Spartacist Canada No. 186
Labour Must Defend All the Oppressed!
Cops Terrorize Black Toronto
In the early hours of July 5 Toronto cops shot dead 45-year-old Andrew Loku, a South Sudanese immigrant, in the building where he lived. “Andrew survived war, and then had to be killed here,” grieved his friend Kiden Jonathan at a press conference where she collapsed on the floor in anguish. A couple of weeks later the Special Investigations Unit announced that the cop who shot and killed Jermaine Carby, a 33-year-old black man, in the suburb of Brampton last fall would not face criminal charges.
“Black lives matter!” chanted hundreds of racially integrated youth at an angry July 27 protest. They marched from a parking lot next to the site of Loku’s death and on to a nearby highway, Allen Road, where they stopped the Monday evening traffic for two hours. Supporters of the Trotskyist League participated in the demonstration, pointing to the need for the working class to take up the cause of black people against racist cop terror.
The fact is that black lives don’t matter in the least to the racist ruling class and its cops. Since 1990, Toronto cops have shot and killed 51 people, with almost complete impunity. The largest proportion was black. That is what “justice” under the racist, capitalist system is all about.
Outrage over the cop killings has combined with a deep well of bitter anger over the years-long practice of “carding.” In a three-year period from 2008 to 2011, 1.25 million people were stopped by the cops in Toronto and their names compiled in a massive police database. “I’ve been interrogated by police more than 50 times—all because I’m black,” charged Desmond Cole in the May issue of Toronto Life. Cole, whose parents immigrated to Canada from Sierra Leone, writes movingly about life in a city where statistics show he is 17 times more likely than a white person to be stopped by police and have his personal information recorded on a “contact card.”
“Carding takes us back to Jim Crow in U.S. South” headlined Share, a newspaper serving Toronto’s Caribbean community. “There’s no doubt about it: carding belongs to the long history of travel passes, slave-master permission slips, pass laws, and pass books,” said black University of Toronto professor Rinaldo Walcott at a May press conference. Behind carding lies the all too real threat of police violence. Anyone—especially if you’re black—who exercises the legal right not to comply risks beating, arrest and worse.
Toronto mayor John Tory oozed hypocritical dismay over Cole’s experiences and vowed to ban the practice, only to reverse himself days later. Meanwhile, the provincial government has made it clear that carding is here to stay. Upcoming public “consultations” are intended to diffuse anger and clean up the image of the cops.
The Pipedream of Police Accountability
Black Lives Matter demonstrations spread from the U.S. to Toronto and elsewhere in Canada in the fall of 2014 after a grand jury refused to indict the Ferguson, Missouri cop who killed black teenager Michael Brown. Black Lives Matter Toronto is demanding that the cops stop killing black people and that those who do be punished accordingly. During a protest held inside a July 16 meeting of the Toronto Police Services board, their supporters called for, among other things, body cameras for all police and an inquiry into whether “adequate disciplinary action” has been taken against cops who kill mentally ill black people. They also call to charge and jail cops who have killed people, including the cop who gunned down Andrew Loku.
“This is a call for accountability,” declared Black Lives Matter in a letter to the mayor and police chief. The problem is that the police are not “accountable” to anyone other than the capitalist masters they serve. From the standpoint of the working class, the cops who shot Andrew Loku and countless others are criminals who deserve to rot in jail. However, to call on the capitalist powers-that-be to jail their killer cops can only reinforce already widespread illusions that the police can be subjected to fundamental reform. The promotion of such illusions postpones the prospect of any real justice for the oppressed.
For decades, the Toronto cops have been gunning down blacks, other minorities and the mentally ill. Inquiries, more black cops, civilian oversight boards: all these things have been demanded time and again. Take the recent call for body cameras, for instance. Across North America, the cops are more and more often caught on film executing someone. It doesn’t even slow them down. Earlier this year, Toronto saw the appointment of its first black police chief. “A Black face doesn’t make it less racist” read a protester’s sign in front of Toronto police headquarters; “Carding in Blackface” headlined one article. This is the beginning of wisdom. But activists must come to understand that police violence and racism are intrinsic to class-divided capitalist society and cannot be ended without sweeping away this system. Absent that, the present Black Lives Matter activists will go down the same blind alley as an earlier generation of activists who promoted various schemes to “control” the police.
The Capitalist State and Racial Oppression
This country’s rulers, a minuscule, ruthless class, are well aware that there is seething discontent in society that could be ignited by the spark of social protest. They own the banks and major industries, producing nothing themselves but reaping massive profits by further grinding down those still lucky enough to have a job. In order to keep in check the workers they exploit and black people and other minorities they oppress, the capitalist class unleashes its repressive state apparatus—cops, courts and prisons—whose powers it is augmenting. At the same time, the ruling class seeks to disguise what is the dictatorship of capital with the trappings of democracy and the illusion that the capitalist state is some kind of neutral body that represents everyone.
It is impossible to enforce the property rights of the capitalists without simultaneously enforcing dispossession of the workers and the unemployed, among whom blacks and other racial minorities are always overrepresented. The cops that terrorize them are not committing “excesses” or using “disproportionate force.” They are merely “doing their jobs” as the guard dogs of racist capitalism. Communist revolutionary V.I. Lenin described the cops as follows:
“Separated as it is from the people, forming a professional caste of men trained in the practice of violence upon the poor, men who receive somewhat higher pay and the privileges that go with authority (to say nothing of ‘gratuities’), the police everywhere, in every republic, however democratic, where the bourgeoisie is in power, always remains the unfailing weapon, the chief support and protection of the bourgeoisie.”
—“They Have Forgotten the Main Thing” (1917)
For a Working-Class Fight Against
Racist Cop Terror
“The very notion of a black Torontonian conflates hundreds of different languages, histories, traditions and stories,” notes Desmond Cole. “In the National Household Survey, the term ‘black’ is the only classification that identifies a skin colour rather than a nation or region.” While some black people in Canada, especially those in Nova Scotia, have roots in this country that go back more than two centuries, an increasingly large number are first and second generation immigrants from the Caribbean and various regions of Africa. Jamaicans and Somalis, among the largest black communities in Toronto, live in separate neighbourhoods and share no common language, culture or religion from their countries of origin.
Many black people immigrate here to leave behind the oppression and poverty of their neocolonial countries of origin. Yet once in this country, they find themselves kept down in the lower echelons of the working class—or unemployed. Targeted for police harassment and violence, they make up nine percent of Canadian prisoners but only three percent of the population as a whole. Their harsh living conditions expose the lie of “kinder, gentler” Canada.
Blacks in the U.S. constitute a race-colour caste, forcibly segregated at the bottom of society. That is the legacy of slavery, the bedrock of U.S. capitalism. Whereas slavery existed in Canada, it never became decisive to the economy. That was not due to any moral superiority on the part of the rulers north of the border. In fact during the American Civil War, future Canadian prime minister John A. Macdonald backed the southern Confederacy in its campaign for the expansion of slavery.
Despite their differing histories, the African and Caribbean immigrant diasporas in Canada share with blacks in the U.S. a common experience of pervasive discrimination and police violence on account of their skin colour. Though deindustrialization has led to a brutal increase in long-term unemployment, black people in Canada still make up a small but important component of the working class, especially in Toronto. As workers, their common interests lie with their class brothers and sisters of all races.
At some of the recent Toronto protests against police violence, organizers called on white protesters to go to the back and to be silent. Such practices echo the false doctrine of “white skin privilege,” which portrays white workers as benefactors of the racism pushed by the capitalist ruling class. The fact is that racial oppression and division intensify competition among the working people, driving down the wages and living conditions of all workers.
Toronto’s working class—hundreds of thousands strong and infused with nationalities and ethnicities that span the globe—has the social power to shut down the entire city in response to murderous cop racism. But the rulers of this country have done much to divide them along lines of race, ethnicity, religion and more. The fight to unite the working class and advance its interests against the capitalists is simultaneously a fight against all forms of non-class or “special” oppression, including that of immigrants, Native people, women, gays and the Québécois.
The main obstacle to working-class struggle against the capitalist system and its manifold forms of oppression is the existing leadership of the labour movement, centred on the nationalist, pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy. The leaders of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which represents one million workers, spoke out against the 2013 police killing of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim. Later, however, they called the murder charges against the killer cop a “first step to justice,” feeding already rampant illusions that the capitalist state can be reformed to serve the interests of the oppressed. The ruling class will only resort to jailing one of its own police guard dogs in extremis. In the unlikely event that a cop is actually convicted, this too will be done in order to refurbish the image of the state as some kind of impartial arbiter.
Grotesquely, many of the union misleaders support “unions” of cops and prison guards, deadly enemies of workers and minorities. This poison leads workers to wrongly identify the police—the sworn enemies of labour—as “fellow workers.” Notoriously, in 2005 the leaders of the 8,000-strong Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 backed a campaign by the cops for a better contract amid widespread hysteria against “black crime.” These retrograde views are also upheld by hard-core reformist groups such as Fightback and Socialist Alternative, both of which claim that the cops are a legitimate part of the labour movement.
Across the board, the union tops show themselves to be more interested in electing the NDP or the Liberals than in fighting on behalf of the unions themselves. The struggles of the working class for wages, benefits and job security are integral to the fight against racist capitalism.
To unite itself in struggle and to pry itself free from its pro-capitalist misleadership, the working class needs a revolutionary party that will be a genuine tribune of the people, drawing in blacks and other specially oppressed layers of society. The working class must be imbued with consciousness of its social power and historic interest in the fight for socialist revolution, which will do away with the racist capitalist system once and for all. Black activists who are coming into social consciousness through their struggle against cop terror can play a role in forging such a party, which must by definition be multiracial. This requires a Marxist perspective based not on “the community” of one or another ethnicity but on the working class in all its diversity. That is the purpose to which the Trotskyist League is dedicated.