Revolutionary Worker #1000, March 28, 1999
New York, New York. Things are starting to change.
No, the cops haven't changed their murdering, brutalizing ways. And no, the authorities haven't changed their program to pen us in, lock us up and kill us off.
What has changed is our end of the equation--our struggle against this program of brutality and criminalizing a whole generation. And that, in turn, has begun to change the atmosphere.
Sometimes there is a moment where things come together--where a crime of the system connects with heightened political consciousness of the people; whole new sections of the people suddenly discover what the basic people have known all along and things start to flow in a new way. The brutal murder of Amadou Diallo nearly two months ago in New York focused national--and international--attention on police brutality. People in New York took to the streets almost every day. Over 1,000 youth walked out of high schools and colleges and held their own defiant demonstration just two days after 1,000 women marched. The next week, you had everything from nearly 100 prominent people getting arrested in protest to a meeting of 150 people to discuss forming a people's militia to defend against police. Meanwhile, another sustained movement arose in Riverside, California to protest the police murder of Tyisha Miller.
The movement's growing strength forced the media to let a little bit of truth out into the light of day. The voices of those directly under the gun began to be heard. Growing numbers of middle class people began to question what's happening. Some "boozhwah" commentators began to worry out loud about the people's alienation from the police. Political rivals started investigations and some even supported the protests. Now even President Clinton and NYC Mayor "Adolph" Giuliani feel forced to promise changes.
All this signifies that we have begun to seriously change the poisonous political atmosphere. But important as that is, we must remember this: the powers-that-be have NOT backed off from their program. In fact, in New York they still haven't even questioned the cops who murdered Amadou Diallo, let alone locked these killers up where they belong!
But public outcry against the rampant and murderous police brutality has moved to a new level. That's the main thing and it is extremely positive. Now, as more forces come into the arena, there is more debate over what to do about this problem. This too is positive, for if we don't debate, then how can we find solutions?
Many ideas coming forward are creative and positive. Some, however, could take our movement in a wrong direction. We don't want to get led on a so-called shortcut that turns out to be a dead end.
This poses a challenge: how does our movement keep growing, while making sure that the interests of the grassroots people don't get sold out? In trying to figure that out, it's useful to look at President Clinton's March 13 radio address of this. This speech was actually very significant--it showed that the rulers felt forced, against their wishes, to finally admit that there was a problem and to address it. But if we look closely, we can also see just how they want to misdirect this movement.
To begin with, we've got to clearly spell out the problem. Clinton says the problem is one of "police misconduct" caused by "insensitivity." What the hell does "sensitivity" have to do with 41 shots fired at Amadou Diallo? And if that was "misconduct," what do you call cold-blooded murder? Say it plain: the problem is police murder and brutality, repression, and the criminalization of an entire generation of Black, Latino and other oppressed youth. If you're afraid to call out the real problem, how're you gonna solve it?
Second, because that is the problem, our movement must be totally about STOPPING this 24-7 program of police murder, brutality and so on--ASAP. That has to be the first priority. But Clinton put out a different goal in his radio talk. He said that "we must strengthen the bond of trust between police officers and the community they serve." Now how is "restoring trust" going to prevent people from getting murdered by cops in cold blood when they call 911 for help? This is exactly what happened to Tyisha Miller in January and to dozens of other people as well, as documented in the Stolen Lives Project. Maybe a little less trust would save some of our people's lives.
Clinton also called for a "revolution in community policing" (for which he wants $1.3 billion!) and more "police-community cooperation." "Cooperate" to do what? Does anyone think that a billion-dollar snitch network is going to help our communities get what we need to cut down on crime--beginning with decent jobs, housing fit for human beings, and education that taps the potential of our youth? Or will these snitches and these "more sensitive police" be used instead to spy on our struggles and our leaders? We need to "cooperate"--we need to cooperate with each other to build a movement that can put some righteous fear into these dogs, and force them and their masters to back up off. And we do need a "revolution"...but NOT one in "community policing."
Third, our movement must bring out the real experience of what people in the communities under the gun face every day. Bill Clinton said that all this is about "a few bad police officers (undermining) the progress, and the support, that hundreds of thousands of police officers have worked so hard to earn." Wrong again--this is about mad dog cops who are trained to murder with impunity in every city and state in this country, and who are backed up by almost all their fellow cops whenever they do, backed up by the mayors and the courts, and not only that, backed up by Clinton himself! There have been thousands of police murders just since 1990, most of which have been covered up. These are not isolated incidents of "a few bad police officers," and these are not "unfortunate accidents"--these are STOLEN LIVES, and there must be no more.
Clinton also said in his radio speech that he has supplied "more positive activities for young people"; is that what he calls adding over half-a-million more people to prison since he took office, mostly for non-violent drug offenses? Is cutting financial aid for poor students while building many new federal prisons his notion of "providing more positive activities"?
We have to keep these kinds of things in mind as our movement grows. People like Bill Clinton will try to misrepresent the problem and feed us phony solutions that only put us in a deeper hole. It is no big trick for a wolf to dress up in sheep's clothing every now and then. But trusting the wolf only has one outcome for the sheep.
The main thing is, we're gonna have to step up the struggle--and fight in a way that relies on the people and defends the interests of the people. This means struggling in a way that brings to light the epidemic of police brutality--and puts the system on notice that the people will not tolerate this. It means showing that the people have right on our side. It means fighting in a way that recognizes those who have been murdered by the police and gives their friends and families a national spotlight to tell the truth about how they were killed. It means fighting in a way where the militant youth can join with others in powerful resistance. It means linking local efforts against police brutality, putting them in a national context and drawing national attention to them. It means uniting all who can be united to stop police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation. This has been the orientation of the October 22nd Coalition to Stop Police Brutality and others. And in this way we can reach out to millions of people and keep it real.
Fighting our way also means turning our neighborhoods and schools into militant base areas of struggle against the system and its enforcers. We need to organize our people to stand up against these brutal enforcers and not allow them to ride roughshod over the masses. We need revolutionary collective solutions to social problems that rely on the people--and NOT police intervening in all aspects of the people's lives, like a police state.
And as we struggle against police brutality today, bigger questions can't help but come up about the kind of society we live in. Why do the lives of young people like Amadou Diallo, Tyisha Miller or Anthony Baez mean nothing to this system and its enforcers? Why does the number and proportion of Black people in prison rise every year, while affirmative action is destroyed and education aid is cut to the bone? Why do Black and Latino people risk harassment, beating, and even murder by police for simply driving through a white neighborhood or on the New Jersey Turnpike? Why are immigrants from Latin America, Asia and Africa driven to the U.S. to seek a living, only to end up murdered or abused or deported by the police and the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service)? Why is death row, in the words of political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, the fastest-growing public housing project in the United States?
The Party has answers to those questions. These problems do not come from the people. The people are not murdered by cops because they don't try hard enough in school, or because they don't act right when the police stop them, etc. If it was just an individual problem, then why are almost two million people now in prison, with 1,600 more going in every week? If it was just about getting more education, why is the system spending $10 million a day building prison cells instead of schools. If it was just about "handling yourself better with the police," why do the police kill people who are just standing in their own doorway or playing football on their own block? The problem is not the people, The problem is the SYSTEM that puts the people through one hundred kinds of hell.
Just trying to get along better within this system, or even trying to reform it, does not solve the problem. This system was conceived in genocide and slavery, and exists today on a foundation of worldwide exploitation. How can we reform THAT? With all its many chances to reform, the most it's done is to put on some cosmetics, trying to hide the ugliness underneath. The solution doesn't lie in better cosmetics for the system, but in REVOLUTION to overthrow it. REVOLUTION, relying on those who are exploited, those who are oppressed. REVOLUTION aimed at doing away with the exploitation at the heart of the system, and all the oppressive and unjust institutions and ways that feed on exploitation.
If you can feel what we're saying, if you like what we're doing, then you need to get with us. Check out the Party and its youth group, the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade. Read our press, the Revolutionary Worker. And get down with the revolution.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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