In light of the George Floyd protests, it’s important to note that the very institution of policing is rooted in the slave trade, plantation owners, and slave catchers of the 18th and 19th centuries in this country. When slaves were emancipated by Abraham Lincoln on paper in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation, slave catchers could no longer, under cover of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, follow Black slaves to the North where they were no longer viewed as property.
In the years following the Civil War during the Reconstruction period, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned slavery, the 14th Amendment granted African Americans citizenship, and the 15th Amendment granted Black men the right to vote. These reforms were met with extreme violence and backlash, particularly in the South where white supremacists like the Ku Klux Klan organized bands of hooded white former Confederate soldiers to go into Black communities and terrorize them in order to scare them away from practicing their new democratic rights.
The modern police institution behaves in a similar way, but instead of white hoods, they wear blue uniforms and function as a legal institution to “serve and protect” the communities they often end up terrorizing. The Civil War ended in 1865, but it wasn’t until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were implemented a century later that racial segregation in the Jim Crow South was outlawed. African Americans could not even eat in the same restaurant or attend the same hospitals or schools as white Americans until the late 1960s in many cases. The last public schools were racially integrated as late as 1980 in Columbus, Ohio. But police violence against the African American community is nothing new. The difference is that now it is being filmed.
The police and FBI involvement in the murders of Black civil rights leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s gave way to the witch-hunt of Communist Party USA leader Angela Davis in the early 1970s. Mass demonstrations, riots, and international efforts to condemn these events marked a historic point in our country’s history. From the Rodney King civil disturbance of 1992 to the more recent protests of the murders of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner that gave birth to the Black Lives Matter movement, the demands have changed. For the past 10 years, the demands have included a more diverse police force with body cameras and a multi-racial police presence in black and brown neighborhoods. Now the demands have shifted to communities “policing the police,” as first put forward by Fred Hampton and the Black Panthers, while others suggest defunding, disarming, and ultimately disbanding the police force in favor of multi-racial, community-controlled neighborhood watches.
A more humane police force can indeed exist under capitalism, as Alex Vitale points out in his 2017 book The End of Policing. While a revolutionary “neighborhood watch” like the Committees in Defense of the Revolution in Cuba or the neighborhood militias in Venezuela may seem like a long shot, certain reforms can be implemented in the short term to reflect the Scandinavian and other European models of policing. The movement out in the streets at this moment understands that a more racially diverse presence of unarmed police officers in black and brown neighborhoods can perhaps save lives in the short term, while ultimately the abolition of both the racist police institution and the prison-industrial complex remains our goal as a part of a more peaceful and democratic society—a society which we as Communists understand to be socialism (a worker-led democracy) and ultimately communism (a utopian, classless, stateless society with no institutions such as police or prisons). The National Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, to which the Communist Party belongs as a founding member, supports community control of the police, and has recently called for national protests and car caravans to take place in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
The struggles against racism and capitalism are intertwined. Class consciousness is on the rise, and this is coming out of the struggle against the extreme-right Trump administration who is using the police institution as his own private army. He has even called in the National Guard to put down protests and keep Black activists “in their place.” Capitalism needs racism to survive. It is how the ruling class keeps the working class divided. In addition to protesters calling for the abolition of the police state, workers are uniting around issues such as racism, universal health care, and unemployment relief in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether these and other issues will develop into a demand for socialism remains to be seen. But there is a growing recognition by many that socialism is the solution to many of our problems.
Racist police violence exists no matter which corporate political party is in power: Democrats or Republicans. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and countless others were executed by racist police officers while Obama and other Democrats held the presidency. George Floyd’s murder occurred in Minneapolis, Minnesota, whose mayor and governor are both liberal Democrats. However, racism becomes more apparent with an extreme right-wing regime with fascist elements in power. Trump emboldens and empowers these racists to carry out their murderous acts against communities of color more than usual. Their mentality is, “If the president acts like that, then why can’t I?”
In addition to our country facing a neoliberal economic disaster, we are turning toward a racist police state, bringing us even closer to an all-out fascist danger. If Trump’s Muslim travel ban, incarceration of immigrant children at the border, and plans to build a border wall are not enough to convince someone of the fascist danger, perhaps this will: Trump has recently labeled Antifa a “terrorist organization.” He and the rest of the extreme-right Republican Party must be defeated in November in order to win a more favorable terrain for the class struggle.
The Communist Party calls for mass participation in these peaceful protests, which turn violent only after curfew when the police charge the crowds of peaceful demonstrators. The CPUSA stands in solidarity with the families of those who have been the victims of racist police executions. The CPUSA and its Young Communist League organizing committees lead mutual aid efforts for victims of the coronavirus and for detained protestors by bringing them water, food, hand sanitizer, and masks when they are released from prison the next morning. We participate in the peaceful protests by handing out literature and recruiting other young activists from the broader anti-racist movement into its ranks. We discourage our members from participating in the violent riots which take place at night, but we have had some comrades get arrested for protesting peacefully. We bail these comrades out of jail in the morning, we protest during the day, and we continue these peaceful demonstrations into the night.
With that said, we should be careful to not quickly condemn the “violent looters” who tend to steal from local businesses and mostly large corporations in an effort to sell these stolen goods so that they can pay rent and buy food. Unemployment is still a problem in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, so in many ways, the Communist Party is fighting alongside the U.S. working class in a battle on three fronts: fighting racism, keeping the community safe from COVID-19, and working to build unemployed councils for those workers who cannot survive adequately given these dire circumstances.
Join the uprising today in an effort to defund, disarm, and ultimately disband the police! Build the people’s front against the right-wing Trump agenda before further setbacks are dealt toward the working class. Abolish the capitalist system, including the racist police institution and the prison-industrial complex.