Mobilize the Power of the Multiracial Unions in Protest!
OAKLAND, January 12—Seething anger against rampant, and routine, humiliation and terror at the hands of the racist cops was ignited in Oakland, California, over the coldblooded execution of a 22-year-old black man, Oscar Grant, by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) cop on January 1. The killing of Grant was a shot literally heard round the world in multiple video clips by other passengers in the station which were streamed online.
“We Are All Oscar Grant,” declared signs and chants at a January 7 protest of more than 700 people—including blacks, Latinos, Asians and whites—outside the Fruitvale BART station where Grant was killed. Pointing to the Zionist military onslaught in the Gaza Strip, other signs called to “End Government Sponsored Murder in the Ghettos of Oakland and Palestine.” Rage and despair in the face of the tired appeals for “calm” and deadly illusions in “police reform” peddled by black elected officials and preachers exploded in the streets of downtown Oakland later that night. The Partisan Defense Committee—a class-struggle, non-sectarian legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—sent a protest letter demanding that all charges be dropped against the more than 100 protesters who were beaten and arrested by an army of riot-equipped cops.
While his cops fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, black Democratic Party Oakland mayor Ron Dellums promised to bring the Oakland Police Department into the “investigation” of Grant’s murder. That will be a gigantic boost to the cover-up machine that BART has already set in motion. In 2002, three cops from the notorious Oakland police gang, the “Riders,” which was unleashed as part of the racist “war on drugs,” were completely exonerated of 60 counts of savage beatings and frame-ups. Meanwhile, the Oakland cops continued to gun down young black and Latino men with impunity. In this case, the BART cop who killed Grant has opted to resign while the Feds and California attorney general Jerry Brown are intervening to try to keep a lid on “tensions.”
At the Oakland protest, placards from the ANSWER coalition, led by the reformist Party for Socialism and Liberation, called to “Jail Killer Cops!” In your dreams. The capitalist rulers are hardly going to jail their own police guard dogs. And, even if one cop were charged and imprisoned, it wouldn’t stop police brutality and terror. The cops serve, together with the military and the prisons, as the core of a state whose purpose is the repression of the working class and oppressed by any means necessary. From the December 31 shooting of Robbie Tolan, who had been forced to lie down in the driveway of his family’s Houston-area home, to the killing of Adolph Grimes III, who was shot 14 times—12 times in the back—outside his grandmother’s house in New Orleans on New Year’s Day, racist cop terror runs rampant in capitalist America.
For its part, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) has responded to the spate of cop killings under Dellums’ “stop crime” reign with the argument that: “Rather than spending millions hiring more inexperienced cops, what would make a real difference in tackling crime would be to hit it at its roots—poverty—by rebuilding Oakland’s crumbling schools and providing decent-paying jobs that would give Black, Latino and poor Oakland residents a real opportunity” (Socialist Worker, 14 August 2008).
The ISO’s cringing faith in the capitalist rulers to provide money for jobs, education and health care at the expense of their repressive apparatus serves only to mask the true nature of this system. Those whose rule is based on exploitation shell out to those they exploit and oppress only what they can realize back in profit. And the racist rulers of America have no use for a whole generation of black youth who were once kept on the bench as a “reserve army of labor.” Now what U.S. capitalism offers them is jail, a slow death from disease, malnutrition and drugs, or a fast one, gunned down on the streets by the cops or killed in the prison execution chambers of America.
The situation cries out for revolutionary leadership, to organize the social power of labor and unite behind it all the oppressed in a struggle for state power that gets rid of the whole racist capitalist system and opens the road for genuine freedom for all. This is the class-struggle perspective put forward by the Bay Area Labor Black League for Social Defense, which is fraternally allied with the Spartacist League/U.S. We reprint below a January 12 statement by the Bay Area LBL on the execution of Oscar Grant.
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The election of Barack Obama as Commander-in-Chief of racist U.S. imperialism was heralded as a “breakthrough” that would “usher in a new era of race relations” in capitalist America, which was built on the bodies and blood of black slaves. But the brutal racist reality for black working people and poor was brought home on the Fruitvale BART station platform in the early hours of the New Year in the coldblooded killing of an unarmed 22-year-old black man, Oscar Grant, by BART cop Johannes Mehserle. Tens of thousands of people have recoiled in horror and rage at the raw video footage of the killing taken by passengers on the BART train in the station. Grant, an apprentice butcher at an Oakland grocery store, is lying face down on the platform with his hands behind his back. He pleads for mercy, appealing that he has a four-year-old daughter. One cop has his knee on Grant’s neck when Mehserle pulls out his gun and shoots Grant pointblank in the back.
Oakland’s black Democratic Party mayor Ron Dellums and an assortment of preachers and elected officials are trying to put a lid on the outrage that has ignited among the black and Latino populations of Oakland, whose youth have long been on the receiving end of police terror. Dellums, who made it his priority to put more cops on Oakland streets, appealed for “peace” and offered condolences. This is pure cynicism. When Dellums’ cops killed 20-year-old Gary King Jr. in September 2007, the mayor locked the door to City Hall against King’s aggrieved family and friends.
The body count of those killed by the Oakland cops since Dellums took office has continued to mount: 15-year-old José Luis Buenrostro-Gonzalez, shot and killed in broad daylight, March 2008; 71-year-old Casper Banjo, a black artist, killed the same month for having a toy gun; 27-year-old Mack “Jody” Woodfox, gunned down, August 2008.
Now calls are being raised for a citizens’ review board for the BART cops, better police training and more accountability. The NAACP and others appeal to California’s top cop, Attorney General Jerry Brown, to investigate the killing. It was Brown who, when he took office in January 2007, had the former Black Panthers of the San Francisco 8 arrested on frame-up charges that had been thrown out over 30 years ago! We warn against deadly illusions that the police can be reformed. The purpose of cleaning up the cops’ image is so that these thugs in blue can more effectively do their job as the armed enforcers of capitalist rule, from operating as an occupying army in the inner cities to busting strikes.
The reverends and black elected officials who preach “peace” in the face of rampaging cop terror now condemn those who took their justifiable outrage to the streets of Oakland. The Labor Black League for Social Defense demands that all charges be dropped against the 105 protesters who were beaten, tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets and arrested by an army of riot-equipped cops!
The mass outrage against cop terror needs an organized political expression, and not one that strengthens the hand of the Democratic Party, the political tool of the very capitalist rulers whose interests the cops “serve and protect.” The Labor Black League for Social Defense fights to link the anger of the ghettos and barrios to the power of our class
, the multiracial labor movement. Labor protest by the Bay Area’s powerful and multiracial unions—starting with the BART transit unions and including longshore, grocery, city and other workers—would provide the social power of a working-class political axis.
In 1992, when BART cop Fred Crabtree killed 19-year-old black youth Jerrold Hall with a shotgun blast through the back of his head, the Labor Black League initiated a protest in defense of Hall’s friend, John Henry Owens. Crabtree was never charged, while Owens was initially outrageously charged with being an “accomplice” to “murder”! The 60-strong LBL protest, which included many workers from BART and other Bay Area unions, pointed to the kind of social power that needed to be mobilized in protest against cop terror. The response of the BART union tops provided a stark example of the trade-union bureaucracy’s role in subordinating labor’s power to the agencies of the capitalist class enemy, from the Democratic Party to the racist killer cops. Disowning their own union members who protested the killing of Hall and the frame-up of Owens, the then-presidents of the two BART transit unions instead stood in solidarity with the BART cop
as a “union brother” who was simply doing his job! Cops are not our class brothers, but our deadly enemies. They have no place in the labor movement! Cops, security guards and prison guards out of the unions!
The recent multiracial protests against the killing of Oscar Grant are an important statement against the vicious racial and ethnic hatreds whipped up by the rulers to maintain their profits through dividing and weakening the working class. Nevertheless, the hard truth is that there will be no end to police brutality short of the destruction of this entire system of capitalist exploitation and racial oppression. But a massive protest based on the organized muscle of the labor movement would give the cops and their capitalist masters some pause. And it would drive home the point that the interests of the working class are inseparably linked to the defense of the ghettos and barrios, the defense of immigrant rights and the fight for black freedom.
The Labor Black League for Social Defense stands for mobilizing the masses of black, immigrant and all working people in integrated struggle based on a program of class struggle
—the understanding that the interests of the working class are irreconcilably counterposed to those of the capitalist class exploiters, their state forces and agencies and their political parties, be they Democrat, Republican or Green. We join with the Spartacist League in the fight to build a multiracial revolutionary workers party that will lead the way to uprooting this system of exploitation and oppression, which is enforced by racist cop terror. When those who labor rule, the tremendous wealth of this society, created by the working class, will be used to wipe out racial oppression and provide a decent life for the working class, blacks, immigrants, women, the poor, the young and the aged.
Originally published in Workers Vanguard No. 928 (16 January 2009).