On July 7, a heavily-armed military veteran, Micah Johnson, 25, shot 12 police officers, killing 5 of them, at a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration in Dallas, Texas. Media speculation that there were multiple shooters turned out to be false. The shootings occurred during a mobilization for justice for Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile. It also sparked a backlash from racist police unions, right wing mouthpieces and politicians — both liberals and conservatives.
After the shootings, Johnson engaged in a standoff with cops, taking refuge in a parking garage. Police claim that Johnson told them that he had planted explosives in the structure and that he had wanted to “kill white cops.” Police used a bomb planted on a robot to blow Johnson up, killing him. No judge, no jury, no due process.
Activist Mark Hughes, who had elected to open carry an unloaded rifle that night was held for hours by cops who accused him of involvement with the shootings. Hughes was later released, after being grilled by cops for hours, without charges. Hughes and his brother, Corey Hughes, have received “hundreds” of death threats since the incident. Hughes had wanted to exercise his Second Amendment rights in the same fashion Trump supporters had a few weeks ago in Dallas. Open carry of firearms is legal in Texas.
Black America faces a situation of ex-judicial police killings and violence, mass incarceration, mass unemployment, poverty, precarious work, and an assault of the gains of the Civil Right Movement.
Following the incident, conservative talk radio host and failed politician Joe Walsh tweeted, “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.” The head of the NYPD Sergeants’ union called the killings the “rebirth of the Black Liberation Army.”*
Bill de Blasio, the Democratic Mayor of New York City, called on BLM protesters to “show some decency” after the killings. Similarly, De Blasio tried to demobilize the movement after the two cops were killed in 2014 following the failure of the justice system to indict the cops who murdered Eric Garner.
The head of the National Association of Police Organizations, William Johnson, said that there is “a war on cops,” for which the Obama administration is to blame.
Congressman John Lewis, formerly a civil rights icon, disgraced himself by tweeting, “I was beaten bloody by police officers. But I never hated them. I said, ‘Thank you for your service.’”
Obama was quick to condemn violence against cops and turned his remarks into a sermon on the need for gun control. Clinton stated that she mourned for the cops who were doing their “sacred duty.”
Demonizing and demobilizing a rising movement
The ruling class and its political hand puppets are desperate to demonize and demobilize the Black Lives Matter Movement. They will use whatever means, repression or co-optation, to delegitimize the fight for justice. On Friday night, Phoenix police in riot gear teargassed BLM marchers as they sought to block a highway. On Saturday night in Minneapolis, riot cops used smoke bombs, tear gas, and pepper spray on protesters who shut down Interstate 94. Cops arrested 74 people at a Black Lives Matter rally in Rochester, New York. Another 30 were arrested during a protest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Among those arrested in Baton Rouge were BLM activist DeRay McKesson and socialist Presidential candidate, Gloria La Riva. So far, the fear-mongering and repression aimed at the movement have not worked, and demonstrations continue in cities across the U.S. All charges against protesters must be dropped immediately.
Violence, nonviolence and mass action
Socialists are not pacifists. We support the right to self-defense and don’t believe that this criminal social system can be brought down through parliamentary means. We do not draw an equal sign between the violence of the oppressed and that of the oppressor. That said, we do not support individual terror or what some call the “propaganda of the deed.” The success of movements is based on their ability to organize and mobilize masses of people. As Russian revolutionary Lenin said, “Politics begin where the masses are, not where there are thousands, but where there are millions — that is where serious politics begin.” The actions of individuals or small groups cannot substitute for the actions of the masses.
That said, police kill an unarmed Black person every 28 hours. The criminal injustice system rarely punishes killer cops. Cops are usually cleared after a cursory investigation. Black America faces a situation of ex-judicial police killings and violence, mass incarceration, mass unemployment, poverty, precarious work, and an assault of the gains of the Civil Right Movement. In this context a fight back is inevitable. If there is a backlash, it is clearly a case of “chickens coming home to roost,” as Malcolm X said after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The success of movements is based on their ability to organize and mobilize masses of people.
The “colorblind” myth of the US under Obama is a lie and exposed for all to see. The movement against police repression has been mostly nonviolent in character. Those rebellions that have occurred — in Ferguson, Baltimore and elsewhere — have been a response to decades of state violence and systematic oppression.
Police forces have been increasingly militarized under the Department of Defense 1033 program, which puts military equipment in the hands of local cops. Police act like an occupying force in oppressed communities. The goals of our movement have to extend beyond opposition to militarized policing with a clear call for the abolition of police and prisons.
The movement must not give in to pressure to stop the mobilizations for Black lives and democratic rights. We have an opportunity to broaden the movement by bringing the question of police into the unions with a demand for ‘cops out of our unions!’
Building a movement that is clearly independent of the Democrats, and based on a united front mass action strategy, can deepen the struggle for an end to police violence, the racist war on drugs and the prison-industrial complex. Socialists want to build a world where police and prisons are unnecessary. Abolition of these repressive state functions should become a goal of the movement.
* The BLA, an armed-struggle-oriented Black revolutionary organization, was destroyed by police in the 1970s and 80s.