[This is another in series on electoral politics. In the US, every four years, presidential elections are theatrically staged, designed to confuse and disrupt popular movements against class exploitation and racial oppression, and other democratic movements. The elections claim to be the way democracy works, and people must vote for politicians to represent their interests. Whoever wins, the people’s interests have been lost in the shuffle, and their independence and political initiative and action has been suffocated or destroyed. As the 2016 election candidacies begin to control the political imaginations of millions, a fight-back begins to grow. In this report of a Black Lives Matter protest at a Bernie Sanders campaign event, a BLM leader says no politician deserves automatic support (but leaves open the option for later). — Frontlines ed.]
Professor Akinyele Umoja, chair, African American Studies at Georgia State University discusses his new book: We Will Shoot Back: Armed Self-defense in the Mississippi Freedom Movement. This program was sponsored by the Stone Center and the Bull’s Head Bookstore of UNC at Chapel Hill.
This is part of the presentation Professor Umoja made at Chapel Hill, length: 30:38
In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Senator Rand Paul, Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley (also sponsor of his state’s Stand Your Ground law), along with a host of other Republicans, argued that had the teachers and administrators been armed, those twenty little kids whose lives Adam Lanza stole would be alive today. Of course, they were parroting the National Rifle Association’s talking points. The NRA and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservative lobbying group responsible for drafting and pushing “Stand Your Ground” laws across the country, insist that an armed citizenry is the only effective defense against imminent threats, assailants, and predators.
But when George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, teenage pedestrian returning home one rainy February evening from a neighborhood convenience store, the NRA went mute. Neither NRA officials nor the pro-gun wing of the Republican Party argued that had Trayvon Martin been armed, he would be alive today. The basic facts are indisputable: Martin was on his way home when Zimmerman began to follow him—first in his SUV, and then on foot. Zimmerman told the police he had been following this “suspicious-looking” young man. Martin knew he was being followed and told his friend, Rachel Jeantel, that the man might be some kind of sexual predator. At some point, Martin and Zimmerman confronted each other, a fight ensued, and in the struggle Zimmerman shot and killed Martin.
Zimmerman pursued Martin. This is a fact. Martin could have run, I suppose, but every black man knows that unless you’re on a field, a track, or a basketball court, running is suspicious and could get you a bullet in the back. The other option was to ask this stranger what he was doing, but confrontations can also be dangerous—especially without witnesses and without a weapon besides a cel phone and his fists. Florida law did not require Martin to retreat, though it is not clear if he had tried to retreat. He did know he was in imminent danger.
Where was the NRA on Trayvon Martin’s right to stand his ground? What happened to their principled position? Let’s be clear: the Trayvon Martin’s of the world never had that right because the “ground” was never considered theirs to stand on. Unless black people could magically produce some official documentation proving that they are not burglars, rapists, drug dealers, pimps or prostitutes, intruders, they are assumed to be “up to no good.” (In the antebellum period, such documentation was called “freedom papers.”) As Wayne LaPierre, NRA’s executive vice president, succinctly explained their position, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Trayvon Martin was a bad guy or at least looked and acted like one. In our allegedly postracial moment, where simply talking about racism openly is considered an impolitic, if not racist, thing to do, we constantly learn and re-learn racial codes. The world knows black men are criminal, that they populate our jails and prisons, that they kill each other over trinkets, that even the celebrities among us are up to no good. Zimmerman’s racial profiling was therefore justified, and the defense consistently employed racial stereotypes and played on racial knowledge to turn the victim into the predator and the predator into the victim. In short, it was Trayvon Martin, not George Zimmerman, who was put on trial. He was tried for the crimes he may have committed and the ones he would have committed had he lived past 17. He was tried for using lethal force against Zimmerman in the form of a sidewalk and his natural athleticism. Continue reading
[The capitalist state in the US has, from its very beginning, enforced its subjugation of the Africans enslaved, of indigenous who survived conquest and genocide, and many others subordinated through colonialism, including millions drawn from foreign conquests for cheap labor in the US. These oppressed peoples have continued to be subjected to forms of “racist profiling” at the hands of police and other repressive agencies–harassment, stalking, persecution–which in New York City goes by the name “stop and frisk.” After years of literally millions of these encounters with abusive police–unquestioned by the mass media–massive protests have brought the issue to public light. Now, as the political price for this ongoing abuse continues to rise, there are “reform” moves–for the police to be more polite, to issue apologies along with the abuse, or for “stop and frisk” programs to get new names. But communities long targeted for such abuse have always known: even smiling police are still pigs in oppressed communities. The New York Times article, below, looks at the effects of this reforms. — Frontlines ed.]
Rude or Polite, City’s Officers Leave Raw Feelings in Stops
By WENDY RUDERMAN, New Yok Times, June 26, 2012
Most of the time, the officers swoop in, hornetlike, with a command to stop: “Yo! You, come here. Get against the wall.”
They batter away with questions, sometimes laced with profanity, racial slurs and insults: “Where’s the weed?” “Where’s the guns?”
The officers tell those who ask why they have been stopped to shut up, using names like immigrant, old man or “bro.”
Next comes the frisk, the rummaging through pockets and backpacks. Then they are gone.
Other times, the officers are polite, their introductions almost gentle. “Hey, how’s it going?” “Can you step over here, sir?” “We’d like to talk to you.”
The questions are probing, authoritative, but less accusatory. “What are you doing here?” “Do you live here?” “Can I see some identification, please?” During the pat-down, they ask, “Do you have anything on you?” They nudge further: “You don’t mind if I search you, do you?” They explain that someone of a matching description robbed a store a few days ago, or that the stop is a random one, part of a program in a high-crime area. Then they apologize for the stop and say the person is free to go.
In interviews with 100 people who said they had been stopped by the New York police in neighborhoods where the practice is most common, many said the experience left them feeling intruded upon and humiliated. And even when officers extended niceties, like “Have a nice night,” or called them “sir” and “ma’am,” people said they questioned whether the officer was being genuine.
Michael Delgado, 18, said he was last stopped on Grant Street in East New York, Brooklyn. “I was walking, and a cop said, ‘Where’s the weed?’ ” he recalled. “In my mind, I’m like, ‘Yo, this guy’s a racist.’ He started frisking me, his hands were in my pockets, but I didn’t say anything because my mom always tells me: ‘No altercations. Let him do his thing.’ ”
When the stop-and-frisk was done, Mr. Delgado said, the officer left him with a casual aside to stay safe.
“Stay safe?” Mr. Delgado said. “After he just did all that?”
Last year, city police officers stopped nearly 686,000 people, 84 percent of them black or Latino. The vast majority — 88 percent of the stops — led to neither an arrest nor a summons, although officers said they had enough reasonable suspicion to conduct a frisk in roughly half of the total stops, according to statistics provided by the New York Police Department and the Center for Constitutional Rights. Continue reading
[Police misconduct has long been a focus of activists–of those subjected to false arrests and false imprisonments, of targets of racial profiling, and of those facing attacks on and police suppression of political advocacy, of opposition to the systemic oppression of targeted communities, of class struggles, international solidarity movements, and revolutionary movements.
The history of such misconduct runs throughout US history—from the suppression of slave resistance and the abolition movements, of the insurgent working class and trade union movements, the resistance of Native American, Puerto Rican, Hawaiian and other occupied and colonized people, the McCarthy “Red Scares”, and the attacks on the civil rights and Black Liberation movements.
Major political challenges to systemic police misconduct have been organized at various times. The Black Panther Party’s campaigns for community control of police, organizing to make local police conduct transparent and accountable and prosecutable, was a major advance in re-setting even the concept of community control. And, after the FBI’s COINTELPRO program was exposed—a nationwide program to confuse, provoke, entrap, imprison and eliminate political opposition—activists unearthed many of the hidden local instruments of this FBI terror program, and in some places forced new policies on local and state levels against the abusive police.
But even where such fights have been won, police misconduct has continued to be common. FBI (and other repressive instruments)—now systematized under the banner of Department of Homeland Security—has worked to circumvent restraints on official abuse, whether by illegal surveillance and wiretapping, racial profiling, or ICE raids and mass deportations, to mention but a few.
The following article from the San Francisco Bay Guardian details the FBI’s enabling of police abuses, and their circumventing of restraints on San Francisco Police Department’s abuses. – Frontlines ed.]
A secret memo indicates that SF cops may be working as FBI spies — with no local oversight
April 26, 2011
Sarah Phelan, SF Bay Guardian
San Francisco cops assigned to the FBI’s terrorism task force can ignore local police orders and California privacy laws to spy on people without any evidence of a crime.
That’s what a recently released memo appears to say — and it has sent shockwaves through the civil liberties community. Continue reading
March 3, 2011
It was 20 years ago today in Los Angeles that four police officers, all of them white, struck African-American Rodney King more than 50 times with their wood batons and shocked him with an electric stun gun following a brief high-speed car chase.
Ordinarily, the story would end there. The beaten suspect would be tossed in the back of a cruiser, and that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t, because someone nearby videotaped the beating, and within two days that video was shown to a national audience.
The fall-out of the video was intense, to say the least. A few months later, the four policemen that beat King – Theodore Briseno, Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind and Stacey Koon – walked out of a courthouse free men after they were acquitted of police brutality charges by an all-white jury that was deadlocked on the charges against Powell.
The ensuing riots engulfed Los Angeles, leaving 55 people dead and more than 2,000 hurt. King’s earnest request of “Can’t we all just get along?” became one of the great quotes of the century.
In the two decades since the King beating, things have changed in the United States. Not in the way many would have anticipated, of course. Baby steps have been made to improve race relations. And some steps have been taken to reduce the heinous act of police brutality. But the main change is this – police departments around the nation have worked overtime to make it a crime to videotape cops. Continue reading
I once lived in the “black belt” of West Virginia — from Gary Holler to Welch to Bluefield — where there were a string of coal camps containing interspersed black communities. And in a small coal camp on the Elkhorn river (population under 1,000) i was talking to the town cop in an afterhours semilegal speakeasy joint.
And he said to me (simply): “My job is keeping the jigs in line.”
It was that conscious.
And, it was not like there was no actualcrime in this little town that might preoccupy a cop. And it was not like the real crime in town was somehow concentrated among the Black folks.
There was a copper stealing ring of white coalminers who delivered their goods to the local junk guy. There was lots of breaking and entering. There were meth rings. There was tons of wife beating and other domestic abuse. There were illegal strikes all the time. There was arson going on for insurance purposes (where desperate people burned their cars or homes). And there was the usual madness of working class life, like people shooting each other’s dogs over disputes. etc. And most of this (obviously) involved white people (if only because they were the majority of the town). Continue reading