“Police brutality is unacceptable! This system has failed all of us in the working class, from the Coronavirus to the economic crisis we are facing. But this system has failed People of Colour and Black Americans and Black youth more than anyone else. More than ever we need a new Civil Rights Movement. A Civil Rights Movement that is joined with the labour movement and independent of the corporate establishment’s political parties…”
That was the statement the Minneapolis Amalgamated Transit Union made after Minneapolis bus drivers refused to help police cart off arrested demonstrators. New York bus drivers have done similar.
On 25 May, an African-American man George Floyd, 46, died after a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on Floyd’s neck while he was pinned to the ground. “I can’t breathe”, Floyd said repeatedly, and Chauvin continued for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
Chauvin has been charged with murder. As of 2 June a wave of protests in US cities is still rising, and gaining solidarity from protests around the world.
Comparing the protests with riots after the police beating of Rodney King in 1992, African-American academic Jody David Armour says: “The protests and marches today you see are multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, even multi-generational. And the allyship is something that is more pronounced now than it perhaps once was”.
The response from the police to even the most peaceful of the protests has been rubber bullets, tear gas, mass arrests, and violence. And Trump threatens outright war on the streets — tweeting “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, calling for mobilisation of the National Guard, and threatening to put the US military on the streets and designate an anti-fascist group as a terrorist organisation.
Left-wing Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez adds: “If you’re calling for an end to unrest, but not calling out police brutality, not calling for health care as a human right, not calling for an end to housing discrimination, all you’re asking for is the continuation of quiet oppression”.
The protests have become a general backlash against the politics represented by Donald Trump. Another African-American academic, Henry Louis Gates, says: “As a country, we’ve been here before, first following the collapse of Reconstruction and the rise of Jim Crow, and then again in a less well-known series of events that unfolded in 1919. Following the influenza epidemic of 1918, and the return of black soldiers from World War I, and at the apex of the legitimisation of Jim Crow, white vigilantes engaged in an appalling series of lynchings of innocent black victims, so brutal that it was soon dubbed ‘the red summer’ of 1919.”
Floyd’s death is in a long line of police killings of black people in the USA. African Americans have suffered 30 police shootings per million since the start of 2015, compared to 22 per million for Hispanics and 12 per million for whites. African-Americans have also died disproportionately from the virus, and suffered disproportionately from 40 million workers being thrown out of jobs in the USA’s lockdown, with scanty social provision and no equivalent of European furlough schemes.
In Britain, too, we should raise demands for an end to police repression, an end to the raiding of people’s homes, for curbing police powers including stop and search, for the police to be disarmed, for democratic accountability and scrutiny of the police. (In the USA, Citizen Review Boards are being demanded).
Meanwhile, we have a Tory Government which will be using the Brexit process for further attacks on freedom of movement and the rights of migrant workers. That will fuel an increase in racist attacks.
Alongside building solidarity, let’s start to seriously discuss lessons for our struggle.