Letter from the US: Rage boils over at racist police immunity

July 13, 2016

A Black Lives Matter protest in New York on July 9.

Once again the deep racism and racial divide in the United States has burst upon the national scene, dominating newspapers, TV and social media.

Since 2014, videos taken by witnesses of police murders of Black people spurred the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. In spite of the overwhelming visual proof of the guilt of the police murderers, they have almost all gotten away with it.

This has emboldened the police, as they know they can use force, up to and including killing, against Blacks with impunity.

This explains why two cops in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, thought nothing of killing 37-year-old Black man, Alton Sterling, while he was on the ground incapacitated. Two videos were taken of the July 5 event, which showed two cops kneeling on top of Sterling when one took out his gun and shot him three times.

Police killing live-streamed

The next day, in St Paul, Minnesota, a cop pulled over Philando Castille for a broken taillight. In the car were his fiance, Diamond Reynolds, and her four-year-old daughter.

An earlier victim of police racism, Sandra Bland, who was found dead in a police cell last year had also been pulled over and arrested for a broken taillight. Both Castille and Bland were caught “driving while Black” in the wrong neighborhood.

Castille was shot by the cop as he reached for his wallet to produce his license and registration, as the cop demanded.

Reynolds, to protect herself and her child, started to film the dying man and the cop, who then pointed his gun at her. What the cop did not know was that her video was being live-streamed to her Facebook friends, who shared it. It soon became known to millions.

More cops arrived, ordered her out of her car at gunpoint, arrested her and took her and her daughter into custody. She kept filming while in the police car. Her anguish as she talked to the cops, along with her presence of mind, made a deep impression.

The police separated Reynolds from her daughter and grilled her for hours. Someone must have told them that the video was already widely seen, so they could not just take away her phone, and they released her and her daughter.

In all these incidents, the police seek to silence witnesses. In the case of the Sterling murder, one of the men who filmed the incident, Abdullah Muflahi, had his phone confiscated by police and was locked up for hours in a police car. Police also seized the security camera footage from Muflahi's store, outside of which Sterling was killed.

An Air Force veteran who posted the first video of the Sterling shooting to some 10,000 followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter was subsequently detained at his job at the Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Police then led him from his workplace in shackles and held him for 26 hours. His job is in jeopardy.

Black Lives Matter demonised

These two police murders sparked interracial but largely Black protests of tens of thousands in cities across the country for days.

At a July 7 rally in Dallas, Texas, an African American Army veteran, Micah Johnson, opened fire with military precision from surrounding buildings on officers policing the demonstration. Five cops were killed and seven wounded.

The police say Johnson wanted to kill white police officers in retaliation for the police murder of Blacks. Acquaintances and relatives say he came back from Afghanistan a changed man.

It is not surprising that an individual traumatised by war in such a polarised atmosphere would decide to carry out such an action, however misguided and harmful to the cause. We may see more such incidents.

The killing of police then became the major story in the media, swamping the story of the killings by police. Johnson was not part of the demonstration and had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter — the network organising the campaign against racist police killings. BLM condemned the killings.

Yet many jumped on the incident to blame BLM and the protesters. Former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh tweeted: “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.”

In a televised interview, the head of the National Association of Police Organisations blamed President Barack Obama for waging a “war on cops”.

On CBS show Face the Nation, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani said: “When you say Black lives matter, that is inherently racist.” He blamed the movement for the shooting of the police.

The blowhard talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, whose show is watched by millions, joined in.

Obama is singled out because he is Black. This is not new. Giuliani, for example, was speaking for many when he said last year: “I do not believe that the president loves America … He wasn't brought up the way you and I were brought up.”

Writing in the Financial Times, Edward Luce wrote: “In response to the Blacks Lives Matter movement, there is now a Blue Lives Matter campaign for the police. A number of Republican figures, including the lieutenant governor of Texas, have blamed the killings on Black Lives Matter at whose protest they took place.

“The internet is awash with invented stories of how the group incites its supporters to attack the police.”

In the face of this racist onslaught, opponents of police violence have not been deterred. In the days after the Dallas shootings, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, blocking roads, bridges and highways in more than a dozen cities, including Chicago, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Hundreds were arrested.


In this situation of increasing polarisation, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said that he stands with the police against Black Lives Matter. He says he is the “law and order” candidate.

Obama and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton say that the problem is the result of a lack of communication between the police and the Black community. They urge “both sides” to reconcile.

At the same time, Obama takes centre stage at the memorial for the fallen Dallas police officers, but has never attended memorials to the growing list of Black victims of police murders, including Sterling and Castille. Neither has Clinton.

Of course, Obama (and whomever becomes the next president) is the chief executive officer of the government that is charged with protecting the system that spawns racism.

The problem is not a breakdown in communication between the Black community and the police. The real problem starts to be seen in a closer look at the situation in Dallas.

There has been a huge media campaign emphasising the “irony” that the killing of police occurred in Dallas, where such great progress has been made. The city even has a Black police chief.

A July 12 article in the New York Times dug a little deeper. It tells the story of one man who has been stopped by police asking for identification when he is not dressed for his demolition job about four times in the past four months alone.

So now he wears his hardhat, vest and work gloves every time he goes out. “I got to fake like I'm wearing my work stuff, so they won't mess with me.”

The article concluded: “But for all the progress that the Dallas police have made, this remains one of the most segregated big cities in the country, with yawning racial gaps in housing, schools and employment.

“Decades of discriminatory federal, state and local policies have concentrated the city's black population in deeply poor and underdeveloped neighbourhoods south of Interstate 30, which serves as a line of demarcation between opportunity and neglect.

“While downtown Dallas is flush with glassy skyscrapers and high priced restaurants, large tracts of the city's southern sector are empty and ragged.

“'People look at the Blacks Lives Matter movement as people protesting against police brutality,' said Terry Flowers, the executive director and headmaster of St. Phillips School and Community Centre in South Dallas. 'I think it is much larger than that. People are protesting against a social engineering of inequity.'”

Racist system

What is termed the Black community is in reality the concentration of Blacks in ghettos, with high unemployment, poverty and resultant street crime made worse by the so-called war on drugs. The police are charged with enforcing this segregation and keeping a lid on the ghettos. They function as an occupying force, with daily harassment, arrests, beatings and even murder.

Segregation by law was defeated by the mass civil rights and Black liberation movements of the 1960s, but de facto segregation is more pronounced today than in 1970.

Blacks who escape from the ghettos and have gotten better-paying jobs, largely the result of the gains of the Black movements of the '60s, are also swept up in the institutional, structural racism deeply embedded in 400 years of American capitalism.

It will take more than “better communication” to break this down.

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