The Twin Cities, MN – After days of escalating protests in Minnesota following the police killing of Philando Castile, the Ramsey County Attorney has charged 48 people, including two members of Socialist Alternative MN, with gross misdemeanor rioting for participating in nonviolent civil disobedience. This is an ominous indication that the establishment is still far more interested in repressing nonviolent protesters than it is pursuing charges against the St. Anthony cop who violently murdered Philando Castile.
Following the sniper attack on police at the Dallas Black Lives Matter protest – an attack that has nothing in common with the wider movement for black lives – the corporate media, police, and political establishment across the country feel they have more room to repress protests. The movement needs to urgently mobilize mass demonstrations demanding all charges are dropped, prosecute the police, and unite around a wider program to address the underlying social conditions which are the backdrop to Philando’s murder: the deep structural racism and economic inequalities which still thrive in Minnesota.
We have seen what happens if the protests slow down. Since 2000, 148 people have been killed by police officers in Minnesota, and zero officers have been convicted (Star Tribune, 7/7/16). What is by now an all too familiar process is kicking into high gear. Black Lives Matter has made some progress changing the dialogue around police brutality, however, in practice, few changes are apparent. Local politicians, dominated by the Democratic Party, will use police repression and trumped up charges to intimidate protesters into accepting the status quo. At the same time, they will open up a drawn out process of investigations, whether it be a grand jury or DOJ intervention, to take away the momentum. The corporate media will seize on any excuse, the grieving family, the past records of the victims, individual acts of violence at protests, to delegitimize the movement and slow things down. If they are confident they can get away with it, the “justice system” will announce a non-indictment of the killer cop.
The only way to stop the repression and win justice for Philando Castile is to build the most powerful possible movement in the streets. Time and again, we have seen the legal system forced to make decisions in cases based on strong opinions from the public, rather than purely on the merits of the case. Workers have organized mass solidarity campaigns in legal cases like those of Big Bill Haywood in 1907, Huey Newton in 1968, and to prevent the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal. These cases were widely seen as representing broader political processes in society. In each case, the ruling class backed off because it was afraid of a social explosion.
Socialist Alternative condemns the shooting of police officers in Dallas which has cut across the movement. The isolated, violent actions of some individuals at certain protests are also a dead-end approach that give the government and mass media another excuse to repress the movement for black freedom. We should also be clear, though, that we cannot trust the same police that murdered Philando to provide order at protests. These isolated events show the need to coordinate our movement’s actions, ideas, and message, especially since the corporate media, two parties of big business, and law enforcement are now going on the offensive to discredit the movement. We need mass assemblies in working class communities throughout the Twin Cities, especially those routinely affected by racist policing, where people can democratically discuss how to advance the movement.
Unions need to take a clear public stand, connecting the violence and repression black people face to the war on working people generally. When labor leaders are silent, it gives political space for government repression. Union members are disproportionately people of color, and unions have the resources to draw in tens of thousands of workers of all races, cutting across the political establishment’s attempts to isolate the protests. Given the broadening recognition among working class people that America is still a deeply racist and unequal society, a far broader movement for racial justice is possible. In addition, the same methods of repression and terror currently being used against Black Lives Matter protesters will be used against future strikes and demonstrations, as we saw with the Occupy Movement.
Throughout the protests, Black Lives Matter has made a clear case that Philando’s murder can only be understood within the context of the deep structural racism woven into the fabric of American capitalism. Challenging this requires the movement to broaden its demands to address the deeper reasons why Philando was murdered: the fact he was working class and black. We need an immediate end to the racist war on Drugs and racist “broken windows” policing. Release from jail all those arrested for nonviolent drug offenses with clean criminal records and restored voting rights. Connect the movement to broader issues affecting working people: a $15 an hour minimum wage, affordable housing, guaranteed jobs for all, free health care, and education.
We also need a political alternative. As long as power in our city remains in the hands of business-backed politicians and the business-backed Democratic Party establishment, there will be no meaningful change. There will be more racist police harassment, brutality, and killings. But a political alternative is possible. Socialist Alternative has twice elected Kshama Sawant to City Council in Seattle, despite the all-out efforts by big business to defeat us. Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative built an energized mass base of support by taking an uncompromising approach to workers’ rights and racial equity. We led the fight to win a $15 an hour minimum wage among other demands, and with only one working class fighter in office we have built struggles to completely transform Seattle city politics.
In the broadest sense, what is necessary to fundamentally transform society and end police violence and poverty? We need to challenge police racism and the corporate political establishment, but behind them stand the capitalist system. In the U.S., this system has always used racism to keep working people divided and will never allow the decisive steps necessary to break down racial discrimination. This can only be accomplished by the multiracial working class fighting for an egalitarian socialist future!