Workers Vanguard No. 1059

9 January 2015


Amid Protests Against Racist Police Terror

NYC Cop Backlash

Weeks of mass protests that erupted after the policemen who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner got off have left cops across the country seething. These hired guns of the capitalist rulers are howling over any criticism of how they do their job, which in racist capitalist America does include terrorizing and killing unarmed black people. Leading the pack in New York City are the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) and its ilk, which have seized on the December 20 killing of two Brooklyn cops to further push their agenda of bonapartism: that is, to stand above the law as judge, jury and executioner. The nationwide mobilization of police for the funerals of the two cops on consecutive weekends was a chilling show of force. Now the Fraternal Order of Police is building a January 17 “End the Madness: Sea of Blue” march in Washington, D.C.

The NYPD has once again gone ballistic at the very suggestion that there should be some checks on its enforcement of racist “law and order” in the city. The cops want an entirely free hand, and it is no accident the PBA and similar groups are spearheading the backlash to the protests. The PBA is not a union in the sense of a workers organization but a political club reflecting the cops’ awareness of their social role as the guard dogs of the capitalist order.

As the mayor of New York City, which he manages on behalf of the Wall Street plutocrats and real estate barons, Bill de Blasio is commander-in-chief of the NYPD. So when he expressed a little sympathy for those opposing cop terror, de Blasio’s thugs in blue were furious, blaming him for encouraging the protests. The rabid PBA head Patrick Lynch denounced the mayor for supposedly throwing cops “under the bus.”

De Blasio also set off the cops when he stated in a TV interview that he had to warn his 17-year-old son Dante, who is biracial, to be careful not to make any sudden moves when dealing with police—common-sense advice for black youth in this vicious capitalist society that is racist to the core. In response, Ed Mullins, head of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, slammed the mayor: “He may want to think about moving out of New York City completely. He just doesn’t belong here.” Mullins, Lynch and their cohorts insist that de Blasio either tell protesters to stop or get out of the way.

After Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who has been described as mentally unstable, killed the two NYC cops, Lynch went on a tear over the “blood on many hands,” citing “the office of the mayor” and those in the streets protesting police brutality. De Blasio called for a pause to the protests and Police Commissioner William Bratton pronounced the killings their “direct spinoff.” Over 20 people have since been arrested for allegedly threatening cops, including a 16-year-old who was held in jail for a week over Christmas because he posted “Let’s Kill the Cops” on his Facebook page. Despite the NYPD’s sinister ravings and the mayor’s admonishments, the protests have not come to a halt. The initial wave of protest was a measure of how fed up a wide swath of society is with daily cop violence.

The two funerals were attended by tens of thousands from across the country, with the New York Times (28 December) describing the scene at the first as “nothing but thick rows of police officers as far as anyone could see.” Large numbers of cops turned their backs on de Blasio when he spoke at the funerals, as had been done when he visited the hospital where the two cops were taken. Here was a demonstrative show of insubordination and resistance to being put on a leash by civilian authorities when what they really want to do is run wild, wreaking vengeance on protesters and the ghetto and barrio poor with impunity.

Among the bourgeois politicians speaking at the first funeral was U.S. vice president Joe Biden, signaling that the maintenance of “law and order” in NYC, the center of American finance capital, is of vital concern to the highest levels of the capitalist rulers. Reflecting this concern, the bourgeoisie’s paper of record, the New York Times, issued an editorial titled “Respect for NYPD Squandered in Attacks on Bill de Blasio” (29 December). The next day, after statistics were released showing that the police were engaging in a slowdown (summonses for minor offenses had plunged by over 90 percent compared to the previous week), the Times instructed the cops to “do your jobs.” The capitalist rulers in the city and beyond are worried that the NYPD has gone too far, doing further damage to the illusion that the police “serve and protect” the population as a whole. In reality, the job of the cops is to maintain the rule of the capitalist exploiters through violent suppression of the working class, black people and all the oppressed.

In New York City, as elsewhere, the cops have a longstanding appetite for bonapartism. In 1992, when black Democratic mayor David Dinkins moved to replace the cops on the sham Civilian Complaint Review Board with civilians appointed by the mayor, a 10,000-strong cop mob stormed the steps of City Hall. That veritable lynch mob was an example of how in America, where capitalist rule has always had racial oppression at its base, even those black people who have supposedly made it are still branded by the color of their skin. (For more on PBA bonapartism, see article on page 2.)

Today, there are racist undertones to the vitriol aimed by the cops and their supporters at de Blasio, whose wife and children are black. A racist, pro-NYPD throng gathered outside City Hall on December 19, where some disgustingly sported shirts reading “I Can Breathe,” a mockery of Eric Garner’s last words as cops were choking him to death. Al Sharpton, who in the past wore a wire to spy on black politicians for the FBI and cops, has also been a target, receiving death threats for supposedly being “anti-cop.” Sharpton has been prominent around the protests against cop terror, working overtime to direct the outrage into support for the capitalist Democratic Party and reliance on the federal government. He serves to reinforce illusions that the police can be reformed to act in the interests of the oppressed by getting rid of a few “bad apples,” never passing up an opportunity to emphasize how much he supports the police.

The tensions between the PBA and the mayor boil down to how much democratic window dressing to put on the police. During his 2013 mayoral bid, de Blasio attracted support from many black people and Latinos by running as an opponent of stop-and-frisk. Lynch’s hysterical claims that de Blasio “thinks he’s running a fucking revolution” couldn’t be further from the truth; de Blasio’s policies are at bottom a repackaging of racist cop terror.

While stop-and-frisk has been curtailed and a few other largely cosmetic reforms have been introduced, arrests for minor offenses have continued unabated under de Blasio/Bratton’s “broken windows” policing strategy. And, of course, it was “broken windows” that brought about the death of Eric Garner, who was targeted for selling loose cigarettes. Bratton introduced “broken windows” policing to NYC during his first stint as police chief in the 1990s. De Blasio’s reappointment of Bratton as chief gave a green light to the NYPD to keep up the war on black and Latino youth.

Cops Are Not Workers

The utter contempt that cops have for black lives has come to the fore in the past few months. But the question is what to do about it. The answer must flow from an understanding of how this class-divided society works. Under capitalism, a tiny elite that owns the factories, mines and banks lives off the sweat and toil of working people. The cops are a core part of the state machinery of repression that ensures the domination of capital over labor. With black oppression rooted in this system of production for profit, cop terror is wielded by America’s rulers to maintain the forcible segregation of the black masses at the bottom of society, despite their lying assertion of equality. Efforts to reform the police cannot alter its fundamentally anti-working-class and racist nature. As our comrades chanted during the December 13 “Millions March NYC”: “Police reform is a hustle, fists in the air for class struggle!”

The crimes of the cops should be met with massive, militant protest based on the social power of labor. The pro-capitalist union bureaucracy, though, pushes the suicidal lie that cops are “fellow workers” and that the PBA & Co. are part of the labor movement. A prime example in NYC is the leadership of the transit union, TWU Local 100, whose president, John Samuelsen, issued a statement referring to the two dead cops as “our Union Brothers.” The Local 100 tops welcomed Lynch onto the platform of union rallies in the lead-up to the 2005 transit strike—which defied a state ban on public employee strikes. For leading the workers out, Samuelsen’s predecessor, Roger Toussaint, was later arrested and briefly jailed.

For this multiracial union, embracing the racist cops is particularly grotesque. Eric Garner’s mother, sister and niece are all Local 100 members, but the leadership did almost nothing to organize solidarity with them in their grief. When the grand jury decision not to indict the cop who killed Garner was announced, Samuelsen offered: “In federal court, in civil suit and in the next life we will bear witness until justice is served.” What is needed is a mobilization of the social power of the unions to fight racist capitalist injustice in this life!

The role of the cops as deadly enemies of labor is starkly demonstrated when workers go on strike. It’s the cops who enforce court injunctions, protect scabs, attack picket lines and arrest strikers. In fact, the unions were built in hard, often bloody, struggle against the bosses and their cops, National Guard, company goons, etc. From the Haymarket martyrs of 1887, hanged in Chicago for fighting for the eight-hour day, and the Ludlow, Colorado, massacre of striking miners and their families by the Rockefellers’ hired guns in 1914, to the PATCO air traffic controllers fired and dragged away in chains for striking in 1981, labor struggles have always run up against the capitalist state. When there are long periods with little to no class struggle like today, the social role of the cops can become obscured to the working class.

A vivid expression of the anti-working-class nature of the PBA was its denunciation of unions that had co-sponsored a march last August in Staten Island against police brutality, above all the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). The steering committee of the UFT caucus “Movement of Rank and File Educators”—which counts a supporter of the reformist International Socialist Organization, Brian Jones, as a founding member—issued a statement urging “the leaderships of the UFT and PBA, to find ways to work together and unite us.”

Rather than building unity with the shock troops of capitalist rule, there must be a fight for the independence of the labor movement from all agencies of the capitalist state. It speaks volumes that the first thing the NYPD’s Peter Liang reportedly did after shooting the unarmed Akai Gurley in a Brooklyn housing project in November was to text his PBA rep, while Gurley lay dying. Or take the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association that is defending its members’ sadistic reign of terror against inmates in the Rikers Island jail. What the cop organizations want is more officers and weapons and fewer restrictions in going after workers, blacks, immigrants and leftists—and to get paid more for doing it.

In the early 1930s, reformist leaders of the German working class politically disarmed the workers by preaching reliance on the police to stop Hitler’s Nazis. Those cops had largely been recruited over the years from among pro-socialist workers. Leon Trotsky—one of the leaders of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which saw the proletariat smash the existing capitalist state apparatus and establish their own state power—sharply warned in What Next? (1932): “The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state, is a bourgeois cop, not a worker…. And above all: every policeman knows that though governments may change, the police remain.”

Over recent decades, while workers unions in the U.S. have been decimated, “unions” representing cops, prison guards and security guards have grown tremendously. The presence of large numbers of cops and security guards within unions like the SEIU and AFSCME is especially dangerous. Cops out of the unions!

A recent Daily News (30 December) opinion piece titled “Labor Must Reject Pat Lynch’s Bitter Bile” by Jonathan Tasini, former president of the National Writers Union who has twice sought the Democratic Party nomination for public office, reflects unease within a section of the union bureaucracy over its association with the PBA. Recoiling from Lynch’s venom, Tasini beseeches city union leaders to speak out against the PBA head because “standing by while a rogue union leader launches vituperative attacks may weaken public support for the mayor.” For Tasini, the overriding priority is to preserve labor’s ties to the Democratic Party, which no less than the Republicans is a political instrument of the class enemy.

What is necessary is to mobilize the social power of labor to fight for its own interests and those of the oppressed, in opposition to the bosses, their political representatives and their state. But the possibility for such a mobilization is undermined by the sellout labor bureaucracy, which shackles the potential power of the unions by feeding workers the lies that cops are their union brothers and sisters and that Democrats are their friends. The way forward is to fight for a class-struggle leadership of the trade unions. As long as the capitalist system remains, so will racist cop terror. To lead it in the struggle to break the capitalist state power and expropriate the bourgeoisie, establishing a workers government, the working class needs its own, revolutionary party.