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News :: Police and Prisons
Murderous Cops, Liberal Snake Oil, & Revolutionary Solutions (Part 1)
13 Jan 2015
Modified: 07:34:38 AM
Back in October 2010, a union action flyer of the Oakland ILWU read:

“In the 1934 Maritime Strike two workers were killed by police, provoking the 1934 General Strike. Organized Labor in unity with the community must mobilize to stop police violence against the oppressed.”

This 2010 flyer was part of building a strike action and protest that jailed Officer Mesherle, the cop who murdered African American Oscar Grant in cold blood. As a result of that strike action, this is was one of the extremely rare occasions in U.S. history where a cop has done any time for his murderous crimes. When it comes to answering police murders, the most essential immediate question is that the bourgeois white supremacist power structure and profit system is made to pay for its crimes. Strikes are an extremely effective means of doing this. As Robert F. Williams, a U.S. civil rights leader and persecuted political refugee wrote from exile in Cuba in his work “Negroes with Guns” in 1962:

“Psychologically … Racists consider themselves superior beings and are not willing to exchange their superior lives for our inferior ones. They are most vicious and violent when they can practice violence with impunity.”

Today, rampant police murders have caused a mass movement to erupt that is fighting for an end to that impunity. Particularly targeted by the police are Native Americans, African Americans, and Homeless people. This article (or short book) looks at those abuses and compares liberal attempts to reform police departments to the need for effective action by the multi-racial working class. It also stands up for the right to armed self-defense and the right to resist by any means necessary.
Click on image for a larger version

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[Photo: "We have every right to seek to destroy a system that seeks to destroy us!" #Ferguson]
Murderous Cops, Liberal Snake Oil, & Revolutionary Solutions (Part 1)

By Steven Argue

Sustained protests have broken out across the United States against police brutality. As a result, national and international attention has become focused on the atrocious human rights record of the United States, a country that besides allowing its cops to murder with impunity, also tortures, holds political prisoners, carries out extra-judicial executions by drone in numerous countries, and has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. This rebellion was sparked by two decisions by grand juries not to prosecute killer cops within the span of 10 days. In these two cases, two unarmed African American men, one in Ferguson and another in New York, were murdered by the police, and, as usual, prosecutors and grand juries decided to let them get away with it. While these cases are outrageous in and of themselves, what is fueling the protest and rebellion in hundreds of cities is less the uniqueness of these cases, but instead the fact that this kind of injustice is routine operating procedure in the United States.

Playing a large role in fueling the latest outrage are the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two African American men murdered by police. These cases have been subject to numerous lies from the cops and the corporate media, so they are worth looking at in a little detail before moving on to wider questions.

The Murder of Eric Garner & the Arrest of Ramsey Orta

On July 17th, Eric Garner, an African American father of 6, was choked to death by Officer Daniel Pantaleo of the New York City Police Department. Eric Garner was being arrested for allegedly selling illegal loose cigarettes. He was murdered as he pleaded with police for his life, telling cops 11 times that he couldn’t breathe before he died. All of this was caught on film. The chokehold that Officer Pantaleo used to kill Eric Garner, seen clearly in the video, is even prohibited by the NYPD.

The corporate media flat out lied about Eric Garner’s cause of death. For example, an AP article reposted by FOX News and still up on their site falsely claims, “Garner, 43, suffered a heart attack during a confrontation with police.” Yet, the New York City medical examiners ruled the cause of death to have been homicide. Medical examiner spokeswoman Julie Bolcer says Eric Garner was killed by neck compressions from the chokehold and "the compression of his chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police."

Another talking point of supporters of racist police murder has been that Eric Garner would not have been able to say he couldn’t breathe if he truly couldn’t. This position ignores the fact that a person may be able to struggle and force out some words as he is being suffocated. These pro-cop talking points and bad training were actually voiced by another cop as he murdered another Black man in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan. The victim, McKenzie Cochran, 25, managed to force out "I can't breathe" six times after being attacked by 3 mall cops with pepper spray and man handled in ways that were likely blocking his breathing further. One of the cops is herd saying, "If you can talk, you can breathe". The cop says this as he continues to murder McKenzie Cochrane by man handling him and refusing medical care. While he was being killed, McKenzie Cochrane also asked onlookers to dial 911 due to the fact that he was being murdered. Despite all evidence, on September 2014, the local prosecutor announced no criminal charges would be filed against the cops who murdered McKenzie Cochraine.

Likewise, despite the overwhelming video and physical evidence of murder, a Staten Island grand jury has ruled against having a trial for the killer cop who murdered Eric Garner. Outrage over this murder has included protests filled with signs and chants of Eric Garner’s final words, “I Can’t Breathe!” These words have a profound literal as well as expressive meaning. Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), a great revolutionary writer who fought for Algeria’s independence from France and who influenced Malcolm X, Che Guevara, the Black Panthers, and Steven Biko once said:

"When we revolt it’s not for a particular culture. We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe.”

Fitting the routine pattern, Officer Pantaleo, a repeat offender, got away with murder. Before Officer Daniel Pantaleo’s murder of Eric Garner, he was already sued three times for violating the rights of African Americans. It is the impunity with which cops carry out their crimes that makes these problems not just a question of a few “bad apples”, as liberals would have us believe. Instead, routine police brutality is a systemic means by which the racist capitalist state carries out terror and oppression.

In fact, the only person facing any criminal charges for the murder of Eric Garner is Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed it. With zero evidence except the say so of cops, Ramsey Orta is being prosecuted on illegal weapons possession charges. Police claim that a weapon taken as evidence was passed from Ramsey Orta to a 17 year-old woman. Yet, Ramsey Orta’s attorney, Mathew Zuntag, has pointed out that there were no finger prints on that gun, suggesting that police planted the gun. Publicly, police claim that the prosecution of Ramsey Orta is unrelated to the crimes of the police filmed by Ramsey Orta. Yet, privately, according to Ramsey Orta, police told him a different story, with the arresting officer saying, “karma’s a bitch, what goes around comes around.” Ramsey Orta has also refuted this likely frame-up saying, “I had nothing to do with this”, and says matter-of-factly, “I would be stupid to walk around with a gun after me being in the spotlight.”

A week before the murder of Eric Garner, Ramsey Orta also recorded and released video of the police beating a man with a club who was already restrained. Ramsey Orta advocates that more people should film the police to create evidence of police abuses. Meanwhile, at the beginning of December, the state House and Senate of Illinois passed a bill that makes recording the police in that state, under certain circumstances, a class three felony carrying up to 2 to 4 years in prison. The bill, SB 1342, is not very clear about specific situations where recording the police is a felony, so police and prosecutors will stretch the envelope and the law will be used to strike fear into everyone who would consider recording the police. If the bill is signed by Governor Pat Quinn, it will no longer be necessary to frame people on other charges for recording police crimes in the state of Illinois. The bill was sponsored by Representative Elaine Nekritz of the Democrat Party.

The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, a cop “union”, is already capitalizing on the likely frame-up of Ramsey Orta, saying that it is “criminals like Mr. Orta who carry illegal firearms who stand to benefit the most by demonizing the good work of police officers.” Yet, Mr. Orta simply filmed what the police were doing. If real life video “demonizes the good work of police officers” then that “good work” is obviously a lie that can’t stand the light of day. While these cops who are likely framing Ramsey Orta apparently want their “good work” of murder hidden from the public, revolutionaries respond demanding, “Jail Officer Pantaleo and all Killer Cops!” Likewise, with no confidence in any justice in the capitalist courts, and frankly not caring whether Ramsey Orta had an unregistered gun or not, we demand, “Drop the Charges against Ramsey Orta Now!” Of our unions, we demand of our conservative and nearly useless leadership, “Cops out of Our Unions Now! Sanction a General Strike to Demand the Jailing of Officer Panteleo!” It is a disgrace that the same cops who bust the heads of workers rather than CEOs to end strikes are even allowed to be members of our unions. As the late great international revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky wrote in 1932, “The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.”

On December 22nd, New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, outrageously called for an end to protests against the murders carried out by the police force under his command. De Blasio was asking for the suspension of protests until the two cops who were shot by Ismaaiyl Brinsley were buried. This was an attempt by de Blasio to place the blame for Ismaaiyl Brinsley’s December 20th murder suicide on the anti-police brutality movement. Brinsley was suicidal and also shot his girlfriend, but she survived. Brinsley’s actions were those of a desperate and depressed man who didn’t want to live, and part of his anger seemed to be fueled by police abuses against the people. The anti-police brutality movement cannot be blamed for police crimes that make some like Ismaaiyl Brinsley want to “give pigs wings”. Instead, those responsible are mayors like Bill de Blasio who is the boss of a brutal NYPD. Of course de Blasio prefers to point his finger to blame people who are standing up against police injustice and who, unlike him, are trying make positive change. ANSWER, which was organizing what they billed as a “peaceful protest against police violence" at the time of de Blasio’s request, said they would go ahead with the planned protest and further stated, "The mayor's call for a suspension of democracy and the exercise of free speech rights in the face of ongoing injustice is outrageous." Many hundreds turned out for their planned protest on December 23rd.

Lacking the clarity of ANSWER in responding to Bill de Blasio’s request was Obama advisor and admitted former FBI informant Reverend Al Sharpton. Instead, he responded by arguing that this obscene request by the boss of New York’s cops was too vague, saying it’s "an ill-defined request" and asking, "Is a vigil a protest? Is it a rally?" The order instead needed to be denounced and, as Malcolm X always did, the mayor needed to be held responsible for his brutal police. Instead of pointing to the capitalist government and the Democrat Party as the problem, the role of hand picked civil rights leaders like Al Sharpton has instead long been to funnel outrage into the Democrat Party and call for reforms like a strengthening of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, more Black cops, sensitivity training, and cameras put on cops.

Members of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association are now making a spectacle of themselves by carrying out an on the job slow down on police activities like arrests and turning their backs Mayor Bill de Blasio at the funerals of officers Liu and Ramos, the two cops killed by Ismaaiyl Brinsley. As far as a slow down on arrests is concerned, this is a welcome police move that slows the mass incarceration of the poor in the United States. The fact that the police are blaming Bill de Blasio for these two killings is an absurdity that exhibits a far right fascist threat to civilian rule from cops who are standing up for their “right” not only to terrorize and murder with impunity, but also to do it with zero criticism.

In reality, the reforms being initiated by Bill de Blasio are extremely limited. On December 4th, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a program that will give three days of retraining for the police. Bill de Blasio has also announced a fast-track program, working with Obama, to put cameras on the NYPD. Yet, the entire murder of Eric Garner was caught on film and the police still got away with it. Obviously, cameras on police will not come anywhere near fixing the problem, and are largely just a distraction from what really needs to be done, STARTING with the firing and jailing of brutal and murderous cops. Yet, cameras do potentially have some small advantages, so I will consider them in more detail later.

More important than Bill de Blasio’s current reforms, the mayor must step in and fire brutal cops, including the murderer of Eric Garner, Officer Pantaleo. Pantaleo presently remains on the NYPD, placed on desk duty after the murder. Firing Pantaleo will not be anything near justice, but at least Officer Pantaleo will have faced some repercussion for his crime. Bill de Blasio, as mayor, has every authority to carry out this action. This is because the police commissioner, Bill Bratton, is an employee of the mayor. If Police Commissioner Bill Bratton refuses to step in and fire Officer Pantaleo, Bratton should be fired as well. In every city, responsibility for police murders and police brutality always goes all the way up to the mayors and / or city councils who are the bosses of the police. Until Mayor Bill de Blasio takes real action to discipline the police department, he has the blood of innocent civilians like Eric Garner on his hands. The fact that there is popular outrage within the brutally racist NYPD against Bill de Blasio even though de Blasio hasn’t even taken this most basic step to curb police terror, points to the need for more effective action and far bigger solutions that will be discussed later. The fact that Bill de Blasio still has not fired Pantaleo, shows that de Blasio is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The Murder of Michael Brown

Another flashpoint in this struggle has been in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson Missouri. This is where on August 9th another unarmed African American man was murdered by the police and, once again, the police are getting away with it. This time it was Michael Brown, 18, a young African American man who was about to begin college. As with Eric Garner, the government did not put this case in front of a court, but instead brought it to a grand jury. Of course the racist DA Office of Ferguson never had any intention of prosecuting the cop who murdered Michael Brown. If they really wanted justice, they had the legal ability to prosecute the case without a grand jury decision. In fact, this is often the standard operating procedure in the prosecution of cases that don’t involve the crimes of cops. Grand juries are used to protect cops, not prosecute them.

Within the grand jury hearing, the DA’s office did not fight for an indictment. Instead they pretended to argue both sides of the case while feeding misinformation to the grand jury in favor of Officer Darren Wilson. In fact, the DA’s office even used the testimony of an “eyewitness” who was obviously not even there. That “eyewitness” was Sandra McElroy, more on her in a minute. In addition, to using perjured testimony, the prosecutors gave the grand jury an outdated law that states that it is legal for police to shoot a fleeing suspect even if they are no threat to anyone. That law was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court decades ago and is no longer on the books in Missouri.

While the prosecution and corporate media have put their spin on this murder, almost none of the 22 eyewitnesses who testified backed the claim that Michael Brown was any threat to Officer Darren Wilson. Of these 22 eyewitnesses, a common statement is that Michael Brown had his arms up, was at a distance where he was no threat, and was surrendering when he was repeatedly shot. One eyewitness described it as an execution.

Only 3 of the 22 eyewitnesses describe Michael Brown as charging Officer Darren Wilson. One of the three “eyewitnesses” who backs Darren Wilson’s story of a “charging” Michael Brown is Sandra McElroy. She has been the favorite “eyewitness” of FOX News because she tells a story that completely contradicts almost everything said by the other 22 eyewitnesses present, but backs the story of Officer Darren Wilson. Originally called “witness number 40”, investigators have revealed her real name to be Sandra McElroy, a known racist who calls Blacks “monkeys”. She is also an activist for Officer Darren Wilson, raising money under his name on an internet site in what is most likely a fraudulent money making scam. She did not come forward as an “eyewitness” to the shooting until one month after it happened, long after Darren Wilson’s version of events were released for her to parrot. In the accounts she has given, she gave two completely contradictory reasons for why she was in Ferguson, 30 miles from her home, at the time of the shooting. The first was that she happened to be in the neighborhood because she had decided to pop in on a Black classmate she had not seen in 26 years. Yet, in her final version before the grand jury, she switched this to claiming that she was in Ferguson to continue her ongoing anthropological study of Black people. She even produced a journal of this supposed study. Yet, the opening page was supposedly from the day Michael Brown died, indicating no ongoing “study”. That first page starts by stating, “Well Im gonna take my random drive to Florisant. Need to understand the Black race better so I stop calling Blacks Niggers and Start calling them People.” (Source, “’Witness 40’, Exposing a Fraud in Ferguson”)

Sandra McElroy’s contradictory stories about being in Ferguson simply are not believable. Yet, the Ferguson DA’s office, which was supposedly trying to gain an indictment of Officer Darren Wilson, used her obviously perjured testimony to make sure that didn’t happen.

So out of the three “eyewitnesses” who supposedly saw Michael Brown charge Darren Wilson, we know one wasn’t even there. There are two possible reasons why the two remaining eyewitnesses of a “charging” Michael Brown contradicted the other 19 people who testified. The first is that these two eyewitnesses could have misinterpreted what others saw as Michael Brown stumbling forward AFTER being shot. Another possible explanation is that the rest of this tiny minority of eyewitnesses are also lying. District Attorneys in the United States are famous for knowingly using perjured testimony when it fits their purposes, and there is no doubt that they did this in Ferguson with their use of Sandra McElroy’s testimony. So there is every reason to think they would have put other liars on the stand as eyewitnesses to confuse the grand jury if they had the opportunity to do so. In addition, the police of the United States are also known for coercing eyewitnesses into saying what the cops want to hear rather than what they actually saw. (For more examples of this kind of police and prosecutorial misconduct, see the piece linked end of this article titled, “William Singletary, 65, Courageous Witness of Mumia's Innocence”.)

All of this evidence of prosecutorial misconduct points to the problem being much bigger than the racist murder carried out by Officer Darren Wilson. The facts that the DA’s office purposely put Sandra McElroy’s perjured testimony on the witness stand, lied to the grand jury about it being legal to shoot a fleeing suspect, and took the case before a grand jury instead of into a court, are all evidence that Michael Brown’s murder was not just the act of a rogue cop. Instead, it was state sponsored terror. It points to the problem being one of systemic impunity for these kinds of human rights violations in the United States. Young African American men are routinely murdered by cops across the United States, not because of a few bad apples in police departments, but because the entire legal system in the United States encourages racist murder by cops in numerous ways, including by covering up police crimes.

After killing Michael Brown, police then left his body in the street for over 4 hours. Ferguson resident Alexis Torregrossa said of this, “They shot a black man, and they left his body in the street to let you all know this could be you, to set an example, that’s how I see it.” Patricia Bynes, another Ferguson resident, expressed a similar view saying, "It was very disrespectful to the community and the people who live there. It also sent the message from law enforcement that ‘we can do this to you any day, any time, in broad daylight, and there’s nothing you can do about it.’ ”

That message was sent home again loud and clear when the grand jury decided not to even indict Officer Darren Wilson for his crime.

Pattern of Systemic Injustice and Labor Action to Stop It

On average, cops kill at least 3 people per day in the United States. This is based on the independent investigation of Reuben Fischer-Baum and Al Johri in their piece “Another (Much Higher) Count of Homicides by Police”. Their article shows that the FBI’s estimate of 400 people killed by police each year is incorrect. The actual number is about 1,100. This, of course, can only include individuals where it is proven that the person was killed by the police, so the actual number would be even higher than 1,100 per year. Among these known cases there are many examples where killing the person was an excessive response, but police in the United States are trained to kill rather than injure and incapacitate. There are many other cases where those killed posed no real threat to cops or civilians, even many cases where the victim was innocent of any crime at all. Yet, police have been nearly immune from criminal charges, let alone convictions, in shootings.

Even under the most outrageous of circumstances of outright murder by cop, the police almost always get away with their crimes. According to the research of Dr. Phillip Stinson at Bowling Green University, of thousands of police killings between 2005 and 2011, only 41 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter. Of those cases, even in those rare cases where the capitalist courts find cops guilty of heinous crimes, it is even rarer for judges to give the cops any real punishment. One example is the case of Russell Rios, 19, in Conroe, Texas who was murdered execution style with a bullet to the back of the head by Officer Jason Blackwelder. In court, Blackwelder was found guilty of manslaughter, but received no prison or jail time. He was instead given 5 years probation. Russell’s mother Jacqueline commented on the sentence saying:

“I’m embarrassed to go outside because they laugh in my face. The justice system is laughing in my face.”

Yes, Jacqueline, the so-called “justice system” is laughing in the face of everyone except the cops and the millionaires and billionaires they represent. They are laughing at all of us; and we are sorry for your loss.

An extremely rare case of where a cop did any time for murder was that Oscar Grant in Oakland, California. Oscar Grant was clearly shown in video as being unarmed, lying face down, and executed with a gunshot in the back by Officer Johannes Mesherle of the Oakland BART Police. Prior to being executed, Oscar Grant was also punched by Officer Pirone and man handled by the cops present. Oscar Grant was part of a group of young Black men who were being illegally detained by the police while police had no reason to suspect them of a crime, including no reason to think they were involved in a reported fight, and certainly no reason to detain, brutalize, and murder Oscar Grant.

Despite clear video evidence of Oscar Grant’s murder, to jail the guilty cop took a mass movement that included peaceful protests, riots, and strikes. These strikes were the most effective means of action that have been missing from other police brutality and police murder cases. Demanding killer cop Johannes Mesherle be sent to prison, workers of ILWU locals 10 and 34 shut down all Bay Area ports for a day. In addition, SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 1021 also joined the strike. ILWU flyers, with a picture of Oscar Grant on them, demanded, “Stop Police brutality! Jail Killer Cops!” “Defend Jobs and Public Education!” and “Stop the Wars and Repression!” The flyer also explained Oscar Grant’s case as well as the routine police violence against Black and Brown people and further stated:

“In the 1934 Maritime Strike two workers were killed by police, provoking the 1934 General Strike. Organized Labor in unity with the community must mobilize to stop police violence against the oppressed.”

Before this strike, no police officer had ever been jailed for murder in the state of California. After the strike, Officer Johannes Mesherle was put in prison for murder, but it was under lesser charges of involuntary manslaughter and he was given the lowest possible sentence for that conviction. For the murder of Oscar Grant, Mesherle got off easy. If it was the other way around and Oscar Grant had killed Officer Mesherle, even in self-defense, Oscar Grant would now likely be sitting on death row awaiting his execution. Actual justice does not exist in the American capitalist courts. Yet, the case was extremely unusual in the fact that the cop did any time at all for his crime.

Mesherle was paroled after 11 months in prison. This was an absurdly short sentence for the murder of Oscar Grant, but it did at least drive a murderous cop from law enforcement and locked him up for a little bit of time. Even that small amount of justice does send a message to cops that they are not completely above the law and may be punished for their crimes, so it was an important victory, no matter how limited.

The film of Oscar Grant’s police execution was important in winning a conviction for his killer, but where that evidence was most important was in building a mass movement and strike action, not in court. The capitalist courts and grand juries are generally oblivious to actual evidence because juries are selected to contain the dumbest and most uninformed people and judges are quite skilled at feeding them the evidence the system needs for its desired outcome. Grand juries are even worse.

Yet, in this particular case, a mass movement began to cost the capitalist class money through a workers strike action and threatened to do more. As a result, the capitalist class sacrificed one of their minions, a killer cop, throwing him in prison for nearly a year.

While liberal reformists have pushed for various useless reforms like police review boards (more on that later), revolutionary Leninist-Trotskyists, including retired ILWU member Howard Keylor in Oakland, helped to successfully push for a labor action that jailed a killer cop. The Oakland job actions for Oscar Grant stand as an example of the kind of successful action that needs to be pushed for by members of unions across the United States. It also stands in stark contrast to the program of the conservative and pro-capitalist union leaders who tell workers to rely on the Democratic Party for change rather than take effective job actions ourselves.

The crisis in revolutionary leadership in the United States can be seen in large part in the fact that so few groups claiming mantels of various stripes of socialism, communism, anarchism, and Trotskyism push for labor actions to jail killer cops. On the right in this debate are many who think that it is premature to push for effective labor action. This is often a self-defeating and self-fulfilling prophecy. On the ultra-left in this debate are groups like the Spartacist League (SL) and Internationalist Group (IG) who make various arguments about the fact that only proletarian socialist revolution can end the violence of the capitalist state. While what they say is largely correct, these two groups fail to see that small and important victories through labor action are possible and extremely necessary in attempting to curb rampant police abuses. In addition, these kinds of labor actions help, instead of hinder, the movement towards proletarian socialist revolution that will end the abuses of the bourgeois state, in part through dismantling all existing police forces in the United States. Through their opposition to the ILWU’s strike to “Jail Killer Cops!”, the IG lost much of the respect it had built up in the ILWU, just as the SL had already alienated itself from the membership with similar earlier ultra-left stands. As opposed to the IG and SL, the Revolutionary Tendency and the International Bolshevik Tendency are two groups that stand for labor action to jail killer cops and also call for the building of a revolutionary workers party that works to end the violence of the capitalist state through proletarian socialist revolution.

Patterns of Racist & Class Based Police Murder

Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner were all Black men murdered by white cops. While more whites are killed by cops than Blacks, and those cases are often blatant murder as well, Blacks make up a percentage of people killed by cops that is far larger than their percentage in the population. According to statistics of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2012 African Americans were twice as likely as whites to be killed by cops.

For Native Americans, the situation is even worse than that of African Americans. Native Americans comprise only 0.8% of the U.S. population (explained by a story of genocide in and of itself), but comprise 1.9% of people killed by cops. CDC numbers between 1999 and 2011 show that if you are Native American you are most likely to be killed by cops. This is followed in this order by African Americans, Latinos, whites, and then Asian Americans.

In addition to violent police terror, having ones person snatched up and enslaved is a major threat in the United States as well. The U.S. holds more people per-capita prisoner than any other country in the world. 2.3 million Americans are in prison or jail and another 7 million people are on probation, parole, or community service. Of these prisoners, African Americans constitute 40%, but are only 13% of the U.S. population. Likewise, people identified as Latino/a constitute 15% of the U.S. population, but are 20% of the prison population. All together, Blacks and Latinos are only 28% of the U.S. population, but constitute 60% of the prison population. This reflects injustices that include racist stop and frisk policies, racist profiling, and injustices carried out by racist cops, DA’s, and judges, as well as poverty caused by racism in hiring, education, and historic disadvantages. Study after study has shown no greater prevalence of drug use or drug sales from African Americans, yet African Americans are more likely to be put in prison for those crimes. Poverty or just being working class also makes it extremely difficult to afford adequate legal representation so innocent people are routinely railroaded into prison. While OJ Simpson could afford Johnny Cochrane, there simply is no justice for poor and working class people who can’t afford adequate representation in the capitalist courts.

On any given day, one in eight Black males in their 20s is in prison or in jail. Since slavery, Blacks have always been a super-exploited section of the working class, last hired and first fired at the bottom rungs of society. As the inevitable workings of capitalism have destroyed many jobs, those lucky in the working class tend to cling on to jobs where wages don’t keep up with inflation while CEOs and other blood sucking capitalists devour an ever increasing and obscenely large portion of national wealth. Meanwhile, another layer of the working class is increasingly unemployed and discarded by a system that doesn’t need them anymore. In the economic decay of the capitalist system, a large portion of America’s Black youth has simply been discarded as no longer useful for making profit. Black youth are largely abandoned, much like the poor people of New Orleans left to die with in Hurricane Katrina or the heavily abandoned shell of what was once Detroit. For the ruling capitalist class, Black lives do not matter. Black youth are an extraneous population to be terrorized on the street with murderous and abusive cops or locked up in America’s vast dungeon prison system. Meanwhile, those who rule understand they are sitting on a tinder box that will eventually burst into flames. This is why the Obama Administration is spending billions of dollars every year to militarize the nation’s police forces. Much of our power to fight back will be found in the fact that while weakened and abused, the multi-racial working class still has significant potential power in striking and shutting down the economy.

Native Americans also make up a disproportionate number of prisoners, especially in some of the most anti-Native American states like South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Minnesota, and Idaho. As an example, 7% of the population of Montana is Native American, but according to the 2008 Montana Department of Corrections Biannual Report, Native American men make up 20% of the male Montana prison population and Native American women are 27% of the female prison population. In “liberal” Minnesota, the story is the same, with a Native American population of 1.1% of the total; Native Americans comprise 7.6 percent of the prison population according to census information from the year 2000.

Within the prison system, inmates routinely face violence and death from guards, a lack of adequate medical care, a lack of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV / AIDS, and rape from fellow inmates carried out with impunity while popular culture routinely considers this extreme injustice a funny joke. Despite this well know threat to the health of prisoners, Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, in 2013 vetoed AB 999, a bill that would have provided condoms to prisoners in the state of California. Expense could not be given as an excuse because money to provide the condoms was to be raised from private funds. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, had also vetoed the same bill. After Brown’s 2013 veto, it seemed top Democrats and Republicans in California were united in helping the spread of this deadly disease among California’s poorest communities, including Black communities. These vetoes were acts of genocide. Yet, under major political pressure, Governor Gerry Brown reversed his 2013 decision in 2014 by signing the bill he vetoed in 2013. This is a start. Yet, the distribution of condoms is still prevented in almost every other state of the United States except Vermont, which is the only state that provides free condoms to all inmates. In most states on this very basic question, the message is still clear, to the capitalist state, prisoners lives don’t matter.

Torture and murder with impunity also occurs within the U.S. prison system. One case is that of Marcia Powell who was cooked to death by prison guards in an Arizona prison on May 20th, 2009. When Marcia Powell, a white woman in prison for prostitution, complained of being suicidal, she was placed in an outdoor holding cell in the full sun in the 107 degree Fahrenheit heat. In that cage, her requests for water were denied by prison screws. As Marcia Powell’s condition deteriorated, her screams of pain and pleas for help were also ignored by prison guards for hours as she lost control of bodily functions and was cooked to death. After she died, her core temperature was found to be 108 degrees Fahrenheit and that she had suffered first and second degree burns on her face and body. No prison guard was ever charged for her murder and a temporary suspension in using these outdoor torture chambers was lifted after media publicity of this murder died down.

The targeting of Black and brown people for incarceration also contributes to keeping these communities poor. When and if released, former prisoners find getting adequate employment extremely difficult as background checks have become routine and few employers care to listen to how one was wrongfully convicted or any similar story. It is people with clean records who get hired, and they are also more likely to be white.

Census data from 2007-2011 also indicates that while 14.3 % of Americans officially live in poverty, 25.8% of African Americans and 27% of Native Americans live in poverty. According to a 2014 study by the Associated Press, 80% of Americans are in poverty or near poverty for at least part of our lives. Some are kept out of “official poverty” due to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also called Food Stamps. In December 2013, Barack Obama signed into law a bill that will cut food stamp assistance by $8.7 billion over the next ten years.

With poverty being the number one cause of homelessness, Blacks and Native Americans also comprise a disproportionate number of people who are homeless. A 2009-2010 study found that Black people comprise 37% of the U.S. homeless population, making Blacks about three times more likely than whites to be homeless. About 8% of homeless people are Native American, making Native Americans about eight times more likely than whites to be homeless.

Please See Part 2

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Part 2
13 Jan 2015
Murderous Cops, Liberal Snake Oil, & Revolutionary Solutions (Part 2)
Re: Murderous Cops, Liberal Snake Oil, & Revolutionary Solutions (Part 1)
09 Feb 2015
This needed to be said and you said it. It should be widely circulated.