On Monday, the Philadelphia police shot and killed Walter Wallace Jr., a Black man with a history of mental illness. After a summer of uprisings against racist police violence, with little change won from City Hall, large demonstrations mobilized in the neighborhood of West Philadelphia within hours.
While the death of Wallace was an outrage in its own right, the context surrounding his killing has only shown more clearly the need for drastic change. Wallace’s family said that they had called 911 to get Wallace an ambulance to get him help for a mental health crisis. According to the Philadelphia police commissioner, the police department does not have a behavioral health response unit, and the 911 call center’s (singular) behavioral health specialist was off-duty on Monday.
As we saw over the summer, there is a rage simmering among millions of working people about the repressive role the police play in our society. In addition to routinely brutalizing Black people, the police are also deployed to crush social movements.
The movements over the summer have won limited reforms in some places, including the removal of police from schools in some cities, bans on chemical weapons in others, and the passage of “Breonna’s Law” in Kentucky, Oregon and most recently Virginia banning the kinds of no-knock warrants that killed Breonna Taylor.
But so far, only a few places have been able to win even partial “defunding” of police departments, and these limited cuts happened in the context of cuts to the overall city budgets as local governments struggle with the effects of COVID-19. To win even de-militarized police departments and, crucially, the kind of mental health response systems that could have saved Wallace’s life, we need sustained action in the streets as well as consistent organization that allows struggle to continue.
In the absence of such sustained, coordinated action, it’s natural that rightfully enraged protesters turn to tactics like breaking windows and burning cop cars – while the City has acted morally horrified in response to these actions, property can be replaced, and the life of Walter Wallace Jr cannot. But these tactics are unlikely to result in the kind of systemic change we need, and we urgently need to organize our power as workers to shut this exploitive system down.
When Joe Biden was asked to respond to the “events in Philadelphia” yesterday, the first words out of his mouth were to condemn the “looting and violence.” The official campaign statement from Biden and Harris also spotlights looting, without even mentioning that Wallace was killed by a police officer. This is the campaign that claims to be allied with equality and justice, but has on numerous occasions pledged to increase already-bloated police budgets, not reallocate into the public services that working-class people need. Trump must be driven from office, but in order to win justice for Black lives and an end to police brutality, we must build a political alternative to the Democratic Party, run by working class people of all races and genders, against the rule of profit.
- Indict Killer Cops – Philadelphia’s DA Larry Krasner has called policing “systemically racist.” To make that assessment into more than lip service, the DA’s office must demand the police department release the names of the officers who wrongfully shot Walter Wallace Jr. and bring charges against them. Police cannot kill without impunity, and we need to put the entire system on trial.
- Community Control of Police & Public Safety – Police departments, which operate in the service of property and profit, cannot be trusted to internally review misconduct. We immediately need community control of police, with democratically elected civilian oversight that includes the power to fire officers for abuse of power or affiliation with hate groups.
- Defund Police & Tax Big Business for Public Services – Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the United States, lacking quality affordable housing or a living minimum wage while corporations like Comcast get tax breaks. Deflate the bloated, militarized police budget and tax big business to fund affordable housing, a green jobs program, and accessible health services, including mental health crisis services.
- Build a Fighting, Anti-Racist Labor Movement – Historically, Black workers have made the most gains towards equality when fighting in a united, multi-racial labor movement. We need organized labor, especially municipal workers who provide the kinds of vital public services that could have saved Walter Wallace Jr., to bring forward resolutions demanding that police be defunded, like the statement AFSCME UNITY caucus in Philadelphia has released.
- Build a Political Alternative of the Working Class – The Democratic Party, across the country, showed total resistance to defunding police even an inch during the BLM uprisings over the summer. The Democratic Party, from the Senate to the smallest local City Council, is not accountable to working people, and we need a party that will truly be run by workers of all races, all ages, and all genders.
- End the Racist, Violent Capitalist System – Police operate in the service of profit, and the exploitation of Black people is profitable to the capitalist class. To win equality, end police brutality and eradicate institutional racism as well as bigotry of all kinds, we urgently need to retool our economy to be run democratically by workers, rather than for the supremacy of the few.