Troy Davis, Trayvon Martin, Anna Brown, Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., Reika Boyd, and countless others have joined the long and gut-wrenching list of victims of police violence, vigilante justice, and state-sponsored lynching. These events confirm for working people and the poor, particularly people of color, that the declaration of a “post-racial” America after Obama’s election was a fallacy.
President Barack Obama has not alleviated racism. In fact, his administration has continued the attack on civil liberties, criminalizing dissent while presiding over mass deportations of immigrants. The Obama administration has continued the war on drugs, and defended strip searches for potential suspects. Taking over the reins as chief executive officer of the U.S. empire, Obama has escalated the war in Afghanistan and dropped bombs on innocents in Pakistan.
At home, he has overseen the continued decay of a capitalist system that demands scapegoats for its failures, resulting in growing racist attacks, xenophobia, and sexism. This capitalist system is based on maximizing profits for a tiny – mainly white and male – ruling elite that relies on propaganda, violence, and divide-and-rule methods to maintain its power and influence.
Workers and youth of color have been left with depressionary conditions since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008. The United for a Fair Economy annual report states, “In 2010, the median family income of Black and Latino families was a mere 57 cents to every dollar of White median family income,” (State of the Dream 2012: The Emerging Majority). The level of poverty has sent black and brown communities into a deeper state of despair in the richest nation in the world. According to State of the Dream, “In 2010, poverty rates among Blacks (25.7%) and Latinos (25.4%) were more than two and a half times the White poverty rate.”
In every major category –access to health care, housing, education, employment opportunities – workers and youth of color exceed the national average, lacking the basic necessities of survival and development. The working class, poor, and communities of color are the victims of Wall Street’s agenda. Black communities were especially targeted by the real estate industry looking to extract further profits by processing sub-prime loans. Workers and youth, particularly youth of color, are trapped in the vicious cycle of dilapidated housing, dead-end service jobs, extreme violence, and a failing – increasingly privatized – education system.
A History of Violence
This period has a historical link to the post-Civil War period, 1880-1930, of black criminalization, mass immigration, endemic lynching, poverty, debt peonage, and chain gangs that placed black people and the poor in a colonial status under the Jim Crow segregationist system. Black workers and youth were denied their humanity, unworthy of help, evil, and deemed biologically prone to criminality. These ideas were developed by the white ruling elite and their institutions to extract super-profits from Black labor and to perpetuate a “divide and rule” policy.
This fostered an inferiority complex among black people and cultivated a false superiority complex for those defined as white based on skin color, despite also being exploited as workers and poor people. By dividing the working class and poor along racial and class lines, the white ruling elite prevented united struggle while extracting their extra pound of flesh through the exploitation of cheap black labor. While segregation is a thing of the past, and there have been steps forward in the fight against racism, the capitalist system continues and dominates the realm of ideas.
What flows from this is the present-day stereotyping, profiling, and denial of humanity for the outcast “other” black, and now also Latino, Asians, Muslim etc., who are to be watched, contained, and controlled. This is the American reality that still remains today.
An April 6 Gallup/USA Today poll states, “51 percent of Black people said Zimmerman is ‘definitely guilty,’ while only 10 percent of White people believe he’s guilty,” (newsone.com).
The New Jim Crow
Alongside oppression must come subjugation. The Stop and Frisk New York Police Department (NYPD) policing tactic from 2004-2011 has targeted four million working people, poor, and youth of color in the NYPD’s insidious system of criminalizing black and Latino workers and youth. Blacks and Latinos combined make up 87% of those stopped, beginning a dizzying whirlwind into the criminal justice system that could cost them their jobs and homes, and brand them with the scarlet letter of “criminal.”
In 2011, the 685,724 stops by the NYPD can be attributed to ten precincts throughout New York City in so-called “high crime” and burgeoning gentrified neighborhoods. 88 percent of those stopped are found innocent of any crime.
There are 2.5 million prisoners in the U.S., predominantly black and brown; this doesn’t include 300,000 immigrants held in detention centers.
Fearing that worsening economic and social conditions will spur increased struggles, the police state apparatus has ramped up surveillance, social control, and human warehousing to combat increasing political dissent by workers and youth, most recently seen in the Occupy movement.
Chaos or Community: Los Angeles to Cincinnati
It has been over 20 years since the Los Angeles riots that followed the acquittal of four police officers in the brutal beating, filmed on a camcorder, of Rodney King on March 3, 1991.
The ingredients of the explosion were police violence, racism, cancerous government neglect, poverty, shifts in industry, labor market competition, and the arrival of new, non-white immigrants, resulting in inter-ethnic and cultural animosity. The not guilty verdict was the match that ignited the dynamite of frustration that would last for four days. It would be nine years later, in 2001, that another city would erupt: Cincinnati.
The response to Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of the self-appointed neighborhood watch patroller and son of a retired state Supreme Court magistrate, George Zimmerman, has been powerful and inspiring. It was through social media, black radio, and the Martin family that Trayvon has become known to the world. Trayvon has become our generation’s Emmett Till. Emmett Till was lynched and brutally beaten in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman. The fourteen-year-old black youth from Chicago was visiting family in Mississippi. The Emmett Till lynching was a major factor in launching the modern day civil rights movement.
Independent organized demonstrations throughout the country consisting of families and children, and solidarity messages of support globally, have highlighted collective action and the fury of working people and people of color that another black boy was gunned down like an animal in the street. This spontaneous movement has expressed downright disgust with the “Stand Your Ground” corporate legislation, the police, and the judicial cover-up to protect George Zimmerman from arrest. Mass pressure forced Florida district attorney and special prosecutor Angela Corey to arrest and charge George Zimmerman with second-degree murder.
The question that stands before our communities is: If justice is not served, will we see a replay of the events in L.A. or Cincinnati, or can we direct this anger into a powerful movement for liberation? If we stop our grassroots organizing, a Los Angeles or Cincinnati explosion will surely take place. We must keep in mind that the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, with its platform of economic justice, was born in October 1966 after the Watts Riots of 1965. The time is now to construct independent community organizations that will fight back against racial and class oppression, organizing block by block and school by school.
A New Vision Must Be Forged
“Our objective is complete freedom, complete justice, complete equality, by any means necessary.” -Malcolm X, December 20, 1964
If this is to be our Emmett Till moment, we must build a sustained movement of social struggle for economic justice, social uplift, and political independence - ending the abusive relationship with the two-party system, particularly with the Democratic Party. We need to build a political party of the working class, poor, and people of color. Obama and the Democratic Party are looking to capitalize as the lesser of two evils in November, in the same way that Bill Clinton did following the L.A. Riots in 1992. President Obama’s weak and empty comment on the Trayvon Martin case was satisfying for some, but the point must be stated: Obama and Wall Street’s agenda has led to the death of many Trayvon Martins around the world.
It will be the working class, poor, and people of color suffering under the American nightmare of capitalism and racism that will provide the revolutionary change that is needed. But they will need to develop a new body of leadership not tied ideologically or financially as is the black mis-leadership in the Democratic Party.
We need a militant and uncompromising movement organized around a program that speaks to the needs of the 99 percent. Only through militant social struggle based on true human cooperation, solidarity, and democratic socialism can we finally begin to destroy the edifice of racial and class oppression that U.S. capitalism is built upon.