Workers Vanguard No. 1054
17 October 2014
Ferguson Two Months Later
Thousands Protest Racist Cop Terror
The following article is based on a report from a Workers Vanguard sales/reporting team in the St. Louis area.
Two months after a cop gunned down unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson remains a focal point for anger over racist cop terror. Since the initial outpouring of protest following Brown’s killing, St. Louis-area cops have blown away three more black people: Kajieme Powell on August 19, Michael Willis Jr. on September 17 and 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers, mowed down in a hail of 17 bullets by an off-duty white cop in the city’s Shaw neighborhood on October 8.
The episodic flare-up of protests in the wake of the National Guard siege of Ferguson in August has elicited a vicious racist backlash, centered on expressions of solidarity with Darren Wilson, Brown’s killer. Ominously, Ferguson police sported “I Am Darren Wilson” wristbands until the Department of Justice, in the interest of cleaning up the image of the thugs in blue, called for them to be removed in late September. Black protesters outside of the Cardinals baseball playoff game on October 6 were met with racist vitriol from white fans, including chants of “Let’s go, Darren!” One of these bigots had “I Am Darren Wilson” taped to his replica jersey.
The extended weekend of October 10-13 saw a series of protest events, including marches, sit-ins, meetings and civil disobedience, initiated by Hands Up United, a black youth activist group formed after Brown’s killing. Two days before these “Ferguson October” protests, the shooting death of Myers had local residents and activists back out in the streets, facing cops in riot gear.
In the largest draw of the weekend, thousands marched through downtown St. Louis on October 11. In addition to a core of local residents, a broad multiracial mix of trade unionists, anti-racist activists, leftists and students from across the country took part. That night, there were protests at the Ferguson police station and a sit-in at a QuikTrip gas station in the Shaw neighborhood, where several were arrested. Civil disobedience actions two days later resulted in additional arrests.
The central demand of the organizers of the “Ferguson October” protests was for Darren Wilson to be prosecuted. At the October 11 march, there was widespread and justified anger that 64 days after Brown’s death, the cop who killed him still walks free, while black youth keep getting shot down.
We distributed hundreds of the August 20 Spartacist League leaflet “Ferguson: The Real Face of Racist Capitalist America” (reprinted in WV No. 1051, 5 September), which notes that in this society, a cop’s badge is a license to kill black people. With government officials seeking to quell the protests convulsing Ferguson at the time, the leaflet warned: “The authorities want to herd the mass outrage back into the ballot box, while Democratic Party politico Al Sharpton chimes in to scold Ferguson residents for low voter turnout. There should be no illusions in the Democrats or the federal government, which oversees this rotten system that the cops ‘serve and protect’.”
We spoke with many black youth who expressed frustration over the inaction of black Democratic Party politicians and with a system they see as corrupt from top to bottom. They view Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson as sellouts only out for the TV cameras and money. Such sentiments were captured by hip-hop artist and Hands Up United organizer Tef Poe, who noted in a Time (16 September) article: “This is the moment I asked myself, ‘Why did I vote for Barack Obama twice?’”
Dissatisfaction with the “system” and one or another Democrat is not going to amount to much absent an understanding of the class divisions within this society. The Democratic Party, no less than the Republicans, represents the tiny capitalist class that profits from a system rooted in the exploitation of labor and the subjugation of black people at the bottom. The very job of black Democrats is to co-opt or otherwise hold back the struggles of the black masses. So far as we could tell, no black elected officials were on the platform at the end of the march. But there were plenty of preachers as well as young activists calling for voter registration.
During a mass meeting at St. Louis University the next day, black youth heckled a gaggle of religious leaders and the president of the NAACP, demanding a “plan of action” from the speakers who were offering up love-thy-neighbor and other liberal pabulum. Playing to the crowd, headline speaker and radical academic Cornel West suggested: “The older generation has been too well adjusted to injustice to listen to the younger generation.” West, a onetime Obama supporter, has had his own falling out with the president. His more spirited rhetoric masks a strategy that at bottom is the same as the other preachers at the event: looking to the Democrats to “revive some democratic spirit and democratic possibility.”
A number of reformist groups, such as the Revolutionary Communist Party and Socialist Alternative (SAlt), mobilized heavily from across the Midwest for the weekend protests. These groups have picked up and run with the call to arrest Darren Wilson. Whatever punishment might be meted out to this killer cop will surely be not nearly enough. The fact of the matter is that the cops are not going to be held “accountable” for their crimes. The simple reason is that their purpose, regardless of who is in office, is to enforce the rule of the capitalist exploiters through the violent suppression of workers, blacks and all the oppressed. Even if Wilson is in some way punished, it will simply be for appearances so that the Ferguson police can better go about their business of repression. But the fake socialists would have you believe that by removing a few bad apples, the class enemy’s guard dogs and the rest of its state apparatus can be made to serve the exploited and oppressed masses.
After the march, we attended a SAlt public forum titled “The Whole System Is Guilty,” which drew 60 people. This outfit holds that police are “workers in uniform,” a position SAlt’s speaker conveniently neglected to mention before we brought it up in the discussion. Our comrade explained that such an embrace of these hired guns “is contrary to the Marxist understanding of the state, which is the armed bodies of men—the courts, the cops, the military—who defend the interests of the bourgeoisie.” The SAlt spokesman disgustingly responded that many people “have to go find jobs like the police department” and that we should “have a dialogue with them.” SAlt’s touching faith in the capitalist state notwithstanding, many black youth realize that if they try to have a “dialogue” with a cop they are more likely than not to end up face down on the sidewalk.
Mobilizing the social power of the multiracial working class independent from and in opposition to the capitalist state and its political parties is vital to the fight against cop terror and racial oppression. Members of the United Auto Workers, Communications Workers of America, Service Employees International Union and the Chicago Teachers Union were at the march. Our perspective that labor must take the lead in fighting black oppression was well received by many workers. While AFL-CIO officials had decided to sponsor buses for trade unionists and others from out of town, the only labor banner we spotted was from the St. Louis Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).
One CBTU member complained that although a lot of labor people were there, the unions had not mobilized the ranks, in force, as organizations. As a component part of the Democratic Party, the AFL-CIO bureaucracy was not about to do so. In supporting the march, its primary interest was bolstering the fortunes of the Democrats, especially with the midterm elections on the horizon. The key to unlocking the social power of labor is the fight for a class-struggle union leadership.
The capitalist state cannot be reformed to act in the interests of workers and the oppressed but must be destroyed and replaced by a different kind of state where those who labor rule. Our purpose is to build the revolutionary workers party that can lead the fight for a socialist America. Only then will there be justice for the mass of the population.