Part of a Whole System to Criminalize Black and Latino Men
Thousands Protest Racist NYPD “Stop and Frisk”
|Internationalist contingent at June 17 Harlem march against NYPD's “stop and frisk.” (Internationalist photo)|
Police "Serve and Protect" Capital –
It Will Take Socialist Revolution to Get Rid of Racist Cop Terror
A constant, antagonistic police presence is a defining feature of life for black men in New York City, as it is in cities, towns and rural areas across the United States. To be black in this country is to have no effective rights against arbitrary detention and arrest. It is the sense of being the target of a police apparatus that makes its presence felt everywhere, from the streets to the hallways of schools and apartment buildings, from the workplace to social and religious institutions.
In New York City, this oppressive cloud of contempt over the black community is official policy. It is summed up in the police practice of “Stop and Frisk.” The New York Police Department carries out thousands of brief detentions (stops) and searches (frisks) every day, overwhelmingly targeting poor black and Latino youth. On Fathers’ Day, June 17, some 15,000 people came out to march down Fifth Avenue against “stop and frisk.” Prior to the “official” start, there was a noisy march through Harlem. But the “mainstream” event was led by a coalition of bourgeois politicians and labor bureaucrats who insisted on a silent march, lest the pent-up anger of the masses find expression outside the organizers’ program for cosmetic “reforms” to the police.
The scope of “stop and frisk” is staggering. Last year, 685,724 people were stopped by the NYPD, according to the department’s own reports. This is “racial profiling” with a vengeance: over half were black and a third were Latino, in a city where blacks and Latinos each make up around a quarter of the population. Nine percent were white. “Stop and frisk” operations are concentrated in the poorest, most racially segregated neighborhoods – yet when they are conducted in wealthier, whiter precincts in Manhattan, blacks are stopped even more disproportionately than they are in the ghettos of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Of all demographic categories, young black and Latino men bear the brunt of the policy: the NYPD stopped 168,126 black and Latino men aged 14 to 24 in 2011, ten thousand more than live in the city!
Even if “stop and frisk” had never been invented, the NYPD, a police force larger than most standing armies, would be infamous for racist brutality and murder. The middle-class Occupy Wall Street protesters last year who were shocked by the cops’ wanton violence and callous contempt for their democratic rights got a brief taste of what the NYPD brings to bear daily on the ghettos and barrios. Here police menace the population from mobile watchtowers, public schools for black and Latino children are infested with cops who treat students like prisoners, and every few months another young man is executed in a hail of police bullets.
“Stop and frisk” is allegedly intended to crack down on “illegal” weapons, although the vast majority of those stopped are absolutely innocent. King Bloomberg rolls with a phalanx of private bodyguards, emperor Obama assassinates U.S. citizens via remote-control drones with impunity, but the “crime” of mere possession of a gun, supposedly a right guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the Constitution, can get a black man or woman thrown in prison for years, effectively unable to gain employment and barred from public housing upon release. That is, if they aren’t executed on the spot by trigger-happy cops.
The Internationalist Group calls to mobilize black, white, Asian and Latino workers, women and men, in militant class struggle to demand an immediate end to “stop and frisk,” arbitrary police stops and entrapment. But even such a simple prohibition, which doesn’t go beyond the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” won’t happen in capitalist America. Racist repression is part and parcel of this system of exploitation and social oppression, and if it doesn’t take one form it will take another. Nothing short of socialist revolution that sweeps away capitalist rule can put an end to cop brutality. Without a revolutionary leadership based on the social power of the working class, the current protests cannot break through the blue wall of police power.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party politicians exploit the righteous anger to mask their support to the racist social order that all capitalist parties and politicians defend. The Fathers Day march in NYC was adorned by Democratic politicians: every major Democratic mayoral candidate was on hand, including City Council speaker Christine Quinn, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer, former comptroller Bill Thompson and his incumbent successor, John Liu. None of them want to end “stop and frisk”! They, along with “Communities United for Police Reform” coalition that headlined the march, want to enact a few cosmetic “reforms” that would only sanitize the image of the police while doing nothing to stop the massive dragnet operations against the black and Latino communities.
While tossing out the slogan “Stop ‘Stop and Frisk’” to attract a crowd, their actual program is the “Community Safety Act,” a package of bills before the City Council that would “ban profiling,” require proof of consent to a search without probable cause, require police to identify themselves to anyone they stop (except in “extenuating circumstances”) and establish an “Inspector General” of the NYPD. These measures will not change anything about the racist, oppressive nature of the police. Make profiling illegal? The NYPD already has an anti-racial-profiling policy, which the department agreed to in settling a previous lawsuit against “stop and frisk” (Daniels, et al. v. The City of New York, et al.)! Fat lot of good that did. Cops will simply ignore the consent requirement, claiming they have “probable cause” to search, which the Supreme Court has defined so broadly as to include nearly any conceivable pretext.
As for Officer Friendly identifying himself as he throws you up against a wall and goes through your pockets, don’t bet on it. When plainclothes cops stopped black deputy mayor (now NYC schools chancellor) Dennis Walcott in his chauffer-driven car last year, they refused to give their badge numbers. The fact that even this flunkey for billionaire mayor Bloomberg (and defender of “stop and frisk”) has been repeatedly stopped by the police is one more proof that the policy is racist. If young black men on the street in impoverished Brownsville are presumed to be gang-bangers, black men in expensive cars in middle-class St. Alban’s are presumed to be drug kingpins until proven innocent.
Even these proposed non-reforms are likely to be preempted by the outcome of pending court cases. The Center for Constitutional Rights is litigating a class-action suit against the NYPD (Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al.) which demands an end to “suspicionless” stop-and-frisks. Various establishment voices have been hinting at a resolution similar to the settlement between the American Civil Liberties Union and Philadelphia over that city’s “stop and frisk” policy. As part of settlement, according to the ACLU, “the city and the plaintiffs recognize that stop and frisks are a legitimate police enforcement practice.” As for the toothless “safeguards” and “monitoring” of police conduct, these have changed little. As a recent New York Times (12 July) article made clear, the numbers of stops may be down, yet black Philadelphians are still harassed and threatened by the cops for no reason but the color of their skin.
“Stop and frisk” is neither the first nor the most horrendous aspect of racist police-state repression of blacks, immigrants, and other oppressed groups. Cops don’t just stop, they murder too: the family and friends of Ramarley Graham, the 18-year-old black man shot to death by a plainclothes narcotics squad in his apartment on February 2 of this year, have been prominent in many anti-Stop and Frisk demonstrations. The NYPD is spying on Muslim student organizations all over the Northeast. And under the Obama administration’s “Secure Communities” program, information even on those charged with minor violations and misdemeanors as a result of police stops is sent to Homeland Security to feed the deportation of 400,000 immigrants every year.
These are all parts of a whole system of racist repression, dubbed the “New Jim Crow” by some commentators. We have noted before that racial oppression is part of the DNA of American capitalism. Following the Civil War that abolished chattel slavery, new methods were devised to keep the black population down and deprive them of democratic rights. This eventually took the form of “Jim Crow” segregation even more rigid than before. After a long and bloody struggle by the civil rights movement, the last of the overtly racist segregation laws were abolished in the mid-1960s. But no democratic gains are secure under decaying capitalism, and those rights have since been gradually rolled back. Today schools in the U.S. are more racially segregated than before Brown v. Board of Education, voting rights of blacks and Latinos are under massive attack, and apartheid-style laws against “illegal” immigrants proliferate.
In addition, the authorities have devised a system of mass incarceration and criminalization of an entire generation of inner-city black youth. As the bourgeois media peddle the lie of a “post-racial America” following the 2008 election of a black man as president, the subjugation of the oppressed black population is carried out in ostensibly non-racial terms. In this monstrous system of police control, “stop and frisk” programs are key to a “school-to-prison pipeline.” Today over 40% of prison inmates are black, and 30% of black men in their twenties are in prison, on probation, or on parole. There are more black people under the control of the “justice” system than there were slaves in 1860. And once labeled a “criminal,” “color-blind” discrimination in employment, housing and education is not only perfectly legal, but in many cases mandated by law.
Reformist groups like the International Socialist Organization and Workers World Party ran uncritical articles about the June 17 march (WWP called the creepy silence a “reverent funeral procession”). Yet the first duty of anyone who claims to be a socialist, much less a revolutionary, is to tell the truth to the masses: namely, that the police, the backbone of the capitalist state, are not going to be reformed, and the Democrats and union bureaucrats don’t even demand an end to “stop and frisk.” If the unions mobilized their potential social power in protest strikes against cop brutality and legalized murder, from police executions in the street to the barbaric death penalty, they could strike a blow against the rising police-state repression. (In 1972, as the U.S. imperialists were facing social upheaval “at home” fueled by a losing war against the Vietnamese revolution, the bosses’ Supreme Court suspended the racist death penalty.)
But for the workers organizations to be organs of struggle against racist oppression and capitalist exploitation, the labor bureaucracy which chains the working class to the Democratic party must be driven out and replaced by a revolutionary leadership. Neither the formal, legal concession of equal rights for black Americans, nor the election of black mayors, police chiefs, governors, and now for the first time a black president, has changed the bitter reality of black oppression, because this oppression is not based on bigoted attitudes or Jim Crow laws. Rather it is rooted in the bedrock of capitalist rule in the U.S., which from its inception has required the division of the working class along racial lines and the subjugation of the black population as an oppressed race-color caste.
From the very first issue of The Internationalist (No. 1, January-February 1997), we have insisted that “Police Are the Armed Fist of Capitalism.” As the CUNY Internationalist Clubs wrote in their newspaper Revolution (No. 9, November 2011), “The fight against ‘stop and frisk’ must be part of a larger struggle to bring down capitalism... To put an end to police brutality and racist repression it is necessary to mobilize the power of the working class in socialist revolution.” The indispensable instrument of this struggle is a revolutionary workers party, championing the cause of all the oppressed, not another tail of a bourgeois-led “movement” to reform the unreformable.