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Workers Vanguard No. 1021

5 April 2013

There’s No “Reforming” the Gang in Blue

Oakland Cops: Racist Killers on the Loose

On March 6, William Bratton, the former chief of the Los Angeles and New York police departments who was recently hired as special “consultant” to the Oakland Police Department (OPD), rode into a press conference in Oakland at the head of a posse of fellow ex-top cops from around the country. San Francisco Chronicle (7 March) columnist Chip Johnson enthused: “In another era they could have been wearing cowboy hats, dusters and cradling rifles in their folded arms. However you want to envision it, the message they sent was clear: ‘We’re here to clean up this town’.” Their “war on crime” roundup was launched with a vengeance in the early morning hours of March 8. Some 200 cops busted into homes in East Oakland and three suburbs, arresting more than 18 supposed gang members.

Backing up the Oakland cops were federal, state and county police agencies including the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the California Highway Patrol and Department of Justice as well as the Alameda County Sheriff’s office. In short, this deliberate display of racist police terror was orchestrated from the top: Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, together with Democratic California governor Jerry Brown and his state attorney general Kamala Harris and Oakland’s “progressive” Democratic Party mayor, Jean Quan. The day before, Brown, Harris and former CIA chief and defense secretary Leon Panetta were on the podium before a chilling mobilization of thousands of police at a memorial for two Santa Cruz officers killed by an apparently deranged former military cop on February 26. Police forces in four Bay Area cities had earlier exacted vengeance for their fallen brethren in a shooting spree, killing four “suspects” in one 27-hour period.

The calling card in the Oakland raids was a letter from OPD chief Howard Jordan warning “individuals who are at risk of being involved in gun violence,” i.e., the residents of the overwhelmingly black and Latino neighborhood: “This is how we will be working from now on.” Serving as a racist occupying army in the inner cities is how the cops have always operated, everywhere. The brutal enforcement of capitalist rule is their job, whether in the ghettos and barrios or on the picket lines. The Oakland cops are such infamous frame-up artists, thugs and killers that the police department came within a hair’s breadth of becoming the first in the U.S. to be put into federal receivership. Instead, at the urging of Mayor Quan and the Oakland City Council, the federal judge appointed a “compliance director” to oversee “reforms” mandated by a court order almost a decade ago.

That order came out of a lawsuit in 2000 by victims of a gang of Oakland cops known as the Riders, who rampaged through the West Oakland ghetto beating, robbing and planting drugs and guns on young black men. The Riders were so notorious that three were even put on trial, only to be acquitted on all charges by a jury that included not a single black person. In response to the subsequent lawsuit, the City of Oakland agreed to a settlement including a court mandate that the cops clean up their act through the implementation of some 50 largely procedural reforms.

For nine years, the OPD has collectively given the finger to the federal judge—Thelton Henderson, a black man—charged with overseeing compliance with this order. A picture of Henderson was defaced with racist graffiti by cops while a flyer posted at the OPD’s firing range threatened: “You shut the f--k up. We’ll protect America. Keep out of our f--king way, liberal pussies.” Out on the streets, their lethal swagger didn’t miss a beat. From 2000 to 2012, nearly 550 police abuse lawsuits were filed, with the city shelling out over $57 million in defense of their thugs in blue.

In October 2011, the massive police assault against Occupy Oakland protesters made international headlines. Cops cracked heads with clubs while hurling tear gas and flash-bang grenades, nearly killing Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, who was shot in the head with a pellet-loaded beanbag. A subsequent investigation into repeated police attacks on Occupy showed the cops covering up their name badges and turning off lapel cameras, violating two of the “reforms” that had purportedly been instituted. But such transgressions are a mere tip of the iceberg. According to an article in the East Bay Express (10 October 2012), other evidence of the cops’ “compliance” with the court order includes an OPD police academy instructor telling new recruits that the Oakland cops shoot people more now because under the court order they are no longer allowed to beat them up! And the cops’ kill rate has steadily mounted.

Killings and Cover-Ups

Among the cops’ victims were two unarmed men who were pulled over in separate traffic stops. Andrew Moppin-Buckskin was gunned down in December 2007. In July 2008, Jody Woodfox was killed by the same OPD cop, Hector Jimenez. Jimenez was fired, but two years later he was back on the force. In 2011, in front of Skyline High, school district police officer Barhin Bhatt shot student Raheim Brown five times, twice in the head, killing him. Cleared by the DA, Bhatt is still on the job.

Last May 6, Oakland cops killed 18-year-old black Skyline student Alan Blueford, weeks before his graduation. Blueford and two friends had been accosted by plainclothes police on an East Oakland street. Understandably afraid, Blueford ran and was chased down and shot to death by Officer Miguel Masso. No attempt was made to contact Blueford’s parents even after he was finally taken to Highland Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The OPD cover-up machine immediately went into high gear. First the cops claimed that Blueford had died in a “gun battle” with the police in which Masso had been shot. Later it was revealed that Masso had shot himself in the foot. Twelve witnesses testified that Blueford had no weapon.

It took a courageous months-long struggle by Blueford’s parents and their supporters, including a protest the weekend following the killing, even to extract the coroner’s report and, much later, a highly redacted police report on the shooting. The Bluefords continue to fight on behalf of their son and other victims of the marauding OPD, recently joining hundreds of other Oakland residents at a City Council meeting to protest the hiring of Bratton. On the other side, Mayor Quan and city councilors were backed by black preachers in promoting Bratton as the way to “reduce crime” in Oakland’s destitute ghettos. Exposing this lethal fraud, Cephus Johnson, uncle of Oscar Grant—the 22-year-old black man killed in cold blood by BART transit cop Johannes Mehserle on New Year’s Day 2009—argued: “You will create a war zone like you’ve never seen before…these intrusive measures are why my nephew is dead, why Oscar Grant is dead, why Alan Blueford is dead.”

Days after Bratton was hired, police announced that they would be dividing the city into five separate war zones to more effectively prosecute the racist “war on crime.” This is being sold as the implementation of Bratton’s policies of making “allies in the community.” His record as LAPD chief is particularly cited as an example. But the myth that Bratton transformed the corrupt, consummately racist Los Angeles cops into a kinder, gentler police force with good relations with black and Latino communities literally went up in the flames that engulfed ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner after cops fired pyrotechnic bombs into the cabin where he was hiding.

Dorner, who was fired after reporting a vicious assault on a suspect by his training officer, was driven to a homicidal vengeance, mainly targeting cops and their families, by his treatment at the hands of the LAPD. While obviously unhinged, Dorner’s manifesto nonetheless provided a coherent picture of the unabated racism, corruption and sadism of the L.A. cops. And it struck a chord among blacks and Latinos who continue to be on the receiving end. As one man put it, “I don’t defend what Dorner did, but like many in the community, I believe what he said.” This was driven home after cops fired into the pickup truck of two Latino women delivering newspapers. The cops claimed that they thought the truck—driven by a 71-year-old woman who was shot twice in the back—was Dorner’s. In response, other such potential “suspects” began wearing T-shirts and putting on bumper stickers saying they were not Dorner. And so goes the “reformed” LAPD.

But Bratton’s main claim to fame is his “zero tolerance” policing, which spawned the mass targeting of black and Latino young men under the New York Police Department’s “stop and frisk” roundups. In a statement of mind-blowing hypocrisy, Jean Quan piously proclaimed that “racial profiling will not be tolerated in the Oakland Police Department”! Bratton fired back: “For any city to say they don’t do stop-and-frisk…I’m sorry, they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. Every police department in America does it.” Indeed they do, and singling out blacks and Latinos is the name of the game. For the Oakland cops, killing Alan Blueford was little more than another notch in their “stop and frisk” holsters.

The Dangerous Hoax of Police “Reform”

Outrage over the police lynching of Blueford has given rise to calls to fire the killer cop Masso and charge him with murder, as well as appeals to stop racial profiling and institute “stricter background checks, training, apprehension and gun use policies within the OPD.” These demands have been taken up in motions by several union bodies, including SEIU service employees Local 1021, which organizes Oakland city workers, the San Francisco Labor Council and Bay Area Local 10 of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

That these unions have gone on record protesting the racist terror of the OPD is important, particularly given the trade-union bureaucracy’s frequent embrace of the strikebreaking cops as “union brothers.” Moreover, integrated unions like the SEIU city workers and the ILWU are a vital link between the power of organized labor and the defense of the black and Latino poor in the inner cities. But far from offering a prospect of mobilizing the unions in protest against cop terror, appeals for police “reform” serve to deflect outrage over the cops into illusions that their political masters can be pressured to make them serve “the community.” The last six decades of Oakland history stand as a living refutation of such arguments. Endless racist police atrocities have been followed by protests, probes, reports, reforms, police review boards and the occasional firing, and then by more atrocities, repeated ad nauseam.

As Marxists, we understand that the cops are one of the armed bodies of men—along with the military and the prisons—whose job is to protect America’s capitalist rulers against the many whose blood and sweat make the profits for the few. American capitalism is a system built on a bedrock of racial oppression, from chattel slavery to wage slavery. Masses of black and Latino youth have simply been discarded by this country’s callous rulers, left to live and die on the mean streets of the ghettos and barrios, to get gunned down by the cops or to rot in prison torture chambers. As the Labor Black League for Social Defense, which is fraternally allied with the Spartacist League/U.S., wrote in a statement following the coldblooded killing of Oscar Grant:

“The hard truth is that there will be no end to police brutality short of the destruction of this entire system of capitalist exploitation and racial oppression. But a massive protest based on the organized muscle of the labor movement would give the cops and their capitalist masters some pause. And it would drive home the point that the interests of the working class are inseparably linked to the defense of the ghetto and barrios, the defense of immigrant rights and the fight for black freedom.”

Instead, the trade-union misleaders promote suicidal illusions in reforming this system, particularly through the agency of the Democratic Party. The price has been paid in the devastation of the unions and the increasingly depraved conditions of life for those who have been cast off as useless to the system of production for profit.

Reformist Dementia: The ISO’s “Crime Fighting” Program

Seizing on statistics showing a recent rise in crime in Oakland, the cops and their political masters have been whipping up a “crime wave” hysteria. Backed by community preachers, Oakland’s deputy mayor demanded that a state of emergency be declared. With the bourgeois press calling Oakland the most violent city in California, Mayor Quan is trying to get funding for more cops from the Obama administration.

Pandering to this crime scare, an article titled “What Will Stop the Violence in Oakland?” on the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) Socialist Worker Web site declares that “the streets of Oakland are reeling from a seemingly unstoppable spike in street crime and murders.” Arguing that hiring more cops “is probably the worst way to deal with the crisis”(!), the ISO asks, “What if the Oakland City Council and Mayor Jean Quan fired all the cops...and exchanged badges for jobs?” From here they go on to calculate the millions that could be redirected to create an “army of community workers” to “develop recreation and art programs in our poorest neighborhoods” and help in “organizing a gang truce.” The idea that the political representatives of the capitalist state would abolish the cops who serve on the front lines in defending the rule of American capitalism is reformist dementia on amphetamines.

Street crime in poverty-ridden neighborhoods like East Oakland is real and violently ugly. It targets primarily the poor and working people who live there amid the social rot and other pathologies generated by the racist workings of the capitalist system. Preachers and many others in the black middle class call to “stop the violence” by bringing in more cops. These sentiments are often shared by many residents of the inner cities who then find themselves on the receiving end of the rampaging OPD thugs.

To wipe out the systematic demonization and degradation of ghetto and barrio youth requires shattering the capitalist system and the state that defends it. Only by creating its own state power can the workers expropriate the capitalist class and its enormous wealth, instituting a planned, socialist economy that provides jobs and quality housing, education and health care—in short, a real future—for all. This requires building a multiracial revolutionary workers party to lead the workers in struggle as champions of all the oppressed. Such a party can only be forged in political struggle against the current pro-capitalist leaders of the labor movement and their small-time reformist hangers-on. 


Workers Vanguard No. 1021

WV 1021

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