Mass Interracial Solidarity against Police Violence
Tens of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets—and occupied them—since the murder of George Floyd, an African-American man, by white policemen in Minneapolis on May 25. We are witnessing the most widespread rebellion against police violence in the US since the 1960s. Youth are in the lead; black and white youth predominate in the scores of protests that are continuing and spreading daily.
The current uprising is much more racially diverse than the urban rebellions of the 1960s. For the first time ever, there is mass interracial solidarity––in actions as well as in words––against police violence. It is this, more than anything else, that is causing the rulers to tremble. The pivotal moments of forward movement in the US have always been those moments when white working people took their lead from the black masses and coalesced with them.
This time, the interracial solidarity extends beyond white and black. Ruhel Islam, a Bangladeshi restaurant owner in the 3rd precinct of Minneapolis, put a “Minority Owned” sign on the front of his building in an effort to save it. It was nonetheless attacked and burnt out. His daughter, despite being a Black Lives Matter supporter, was upset. But he said, “let my building burn, Justice needs to be served, put those officers in jail.” His daughter agreed.
Racism, which has been the Achilles heel of US civilization from its founding––and the massive and ongoing fightback against racism—have managed to snatch the country’s attention away from the ever-growing COVID-19 death toll and from a rocket going into space. All eyes are on the unfolding youth-dominated rebellion as it demonstrates, every day, the meaning of “no justice, no peace.”
This uprising builds upon the last four years of mass mobilizations by the Resistance to Trumpism and the Black Lives Matter and youth against gun violence movements. At the same time, its massive multiracial character indicates a new dimension of revolt.
Cops Not Invincible
The wave of protest began in Minneapolis-St. Paul, right after George Floyd was murdered. By Thursday, May 28, protests had spread across the country. More recently, they have erupted in many additional cities and towns throughout the US, and elsewhere around the world, such as London, Cardiff, Copenhagen, and Berlin.
Protesters’ defeat of the cops in Minneapolis’ third precinct on May 28––they overwhelmed the precinct station, caused the cops to flee, and burned the station down––seems clearly to have been a major catalyst behind the spread of the protests. The victory over the third precinct shattered the myth that has weighed so heavily on the struggle for racial justice: the myth that the heavily militarized police are invincible, that all we can do is bear witness and wait until we have to endure the next act of police violence. The torching of the precinct station was a potent symbol that positive change still remains possible. It was a crackling heard round the world.
In addition, protesters are clearly fed up with having to stay home, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and mass unemployment, while on the streets police brutality and murder continued to flourish everywhere.
Tens of thousands of people have come out in Minnesota’s Twin Cities and suburbs; in Washington, DC; Atlanta; Baltimore; New York; Chicago; Los Angeles; San Jose; Sacramento; the San Francisco Bay Area; Louisville; Cincinnati; Columbus; Houston; Dallas; San Antonio; Miami; Nashville; Denver; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Salt Lake City—and many more places.
Louisville’s demonstrators are calling for action against the policeman who murdered an African-American woman, Breonna Taylor, in March. The cops broke into her apartment and shot her eight times in her bed. She was an EMS worker and was mistaken for someone the police were seeking. That suspect turned out to have been already in custody at the time of the warrantless break in and killing of Taylor.
The vast majority of protesters have expressed their rage at the murder of George Floyd by marching and shouting, not by torching, looting, or fighting. Yet the president, our racist-in-chief, has tried to portray the protests in their totality as the actions of looters and arsonists, anarchists and leftists. In unsubtle tweets, he has called for them to be shot––“When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
The violent suppression of the rebellion that Trump is inciting comes on top of the massive loss of life he has caused by failing and refusing to act to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has had a greatly disproportionate impact on people of color. In the US, there are currently 105,000 confirmed deaths due to the coronavirus (the actual number is undoubtedly far greater). And the COVID-19 death rate among blacks is double the rate among whites. This is due to their poorer health before the disease, which in turn is a result of a health care system that discriminates against people of color and the poor.
Charging the Minneapolis Cops
By now, everyone in the world has seen the horrendous video of the Minneapolis cop, Derek Chauvin, with his knee and full weight on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, while Floyd died. Three other cops who had helped Chauvin pin him to the ground remained unmoving while Floyd cried, “I can’t breathe” and called for help. Fortunately, a 17-year old girl, Darnella Frazier, captured the whole of the incident on video, enabling the world to know at once that the unarmed man had done nothing to cause the cops’ brutalization of him.
This particular police murder was reminiscent of that of Eric Garner in Brooklyn in 2014. Garner was apprehended for selling loose cigarettes on the street and put in a chokehold until he died. Garner’s murder, like Floyd’s, was recorded on video, but it took until last year for the perpetrator to be fired from the New York City police department. He has still not been charged for his crime. Garner had called out “I can’t breathe” over and over, just as Floyd did six years later. “I can’t breathe” is now a rallying cry at the protests that have erupted throughout the US and beyond, along with “Hands up—don’t shoot.” The latter slogan harkens back to the police murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, as he walked away with his hands up.
As of May 28, none of the cops involved in the murder of Floyd had been arrested or charged, and authorities claimed that additional investigation was needed; charges could not yet be brought. Then, that night, Minneapolis’ third precinct station was torched. Fifteen hours later, Chauvin had been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. But this did not put an end to the protests in Minneapolis. Protesters demanded that the other three cops involved in the murder also be arrested and charged. They also supported the wish of Floyd’s family that the perpetrators be charged with premeditated murder, a more serious crime that carries a much longer prison sentence, even though that would make conviction more difficult.
Police Riot, Trump Flees to Underground Bunker
During the last few nights, curfews have been imposed in Minneapolis and many other cities, and cops throughout the US, as well as National Guard troops, have responded to the rebellion with what is widely being called a “police riot.” They have treated even nonviolent protesters in the most brutal fashion––plowing through them with vehicles, pushing them to the ground, shooting them with rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray, setting off flashbang grenades in their midst, and so on. Much of this is common practice among urban police forces in the US, but what is different this time is that the whole world is watching. Thus, in many cases, the cops have intentionally singled out journalists to be targets of their brutality. A CBS cameraman was crouched behind a parked car when he was shot, clearly intentionally.
Between Thursday and Sunday, police arrested at least 1,669 people in 22 cities, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Nearly a third of those arrests came in Los Angeles, according to a report in Talking Points Memo.
Despite the curfew, demonstrations in Washington, DC took place close to the White House on Saturday and Sunday, with hundreds arrested. On Sunday night, Trump had to temporarily abandon his fake tough-guy persona and flee to an underground bunker below the White House.
In their efforts to justify the cops’ extreme brutality, they and their apologists (including Trump as well as “progressive,” social-democratic, Democratic Party politicians like Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, and Lori Lightfoot, mayor of Chicago) keep harping on acts of burning and looting, and on other “unacceptable” acts by protesters, such as halting the forward movement of a police SUV and carrying bottles filled with urine.
Yet almost all protesters have been nonviolent, and mainstream media have been reporting evidence that some of the violent protesters are provocateurs––members of white-supremacist groups and “boogaloos.” There is also speculation that they include police infiltrators. Rather than being an attempt to stop looting and burning, the recent orgy of police violence we have witnessed may well be, instead, the cops’ attempt to show us that they “are still boss” after the humiliating defeat they suffered in Minneapolis’ third precinct.
An Entire Generation Radicalized within a Week
Although the cops may think that they now have the upper hand, their rioting is both ironic and pathetically desperate. They have confirmed beyond any shadow of doubt that charges of police brutality are true and outrage over police brutality is justified––by displaying their brutality, nakedly and repeatedly, in real time, at a moment when the whole world is watching.
As our correspondent in Columbus, Ohio noted, “the ‘violence’ has mostly come from the police.” This has been the case in city after city. Our correspondent in Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote that “[t]he cops are just having a field day shooting tear gas and rubber bullets. On Sunday, the protest was completely peaceful until the cops attacked.”
But because of the state-sanctioned brutality, “an entire generation is being radicalized within a week,” as our correspondent from Brooklyn puts it. “Despite the seemingly unending resources that the city threw at this protest, the spirit of youth who demanded that their lives not be ground up in this racist system was irrepressible and obviously exhausting to the police.” The struggle continues.
Editor’s Note, June 9: Minor typos in this editorial have been corrected.