Democratic Rights, Imperialism

Do Black Lives Matter, Even Now?

Bourgeois democracy bared its fangs. On May 30, Police force in US particularly in Minneapolis, the city in the state of Minnesota where an African-American was killed by police, tried to brutally suppress the protests demanding justice. The same police whose officers had killed the African American brutally and deliberately, came down heavily on the protestors. An array of teargas shells, flash bombs and baton rounds were unleashed on the protesters. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, who had shed enough crocodile tears earlier, laid the ground for this brutal repression saying that the protests had been hijacked by “elements” of domestic terrorism, ideological extremism and international destabilization, all in one. It again showed that bourgeois democracy allows expression of anger only in so far as it is the ineffectual wailing of the helpless, allowing good Samaritans with hearts in proper place to come riding on the proverbial white horses, unfurling the flag of peace to silence the cry for justice.

The incident that triggered the current round of protests was the killing of a 46year old African American, George Floyd, who died when a police officer placed and maintained a chokehold over his neck. The incident was captured on a video. The incident was allegedly due to use of a counterfeit $20 note by Floyd to pay for his purchase. Four policemen dragged him out of the car. One of them, Derek Chauvin, placed his knee on the neck of George Floyd while two others held his legs. There was no resistance by Floyd to the police arrest. That this chokehold was applied not to restrain Floyd but to kill him is amply clear from the recorded video. Chokehold was applied for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, till 3 minutes after he stopped making any movement. Worse, chokehold was continued till 2 minutes after another policeman (one who was not holding Floyd) checked his pulse and had found no pulse. People who had gathered at the spot asked the policemen to release Floyd from chokehold but that cut no ice with police. People were powerless to prevent the legal monopolizers of violence from continuing their violent act. Before all movements stopped, Floyd is heard saying, “I can’t breathe” amidst pleadings to release the chokehold. These words under the chokehold are being screamed throughout America. From the recorded video of this killing of George Floyd, it is clear as clear it has ever been, that the policemen intended to kill him. Nothing less.

“I can’t breathe” resonated through the length and breadth of the USA. Protests erupted in a number of cities. After these protests Derek Chauvin was charged with third degree murder, i.e. unintended murder. The video record that the police party made sure that Floyd had died before chokehold was released, was simply ignored. The policemen who held him to facilitate chokehold of Chauvin have been left scot-free, will perhaps be rewarded when the dust settles. The guilty of the most heinous crime have once again been largely exonerated! There is a difference in the effect that the police killing and then protests produced on Mr. Tim Walz; the first produced paralysis and the second, rage, all too evident in police brutalities on May 30.

Floyd’s killing has struck a chord in a society where racism is rooted deep; where democracy does not mean equal treatment and has been quite consistent with slavery; where all pervading media weaves a make believe world of freedom but hides the systemic brutality towards a large part of the population. Floyd was no isolated incident. On the same day i.e. May 25, a young African American Dion Johnson was killed by a paratrooper in Arizona in USA. Protesters raised both the killings in their protests. Also being raised is the recent killing of a young African American girl Beronna Taylor by the police on March 13 in Kentucky. Protests have erupted across the USA- from Los Angeles to New York. Largest protests have been held in Minneapolis and St. Paul, the twin city where the killing took place. People are joining protests in large numbers defying curfew and lockdown. Two persons have already been killed in these protests. One young man was killed in Detroit when some unidentified persons fired point blank into the protesters. There are some reports that white racist armed thugs are indulging in violent acts against protesters. The purpose of the thugs- those with or without uniforms, is one and is clear- to prepare the ground for repression and to scare the people away from participating in these protests and also deprive the protests of mass support and sympathy.

The White supremacist ensconced in the White House, lost no time in displaying his colours. Offering some commonplace concern, his tirade was focused on placing a chokehold on the protests. He promised the Governor that the Army is ready to do the job if the police is insufficient. Warning the protesters he said, “When the looting starts, shooting starts”. He was using a phrase of a segregation era Police Chief of Miami, Walter Hadley, who, explaining the method of controlling African Americans, had used this phrase in 1967. The intent is obvious that any protest against police atrocities is to be suppressed by open use of brutal methods. Through the likes of Hadley, the ruling dispensation makes it clear where liberty ends and brutality begins.

Trump on his part has blamed “Antifa (Anti-fascists) and the Radical Left” for these protests. Trump’s allegation has been seconded by Attorney General, Barr. British right wing leader Farage too has blamed Anti-fascists for the protests. The resistance is red in colour is again been brought home by the protests. Some so-called liberals are also seeing Russian hand behind these protests. All sorts of hands but not the real hands – those of racist police force which was responsible for this killing and so many, many killings of African Americans.

There has been a continuous stream of police brutalities and killings of African Americans. There are a big number of such cases spanning different states and localities. This incident, particularly killing by placing chokehold, reminded of the killing of Eric Garner in New York. Even the words spoken by the persons killed by such strangulation “I can’t breathe” reminded one of the killing of Garner.

Killing of African American Michael Brown in Ferguson (Missouri) in 2014 was followed by protests which were also violently suppressed by police. Violent police action is aimed at showing these protests as violent protests and thereby, with the help of the mainstream media portraying protests as main concern of the people and not the original systemic police brutality. This explains the continuous condemnation of the protests by all ruling class establishments including their political parties. The common refrain is that the protesters are defaming the killed- in this case George Floyd. It was after the killings in 2014 that a US wide movement “Black Lives Matter” came into being.

It will be pertinent to remember the Rodney King incident in 1991. He was brutally beaten by the police and the beating was captured on camera. Policemen were tried but the Jury acquitted them in 1992 and they were discharged. This patently racist acquittal resulted in one of the sharpest protests in USA. In the protests covering many cities and townships, 63 protesters were killed and 2,383 protesters were injured. Those widespread protests shook USA and informed the world of the rampant racism in the country claiming itself to be the champion of human rights.

This rampant and violent racism may be somewhat surprising to those who thought that US had turned a corner in race relations with election of an African American as President in Barak Obama. But that type of tokenism is never meant to be an indicator of any deep seated change in the society. Election of a woman to the top of the Executive in backward countries has never signified any change in the position of women in these societies. Holding of positions by members of socially oppressed groups has never meant any change in the position of these groups in those societies. This is a systemic ploy by the oppressive rulers to showcase their rule by co-opting some members of the socially oppressed groups into the ruling dispensation. But such co-opted persons are chosen for positions for their espousal of the dominant sections including the very oppressors who perpetuate oppression of the very sections such persons represent. We in India know well that holding positions by oppressed castes has not meant eradication of caste oppression, holding of positions by some minority politicians does not mean any dilution of majoritarianism and some women leaders occupying positions of power including even the top position has not meant any significant change in the position of women in society.

One would recall that prior to his election as US President, Barak Obama had delivered a speech on race relations in America. In that speech he had tried to please all. So much so that many commentators had accused him of throwing his grandmother (a white) under the bus. Politicians from these sections have to pass through such tests before they are deemed to be worthy to be trusted with power. Such incidents, that is coming to power of politicians from these backgrounds, are rooted both in the rising importance of that section for maintenance of the power of the ruling classes as well as the state of struggle against such oppression which has not yet broken the bounds imposed by the system. In a way this denotes strength of the objective factors and weakness of the subjective factors. This itself is rooted in the strength of the class struggle and revolutionary movement which alone can bind together all such elements into a common thread of struggle to mount a serious challenge and overthrow the rule which protects and perpetuates such social, racial, religious and gender oppression.

The systemic nature of the violence against minorities particularly African Americans and even Hispanics, the two major minority groups, but not sparing even Asians, is apparent in the very composition of police force in USA. It is worth noting that the presence of African Americans is high given their proportion in the population but this is not so in police force. African Americans are nearly one third in the US Armed Forces but less than their proportions in the police force (less than 13%). Since 1987 when the proportion of minorities was only 13% in the police force it has gone upto just less than 23% in 2013 (According to data published in the Newsweek). It is obvious that while African Americans are welcome to die for defending imperialist interests of the ruling classes, they are not permitted to disturb the race relations in the homeland.

Besides the absolute numbers of the composition of the police force in USA, an even more disturbing aspect relates to their deployment. That is the composition of police force in the mixed inhabitations. According to a New York Times report, in the most recent comprehensive data available for the composition of police force in different localities, there are 35% more whites that their proportion in the population they serve. In fact the number of white police personnel is higher than their proportion in the population by 20% to 55% in different localities. Just to give a few examples: In Ferguson a predominantly African American township, strength of white police personnel is 55% more than their proportion in population and in St. Louis it is more than 20% higher than their proportion in the population.

This is not to suggest that some incremental increase in this proportion will result in any qualitative change in the treatment of socially and racially oppressed people. There are many mechanisms whereby such recruits are made to conform to the prejudices inherent in the system. Allocation of postings and responsibilities make sure that they conform to the dominant trend besides the power exercised by the dominant sections in a myriad of other ways. It is a common knowledge that persons belonging to weaker sections- oppressed social groups and gender- are under pressure to prove that they are better than their peers from dominant sections in unleashing suppression and repression of weaker sections. Besides, the rampant corruption in the system makes them kowtow to the dominant social groups for these groups alone are in a position to grease their palms. While all these factors play their role, the stranglehold of the dominant sections is maintained by their control over the higher echelons of power. Higher your climb more is their domination. However, it does play some role particularly when the numbers are qualitatively significant.

There is a strange yet logical paradox. When the oppressed sections rise in protests they are attacked for being unruly; when they do not, their silence is interpreted to be their acquiescence, in fact satisfaction with the present state of affairs. We have often seen this with reference to caste and religious oppression- when they do not agitate, they are thought to be satisfied and attempts are made against whatever they have; and when they do, they are suppressed with the might of the state. Whichever way you look at it, the way forward cannot lie within the ruling class framework but in smashing it. Leave the task of eradicating an oppression to the oppressors and we sure nothing will come out of it!

In US, racial hatred and attacks, particularly those directed against African Americans have a long history. In fact the country was born out of the near total annihilation of original inhabitants called Red Indians. Race relations too have come a long way, with several milestones depending upon the need of the dominant sections of society. That in itself is a long history with many advances as well as periods of stagnation. However, today the most powerful and economically developed imperialist country is faced with a situation of decline. Its ruling classes are increasingly resorting to white supremacist, xenophobic and parochial offensive. The target of this offensive is the laboring masses and attempt is to divide them thereby disrupt their unity. In the present situation of staring decline and deepening crisis, it is no time for ruling classes to indulge in reforms though it is the time with most pressing need for the same. The balance will as always be decided by the class struggle i.e. struggle of the working people.

On this struggle of the working people will hinge the course of the struggle against racial hatred, discrimination and attacks. On this will depend on whether the line taken by Martin Luther King Jr. for a solution within American dream or the line of Malcom X of seeking to overthrow the system to address the root cause of this situation gains strength. Struggle is on; both conditioning the larger struggle in society and for social transformation as well be conditioned by it.

From New Democracy

May 31, 2020