Workers Vanguard No. 1020
22 March 2013
East Flatbush: Anger Erupts, Cops Lay Siege
Kimani Gray Killed in Cold Blood by NYPD
MARCH 17—Fresh from celebrating a friend’s “sweet 16” party, black teenager Kimani Gray was gunned down by the NYPD near his home in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. As the 16-year-old hung out with friends on the evening of March 9, undercover cops who saw him “adjusting his waistband in a suspicious manner” sprang out of an unmarked car and surrounded him. Kimani screamed, “Stop, I’m not running!” seconds before seven bullets tore through his body, three from the back. As the youth pleaded with the unidentified cops, “Please don’t let me die,” one of them snarled, “Stay down or we’ll shoot you again.” He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
As news of the coldblooded execution spread, the neighborhood erupted in anger. The police quickly put out a report that Kimani had pointed a .38-caliber revolver, which cops claim to have recovered at the scene. Tishana King, who witnessed the killing from her apartment window, said that Kimani had nothing in his hands. She was just one of many neighborhood residents, including Kimani’s family, who countered the police claim that the youth was armed. His mother, Carol Gray, asked tearfully at a news conference, “Why was Kimani saying, ‘You got me. I’m down. Don’t shoot no more?’ Why was Kimani saying that, if Kimani had a weapon to point at the officer?”
The cops who gunned down Kimani—one Latino and one of Egyptian origin—were given hospital treatment for “trauma” and ringing in the ears from the barrage of bullets they fired and, as usual, were given time off (“administrative duty”). Meanwhile the gutter press, as mouthpieces for the killers-in-blue, has put Kimani on trial. After a media barrage seeking to justify his killing through allegations that he was in the Bloods gang and had a prior record, his high school principal responded by issuing a letter to parents, staff and students praising Kimani’s academic progress and calling him an “energetic, kind, playful, independent young man.”
A New York Post (14 March) editorial grotesquely blared: “Blame Kimani Gray: The Cops Were Doing Their Job.” This is the raw expression of American capitalism’s impulse to genocide of black people, who have been kept on the bottom since they were brought to this country in chains. Today, inner-city black youth are overwhelmingly deemed an expendable population to be warehoused in prisons or shot down in the street. Each evening since the killing, residents of the heavily black working-class neighborhood, where many families come from the Caribbean, have joined with young activists to show their outrage, chanting “NYPD, KKK, how many kids did you kill today?” Area residents remember that just last June, 23-year-old Shantel Davis was shot dead by a cop a few blocks from where Kimani Gray was gunned down.
Protesters have been met with a massive deployment of cops in full riot gear, subjected to pepper-spray and baton attacks. With the neighborhood locked down, businesses are complaining that they have no customers. After some shops and cars were vandalized, the bourgeois press had a field day, portraying the outpouring of visceral anger as “rioting.” On March 13, with police helicopters swarming overhead, at least 46 protesters were arrested, mostly for disorderly conduct, as they attempted to march to the 67th Precinct. Kimani’s sister, Mahnefah, was nabbed by cops while crossing the street and only released after protesters chanted: “That’s the sister!” She was eventually let off with a summons. We demand: Drop all charges against the protesters!
Kimani Gray’s fate is the lethal result of the NYPD “stop and frisk” campaign, which last year alone victimized over half a million people, the overwhelming majority of them black or Latino. Indicating just how sweeping this policy is, one speaker at a Kimani Gray protest pointed out that there is now a cell phone app that sends details of a victim’s ordeal directly to the New York Civil Liberties Union! Sandra Mitchelin, a protest organizer whose 14-year-old daughter went to school with Kimani, said, “The whole community is fed up.... These were 13, 14, 15-year olds at a party. It never deserved to go down how it went down.” Spartacist League comrades at one protest noted that older residents had come out in part to protect youth from the cops’ menacing presence.
As is true across the country, the cops in NYC act as an army of occupation in the ghettos and barrios as they enforce capitalist “law and order” against the entire working class. No amount of “overhaul” or “sensitivity training” will ever change that. What should be happening now is massive labor-centered protest on the streets to unite the social power of the working class with the anger of the ghetto and barrio masses. New York City is a union town with a multiracial working class—black, white, Latino, Asian; native-born and immigrant. Many of these union members know that Kimani Gray could have been their son.
Black bourgeois politicians have had to move fast to try to quell the anger of the people they claim to represent. Democratic city councilman Jumaane Williams, whose district includes East Flatbush, pleaded with Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly to come there to repair “police and community relations.” While Williams welcomes the racist top cops to the neighborhood, he tells anti-racist protesters to get lost, tweeting, “Furious at adults from OUTSIDE the community who incite our angry young people!!!” So to keep a lid on things, Williams regurgitates the kind of “outside agitator” charge that sheriffs and Klansmen 50 years ago threw out at civil rights activists for “stirring up” black people in the Jim Crow South. And people in East Flatbush aren’t buying it. “Ask the youth in the community what they want!” said one man at a Williams press conference. “Investigate the investigators!” called out a union steamfitter.
City Councilman Charles Barron, the Democratic Party’s in-house “militant,” intoned at a March 12 protest that “we are fighting capitalism,” and that the real crimes are poverty, unemployment and racist institutions. But this was just his usual attempt to get ahead of the anger in the community. The next day, Barron said that instead of just buying the cops’ story, there needs to be more investigation “to see if the shooting was justified” (Amsterdam News, 13 March). So Barron tells people to dig around looking for “justification” for cops blowing away a 16-year-old kid. He and Jumaane Williams play the same game: derailing anger at the murderous injustice of the racist capitalist system into “responsible” channels, or, as Williams put it, “to channel the anger properly” (New York Times, 14 March). While the reformist Workers World Party lauds Barron, the one-time member of the Black Panther Party, as a “revolutionary,” as a Democrat Barron is no less a representative of the capitalist ruling class than his nemesis, billionaire mayor Bloomberg.
Police Commissioner Kelly has said that there was “nothing to indicate that this shooting was outside the guidelines.” Indeed, by the standards of bourgeois legality, the cops who killed Kimani Gray—and Sean Bell in 2006 and Ramarley Graham last year—were doing the job they are paid to do: to protect the interests of the tiny class of fabulously wealthy capitalist exploiters that lords it over working people and the poor. The hard truth is that the only way to eliminate police brutality is to do away with the capitalist system.
Whether run by Democratic or Republican administrations, the same system that has thrown millions of workers out of their jobs and homes over the last five years offers nothing but contempt—and certainly no future—for the masses of black and Latino youth. Brooklyn Democratic state assemblyman Dov Hikind drove this home with a vengeance last month when, to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim, he donned an Afro wig, brown make-up and a jersey and sunglasses to dress up as a black basketball player—with a photo posted on Facebook. Hikind smugly dismissed the outrage his racist minstrel routine touched off as “political correctness.”
As we wrote after the execution of Oscar Grant, a young black worker, by a transit cop in Oakland in 2009:
“To really change the systematic demonization and degradation of black youth trapped in ever more hellish conditions requires shattering the entire system of racist American capitalism, in which the subjugation and segregation of the majority of the black population at the bottom of this society is rooted. Only then will it be possible to eliminate the material roots of black oppression through the integration of black people into an egalitarian socialist society based on a collectivized economy, with jobs and quality housing, health care and education for all.”
—“Racist Police Terror U.S.A.,” WV No. 935, 24 April 2009
Above all, what needs to be done is to build a workers party that understands that it took a Civil War—the Second American Revolution—to smash chattel slavery and that it will take a third, socialist American revolution to finally achieve black liberation.