By Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker
We stand in solidarity with the righteous national uprising for racial justice sparked by the police lynching of George Floyd.
Trump is calling the protesters “thugs” and “terrorists” in order to incite and justify violence by the police, the military, and white-racist vigilantes against the nonviolent uprising. Biden’s speech on the uprising never supports the protests but starts by scolding the violent fringe, tells the police not to use “excessive” force, and opines that it will take a generation to reverse systemic racism.
We are here to tell Trump to go to Hell and Biden to get out of the way because we won’t wait.
The Hawkins-Walker campaign team is out on the streets participating in protests throughout the country. We are in this movement for the long haul. We won’t settle for cosmetic reforms. We want fundamental change in the governance, practices, and culture of policing, which is a linchpin at the intersection of racial oppression with class exploitation at the heart of the capitalist system.
The movement must be sustained if we are going to end the police brutality and racism. We cannot be satisfied with token adjustments to a policing system that is designed to protect the capitalist system in which the racial oppression of Black and other people of color has long been embedded to magnify the class exploitation of the working-class majority from every race.
Reforms that do not include who controls the police, who they work for, who has the power over policing will not stop the police killings of unarmed Black people or the racism that pervades all of our institutions. Many of the proposed reforms being introduced in Congress would be progressive improvements, such as a ban on choke holds, ending the qualified immunity of police from being sued, mandating body cameras, and ending the transfer of surplus military equipment to local police. But none of these reforms get to the question of power.
We need community control of the police in order to transform the practices and culture of policing so that it serves and protects those who are now oppressed and exploited instead of the property and privileges of the powerful elites. We need community control in order to have the ability to clean house and rid police departments of the racism and brutality embodied in the living, breathing racists and sadistic and disturbed people in their ranks.
Beyond policing, we need a socialist economic democracy that empowers the racially oppressed and the economically exploited to receive the full value of their labor and provide for their own communities. We need a democratic and ecological socialism so we have the power to meet the basic needs of all within ecological limits
From Protest to Power
It will take more than cries for justice that appeal to the power structure in the vain hope that it will respond and reform itself. We must impose our demands on the power structure.
Imposing our demands means in the first instance raising the costs to the power structure of not agreeing to our demands so high that the power structure is compelled to concede. We raise the costs through sustained disruptive nonviolent action in the streets and through taking our votes away from the power structure’s two-party system of capitalist rule by voting for independent left opposition candidates.
Securing our demands on the power structure means restructuring the power. With respect to policing, we must make the police accountable to the people and no longer let them police themselves in their own interests and in the interests of the existing power structure that supports the police to reinforce racial and class hierarchies.
The uprising sparked by racist police brutality is also an uprising against the economic exploitation and insecurity that working people of all races are experiencing. It is at this intersection of racial oppression and class exploitation where working people of all races must unite. As workers of any race, we cannot secure our economic prosperity as long as racism divides and disempowers us.
The uprising is giving expression to the widespread outrage at how the two governing parties of the United States are presiding over a failed state. The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed this failure for all to see. With 4% of the world’s population, the US has 30% of the infections and deaths. Trump is incompetent and indifferent. Biden is invisible and incoherent.
Coming on the heels of the videographed murder of another Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, by white vigilantes and of the shooting death of a Black woman, Bryonna Tayler, by plainclothes police breaking unannounced into her apartment in the middle of night, the George Floyd murder has exposed for all to see how the United States has long been a failed state for Black people who have suffered under a centuries-old pandemic of racism.
Demanding Community Control
The first week of the uprising has featured cries for justice: “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” We now need to go beyond calling for justice from the existing power structure to organizing our own power to make the power structure implement our demands.
To change who has the power over policing, we call for community control of the police. We are not talking about feckless review boards, or community policing, which can be a good policing practice. We are talking about publicly-elected police commissions with the power to hire and fire police chiefs and independently investigate and sanction police misconduct. The power over policing must shift from self-policing by police departments to the people who the police are supposed to protect and serve. With community control, we can weed out cops who are racist or sadistic.
The Hawkins-Walker campaign also calls for a Jonny Gammage Law to require a federal investigation, and, when warranted, federal prosecution of police who violate the civil rights of a person, including bodily injury and death. Only a federal investigation and prosecution can have the distance and independence to impartially mete out equal justice under law because district attorneys and state attorneys general are too close to local police forces with whom they work on a daily basis. Jonny Gammage was suffocated to death by police in 1995.
We call for cutting bloated police budgets and reinvesting the savings in proven crime reduction programs like youth jobs, recreation, and counseling, fully-funded community schools with wrap-around services, affordable housing, free public transit, and tuition-free public colleges and trade schools. Instead of over-policing and mass incarceration, we should be fighting crime by fighting poverty.
Underlying poverty and economic despair is also fueling the current uprising. The Hawkins-Walker campaign calls for universal economic security through an Economic Bill of Rights that provides federal guarantees of a living-wage job, an income above poverty, affordable housing, comprehensive health care, lifelong tuition-free public education, and a secure retirement.
Uprooting the Intersection of Racial Oppression and Class Exploitation
Racial oppression has been central to the system of capitalist economic exploitation in this country since the dispossession of Indigenous people and the enslavement of Africans began in the 1600s. This capitalist system of intersecting racial oppression and class exploitation manifests itself today in growing race and class inequality, police brutality and mass incarceration, and military bloat, wars, and coups abroad, which blow back home in the form of militarized policing and the over-policing of working-class communities of color.
The current policing system evolved from the white militias that stole land from the Indians and captured runaway slaves. The uprising against police brutality is inherently an uprising against the system of racial oppression and class exploitation that the current system of policing protects. It is no accident that the current uprising gives expression to a confluence of outrage against both racism and economic hardship.
The Black Lives Matter movement that began six years ago after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson continued to grow as the nation witnessed death after death of Black people at the hands of the police. Throughout this period, US police have continued to kill people—disproportionately people of color—at a steady pace of around 1,000 a year. Of the 10,000 or so cases of police killings in the 10-year period from 2005 to 2014, only 153 officers were charged, or about 1.5%. Of these cases, less than half led to felony convictions compared to a 70% conviction rate for the general population. Since 1995, the US Department of Justice has declined to take 96% of cases of police misconduct referred to it.
Ten years ago the Occupy Movement exploded across the nation in response to the last economic collapse when, as we chanted at the time: “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out.” Both then and now, the Federal Reserve made trillions available to the banks at little to no interest while the people received minimal economic relief. The stock market soars and working people struggle to make ends meet.
The movement for economic justice in the last two years has been highlighted by 400,000 workers going on strike, the largest numbers in three decades. During the Covid-19 pandemic, there have been hundreds of strikes, many conducted by workers without union representation against employers. Service workers, transit workers, warehouse workers, delivery people, grocery store stockers and clerks, and other “essential workers” are demanding Covid-19 safety protections, higher wages, and better health benefits. As working people ourselves—Howie Hawkins is a retired Teamster, Angela Walker is a working truck driver—we understand what working people are going through and support their self-organized actions for economic justice.
The daily demonstrations we have experienced for the last 10 days, encompassing over 500 locations across the United States, amount to a civil uprising as big and as wide as this country has ever seen. While we cannot expect daily demonstrations on this scale to continue indefinitely, we should expect of ourselves to continue our actions on a sustainable basis. Our community actions for racial justice and our workplace actions for economic justice are both inherently, if not yet consciously, aimed at the capitalist system where racial oppression and economic exploitation intersect. We should work to make that connection visible and bring both movements together in solidarity.
Defeating the Counter-Revolution
As these movements for racial and economic justice converge in the current uprising, we must be careful not to let the actions of a violent fringe make us all pawns in the counter-revolutionary narratives of Donald Trump and the neo-fascist far right. Trump is a social arsonist who is fomenting white vigilante, police, and military violence against nonviolent protesters. Then he blames the protesters for the violence. Videos from across the country show nonviolent protests becoming violent confrontations when the police show up to disperse the demonstrations. Violent responses from the fringe of the protests is just what Trump and the right-wing racists want in order to spread fear in white suburban and rural America against multicultural urban America. It is Trump’s strategy for winning white votes as the self-styled “law and order president.” It is the far-right’s strategy for provoking a race war, which Trump has implied with his tweets about a civil war if he is removed from office.
The multiracial character of the nonviolent protests is a great strength of the movement that conveys our message of solidarity and justice for all and is a hopeful harbinger for the future. Most of the demonstrations have been initiated by young Black people and the overwhelming numbers of people from all races have remained nonviolent.
Unfortunately, there has also been a problem of white privilege and arrogance at some protests where a minority of young white people have hijacked the message by initiating vandalism, arson, and confrontations with police. This activity is deeply disrespectful of the Black people who organized these demonstrations as nonviolent demonstrations. Videos from across the country show Black people trying to stop white people from tagging buildings with grafitti and from vandalism, arson, and instigating fights with police. These white people seem to come from outside the community. There are also reports that organized white racists are among the instigators of violence. Three white vigilantes were arrested this week after bringing loaded guns, fireworks, and Molotov cocktails to protests in Las Vegas.
The violence undermines the mass movement. People join movements to support a positive agenda. Vandals and fighters not only chase people away from the movement, they play into the hands of reactionaries like Trump who want excuses to violently crackdown on the nonviolent movement.
Trump’s threat to use the military against people exercising First Amendment rights is not legal under either the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act or the 1807 Insurrection Act. The US military has never been used to stop people from exercising their constitutional rights. Service members take an oath to uphold the Constitution. But Trump doesn’t care about legality. He’s sending a message intended to provoke more violence.
As for the so-called lesser evil, one of Joe Biden’s comments on the uprising speaking in a Black church was to say that police should shoot assailants in their legs instead of their hearts. Biden’s focus on police tactics instead of police brutality and racism shows once again that supporting the lesser evil just opens the door for greater evils.
To defeat the counter-revolution, we need a united front of the independent left against both the greater evil and the lesser evil. We can defeat the hard-right Republicans, not by relying on the soft-right Democrats, but by building our own power to advance our own demands independently in our communities, at our workplaces, and in the elections.