Aug 22, 2016
During two nights in mid-August, on Milwaukee’s north side, angry crowds pelted the police with rocks and bottles, smashed police cars, while several businesses were engulfed in flame.
As usual, the police, the politicians, the media, and the supposed experts called this “a riot.” They decried the so-called “senseless violence.”
Yet, their police are armed to the teeth. And when police unleash their violence on a regular basis, these same authorities, politicians and news media don’t condemn it. They don’t decry the “senseless violence” of the police. No, they justify it!
And that’s exactly what happened after the Milwaukee police shot and killed 23-year-old Sylville K. Smith during a routine traffic stop. A man lay dead, gunned down by the police during a routine traffic stop. Senseless violence? Not according to the authorities. They tried to justify this murder by claiming Smith had bolted from the car with a gun in his hand.
So people went into the streets: to stop the violence of the police. Because what happened to Sylville Smith could have happened to anyone. That’s how regular and routine the harassment and brutalization by the police is.
This violence is not an accident. It is not caused simply by bad cops, or a bad police chief or sheriff. It is institutional. It comes out of the conditions that are imposed on big parts of the working class, most especially its most oppressed layers. Black workers have taken the full brunt of the capitalist attacks on the working population.
In order to increase its profits, the capitalist class has carried out a massive offensive against all parts of the working class. It has cut jobs mercilessly, forcing fewer workers to put out ever more work, while also slashing wages and benefits.
In Milwaukee, the official statistics give some ideas of what this has meant for the black population, as the availability of jobs has dried up like puddles in the baking sun. Over four decades, the rate of unemployment for black workers in Milwaukee practically tripled, and is now 40 per cent for those of prime working age (25-54). With few if any jobs, the rate of poverty is now twice as high as what it was in the late 1970s. Overall household income for the black population in Milwaukee is now 30 per cent lower than it was in 1979.
Spending on vital public services and programs that the working population depends on has also been slashed repeatedly. The fact that in Milwaukee fewer than one in 10 black children who are in eighth grade have even basic math skills illustrates how much they are being deprived of what is so necessary to work and function in society.
Politicians and public officials are turning all that government spending over to the capitalist class, to boost their profits and wealth. To safeguard all that for the capitalists, government officials have also used some of that money to beef up the entire repressive state apparatus.
No, the police violence in Milwaukee is just one arm of the violence of the capitalist social and economic system against the entire working class, especially its most oppressed layers.
Of course, the same kinds of attacks that are taking place in Milwaukee are happening all across the country. But in Milwaukee, just as in Ferguson and Baltimore, people opposed themselves to the state apparatus that protects the capitalists’ profits.