Workers Vanguard No. 1050

8 August 2014


NYPD “Broken Windows”: License to Kill

Outrage over Cop Choke-Hold Killing of Eric Garner

They can’t cover this one up: Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black Staten Island man, assaulted and choked to death by a gang of “New York’s finest” on July 17. They squeezed the life out of Garner as he said over and over, “I can’t breathe!” While one of the killers applied a choke hold, another pinned Garner’s chest to the ground with his knee. As cops swarmed over the scene, paramedics arrived but did nothing to save Garner’s life. Cellphone videos caught it all and quickly went viral, helping create simmering rage at yet another NYPD racist killing.

Eyewitnesses exposed the NYPD’s lies from the get-go. The cops said that Garner had resisted arrest for selling loose cigarettes, which is how he made some money after his asthma forced him to quit his parks department job. As everyone at the scene outside Tompkinsville Park saw, Garner, a large man, had just broken up a fight between two youths. The next day, people crowded around a makeshift memorial expressed to Workers Vanguard their bitter anger at the killing of a popular local figure. Known for buying food and clothes for the down-and-out, Garner, a father of six, was “a giant teddy bear,” as one acquaintance put it.

“It stops today!” These words, among Garner’s last as he was set upon by the NYPD, quickly became a rallying cry for all those fed up with daily humiliation and brutalization at the hands of the cops. Protests over Garner’s killing, held repeatedly since July 17, have drawn hundreds at most. But anger at the NYPD is palpable. Garner’s funeral in Brooklyn turned into a spontaneous street protest when the turnout overflowed the church.

Two days after the cops killed Garner, protesters outside the 120th Precinct booed a local politician off the platform when he said that “we are supported by the precinct.” Chants of “1-2-0” and “fuck the police” told the real story. The 120th precinct is notorious for treating the North Shore, where the borough’s black and Latino minorities are concentrated, as a hunting ground. In late July, the family of Irving Mizell filed a suit charging cops with killing the 52-year-old man last year by dragging him down seven flights of stairs and beating him. He was “screaming he couldn’t breathe,” Mizell’s brother told the Staten Island Advance (31 July). “His cries fell on deaf ears, just like Mr. Garner’s, and he died in that precinct.”

Now the cops are looking for payback for the most widely publicized video of Garner’s brutal killing, taken by his friend Ramsey Orta. Just days after Police Commissioner William Bratton lashed out at people causing “interference” with the cops by videotaping arrests, police arrested Orta on gun possession charges. Free Ramsey Orta now! Drop all charges!

The medical examiner’s ruling that Garner died due to a choke hold combined with chest compression has increased pressure on prosecutors to arrest Daniel Pantaleo, the cop caught on video strangling Garner. No question: Pantaleo and his cohorts are guilty as hell. But the killer cops get off time and again. By the lights of the racist capitalist rulers, the cops are just “doing their job” when they snuff out lives in the ghettos and barrios. In very rare cases, local authorities or the Feds make a cop do time in order to make a show of cleaning things up. Even then, the cops almost always get just a slap on the wrist.

One of Garner’s friends put it bluntly the day after the killing: “There ain’t no justice.” Not for the black masses, not for the unemployed, not for working people. The justice system does work for the tiny class of capitalists, who reap obscene profits from an economic system built on the vicious exploitation of labor and the brutal oppression of black people. The cops are the front-line defenders of that system. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, police have been blowing away Latinos and homeless white people who, like the black poor, have been thrown onto capitalism’s scrap heap.

It doesn’t matter which capitalist party, Democratic or Republican, runs the machinery of state violence, or how many civilian review boards or similar whitewash schemes are in place. The most notorious cases of New York cop terror bear this out: black graffiti artist Michael Stewart (beaten to death—1983); infirm black grandmother Eleanor Bumpurs (shotgun—1984); Anthony Baez (choke hold—1994); Amadou Diallo (41 bullets—1999); Alberta Spruill (heart attack caused by a concussion grenade—2003); Sean Bell (50 rounds—2006); Kimani Gray (seven bullets—2013). The truth is that such murderous, systematic repression will end only when the multiracial working class, whose labor makes this society run, seizes power and sweeps away the entire racist capitalist system and its police enforcers.

Now there is Eric Garner, a casualty of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s police “reforms.” De Blasio was elected in November based on promises to rein in stop-and-frisk, which has tormented hundreds of thousands of blacks and Latinos, and to champion working people and the middle class against the finance and real estate barons. In “De Blasio: Liberal Populist Face of Capitalist Politics” (WV No. 1032, 18 October 2013) we warned that any hopes he generated would be cruelly dashed, writing: “Whatever posture he takes today and whatever palliatives he may dole out, de Blasio as mayor will be charged with managing the finance capital of U.S. imperialism on behalf of the Wall Street plutocrats and real estate barons who run the city.”

De Blasio never called for scrapping stop-and-frisk, only for its reform. Under Bratton’s “broken windows” clampdown on petty violations–an approach he honed as commissioner under racist pig mayor Giuliani in the 1990s–the NYPD is stepping up racist harassment, and worse. Now arrests are skyrocketing for everything from dancing for money in the subways to rolling a joint on your stoop. This will only accelerate the criminalization of black youth and others suffering such arrests, who in Bratton’s eyes are just closet felons anyway. Meanwhile, cops continue to wantonly use the choke hold, even though it’s supposedly been banned. Eric Garner was victimized by “broken windows.” So was Rosan Miller, a seven-months-pregnant black woman in East New York, Brooklyn, who was put in a choke hold by an NYPD thug on July 26 for the “crime” of grilling food on the sidewalk!

Reverend Al Sharpton, who has led some of the protests over Garner’s killing, has announced plans for a mass march across the Verrazano Bridge on August 23. Make no mistake: As always, his role in getting in front of the anger over cop terror is to contain and channel it into appeals to the same “justice” system that gives the cops a license to kill. Sharpton, who decades ago wore a wire for the Feds, demands a federal “investigation” into Garner’s killing when the whole world saw an execution by the cops on the street. In his current role as a prominent Democratic politician with ins to City Hall and the White House, Sharpton acts as a tool of the racist capitalist rulers. A longtime aide of Sharpton, Rachel Noerdlinger, is now a principal adviser to de Blasio and his wife, playing a key role in the mayor’s handling of the outrage over Garner.

Echoing Sharpton’s calls for reliance on the “justice” system is the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO). In Socialist Worker (22 July), the ISO pushes a petition calling on de Blasio, Bratton and the Staten Island district attorney to conduct “a thorough and fair investigation” so that Garner’s killers are “held accountable.” The cops are accountable: to the capitalist class that pays them to enforce its rule and protect its profits against workers and the oppressed. The ISO positively reports demands by “New Yorkers Against Bratton” for a federal investigation into the NYPD’s “culture of brutality” and for “community control of the police.” Sowing the dangerous illusion that the rulers can be pressured to cede control of the police to the very people the cops are paid to repress, the reformists reinforce the chains that bind the working class and minorities to the capitalist injustice system.

Anger over cop terror needs an organized, militant expression—one that can link the ghetto and barrio masses with the social power of the working class. Racist police brutality is an integral part of the capitalist system. But a massive mobilization of labor could give the cops pause. To achieve this requires a political struggle against the craven labor bureaucracy, which has shackled the potential power of the unions and sped their decline through its loyalty to the profit system and its ties to the Democratic Party.

Eric Garner was from a “transit family.” His mother, Gwen Carr, is a subway train operator. His sister, Ellisha Flagg, is a bus driver, and his niece is a subway car cleaner. Each belongs to the 35,000-strong Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100. A number of transit workers attended Garner’s wake and funeral. But the Local 100 leadership has done nothing to organize solidarity with their grieving members. No doubt this is in deference to the TWU tops’ “brothers” in the cop “unions.” Make no mistake—cops, prison guards and security guards are not workers but their mortal enemies. They have no place in the labor movement.

What is needed is a class-struggle leadership that will get the unions off their knees and mobilize the workers at the head of all the exploited and oppressed. Linked to the anger of the ghettos, the proletariat, with its heavy concentration of black workers, has the social power to end the rule of racist capitalism through socialist revolution. The crucial task is to build the revolutionary workers party needed to lead the proletariat to victory.