Either we seize the time and bring power to the people, or we must be prepared to face overt fascism.
“We are living in a perfect storm.”
As a red diaper baby who came of age in the '60s, I think this is a unique and fertile moment. For over half a century, my generation has chanted the same demands. Netflix now has a category called Black Lives Matter, with over 50 films about racism, and the collection documents how prolonged and pervasive racism is in our country. Though most people still romanticize Barack Obama, the lack of hope and change after eight years of a Black president is more stark to more and more Black people, bringing them into the streets, this time to target places of power, not their own communities. The Democratic Party fraud is more stark to more Bernie youth, making this uprising more racially diverse than those of the '60s. And the virus exposes the raw and cruel reality of the failure of our economic system.
The mainstream discussion about police reform is a dishonest distraction. Working with the National Lawyers Guild in San Francisco, I was involved in two successful struggles. First, we got the police department to conduct trainings on how to diffuse mental health situations. But they continued to escalate such situations, including shooting a man in a wheelchair in broad daylight. Secondly, we won a ballot initiative to require that if the police were found guilty of abuse, the money paid out would come from the police department budget, not the general fund. It was meant to be a deterrent to abuse. But now, most municipalities have an insurance policy against police abuse lawsuits, which our tax dollars pay for. So where is the deterrent?
“The virus exposes the raw and cruel reality of the failure of our economic system.”
Kenneth Clark, famous for his doll studies, testified before the 1968 Kerner Commission, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders: “I read the report of the 1919 riot in Chicago, and it is as if I were reading the report of the investigating committee of the Harlem riot of 1935, the report of the investigating committee of the Harlem riot of 1943, the report of the McCone Commission of the Watts riot of 1965. I must again in candor say to you members of the commission, it is a kind of ‘Alice In Wonderland’ with the same moving picture reshown over and over again, the same analysis, the same recommendations and the same inaction.”
We have seen police violence on film for 29 years, since Rodney King's brutal beating. Police debated the proper forms of chokeholds then, and we now hear the debate again. But George Floyd was handcuffed. Do we need to set a policy that people cannot be abused after being restrained? Cheryl Dorsey, Black retired LAPD sergeant, says “Accountability is like a four letter word in the department.” Until killer cops are charged and convicted, there is no deterrent, and killings will continue. As will the rage.
That people around the world are protesting in solidarity over George Floyd and condemning US police violence -- during the pandemic yet -- shows how pervasive is the rage. The Scottish Parliament called for the immediate suspension of exports of riot gear, tear gas and rubber bullets to the US, in light of the police response to the ongoing uprising. It is increasingly obvious that in this country, cops have a "get out of jail free" card.
“Accountability is like a four letter word in the department.”
Germany doesn’t have statues of Hitler. Why are we even debating our statues of mass murderers? Hitler killed Europeans, and US statues honor murderers of the Indigenous and Africans. Racism runs rampant in this country’s veins.
The photo ops of Trump with the bible, the Democrats taking a knee in Kente cloth for George Floyd, and painting Black Lives Matter on a Washington DC street are all equally offensive, because they will do nothing to improve Black lives. Such stunts have been called “co-opoganda.” As Glen Ford reminds us, a large majority of the Congressional Black Caucus voted against a bill that would have halted the Pentagon’s infamous 1033 program that funnels billions of dollars in military weapons and gear to local police departments, and supported a bill that makes police a legally “protected class” and assault on police a “hate crime.”
Trump, an overt racist, is obviously the wrong guy for the job, but the vacuum of Democratic leadership is staggering. We are living in a perfect storm. The uprising against the excruciating 8-minute, 46-second exposure of police murder comes amidst a global pandemic, where in this country -- because health insurance is linked to employment -- tens of millions of people are newly unemployed and uninsured. Bankruptcies will snowball. Evictions and foreclosures will be rampant, increasing homelessness, and the virus risk for us all. The abject failure of this country to keep people safe is profoundly evident.
“Cops have a "get out of jail free" card.”
Lest we forget, Black lives matter everywhere, including in Africa, Latin America and Asia, where our military and illegal, unilateral sanctions are killing Black people and other people of color by the tens of thousands. It’s time to defund the US military. With more than half of our tax dollars going to the military, over 800 US military bases around the world, and the Democrats giving Trump more military funds than he asked for, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would be beyond outraged. As King stressed, the US is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, and we cannot tackle our domestic challenges without cutting the military.
We are at a crossroads. That even Trump is paying lip service to police reform shows that the uprising is being effective, but people are way beyond accepting lip service. The Seattle Labor Council went beyond lip service when it recently voted to expel the Police Union, understanding that police are always the enemy of the working class. It is clear to more and more people that going back to the status quo isn't an option, but change is not always good. Either we seize the time and bring power to the people, or we must be prepared to face overt fascism.
As a step towards fascism, the state will use Covid as the public health reason to shut down the protests, while workers are forced back to work without adequate protection. It’s a perfect storm that keeps getting more perfect. Radical change on behalf of the people has rarely seemed so achievable. We must make it happen now. Basta!
Riva Enteen edited the book Follow the Money, interviews by Flashpoints producer Dennis J. Bernstein. She can be reached at [email protected]
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