The #BlackLivesMatter movement has given expression to the fury and discontent of oppressed black communities in the United States.
With the news of Gray’s brutal killing, thousands of Baltimoreans have spilled into the streets in outrage. After several days of peaceful protests, the Baltimore city government has begun to make mass arrests, to mobilize and deploy the repressive forces of the Baltimore Police Department (BPD), law enforcement from Mid-Atlantic region, Maryland State Troopers, and the National Guard as well as implementing a strict curfew, all with the intention of suppressing the uprising.
The world has turned its attention to Baltimore.
Peaceful protest vs violent riot
Elected officials, cops, and media are creating false distinctions between “peaceful protesters” who play by the rules and the “violent rioters” who have emerged in recent days, supposedly disrupting and bringing shame to the city.
The youth who have taken to the streets are being portrayed as thugs and looters with no rhyme or reason to their actions. The police even released a statement that gangs are unifying their forces to take the lives of police officers. These distortions are all attempts to dismiss the legitimate anger of Baltimore’s black communities and justify the repression.
The people confronting the police on Monday were high school students — black youth from West Baltimore — who are the main targets of police brutality and every day are made to suffer harassment, beatings, and humiliation. They are not different from the thousands who marched from West Baltimore to rally at city hall on April 25, to demand justice for Freddie Gray and an end to cop killings.
This movement has been spontaneous and mostly unplanned, with participation from majority black women and men of all ages. This uprising is not propelled by a conspiratorial plot and no organization has taken its helm. Meanwhile, there are leaders who are emerging as peace brokers between the establishment of power and the rebellious communities they claim to represent.
The historical leaders of the black community, like Jamal Bryant of the Empowerment Temple and Al Sharpton, are urging people to stay home and “stop the violence.” Their message of unconditional peace and their condemnation of the “violent protesters” create divisions and disorganize the movement. The patronizing calls for “peace” promote trust in the very institutions that perpetuate oppressive conditions.
Protesting youth are defying the call for calm and show that they have run out of patience. We stand with the youth in their departure from passive acceptance. At the same time, we do not endorse lootings or scattered confrontations with the police. If such actions are taken by isolated groups instead of a mass mobilization, the most likely result will be a backlash of state repression: lock-ups and prosecutions targeting the most mobilized. This will be harmful to activism and discourage people from participating.
The only way for this movement to advance is to leave behind co-opted leaders, rely on our own mobilization power, and fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the #BlackLivesMatter movement across the country.
With Freddie Gray’s death, Baltimore’s streets have become the stage of convergence for #BlackLivesMatter. Activists from Ferguson, Charleston, DC, NYC, and Philadelphia have joined the actions. Although there has been a concerted effort to discredit these protestors and label them as “outside agitators,” we should welcome them. They, too, seek vindication and justice for Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley and countless others. Their fight is also ours.
• Indict and convict the officers responsible for the death of Freddie Gray. We demand that they be punished for their crime. At the same time, we don’t believe locking up these cops will alter the repressive role of the police. The police cannot be re-trained or extricated from their role as a racist, repressive force. That is the very purpose of their existence. They will never serve the interests of the working class and the poor.
Racism, taken alone, is an egregious and dehumanizing system that we must fight against in all aspects. At the same time, we understand that racism is instrumental in the division of workers and maintenance of class exploitation.
• We denounce the massive deployment of the National Guard, riot cops, and state troopers. These forces are being deployed to repress widespread social discontent. The violent outbursts are a response to the bleak conditions faced by the black community.
• We denounce the curfew instituted by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the state of emergency declared by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
• We demand that Mayor Rawlings-Blake be held responsible for the murder of Freddie Gray and all abuses perpetrated by the BPD on her watch.
• We demand the immediate release of all those detained for their participation in protests, and that the state prosecutors drop all charges against them.
• We call for all youth, students, workers and black communities to join forces. We need to build solidarity and solidify our natural and spontaneous fury by uniting around a common aim, against a common enemy. An injury to one is an injury to all.
• We propose the implementation of local assemblies in the neighborhoods, where participants and communities may discuss and decide upon the plan of action and programmatic aims.
• We call for working class solidarity. All workers should unite alongside the protesters: retail and food service workers of the #FightFor15 movement, labor unions, progressives, activists, and left militants.
• Labor unions should strike and shut down the city. No business as usual until we achieve justice for Freddie Gray.