Spartacist Canada No. 178
Down With Racist "War on Drugs"!
Toronto Cops Invade "Little Mogadishu"
On June 13, over 800 cops carried out massive pre-dawn raids across Toronto and beyond. Ground zero of this quasi-military operation, dubbed “Project Traveller,” was a set of apartment towers on Dixon Road in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke. Populated in large part by refugees from Somalia, the area is widely known as “Little Mogadishu” after the Somali capital.
Brandishing machine guns, the police battered down doors as flash-bang grenades shook the crumbling, overcrowded apartments. Residents—children, youth, the elderly—awoke dizzy and disoriented from the blasts, police guns drawn in their faces. Cops roughed up a 100-year-old woman. Another elderly woman was pinned down, handcuffed and ordered to “die” as she pleaded for her medication. By the end of it all, the rampaging cops had made off with 44 people and $572,000 in cash as well as cellphones and computers, all in the name of a “war on drugs.”
“We came to Canada to get peace,” a Somali community worker told a June 18 press conference called by the African Canadian Legal Clinic. The crowd heard how a 96-year-old Somali woman victimized in the raid now shouts “The soldiers are coming, they’re coming” whenever she hears the door to her family residence open. Others in the heavily Somali crowd compared the cops in military-style uniforms to soldiers. Indeed, the parallels with their homeland were impossible to ignore. In 1993, under the guise of a “humanitarian” United Nations operation, U.S. and UN soldiers ravaged Mogadishu. The Canadian army played a full role in this, and soldiers of the Canadian Airborne, notorious for its violence and racism, tortured and murdered a Somali teenager, Shidane Arone.
It was during this period of civil war and brutal colonial war from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s that most Somali refugees—some 55,000—came to Canada. Eight thousand miles separate Mogadishu from Toronto, but Project Traveller drove home the message that while the tactics may change—sometimes only barely—the racist character of the Canadian state and its armed enforcers is fundamental.
Canadian capitalism offers a bleak future for immigrant youth. The destruction of manufacturing jobs has depleted the unions and come down hard on workers of minority backgrounds. Somalis in Canada are oppressed not only as blacks. Their Muslim origins place them squarely in the gunsights of the rulers’ racist “war on terror,” so it comes as no surprise that Somali youth in Toronto face an unemployment rate of 70 percent.
At the community press conference that followed the Dixon Road raid, outpourings against decrepit housing conditions and police violence went hand in hand. One woman said that when she asked her landlord to help repair her door, which the cops had bashed in, he replied, “your son is a criminal.” Meanwhile the cops’ “Somali Liaison Unit” continued to stalk the tenements. In the tradition of occupying armies they patronizingly handed out candy to children.
The Dixon Road raid revealed the cops as the hating and hated predators of vulnerable minorities. Reports that they punctuated their so-called drug bust with violent sadism and racist epithets surprised only the most naive. “They say they’ve dismantled the gangs,” charged a youth activist named Kabir at a June 20 “community meeting” run by the cops. “I don’t know a single gang that beats hundred-year-old women. They have no shame.” The crowd then erupted and the presiding sergeant unplugged the microphone, putting an end to this charade of “community consultation.”
This cop thus demonstrated in miniature the workings of democracy under the present system, which Marxists recognize to be a dictatorship of the capitalist class. The cops, together with prison guards, the courts and the army, form the core of that dictatorship, otherwise known as the capitalist state. Their job is to defend the interests of the tiny, super-wealthy capitalist class that exploits the millions of people in this country who must sell their labour power to survive.
Hardly a week passes without new reports of cops fabricating evidence, lying in court, beating a suspect, gunning people down or stealing drugs and money. A few trials of the more egregious police malefactors have grabbed headlines recently, including a couple of the cops who carried out vicious beatings of G20 protesters three years ago. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, not one has been found guilty of any crime. Far from an aberration, these trials are an effective demonstration in the workings of the bourgeois justice system. The cop in the dock, the judge and the crown prosecutor are not adversaries but partners. It is the essence of bourgeois justice that G20 protest leaders are jailed while the cops who brutalized hundreds of protesters and arrested over 1,100 emerge unscathed.
From Somalia to Haiti and Afghanistan, to the countless outrages here at home, it is abundantly clear that the capitalist state can never be made to serve the interests of oppressed peoples. Thus we of the Trotskyist League oppose dead-end calls for “community control” of the police, which only divert justified anger into renewed illusions of a “reformed” status quo. Against such schemes it is necessary to advance the perspective for workers revolution to smash the capitalist state.
Ford’s Follies and the “War on Drugs”
In May, two Toronto Star reporters revealed that they had seen a video of Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. The idea that Ford smoked crack shook up his allies in the “respectable” circles of the lily-white bourgeoisie. The story made headlines around the world and provided no end of fuel for late-night comedy shows. Yet it is Somali immigrants (along with people of Jamaican origin), who are bearing the brunt of the anti-drug hysteria.
Cops reportedly told their victims during the June raid that “we’re here because of Rob Ford.” Indeed, the Star reporters said 320 Dixon Road was where they saw the crack video. CTV News has reported that Toronto police were investigating the existence of a video involving Ford several weeks before news of the scandal flooded the media.
Whatever his private predilections, Ford is a bigoted “law and order” conservative and an unswerving supporter of the cops. In the aftermath of a grisly shooting in a predominantly black Toronto neighbourhood last year, he ranted against gangs, drugs and guns and demanded that people convicted of gun crimes be banished from Toronto under the immigration laws. (This elicited embarrassment from fellow Conservatives including the then federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.) Ford has made headlines again and again for disparaging gays, Asians and even the minority youth at the Catholic high school where he once coached football.
As Marxists, we oppose laws against drugs, as well as against all other “crimes without victims” like prostitution, pornography and gambling. Of course drug addiction, like alcoholism, can be dangerous—but this is a personal and medical matter, not one for the police.
Much of the police brutality against black youth today is conducted in the name of the “war on drugs.” The issue here isn’t drug use: whites and blacks alike partake of recreational drugs. The “war on drugs” battle cry is intended to give the cops license to stage raids, make sweeping arrests and otherwise terrorize the population of the city’s heavily-minority inner suburbs. It is now a standard trope for the ruling class whenever it feels the need to ratchet up state repression or scapegoat racial minorities for ills of its decaying social order. In 2009, a raid even larger than that at Dixon Road was carried out by over 1,000 cops over the whole Greater Toronto area. Over 125 were arrested. Like the “war on terror,” the “war on drugs” is not a real war fought between states, but an ideological campaign with no ultimate aim or foreseeable end.
For our part, we could care less what Rob Ford smokes or drinks. His real crimes are against workers and the oppressed. He is a racist anti-gay bigot, a proven liar and a vicious labour-hater. He came into office vowing to get rid of thousands of city workers, contract out union jobs and slash social services. He indeed took on the unions and won the first round in 2012, thanks to a defeatist labour leadership that offered no perspective of struggle. The result was contracts that made unprecedented concessions and eliminated many of the impediments to contracting out and getting rid of unionized city workers. Today, garbage pickup in half of the city has been privatized.
Even as the Ford scandal roiled the media and his antics became an acute embarrassment to sections of the bourgeoisie, the major Toronto dailies—including the liberal Toronto Star—were careful to credit Ford for his crackdown on the unions. Indeed, the variant of right-wing populism Ford pushes is underpinned by hostility to organized labour, dressed up in fraudulent posturing on behalf of a mythical “little guy” taxpayer. Ford has already declared that his 2014 re-election campaign will centre on a continued attack on the city unions. In the face of a quiescent labour movement, this reactionary garbage continues to have traction.
For a Class-Struggle Fight Against Racial Oppression
The social power that can be mobilized on behalf of black youth and all the oppressed is to be found in the multiracial working class. The vast potential power of this class lies in its central role in production where its collective labour in the factories, transportation systems and other industries is exploited by the capitalists for profit. A serious labour counteroffensive would put paid to the supposed “public outrage” against the unions and it would garner widespread support among the city’s beleaguered minority communities which are literally under the gun. A fighting labour movement would actively campaign against racist police terror, and demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants and jobs for all.
Combatting racial oppression is essential to the unity of the working class. To beat back the bourgeoisie’s attacks and triumph over the bankrupt rule of capital, the labour movement must consciously organize the active support of the oppressed: black youth facing police terror, desperate refugees and immigrants. Such a perspective requires a struggle to replace the current pro-capitalist union bureaucrats who have brought defeat after defeat, and forge a new leadership based on class struggle.
The working class is further hamstrung by the allegiance to the social-democratic NDP that is promoted by most of the labour misleaders. Deeply loyal to the capitalists and their state, the New Democrats pander to the racist law-and-order demagogy of the ruling Conservatives. Under the late Jack Layton, the NDP called to hire thousands more cops, to “give police more tools to prosecute dangerous offenders” and to “make gang recruiting illegal.” Last summer, around the time of Rob Ford’s anti-gang rants, Toronto-Danforth NDP MP Craig Scott declared that “street gangs are becoming more and more of a problem in this country.” Scott went on to call for “putting more police into communities and creating dedicated youth gang prevention funds and activities.” Putting more police into communities has meant nothing other than the hundreds-strong cop raid on the Somali tenements.
The struggle for a fighting labour movement that opposes racist oppression is inseparable from the perspective of breaking the unions from the politics of NDP-style social democracy. The indispensable tool for this struggle is a vanguard party of the working class. The Trotskyist League is committed to building such a revolutionary party, which would fight against all illusions in the racist, capitalist state, aiming to mobilize a class-conscious labour movement to overthrow this barbaric social system and replace it with the socialist rule of the multiracial working class.