundred thousand stops a year—overwhelmingly for no cause at all—overwhelmingly targeting Black people.

While a Department of Justice investigator was riding along to observe the Baltimore PD, a sergeant ordered a cop to stop a group of young Black men on a street corner and question them. When the cop replied that there was no basis to stop the youths, the sergeant told him, “Then make something up.” This—again—is how these pigs act while under scrutiny by the Department of Justice. And at one district, the template for police reports on arrests comes with the description already filled in: “black male.”

What do these numbers, and this incident, tell you about how pervasive, how total, police state terror is in the Black community? And any one of these stops could end like what happened to Freddie Gray.

Three Strikes...

The DOJ report on the Baltimore police describes an incident that should tell you more about the actual nature and role of these pigs than any politician or representative of, or apologist for, this system ever will. In this incident, police stopped a woman for a missing headlight and ordered her to get out of the car, strip, and stand on the sidewalk to be strip-searched! According to the DOJ report, she asked, “I really gotta take all my clothes off?” The supervising male cop said “yeah” and ordered a female officer to do the strip search, including a search of the anal cavity, in full view of the street! No weapon or contraband was found and the woman was released with a repair order for the headlight. Put yourself in her shoes. Think about what message this sends to not just her, but a whole community who witnessed or heard about it.

The woman later filed a complaint, and her story was corroborated, but the male cop who ordered the strip search only received a “simple reprimand”—for what was really a public, depraved, sadistic, obscene sexual assault committed by brutalizers in uniform. A slap on the wrist was the system’s message: “keep it up...”

What is going on here, if not terrorizing a whole people? If not sending a violent message, backed up by death threats and the most depraved abuse and brutality, that the lives of Black people mean nothing, their dignity means nothing, and that they have no rights at all that a white supremacist system is bound to respect?

How Did We Get Here?

Besides acknowledging enough reality to deceive people, and to allow people to deceive themselves—that the Department of IN-Justice can or will effect meaningful change—DOJ investigations and reports on police departments are a form through which the Obama administration has pushed for certain kinds of reforms in how the inner cities are policed. But before examining what those reforms amount to, let’s take the unpleasant but revealing step of putting ourselves in the shoes of those who preside over this crisis-wracked empire of global exploitation and oppression. And how Black people, and police, fit into that picture.


Black people have been subjected to the most inhumane, depraved, violent demonization and oppression since they were dragged to these shores from Africa and enslaved to build up tremendous wealth at the foundation of the U.S. empire. Under slavery, there was the whip and the gallows, systematic rape and torture. Under Jim Crow, there was the lynch mob and the Klan. And when it served this system to exploit Black people in factory jobs in the cities, the police were there to keep them “in their place.” The capitalist-imperialist system grew strong on the basis of white supremacy and it has always violently enforced white supremacy because this system cannot function without it.

Then came the 1960s. White supremacy came under fire as never before since the Civil War. There were powerful and inspiring uprisings against police brutality that intersected with a defiant and disloyal movement against the Vietnam War, and a general atmosphere of rebellion. Facing this, the U.S. government made a calculated move to unleash police repression and terror against the movements for change and sections of the population, branded and sold as a “war on drugs.”1

While concessions were made in the form of outlawing some outrageous forms of overt, legal discrimination against Black people, and while jobs and some other opportunities were opened up, it was only a relatively small, if significant, minority who were allowed to “move on up”—while the masses of Black people, after a brief period of concessions, found themselves in an even worse situation by the beginning of the 1980s.

Through the mad dog-eat-dog “logic” of the capitalist system, jobs that had been available to Black people in the factories of the inner cities were moved to places where people could be even more viciously and ruthlessly exploited. The inner cities were “de-industrialized,” left as economic dead zones. People were driven to desperate measures to survive, while the powers that be flooded the inner cities with drugs.

For generations since, the “war on drugs” and a more general “war on crime” has been a cover for cops kicking down doors; people being locked up for small amounts of marijuana; harsh sentencing laws; occupation armies of police in Black and Latino communities harassing, beating, and killing people. The ruling class, under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, imposed racist sentencing criteria, such as the law punishing possession of crack cocaine (more common in poor Black communities) 100 times more harshly than powder cocaine (more popular among the white middle class).

This has been part of a whole offensive. From the schools to the “social agencies,” the masses of Black people (especially those at “the bottom” of society) and other oppressed peoples became surveilled, policed, abused, and harassed to an unbelievable degree; deprived of rights, humiliated at every turn, and even had their children taken away from them.

Under Bill Clinton, the number of people in U.S. prisons for nonviolent drug offenses went from 50,000 to over 400,000! Nearly 60 percent of these were Black people, even though they constituted only about 15 percent of drug users. (For documentation and analysis, see “Top Government Official Admitted: The ‘War on Drugs’ IS a War on the People” at revcom.us)

Resistance, Rebellion, and the Potential for Revolution

From the point of view of the class of capitalists who rule over this system of exploitation and oppression, all this adds up to seeing millions of people in the inner cities as dangerous “social dynamite," people to be kept down at the point of a gun. Which brings us back to the Obama administration’s reforms, and intense disagreement within the ruling class over them.

These differences are framed by the fact that over the past five years or so, a movement of resistance has erupted against police terror. It has never been the case that people simply accepted police brutality. There was the LA Rebellion in 1992. There were exposures of the CIA crack connection in the work of journalist Gary Webb and others. Under the leadership of Bob Avakian (BA), the Revolutionary Communist Party consistently exposed and opposed the “war on drugs” as worse than crack, going back to the 1980s. In fact, BA paid close attention during this whole period to analyzing the rapidly changing situation and to both doing exposure of, and strategically leading resistance against, this outrage of the system, as part of organizing for an actual revolution.

Now, in recent years, millions of people—and not just Black and Brown people, and not just those most directly under the gun—have come to question, or refuse to accept, that to this system and its police, the lives of Black people do not matter. Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, along with other important exposures and scholarly research, has had a societal impact. All this, along with the agitation and struggle around the murder of Trayvon Martin by the vigilante George Zimmerman, went into forming the ground on which the powerful protests and rebellions against police murder of the past two years have erupted. The legitimacy of the monopoly of the use of violence by this system is being called into question in serious ways. And that has posed a real danger and problem for the ruling class, and is the context for rather intense debate in their ranks over what to do.

Rulers Debate Over HOW to Keep Black People Locked Down

On one side of that debate, you have the vicious, ugly zombies and ghouls who were on parade at the Republican convention. They insist that the response to outrage and rebellion must be to double down. To declare that saying “Black lives matter” is a hate crime. In a major speech at the RNC, Rudy Giuliani promised—threatened, that is—that Donald Trump would make America safe the same way Giuliani did when he was mayor of New York. That was “Giuliani time”—a reign of police terror against Black and Brown people—where none were “safe” from being stopped, beaten, tortured or worse. In that time, 187 people were killed by New York cops. And this and more fed into and defined what it meant when Trump declared, “I am the law and order candidate.” (For one element of Trump’s history in whipping up lynch mob terror against Black people, see “How Trump Agitated for the Railroad of the—Innocent!—Central Park 5” at revcom.us)

But what about the Democrats and Hillary Clinton? What kind of “reform” are they talking about?

When Hillary Clinton talks about police reform, it is always framed in “making law enforcement as secure and effective as it needs to be.” And, “[W]e must work to strengthen the bonds of trust between our communities and our police.” (HillaryClinton.com).

Why? Why frame it like that? Why not demand an end to police terror and murder—in which case the last thing you’d want is making “law enforcement” as “effective as it needs to be” or promoting collaborating with these thugs and murderers. Why? Because the Democrats are also a party of the ruling class,and they are not trying to solve the problem of murder and terror by police. If they were, they’d say so. They are trying to solve the same problem Trump is—but differently. They insist that changes, reforms, are essential in order to effectively keep millions of desperate Black, Latino, and Native American people locked down and under control.

The Democrats argue that more emphasis needs to be placed on “community-based policing” that enlists people as collaborators and snitches in enforcing police terror. That more effort must be made to brand and package police violence as “responding to the needs of the community.”

The DOJ report on Baltimore, along with similar reports on other cities, calls on police to dial down “broken windows” policies. These are policies that sweep up vast sections of the Black community under the pretext of open-bottle laws, riding a bike on the sidewalk, playing cards or dice, disorderly conduct, blocking a sidewalk, or a whole range of laws rarely if ever enforced in middle-class white neighborhoods. The Democrats argue that these policies make it impossible to enlist conservative church ministers (of all faiths) and others as collaborators.

All this—the DOJ reports, the Democrats’ enticements to the “negotiating table,” the enlistment of clergy and others into “community policing”—are not good, or “sort of good.” These are part of a package to keep the same miserable conditions—the same exploitation and oppression—in place. You cannot change the function of the police until you change the character of the society that they are protecting. Bob Avakian has put it succinctly:

The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness. (BAsics 1:24)

So all these “reforms” amount to a plan to keep the lid clamped down on the oppressed communities, to defang some of the resistance and crush the rest, to keep the masses in those communities oppressed, and to maintain the police as an occupying army in those communities, with a bit of velvet glove and a snitch network to go with the iron fist. Welcome to the counter-insurgency.

And these different and conflicting approaches are debates over how to keep Black people and other oppressed people violently under control.

How Long Must This Go On?

Indict, Convict, Send These Killer Cops to Jail—this is something people have to fight for and not back down on. We don’t need commissions that tell us what we already know, with recommendations on how to shore up and maintain a killer system. The ongoing epidemic of police murder and terror must STOP.

And resistance to police brutality can contribute to ending police terror if it increasingly is connected with preparing for an ACTUAL revolution. After all, after 350 years, is it not time and past time to finally end the iron web of white supremacy, and the capitalist system that gave birth to it and cannot do without it? Is it not time and past time to be rid of all this—to get to a new world, one that really is possible, where the power of the state backs people up who are moving to uproot and get rid of all this oppression and where it stops any and all who would bring it back?

There is a real strategy to do this. There is a way in which these forces of violent suppression could be defeated. There is the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America that shows how a new society could be built that uproots white supremacy as part of getting to a world beyond ALL exploitation and oppression. There is the leadership of Bob Avakian, who has brought all this forward as part of his new synthesis of communism, and is leading the Revolutionary Communist Party right now to carry all this forward.

What is missing, what is urgently needed, is YOU.

1. John Ehrlichman, a top government official under President Nixon in 1969, admitted this in a 1994 interview on the “war on drugs”:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”



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