January 2015 Article in The Militant:
Provocative ultraleft actions deal
blow to fight against police brutality
BY SETH GALINSKY
NEW YORK — Over the past few months, tens of thousands of working people have taken to the streets to protest the police killings of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The actions against cop brutality have been larger, more multinational and marked by more union involvement than any in decades.
The protests were strengthened by the spread of workers’ resistance to the grinding capitalist economic crisis. Some Walmart and fast-food workers fighting for $15 an hour, a union and a 40-hour workweek; health care workers in 1199SEIU; and other unionists have joined the protests. In addition, broader labor struggles and the mobilizations against cop brutality have reinforced each other.
More people see police brutality and intimidation are directed at the entire working class. While African-Americans are disproportionately targets, thousands of Caucasians, Latinos and Asians are also victimized by cops every year.
The protests were dealt a blow by the effects of provocative ultraleft actions at demonstrations in New York, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that created an atmosphere in which a disturbed individual like Ismaaiyl Brinsley felt encouraged to assassinate two New York police officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, Dec. 20. Just before killing Ramos and Liu, Brinsley posted a message on Instagram: “They take 1 of ours … let’s take 2 of theirs,” according to the New York Police Department. The killings undermine the moral high ground taken by the protest mobilizations denouncing cop attacks on the lives, safety and dignity of working people.
The Brown and Garner families condemned the assassination of the cops. “Anyone who’s standing with us, we want you to not use Eric Garner’s name for violence, because we are not about that,” Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, told reporters.
“The killing of the cops was a cowardly act,” Chuck Ferrell, a nurse, told the Militant Jan. 5 near the March Houses, a public housing project just blocks from where the two cops were shot. “Nobody wants to see a life taken, cop or civilian.”
“But too many unarmed men, especially Black men, are getting killed by the police,” he said. “The men in blue have too much power, they go around with Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect written on the side of their police cars, but they don’t show any respect.”
The cops, capitalist media and politicians — from liberal Mayor Bill de Blasio to the conservative New York Post — seized on the killings to call for a halt to the demonstrations.
Provocations undercut protests
At two of the largest protests against police brutality Dec. 13, 10,000 in Washington, D.C., and more than 25,000 in New York, small provocative ultraleft groups put forward slogans that ran 100 percent counter to the aims of the protests and the overwhelming majority of participants. In New York, a group in the protest chanted, “What do we want, dead cops!” In D.C., some protesters involved in an attempt to take over the speakers platform carried signs that said, “‘Hands up don’t shoot’ didn’t work. Fists up, fight back.”
Such unchecked provocative conduct from within the protests — in the absence of a proletarian leadership strong enough to build a disciplined movement — created an atmosphere where a Brinsley could feel encouraged to act.
Protests spread after Garner’s killing
The July 17 attack on Garner was caught on tape and posted widely on the Internet, seen by millions. Garner did nothing to provoke the attack and can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” 11 times while undercover cop Daniel Pantaleo applied a chokehold and his fellow officers piled on Garner’s back.
The Dec. 3 grand jury decision not to indict Pantaleo fueled even larger and broader protest actions. “After Michael Brown was killed there was a lot of ‘he said, she said,’ over what happened,” Brooklyn resident Ferrell noted. “But with Garner, it was all on tape, there was no question at all.”
NYPD rules ban chokeholds that prevent breathing, but don’t explicitly bar those that compress the carotid arteries, like the one used by Pantaleo in the assault on Garner. Despite the “ban,” the chokehold is standard operating procedure for New York police — and for cops across the country. According to a city government report, the use of the hold is going up. Police magazine wrote in its Jan. 30, 2014, issue that the goal of the widely used “carotid restraint” is to render the person being arrested unconscious in 7 to 10 seconds to make it easier for cops to put on handcuffs.
Cops and their apologists argue that use of such chokeholds — like the use of Tasers — are progressive reforms that prevent deaths, allowing cops to bring suspects under control instead of shooting them dead. These methods protect both the cops who use them and those they subdue, they say, but “unfortunately” sometimes kill people.
The fact is Pantaleo and the cops who assisted him were acting like all cops are trained and conditioned to act, to “protect and serve” the interests of the propertied rulers and to make sure working people know their “place.”
Cops, politicians seize opportunity
The cops and their supporters seized on the killing of Ramos and Liu to slander the entire protest movement, charging that by criticizing the cops, they opened the door to the cops’ deaths.
Mayor de Blasio called for a moratorium on protests against the killing of Garner, at least until after the two officers were buried. When the next protest did take place, the New York Daily News — which had editorialized for the indictment of Pantaleo — ran a banner front-page headline telling marchers “Have You No Shame?”
The New York Post went to town on de Blasio, claiming that an earlier statement to ABC’s “This Week” about telling his son, who is Black, that he needs to be careful when stopped by the police because of his race encouraged attacks on cops by protesters.
Thousands of cops turned their backs on the mayor when he spoke at Ramos’ funeral Dec. 27 and again at Liu’s funeral Jan. 4. “I did turn my back out of disgust on how the country feels about cops,” an NYPD lieutenant told the Wall Street Journal after Liu’s funeral.
According to the Post, the cops also staged a “virtual work stoppage” resulting in a 66 percent drop in arrests since the shootings and a more than 90 percent drop in parking tickets.
While the protests against police brutality have subsided for now, the cops will continue to act as the propertied rulers demand: to treat working people as an outlaw class that must be kept in check. Police brutality is part of their program and more beatings and killings are inevitable.
As workers continue to come together to fight against the relentless attacks of the bosses and their government, they will construct a leadership capable of restraining ultraleft disruption and taking on cop brutality and killings as they transform themselves on the road to overthrowing capitalist rule.