The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Executed by the Police—for a Traffic Stop

Apr 25, 2022

What follows is the editorial that appeared on the front of all SPARK’s workplace newsletters, during the week of April 18th, 2022.

Patrick Lyoya, a 26-year-old who recently came to this country to avoid violence in the Congo, was shot in the back of his head by a cop on April 4—for what was called a “traffic stop.”

The Grand Rapids police chief declared it was a tragedy but said he would wait on the investigation to decide if “deadly force was needed to prevent death or great bodily harm to that officer.” The mayor said, “My heart aches like so many people in this community about this tragedy and it aches for the Lyoya family.”

Officials say the words expected, but words have never yet stopped heavily armed police from killing or brutalizing civilians.

In Grand Rapids itself, apologies were offered after five 12-to-14-year-old black youths were held at gunpoint by cops. Apologies were offered after an 11-year-old black girl was handcuffed by Grand Rapids police. More apologies after two incidents when young black teens were handcuffed in 2018, held at gunpoint. Commissions about Grand Rapids police in 2017, 2018 and 2019 declared that the cops needed to change. And yet, Patrick Lyoya was executed.

Is this behavior unique to Grand Rapids? Of course not. In 2020, the entire country could watch a police officer strangle George Floyd to death in Minneapolis. Despite protests reaching across the country, the police have continued to stop, brutalize, traumatize, and sometimes kill people. In Los Angeles in 2021, the police shot 37 times, fatally killing 17 people. Only a year ago, Chicago police shot and killed a 13-year-old Hispanic youth, Adam Toledo. In February, an 18-year-old black youth, Donnell Rochester, was killed by a Baltimore police officer.

People have been killed under similar circumstances all over the United States. Going back to 2016, police have killed almost 1,000 people each year.

The black population has suffered the worst from such violence—out of all proportion to their numbers in the population. They are also stopped for the same “routine traffic stops” many times more often than are white people—traffic stops, which are the single most common incident leading to a shooting.

Still, black people are not the only ones to suffer. Because, finally, the police act as if they have been given a license to kill anyone. And they use it against people of all backgrounds. What is common, whether someone is black, white, immigrant or native born, male or female, is that the people killed usually come from the less-privileged, lower-income parts of the population.

The question is: do white laboring people, who can also face such violence, recognize they have a common cause with black people?

Politicians are famous for whipping up hatreds, doing everything possible to inflame racism in the population. Spewing racist poison, they have been well-supported by big-dollar donors in both of the big parties, even by some ministers, or news broadcasters.

These stupid mouthings repeated over and over are aimed at preventing white workers from seeing other workers as brothers and sisters, people who experience the same never-ending exploitation by the same tiny minority that has always sought to keep working people divided. If white workers, or any workers, fall for these stupid ideas, they will find no way out of the misery of capitalism, which is destroying this country and the entire world.

The police are a military force. They do not “protect and serve” the population. Their main role is to serve the capitalist class, to preserve their “order” so the capitalists can go on raking in wealth, in a system which is chaotic and brutal.

No individual, no few individuals can take on this system and its cops themselves. It is only the working class, when organized collectively, that has the force to do that—and, by doing so, overcome the prejudices fostered by the beneficiaries of racism.