Police terrorism, the global economic crisis: Impact on workers, oppressed
May 1, 2009
Over the last several months, a series of dramatic cases involving police killings of civilians has brought to light the essential role of law enforcement within capitalist societies. Numerous cities throughout the United States have seen a dramatic increase in the murder of African Americans by cops as well as the escalation of raids and deportations against immigrants both documented and undocumented.
Although the problem of police terrorism and repression has existed for well over a century in the U.S.—even going back to the period of slavery and the post-civil war era— since the beginning of this decade there have been disturbing trends indicating that the level of repression is reaching critical proportions. This rise in reported incidents of police brutality and killings of civilians is taking place at the same time as the economic underpinnings of low-wage capitalism continue to deteriorate.
In regard to the repression carried out against the immigrant communities in the U.S., an April 15 Human Rights Watch report pointed out that the overwhelming majority of forced removals are carried out for relatively benign reasons that do not pose any threat to the larger communities where the deportees live. Approximately 75 percent of all noncitizens deported from the country over the last 10 years, after serving prison and jail sentences, had been convicted of nonviolent offenses.
According to the HRW report, entitled “Forced Apart: Non-Citizens Deported Mostly for Nonviolent Offenses,” 20 percent of those forcefully ejected had been in the U.S. legally, sometimes for decades. The report illustrates that most victims of deportations had been convicted of drug possession and traffic offenses.
Alison Parker, deputy director of the U.S. Program of HRW and author of the April 15 report, said, “In 12 years of enforcing the 1996 deportation laws, no one bothered to ask whether ICE actually focused on the target group—undocumented immigrants convicted of serious, violent crimes. We now know that a good number of people who are here legally and who are convicted of nonviolent offenses are regularly swept into the dragnet.” (www.hrw.org)
In utilizing census data and figures reported by the Pew Hispanic Center, HRW estimates that over 1 million people have been affected by these deportations through family separations and the consequent economic and social consequences of these actions carried out by Immigration Customs Enforcement, which operates under the rubric of the Department of Homeland Security.
“We have to ask why, in a time of fiscal crisis, significant immigration enforcement funds are being spent on deporting legal residents who already have been punished for their crimes,” says Parker. “Many of these people have lived in the country legally for decades, some have served in the military, others own businesses. And often, they are facing separation from family members, including children, who are citizens or legal residents.”
Disproportionate impact of police killings
In addition to the escalation of these deportations, the African-American population has been severely affected by the misconduct and brutality of law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Most of the killings are deemed as “justifiable homicide” by the prosecutor’s offices and these notions are often reinforced by the corporate media, which portrays African Americans as violent-prone and criminally-inclined.
During the summer of 2007, the publications ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter carried out a collaborative national investigation of police shootings in the 10 largest U.S. cities. As a result of this effort, a number of trends emerged related to police-community relations in urban areas.
African Americans were highly affected disproportionately as victims of fatal police shootings. The most highly noticeable areas where this phenomenon existed were in New York, San Diego and Las Vegas. In each of these urban areas, the percentage of African Americans killed by law-enforcement was twice the number of their proportion within the population of these cities.
According to Delores Jones-Brown, who at the time of the study was the interim director of the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College in New York: “There is a crisis of perception where African American males and females take their lives in their hands just walking out the door. There is a notion they will be perceived as armed and dangerous. It’s clear that it’s not just a local problem.” (ColorLines, No. 41, Nov./Dec. 2007)
At the same time this above-mentioned study also points out that the number of Latinas/os killed by law-enforcement is rising. Beginning in 2001, “The number of incidents in which Latinos were killed by police in cities with more than 250,000 people rose four consecutive years, from 19 in 2001 to 26 in 2005. The problem was exceptionally acute in Phoenix, which had the highest number of Latinos killed in the country.” (ColorLines, No. 41)
The report goes on to say that between 1980 and 2005, 9,500 people around the country were killed by the police. This on average is one person per day who dies as a result of aggressive police actions against civilians.
“Unless we begin to hold these officers accountable in these cases, they’ll only grow in number and significance,” Jones-Brown said.
Police killings of African Americans and other people of color have resulted in massive protests, the formation of anti-brutality coalitions and urban rebellions. In Cincinnati, during the early part of the decade, cops shot to death more people than any other city of similar size with the exception of Minneapolis.
In a Dayton Daily News 2001 study, Cincinnati was second only to Minneapolis in the number of people shot. Minneapolis police shot 29 people between 1995 and 2001, resulting in the deaths of 12 individuals. In Cincinnati police shot 22 people during the same time period, 13 resulting in fatalities. Another two died after they were sprayed with chemical agents while being attacked by the cops. (Common Dreams, April 28, 2001)
In Cincinnati, the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American man on April 7, 2001, sparked three days of rebellion. The community was mobilized through the formation of a Black United Front. The Justice Department established a monitoring commission to encourage reforms within law enforcement.
More recently, the killing of African-American men in New Orleans and Oakland, Calif., drew national attention. Adolf Grimes III was shot 12 times in the back by the New Orleans police on Dec. 31, 2008.
Grimes, alumni of one of the city’s most prestigious high schools, had no criminal record. This worker was the father of an 18-month-old baby and lived in Houston, Texas. He was visiting his family in New Orleans when he was killed by the police.
Oscar Grant III of Oakland was killed the same day by the local transit police. He had been detained by officers and was then shot in the back. As a result of outrage in the community, youth erupted in rebellion for several days. The community anger and fightback resulted in the indictment of the officer involved in his killing.
In Detroit on April 10, 16-year-old Robert Mitchell died after being tased by police from Warren, a neighboring suburb. Mitchell, known as “Tazzy” by family and friends, was described by his mother as having “a learning disability.”
Mitchell was in a car that was pulled over by Warren police for no apparent reason. Although police claim that the license plate was expired, this allegation proved to be false and no ticket was issued or arrests made in the stop.
Mitchell, fearing for his safety, ran into Detroit and was chased by the Warren cops. He was later tased in an abandoned house and died. His family has recently filed a wrongful death civil suit in federal court.
The cops involved in his death have not been charged with any crime nor have they been disciplined by the city of Warren. The cops have returned to regular police duties after an internal investigation.
A global problem
The use of state repression to control, contain and exploit oppressed and working people is an international problem. In February and March, the workers of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the French-controlled Caribbean launched a general strike against the impact of the global economic crisis and the racist-colonial control of their islands.
The French colonial state sent in hundreds of riot police to suppress the strike. In Guadeloupe strike supporter Jacques Bino was killed during a confrontation between the French police and striking unionists and youth. The French took no action against the police involved in this incident.
Police repression against the strike prompted rebellions in both Martinique and Guadeloupe in February and March. As a result of the discipline of the workers and their organizations, the strike demands were largely met by the French colonial authorities. The presence of riot police, however, illustrated clearly that law-enforcement agencies within a capitalist and colonial society serve the interests of the ruling classes.
In Kenya during early March, two human rights activists, who had provided evidence to United Nations investigators of execution-style killings by authorities, were assassinated on a busy Nairobi street. Oscar Kamau Kingara, the director of the Oscar Foundation, and John Paul Oulo, the program coordinator of the agency, were shot in their vehicle by gunmen just several blocks away from the presidential palace.
The Guardian of the U.K. reported: “Only a few hours earlier the government had publicly accused their organization, which runs free legal aid clinics for the poor, of being a front for a criminal gang. ... The Oscar Foundation made its name investigating police abuses. Since 2007 it has reported 6,452 ‘enforced disappearances’ by police and 1,721 extrajudicial killings.” (March 6, 2009)
Kenya’s government has been supported by the U.S. for many years. As a result of the corporate media-generated hysteria surrounding the seizure of cargo vessels by Somalis in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, the U.S. and other imperialist states have called for the formation of an international “piracy court” to prosecute Somalis caught on the waters off the coast in the Horn of Africa. This “piracy court” would be based in Kenya and funded by the imperialists.
In Nigeria, where U.S. multinational oil companies have exploited the national resources of the people for decades, police repression is a major force in maintaining the status quo. As a result of the high incidence of police killings, Human Rights Watch urged that “Nigeria’s government should launch an independent public inquiry in light of official statistics indicating that police have shot and killed more than 8,000 Nigerians since 2000. The figures show 785 killed in just three months this year (2007), while the true number of people killed by the police since 2000 may exceed 10,000.” (Nov. 18, 2007)
Economic crisis will breed more repression
In the U.S., the impact of the economic crisis has impacted the African-American community at a far higher rate than the white population. A recent report issued by the Center for American Progress entitled “Weathering the Storm: Black Men in the Recession” points out: the current economic downturn is taking a devastating toll on African-American males.
The report says: “March was one of the worst months for layoffs on record. The current recession has been particularly difficult for the manufacturing and construction industries—two industries in which black men are disproportionately employed. Many workplaces have also implemented hiring freezes, a more important and less acknowledged contribution to sharply rising rates of unemployment.
“Black men’s unemployment rate of 15.4 percent in March 2009 was more than twice that of white men and up almost seven percentage points from a year earlier. One recent study called African Americans’ economic situation ‘a silent economic depression,’ in which soaring levels of unemployment impose significant social costs on black families and entire communities.” (www.americanprogress.org)
As a result of this growing crisis, it is not surprising that police repression and terrorism will escalate against working people in general and the oppressed national groups in particular. The growing levels of state violence can only be counteracted through mass organization and mobilization.
The demand for a complete end to police brutality and terrorism must also coincide with calls for a real jobs program aimed at the unemployed and underemployed in the U. S. Any genuine economic stimulus package must take into consideration the rapidly rising unemployment and poverty rates in the African-American and other oppressed communities.
The failure of the U.S. government to participate in the recently concluded Durban Review Conference in Geneva speaks volumes with regard to the state’s lack of commitment to address the worsening problems related to national oppression and economic exploitation. It is essential that the coalitions that have sprung up nationally to fight foreclosures, evictions and utility shut-offs must also advance demands to create meaningful employment aimed at putting the jobless back to work with all deliberate speed.