Sean Bell has joined a long list of victims of police violence by the NYPD. His friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield, also struck by police bullets, are still being treated for their wounds on that fatal night. The firing of 50 shots into a car in which no weapon was found was reminiscent of the methods used in the occupation of Iraq. But what it brought to the surface is the seething anger, especially in the African American community, about the daily profiling and harassment of young Black men by the police. The killing of Sean Bell reminds us once again of the violent, racist and class nature of capitalism.
Big business on the attack
Police brutality cannot be separated from the overall assault on the living standards, democratic rights and conditions of working class and poor people by big business and its two parties (Democrats and Republicans). In the immediate wake of the shootings in Queens, a commission appointed by outgoing Governor Pataki recommended the closure of 16 facilities including 6 hospitals and nursing homes along with other structural changes that will have a devasting effect on the ability of working class and poor people to get access to decent healthcare. These recommendations are supported by the political establishment. It is possible that 6,400 health care jobs could be lost.
In the past 10 years we’ve witnessed the explosion of gentrification throughout the city in every borough, displacing tens of thousands of working people and poor to satisfy the thirst for profits by big business. The selling off of Starrett City housing development in Brooklyn, once a crown jewel of the urban development projects of the city some 30 years ago is the most recent evidence of the plans of New York big business and real estate moguls.
The daily onslaught by big business has been accompanied with a law and order policy by the city administration and police in order to control any form of resistance to their policies. An example of this is the ongoing attempts by police commissioner Raymond Kelly to limit the right to protest. This may be aimed mainly at the antiwar movement right now but the real goal is to limit the ability of working people and people of color to fight back.
Are we safer?
Mayor Bloomberg is known for having a less confrontational approach towards the Black and Latino population than Rudy Guiliani who launched the infamous “Quality of Life” program. But beneath the rhetoric, the tactics of the city administration, backed by Wall Street, have not changed much.
The crime stats which are of great concern to all who live in the city have decreased. But the main beneficiaries of the “Quality of Life” program are big business as well some sections of the middle class and gentrified areas. The program has done little to increase the quality of life for Black, Latino and working class people but it has certainly filled the jails.
The area where Sean Bell was killed in Jamaica, Queens is a tale of two communities: one of the toughest communities in the city with gang and drug violence next to large numbers of African-American middle class and working class people . Since the end of Jim Crow, the African-American middle-class has sought to escape the brutality of the system through greater assimilation into its institutions. The killing of Sean Bell as well as the daily harassment particularly of young men reveal there is no escaping the racist and class character of big business.
Which way forward?
We need a political struggle and a movement that will address not only police violence but also mass unemployment, the lack of affordable housing and overcrowded schools. We need to organize in our communities, workplaces and schools demanding not only justice from the police and the judicial system, but economic justice. The power of organized workers demonstrated by the Transport Workers Union when it shut the city down for three days a year ago is key to such a fightback.
This movement can begin to politically challenge and replace the current impotent, corrupt and bankrupt political leadership in our communities that are implementing the policies of austerity and attacks on democratic rights on all levels. An independent workers’ electoral campaign would be a vital step in challenging to the two-party system and big business, politicizing the various issues and standing on a working class, anti-corporate program defending union rights, health and pension benefits and organizing against police violence.
Program against Racism and Police Violence