Jun 7, 2020
The murder of George Floyd touched off an explosion. More than that, it set in motion a movement. Not a state went without protests. On one day, there were one hundred and eighty-one protests, according to one media count. But the days have continued one after the other. In most big cities, there are two, or three or four, sometimes five or six, sometimes dozens of different demonstrations. Even small towns, places that never before had seen demonstrations, added their voices to the protest. And in Washington, D.C., against which Trump threw the military last week, promising to “dominate” its streets, tens if not hundreds of thousands of protestors made the streets their own last Saturday.
It truly is a movement, with all the contradictions of a mass movement, but also with some of its strengths: the initiatives taken by uncounted, nameless people to organize action; the realization people get that they are part of something much bigger than themselves. People silent for too long found their voice.
The demand of many demonstrators was for the police to be controlled, if not “defunded”, “disbanded”, and the brutal cops replaced.
Certainly, it’s true, some cops are more brutal than others. And many police may not be brutal—as individuals. But the police as an organized institution systematically act with violence and impunity. It is true in New York, where the police have long had a reputation for being particularly aggressive; it is true in cities like Detroit where the police supposedly have been “reformed”—several times over, in fact.
If somehow there were a way to get rid of the “brutal” ones, the institution of the police would still be brutal. The police have a role to play. They “protect and serve” the class that runs a society based on steep inequalities, with enormous wealth accumulated in a few hands at the top, wealth drained out of the labor of the masses of people. If there were no coercion, no organized violence to keep the laboring people in check, the few at the top could not monopolize so much of society’s wealth.
For the police to serve this tiny exploiting class, they have to be set apart from the population, wielding, or threatening to wield the means of violence against the population. This is the rock that all efforts to reform the police broke over.
One of the demands of previous movements, was for the police to better reflect the ethnic makeup of the community. Today, some majority black cities—Detroit; Memphis; Birmingham, Alabama and Oakland, California, for example—have majority black police departments. In some cases, there may be less open blatant racism. But in each of these cities, there still is organized police violence. And finally, that means racist violence: people killed by cops who would not have been killed in the same situation if they had been white.
The problem is bigger than just the make-up of the police department, even if that is an aggravating factor. The police are a direct reflection of the capitalist class they serve. And, in that sense, it’s true, they have to be “disbanded”.
But if the police are to be disbanded, it can only come through a fight to “disband” the whole of capitalist society. The exploited laboring population, black and white, has to struggle to throw out the class sitting on all of society’s wealth.
The movement that seemed to explode out of nowhere may not be the revolution. It may go in very many different directions. But the people who poured into the streets, protesting the whole range of society’s ills, have opened a door on the future.
Without a struggle by people there is no hope. When a struggle this wide begins, no matter where it starts with what aims, it holds the promise of future fights. No longer can cynical people say that no one else will do anything. People are doing.
We can fight against the police and fight to make sure that everyone has a decent paying job, which finally is the same fight. In fighting for that, we can be the generation that prevents the capitalist class from setting us against each other.