FRSO/OSCL’s statement to the 2000 National Organizing Conference
Yet there is something different about the current situation. Today’s acts of police terror take place in the context of the unprecedented growth in what has come to be known as the prison-industrial complex. Mass incarceration is completely out of proportion to the experiences of other capitalist countries. The prison population has soared, with nearly one million Black men in prison at any given time (placing horrific strains on the Black family and the Black community, and huge consequent burdens on Black women). Prison labor is not only producing license plates and furniture for the federal and state governments, but being served up to private corporations at a fraction of the labor costs which would go to free labor.
Police terror, mass incarcerations, and the prison-industrial complex are worsened by the overall erosion of democratic rights. The current threat to our Miranda rights, which law enforcement agencies and their political allies on the Right have always claimed to be a hindrance, is one important example of the chilling of the constitutional climate. On another level, the fact that some states deny the vote to as many as thirty percent of all Black male citizens because of their prison records is a pure reversion to segregation days.
Despite figures demonstrating that crime is actually declining, the sense of insecurity of the average person is promoted in the media, both news and entertainment. Security firms are one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy; home protection means fortified houses in gated communities with armed response teams on call, all to ensure security.
Scapegoating Youth of Color
Who gets blamed? It is the working class people of color who are demonized as the cause of crime and insecurity, workers who may be unemployed or underemployed and often living in horrendous conditions. In particular young people of color, our youth, are targeted. An entire generation is being criminalized—blamed for capitalist society’s failings and railroaded into the so-called criminal justice system. And to underline that this is exactly what’s happening, just look at urban public school systems, which the powers that be make only the barest pretense of supporting any more.
This situation of increased surveillance and decline in our freedom of association and right to free movement is not isolated. The murder of Amadou Diallo and the brutalization of so many other Black victims of police terror are not the product of a few bad apples in an otherwise sound system. Nor is it as simple as white racist killers in blue uniforms.
Take Prince George’s County, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. One of the fastest growing counties in the USA, and majority Black, PG County has been witness to a spate of police brutality, a significant part committed by Black police. Yet, in the midst of all this there has been a relative silence within the population of that county. The minimal reaction reflects high levels of denial, as if to raise one’s voice would somehow threaten the idyllic middle class world one believes one has entered.
The increase in repression takes place in the context of a world gone mad, with a tiny handful of people controlling vast wealth. (225 individuals on this planet have more wealth than the bottom 47% of the world’s population; in the USA the top 1% controls 40% of the wealth) This is creating profound underlying instability. In many cities the job growth that politicians brag about has missed many. Furthermore, this growth has tended to be in the poorly paid service sector, and very often in part-time, temporary or contract employment. What are not being created are decently-paid, stable jobs.
Globalization = 21st Century Imperialism
The decline in democracy and the increase in repression take place in the context of what is popularly known as globalization, actually none other than a “new and improved” form of imperialism. The disparity of wealth is an extension of an assault on working people, an assault taking place internationally against the countries and peoples of the so-called “South” (Asia, Africa, Latin America), and an assault on workers in the so-called “North” (Japan, USA, Canada, Western Europe). The public sector is being dismantled, with the profitable sections going to private contractors and the rest allowed to deteriorate. So-called free trade decreases the possibility that underdeveloped countries can build their own economies, and it increases the possibility that workers in the industrially developed countries will lose their jobs. Companies move or threaten to move in order to get situated in the most opportune locale, often in a country whose rulers have pimped their people and natural resources to global capital.
This situation has created increasing instability. The ruling classes are not yet so worried about the threat of revolution, but they are growing deeply concerned about instability erupting in various forms of unrest. They are very uncertain how long the bubble will expand, and what will transpire when it bursts. They are worried that workers will lose any ties they may feel to the capitalist system and engage in higher levels of resistance.
And they are certainly worried that people of color, watching as we do every day our political rights evaporate, and our economic rights prove to be nothing but illusory, will mobilize in response. They fear that we will not simply demand more or greater civil rights, but engage in broader struggles for political power and economic justice. An even greater nightmare for them, of course, is the possibility that such struggles will begin to ally with the struggles of other oppressed sectors.
Thus, the repression we are witnessing, accompanied by the slow strangulation of our democratic rights is neither accidental nor conspiratorial. It is the direct result of an intensification of class struggle domestically and internationally. The difficulty is that this struggle is not always well organized, and in too many cases is led by forces who are more interested in self-aggrandizement than justice.
The Role of the Black Radical Congress
This situation demands that organizations such as the Black Radical Congress emerge to give new strategic direction to these multiple sites of resistance. The fights against police brutality, whether the case of Amadou Diallo in NYC or the members of Local 1422 of the International Longshoremen’s Association in Charleston, South Carolina, will tend to be addressed in isolation unless there is a radical force that is drawing connections. These connections indeed must include demands for the disciplining of law enforcement officials and agencies, but, we would argue, must go beyond that. We must draw the connections to what is happening in the economy, that is, the chasm which is developing between the upper 10–20% of the population and the rest of us, and the plundering of countries and working people specifically that is being done in the name of the so-called free market and globalization.
Thus, to fight police terror, we must build a movement that demands democracy. We must be building an anti-capitalist movement that recognizes that police terror will not be ended simply by substituting Black cops for white cops. The law enforcement agencies are on auto-pilot and their objective is to guarantee stability while the world’s majority is plundered.
Our first steps must be deepening the ties of the BRC within the Black working class. The Black working class, in this era of globalization, has no political voice. The BRC can be that voice if it focuses on the struggles of Black workers, and develops its base among Black workers.
Of course, the issue of repression is one that resonates across all sections of the Black nation. The ruling class has devoted considerable effort to creating a buffer stratum of Black managers and professionals to serve as shock absorbers for the system and bogus “role models” for the oppressed. But all this effort is gravely undercut every time one profiling cop decides that Black Man + BMW = Drug Dealer. We have to highlight this reality and direct the anger it produces.
Finally, we must also deepen our ties with other sectors of the oppressed. If globalization has taught us nothing else, it should be clear that the material basis for unity across ethnic lines and across national boundaries is increasing. Without visionary, revolutionary leadership, those same globalist trends will promote the opposite: inter-ethnic strife, national chauvinism and genocide as groups attempt to protect themselves from the juggernaut of imperialist globalization and cut their own deal in order to ensure survival. This isn’t just the case in places like Kosova. Witness the situation in L.A., where the majority of reported hate crimes are Black on Latino or Latino on Black.
As the BRC meets in its National Organizing Conference, we of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization extend our support and solidarity. It is our hope that these comments will contribute to the hard work of hammering out a plan to move ahead on the long road to freedom.