Workers Vanguard No. 1097
7 October 2016
Charlotte, North Carolina
Black People in Cop Crosshairs
Break with the Democrats! For a Workers Party!
On September 20, Keith Lamont Scott became one of the latest victims of the racist executioners in blue. The 43-year-old father of seven was gunned down by the police in broad daylight in the parking lot of the suburban apartment complex where he lived with his family, just minutes from the campus of the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. The small portion of the cops’ own video footage that was released after days of protests shows Scott walking slowly backwards from his parked vehicle with his hands by his sides. He is then shot four times by a black undercover officer who is off camera. Contrary to the police lie that Scott “posed an imminent deadly threat,” he was quite simply killed for the “crime” of sitting in his own car while waiting for his son to get off the school bus.
Keith Scott is one of over 800 people killed by the police in the U.S. so far this year; roughly one in four were black. Only a few days before the Scott killing, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher was shot dead by a Tulsa, Oklahoma policewoman as he held his hands above his head. On September 27, Ugandan immigrant Alfred Olango was blown away in El Cajon, a San Diego suburb, for holding an electronic cigarette. On September 30 and October 1, two black men, Reginald “Junior” Thomas and Carnell “CJ” Snell, were killed in the Los Angeles area. The bitter reality is that in a country whose capitalist economy was founded on chattel slavery, black lives don’t matter to the ruling class. The cops are armed thugs enforcing a system in which workers are brutally exploited and the mass of the black population is forcibly segregated at the bottom of society. This is why the fight against racist cop terror must be linked to the fight for the working class to overthrow this whole rotten, capitalist system through socialist revolution. A team of comrades from Workers Vanguard traveled to Charlotte the weekend following the killing of Keith Scott to distribute our Marxist propaganda and argue for this revolutionary perspective with those who had taken to the streets in protest.
The cops in “open carry” North Carolina didn’t even bother to pretend that a black man might have the same rights as a white man to carry a firearm, immediately justifying their shooting of Keith Scott by claiming he was armed. They later announced that Scott drew their attention while they were waiting to serve a warrant on someone else because he was supposedly rolling a marijuana “blunt” inside his vehicle, demonstrating that the racist “war on drugs” is a license for the cops to kill black people. Scott’s wife and other witnesses to the shooting all maintain that he was not armed. When our team visited the memorial set up for Scott in the parking lot where he was killed, we heard a neighbor who was lighting candles on the memorial ask who people were supposed to believe, the neighbors who were there, or the cops?
The cops and their media mouthpieces then resorted to the tried and tested technique of character assassination of Scott himself. Burying or disappearing the fact that they gunned down a family man, married for 20 years, disabled and recovering from a traumatic brain injury, the capitalist press has instead grotesquely tried to depict Scott as a lifelong criminal. Scott’s wife, Rakeyia, courageously filmed and made public her own cellphone video of her husband’s killing. She repeatedly appealed to the cops that her husband was not armed and explained that he suffered from a brain injury for which he had just taken medication.
Police Riot Against Protesters
As word of the killing spread on the evening of September 20, protesters chanting “Black lives matter!” took to the streets in Scott’s University City neighborhood. They were met with riot cops who tear-gassed the protesters. The following night, hundreds took to the streets in Charlotte’s Uptown, the second-largest banking center in the U.S., where gleaming skyscrapers, luxury hotels and expensive restaurants abound. Activists described how a prayer vigil and march that night turned into a scene of police violence when the cops unleashed tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets on marchers in front of the upscale Omni Hotel.
In the chaotic scene caused by the police assault on the demonstration, 26-year-old Justin Carr, who had joined the protest on his way to work, was fatally shot in the head. The police claim that another civilian shot Carr, although protesters who were present at the time told us that they believed Carr may have been shot “pointblank” by a police rubber bullet. While the truth behind Carr’s killing may never come to light, it is clear that those responsible for creating a deadly environment were the cops. In a TV interview, Carr’s mother said of her son, “I know that he died for a cause.”
Not missing a beat, Republican governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency in Charlotte and the National Guard was deployed to protect the capitalists’ sacred Uptown real estate. The Democratic Party mayor declared a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew, which ensnared several people who weren’t even protesting. Throughout the week, the cops kept rounding up activists for blocking roads and purported looting of businesses like fast-food joints days earlier.
Extraordinary security measures were announced for the home NFL game that weekend, and local news whipped up hysteria about the “safety” of the fans. Phalanxes of riot cops stood ready to “protect” some 70,000 fans from about 200 protesters, who carried posters ranging from “Don’t Demonize My Blackness” and “Silence=Violence, Am I Next” to “Love Is Unstoppable.” Vans and trucks full of riot cops and National Guardsmen raced around the city to confront what were often no more than dozens of protesters. The state of emergency and curfews have now been lifted, and the National Guard withdrawn. Yet many people are still facing prosecution; over 80 people were arrested during the protests and arrest warrants have been issued for almost 100 more. Release the arrested protesters! Drop all the charges!
Push Police Reform
Charlotte is a textbook case of why capitalist Democratic Party politics and schemes for community control of the police are a dead end. Living under a liberal Democratic mayor, a “progressive” black police chief and a black president made no difference for Keith Scott when he came into the crosshairs of the killer cops. Yet black preachers, Democratic Party operatives and the “radicals” who tail them descended on Charlotte to repackage the same old schemes to reform the police and divert the protests into the safe channels of electoral politics. Leading this effort was the Reverend William Barber II, Democratic Party darling and president of the North Carolina NAACP, who called on protesters to “march and vote together.” With North Carolina a swing state in the Clinton-Trump contest, the Democrats were particularly eager to tamp down images of militant black protesters.
The reformist Workers World Party (WWP) also showed up to promote liberal demands for an “independent investigation” into Scott’s killing and for a freeze on federal funds to the Charlotte police department. This amounts to appealing to the imperialist Obama administration, which is the pinnacle of the whole apparatus of racist capitalist oppression and which is carrying out daily bombing raids against dark-skinned peoples abroad, to help black people at home. WWP also supports the Charlotte Uprising group’s demands for “community control of the police, starting with the creation of a civilian oversight board that has the power to hire and fire officers.”
In fact, Charlotte already has a Citizens Review Board, which was set up in 1997 after three black men were killed by white officers and was given expanded powers in 2013. This made no difference for Keith Scott or for Jonathan Ferrell, a black man who was shot ten times by a Charlotte cop after he sought help at a white family’s home following a car accident in 2013. Even though that cop was indicted for manslaughter, he predictably walked after a mistrial. Schemes for community control of the police only serve to sow illusions that workers and the oppressed can have a say in running the forces of state repression, which exist only to “protect and serve” the interests of the capitalist class against those very same workers and oppressed people. The WWP cynically tries to cover up its role as promoters of this deadly illusion by simultaneously calling to “Abolish the Police!”—a utopian call on the capitalist state to dissolve itself.
“New South”: Liberal Veneer
for Vicious Racism
A 35 percent black city of just under a million people, Charlotte is held up as a symbol in the “New South” of what the New York Times calls “racial amity.” In the shadow of the Uptown bank towers, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the headquarters of Billy Graham’s right-wing evangelical association are sites like Romare Bearden Park (named after the renowned black artist) and a center for African-American Arts and Culture. But the genteel veneer is thin—as in most Southern cities, you can’t go a couple of blocks without seeing a historical marker commemorating the bloody rule of the Confederate slavocracy. It took a bloody Civil War to abolish slavery, yet the promise of black freedom was betrayed when the Northern capitalists ended the period of Radical Reconstruction. The black population throughout the U.S. was consolidated as a specially oppressed race-color caste, forcibly segregated at the bottom of the social and economic order.
The white propertied classes subjected black people to legally enforced racial segregation, stripped them of all democratic rights and held them down through terror, especially lynching. In North Carolina, the former slaveowners mobilized the “White Supremacy Campaign” in order to pit poor white sharecroppers against black freedmen, breaking up the alliance between white populists and black Republicans known as the Fusion movement in the 1890s. Despite the smashing of legally enforced Jim Crow segregation in the South through the struggles of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, the de facto segregation of black people north and south was not uprooted.
From chattel slavery to wage slavery, the racial oppression of black people is materially rooted in the social and economic structure of American capitalism. This is evident not only in the statistics of those killed, arrested and imprisoned by the U.S. “justice” system, but also in the poverty rates of cities like Charlotte where three times as many blacks and Latinos live in poverty as whites, while 36 percent of black and 39 percent of Latino children are poor. Black people are forced by the capitalist economy into segregated housing and schools, are the last hired and first fired in the workplace, and are subjected to chronic unemployment and mass incarceration. Because black oppression is integral to the very workings of the capitalist system in the U.S., it will take a third American revolution, a socialist revolution, to achieve black liberation.
Racism has long served the capitalist rulers in propping up their oppressive system by keeping working people divided so that they cannot unite in joint struggle against the exploitative profit system. Many white protesters in Charlotte carried signs with slogans like “White Silence Is White Violence” as if all white people who don’t speak up are implicated in the crimes of the rapacious rulers of this country and their cops. This deflects responsibility for racist police terror away from the capitalist rulers who not only oppress black people and other minorities, but also viciously exploit workers of all races.
The Social Power of
the Working Class Is Key
A number of activists from around North Carolina described to us how white-supremacists are now increasingly crawling out of the woodwork in their towns and cities, emboldened by the Trump campaign. Racist Ku Klux Klan terror in the South has historically served as an auxiliary to the forces of the state in subjugating black people and keeping trade unions out. Today, the South remains a bastion of open shop, low-wage exploitation for capitalist industry; North Carolina has the lowest unionization rate of any U.S. state. Any fight to organize the “right to work” South poses the centrality of the fight for black rights in the fight to defend the working class as a whole. Yet the existing pro-capitalist trade-union misleaders barely lift a finger to organize the millions of non-union Southern workers into what could be strong, multiracial unions. Instead, they pour massive amounts of union funds into election campaigns for the racist, capitalist Democrats.
At an integrated rally of more than 500 on September 24 in a park opposite the complex of court and police buildings in Uptown Charlotte, protesters expressed to us their immense frustration over the lack of a solution to the epidemic of cop terror. There was a palpable sense of despair that after two years of protests around the country in response to one police killing after another, nothing has changed. This was captured in a poster at the rally outside the football game the next day: “I Can’t Believe We’re Still Protesting This.” A popular sentiment among protesters who were tired of impotently pleading with the powers that be was that only by shutting things down would the rulers respond. Some protesters tried to shut down the surrounding highways while others argued for consumer boycotts of big businesses. These tactics were often tied up with illusions in local community control: promoting local businesses and community-organized social work.
The understanding that protest action needs to hit the capitalists in their pocketbooks in order to have some impact is the beginning of wisdom. But, as we explained in our discussions, the power to do so rests not with small groups of activists nor the consumer, but with the multiracial working class. It is the working class whose labor keeps the wheels of the economy turning; thus it has the power to stop the flow of capitalist profit. And black workers form a strategic component of the U.S. working class. In Charlotte we often used the example of the powerful and heavily black and Latino transit union in New York City, whose members can cripple the finance capital of the world by striking. The power of the working class should be mobilized in demonstrations against cop terror, ensuring that black youth do not stand alone against the bloody might of the armed forces of the state. In itself, this won’t put a stop to cop terror, but it would go a long way toward forging the fighting unity of the workers and oppressed against the capitalist order.
The key to unlocking that power is a fight against the existing leadership of the trade unions and their reformist hangers-on, who tie the workers politically to capitalist parties like the Democrats and Greens. What is needed is a new, class-struggle leadership of the unions. Not surprisingly, the prospect of such working-class struggle seemed either remote or impossible to most of the protesters we spoke with. It was often when we pointed to the need to study the history of class and revolutionary struggle in the U.S. in order to understand why the working class is key that protesters got copies of our publications, including our journal Black History and the Class Struggle. As for the idea of “community control” of the local economy and social programs, we explained that small-time local capitalism and social work are no solution to the rampant homelessness, unemployment and poverty faced by millions under capitalism. Only by ripping the banks and industry out of the hands of the capitalist class and reorganizing the economy on a socialist basis under workers rule can the wealth created by working people be dedicated to quality education, housing, health care and jobs for all.
We in the Spartacist League seek to win anti-racist activists to the understanding that only the overthrow of the capitalist system through the revolutionary struggle of the working class leading all of the oppressed can put an end to cop terror. Linking up the anger of the oppressed with the power of the workers in a fight to sweep the capitalist state apparatus into the dustbin of history and establish a workers government requires the leadership of a multiracial, revolutionary workers party. We are committed to forging such a party through struggle. For black liberation through socialist revolution!