Oct 3, 2016
The list of people killed by the police seems to grow every day in this country. Disproportionately, those killed are black. From Ferguson to Charlotte to Tulsa to Baton Rouge to Chicago to New York to Baltimore to St. Paul to El Cajon, California to North Charleston. Keith Lamont Scott, Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, the list goes on and on and on.
In so many of these cases, the cops have the same response, the same excuses, the same cover-up. They find witnesses – and they can always find witnesses afraid of the police – to say the person cops murdered was a threat. They dredge up something the person did in the past. Like the most disgusting lawyer defending a rapist, they find some way to blame the victim.
But the sheer numbers of people they kill – black, but also white, Latino, American Indian, and every other group – begs the question of why? Why do the police in this country kill so many more people than the police in other rich countries?
It is first of all because this massive state apparatus uses enormous amounts of violence to suppress the social problems capitalism has created. We live in a society of outrageous poverty and enormous wealth. To keep that system going, capitalism has tossed aside whole generations of people, with little education, no jobs – people just scraping to stay alive. And the politicians who run this system use the violence of the police to keep order, to make sure that people whom capitalism has thrown out stay in line.
But other rich countries are capitalist too. In France or England capitalism also throws out large numbers of people. It also creates wealth for a few people and poverty for others, even if the extremes are a little less extreme than they are here.
The difference is that this country was built from day one by black people who were enslaved, inside this country. The first African slaves arrived in Virginia to work the plantations before the Mayflower. France and England had slaves – but they kept slavery and the violence that went with it at a distance, in their colonies. And slavery in the U.S. meant violence, systematically aimed against the black population.
The violence did not end with slavery. It continued with the Ku Klux Klan, lynching, and Jim Crow in the south. And when black people moved to the northern cities, they faced white riots and bombings and systematic police violence to keep them in the ghettos.
Jim Crow and white riots against black people may be a thing of the past because black people found the ways to fight back and force the end of open segregation. But the systematic police violence continues.
And the violence of slavery and its aftermath, accompanied by genocide against the Native Americans, was never confined to the black or American Indian populations. It has always hit everyone who lives here, even if not in the same proportions.
The racist aspect of these killings, the litany of young black men cut down by the police out of all proportion to their numbers, hits you in the face. But behind this racism is the basic functioning of U.S. capitalist society, woven into the fabric of this country from the very beginning.