Apr 27, 2015
A young man is dead in Baltimore, killed by six murdering cops. In the same week, a murdering cop goes free in Chicago when a prosecutor and a judge tie up his trial in the knots of a legal technicality. Different cities, different parts of the “justice system,” but part of the same big picture.
With his hands cuffed behind his back, with his legs in shackles, Freddie Gray was thrown into the back of a Baltimore police van, no seatbelt, nothing to secure him in place, and then ridden around for 42 minutes, over bumpy roads, around sharp fast turns, punctuated by sudden reversals and stops, tossing him around the back of the van, bouncing him off its walls, unable to protect or brace himself with his feet or his hands. It’s what Baltimore cops call a “rough ride,” and what Philadelphia cops call a “nickel ride.”
By the end of that murderous ride, Freddie Gray was for all practical purposes dead, although it took him another seven days to die. His spinal cord had been almost severed, three neck vertebrae were fractured, his larynx crushed.
And why was he in police custody? Because, according to the police account, a cop “made eye contact” with him, and he ran.
And wouldn’t you, knowing what the cops are capable of? Wouldn’t you run, instead of letting yourself be brutalized once again?
Freddie Gray is not the first person to be condemned to a “rough ride.” It’s a favorite cop trick to teach young men a lesson – especially young black men who don’t stand at abject attention when a cop looks at them.
Freddie Gray “made eye contact.” And Freddie Gray is dead.
The police everywhere enforce a vicious order on a society that cannot provide enough jobs for everyone.
Behind the police stands the whole “justice system,” united in its aim of controlling a surplus population.
For more than four decades, American capitalism, in pursuit of profit, has been throwing a growing proportion of the working age population onto the scrap heap. That means growing poverty. It means young men who are bitterly angry, denied any chance for the kind of life everyone wants, denied the possibility to provide for their children.
For American capitalism, their anger makes them a potential problem.
The solution to that problem, originally devised in the 1970s by Nixon’s attorney general Edwin Meese, was to use any and every pretext to criminalize and imprison a large share of the people capitalism could not provide jobs for.
It is quite simply a campaign of terror, aimed against all those jobless young men.
In fact, it was a campaign very consciously aimed at the black population, which had been at the head of struggles in the 1960s and early ’70s. Nixon’s chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, explained it this way in one of the diaries he kept for Nixon: “The President emphasized that you have to face the fact that the whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”
Nixon’s “system” was the so-called “war on crime,” “war on drugs,” and the buildup of the prison system.
Nixon’s “system” – a system of terrorism used against the population – has been built on, refurbished and used ever since by the administrations of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama.
Today, one quarter of the whole world’s prison population rots behind bars in the U.S. The number killed by police in one big American city in one month is many times the number killed by police in any West European country in a year. This is the grotesque and bloody picture the U.S. presents to the world.
This is the grotesque and bloody travesty, which it calls “democracy,” that American capitalism has imposed on its own population.