The United States of America continues to be shaken by continuing mass protests against racism and police violence. Since the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25th May, protests have taken place in more than 750 cities in the USA, and in 60 countries around the world.
Protests have been growing in scale within America in spite of the massive deployment of the National Guard and armed police forces against them; and in spite of widespread acts of brutal repression. An unarmed 22-year-old man was killed in northern California on 1st June while he was on his knees with his hands raised. Police shot him from their car, claiming to have mistaken a hammer in his pocket for a gun. As of 2nd June, about 150 journalists had been violently attacked by the police in a matter of two weeks. On 12th June, a 27-year-old unarmed black man was shot twice in the back by a white police officer in Atlanta, Georgia.
George Floyd’s murder came close on the heels of two other recent killings of African-Americans in the name of law and order. On 13th March, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old woman, was killed by police who raided her home in Kentucky in the middle of the night. On 23rd February, Ahmaud Marquez Arbery, a 25-year-old man, was killed when he was out jogging near his home in Georgia.
The slogan “Black Lives Matter”, which became popular six years ago in the wake of the police killing of two African-American men in 2014, is being raised all over the country and on the world scale. It is estimated that about 1000 people get shot and killed by the police in the USA every year. A large proportion of the victims are black people.
On 3rd June, Derek Chauvin, the police officer who pressed his knee on George Floyd till he died, was charged with second-degree murder. The other three officers who stood by were charged with aiding and abetting the murder. The lawyer representing Floyd’s family has written to the United Nations, asking for its intervention to ensure that the guilty police officers are charged with first degree murder, meaning that it was premeditated and not at the spur of the moment. He and other representatives of similar victims have called on the UN to initiate a human rights case against the US Government and impose sanctions for its mistreatment of African-Americans.
In Minneapolis and some other cities, people’s organisations have raised the demand to bring the city’s police force under the control of the community.
Workers’ unions have come out firmly in support of the struggle against police violence and state-organised racist attacks. The union called Unite Here Local 17, which represents hotel, restaurant and airport workers in Minneapolis, was one of the first to declare that they stand firmly in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Minneapolis, New York City and other places, bus drivers have refused to abide by police requests to transport arrested demonstrators to prison. The Minneapolis Amalgamated Transit Union issued the following statement:
Police brutality is unacceptable! This system has failed all of us in the working class from the Coronavirus to the economic crisis we are facing. But this system has failed People of Colour and Black Americans and Black youth more than anyone else. More than ever we need a new Civil Rights Movement. A Civil Rights Movement that is joined with the labour movement and independent of the corporate establishment’s political parties.
Other unions which issued statements condemning police brutality and racism include the United Steel Workers Union and National Nurses United (NNU). “As nurses, we make a vow to protect public health and safety, and that means putting an end to the use of militarized force and weapons of war on people protesting injustice”, said NNU President Jean Ross. Bonnie Castillo, NNU Executive Director added, “Police brutality in black communities must cease immediately. Nurses are committed to challenging the systemic racism that is endemic in our country.”
The mass protests are taking place in the context of a deepening economic and political crisis in the country. The anger of workers, women and youth against the inhuman economic and political system has been rising. The blatantly racist police killing of Floyd has acted as the tipping point.
Numerous surveys have shown growing disillusionment of the American working class and people with capitalism and the system of democracy which is dominated by two rival parties of billionaires. Gallup polls show that the percentage of young people who think capitalism is a good system has fallen from 68% in 2010 to 45% in 2018. A growing proportion of people do not trust either of the two parties which dominate the political process.
There is growing sentiment among the American people for socialism. “America versus socialism” was the official theme of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of US conservatives.
Strike struggles of workers have been on the rise. The year 2019 witnessed the highest number of work-days lost due to strikes in the past 10 years. Even in the conditions of lockdown, workers in essential services have launched numerous wildcat strikes and walk-outs.
In recent months, the anger of the working class and youth has been aggravated by the steep rise in unemployment as a result of the lockdown. They are outraged by the CARES Act passed by the US Congress in March, to save the monopoly capitalist billionaires in the name of economic relief.
The statements of President Trump, claiming that he is defending America against anarchists and terrorists, have made the people even angrier. The unleashing of more police violence has added further fuel to the fire.
The development of events has also exposed the very deep divisions within the American imperialist bourgeoisie. It is reflected in the refusal of several state governors to follow the line of action advocated by President Trump. Even retired generals of the US armed forces have spoken out against the President, something that has never happened before in that country.
President Trump is trying to mobilise support among the American public by stepping up warmongering and hate campaign against China. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is trying to manipulate the people’s anger in favour of its agenda of defeating Trump in the coming presidential election. Various leaders of the Democratic Party are expressing support for the mass protests. They are calling for the defence of the values enshrined in the US Constitution.
While the USA calls itself the world’s oldest democracy, its Constitution established in 1789 did not guarantee equal democratic rights for all members of society. On the contrary, it permitted propertied white men to own black slaves until 1865. African-Americans won the right to vote only in 1965, after a long drawn out struggle (see Box on How African-Americans won the Right to Vote). Women won the right to vote in 1920. They won equal civil rights only in 1972.
It is to guarantee the right to private property that the US Constitution was established in 1789. By now, the concentration of private property has reached such a level that rival monopoly cartels are fighting for control over the state, while police power is used to trample in the mud the rights of the vast majority of citizens. The deepening crisis cannot be resolved in favour of the people by defending the existing constitution.
The American working class and people are awakening to the fact that their rights cannot be guaranteed within the existing system. They are conscious of the need to unite and defeat the tactics being used by the ruling class to divide their ranks and crush their struggle. This can be seen from numerous statements being issued in recent days (see box items “In Minneapolis” and “in San Fransisco”).
The American working class and people are fighting for their right to exercise decision-making power, which has been usurped by an exploiting minority of billionaire capitalists. These billionaires are wielding state power to oppress the working people at home as well as to aggress on other countries, in pursuit of their imperialist aim of dominating the world.
It is struggle of the working class and people for their political empowerment which holds the key to resolve the crisis of American society. This struggle enjoys the wholehearted support of all the anti-imperialist forces on the world scale.
How African-Americans won the Right to Vote
The 14th Amendment to the US Constitution, ratified in 1868, granted citizenship to all persons “born or naturalized in the United States,” including former slaves. It guaranteed “equal protection of the laws” to all citizens. In 1870, the 15th Amendment stated that voting rights could not be “denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” However, control over state governments in the South remained in the hands of former slave owners. Black voters faced the constant threat of intimidation and violence at the hands of racist gangs such as the Ku Klux Klan.
The 15th Amendment permitted state governments to lay down the qualifications for people to register as voters. Literacy tests, poll taxes and other discriminatory practices were used to deprive black people their right to vote. The southern states established black codes in the form of so-called Jim Crow laws, a system of segregation which remained in place for nearly a century.
In the 1950s and 1960s, securing voting rights for African Americans in the South became a central focus of the civil rights movement. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 finally banned segregation in schools and other public places, but it did not end racial discrimination in voting rights.
Finally, when hundreds of peaceful marchers led by Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists were brutally attacked in March 1965, it drew unprecedented attention to the movement for voting rights. Later that year, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act, which banned literacy tests and other methods used to disenfranchise black voters. In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that poll taxes were unconstitutional for state and local elections as well.
Extracts from a statement issued on 11th June, 2020, by the Twin Cities Coalition Justice 4 Jamar (TCC4J)
We know the mayor’s and city council’s response is … an attempt to ensure that the flames ignited by the power of the people over the injustice of the murder of George Floyd doesn’t consume the mayor and city council at the ballot box.
TCC4J, and the community will continue the fight under the demands of:
– Stop covert tactics of the city to hide from community!
The community knows the racist policing system which protects the rich & politicians cannot be reformed by those who protect it. The epidemic of politicians twiddling thumbs while police kill with impunity can only be solved by the community taking back their power via community control of the police!
In San Francisco
Extracts from a statement issued on 2nd June on the eve of a major protest action
The main method the government uses to suppress major protests is overwhelming force and aggression … The other method is to divide us from within. During every period of upsurge and resistance … the government has exploited differences between us to divide and suppress the growth of our movement.
After the first night of every upsurge, the police and government officials use the exact same playbook and blast it through the media:
– Label people who have been arrested as “outsiders” and “opportunists.”
– Divide people into “good” vs. “bad” protesters.
– Send in provocateurs and thugs to cause harm and send in infiltrators to learn our weaknesses and differences so they can exploit them later.
– Encourage white supremacists and others to attack and disorient us.
They discredit our movements and keep us looking for enemies from within … The most extreme example of this today is classifying “Antifa” as a terrorist organization. … These are the same red baiting tactics of the 1950s and the violence baiting used against the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, and Puerto Rican independence movement, which left comrades still serving out life sentences today.
We cannot resolve every difference of opinion regarding protest strategy overnight … We can agree to resolve disagreements in private and offline, and to not share footage that could be harmful to the movement. Our strength and solidarity should be public and our differences should be kept amongst ourselves.
In a few short days we have made one thing crystal clear: there is no going back to so-called “normal.” Let us keep our sights on the world we want to create, while we continue to build and grow and heal. Let us all meet the challenges ahead with discipline, integrity and understanding.
In the words of Assata Shakur:
It is our duty to fight for our freedom.