United States: Mass protests erupt demanding justice for George Floyd

June 1, 2020
Protesters march to the 4th Precinct in Minneapolis Minnesota. Photo: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr

Mass protests in cities and towns across the United States exploded after four cops murdered an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, 46, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Protests are taking place in all 50 states.

The white cop, Derek Chauvin, 44, put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. He cried out, “I can’t breathe” and called for his mama. After six minutes his body went limp, but Chavin kept his knee on his neck for another two minutes and 46 seconds to make sure he was no longer breathing. Two other cops pinned down Floyd’s arms and legs, as a fourth cop stood guard so bystanders could not intervene.

Bystanders filmed the premeditated murder on their phones. They yelled at the cops as they killed Floyd, who could offer no resistance. His hands had been handcuffed behind his back. One witness said: “He was treated like a roach.”

Chauvin and his three fellow officers acted with murderous intent. Mobile phone videos showed that Floyd waited for them to arrest him after a worker in a store alleged he used a “counterfeit” US $20 note to buy cigarettes.

The cops came to his car, guns drawn, pulled him out and put him in handcuffs. He was then walked to the police car across the street. He did not resist arrest. Whether Chauvin knew Flood or not is irrelevant. He knew he was a Black man and did not deserve to live.

Anyone with eyes or a conscience who could not see this for what it was — a white terrorist lynching — is complicit in the crime. It is outrageous. Black lives do matter.

Four cops sacked

About 24 hours later, the mayor of Minneapolis sacked the four murdering cops from the police force. None were arrested or charged. That night, mass street protests demanded: “No Justice, No peace”.

The family demanded the cops be arrested for murder. Incredibly, the County District Attorney (DA) said it was likely that more evidence would show no crime was committed. Laws in the US allow cops to assert they are doing their job, always in fear, to avoid arrest and prosecution for murder or assault.

Extreme anger arose in Minneapolis and the neighbouring city of St Paul, the state capital. Blacks and other residents demanded, “No Justice, No Peace” and “Black Lives Matter”. Some violence did occur, including the burning of the police precinct where the four cops worked, even as the police pushed back.

Two more days of mass protest led the same DA to reverse course and announce a charge of third-degree murder and manslaughter against Chavin. The other three officers remain at home, but could face indictments.

The new progressive Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison took overall charge of the case on May 30. Ellison was the first Muslim elected to US Congress, prior to being elected attorney general.

Blood and violence on their hands

Blood and destruction are on the hands of the cops and the criminal justice system. Even when a cop is fired and charged with the crime of murder, the “justice” system lets him off. The US Supreme Court has ruled cops are justified no matter the facts, even when live videos show them murdering Black and Brown people.

The Minnesota National Guard, city police and state troopers applied maximum force against protesters in Minneapolis and St Paul on May 29. Curfews in Minnesota and other states were enforced. The government used aggressive tactics, such as indiscriminately firing teargas canisters and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters and journalists.

White nationalist provocateurs — mobilised by the dark web and social media — infiltrated the protests. These elements heard the dog whistle coming from the White House and Justice Department, which is seeking to use Floyd’s murder to advance their anti-Black and anti-progressive agenda. Some of the properties burnt down were well-known community centres and popular sites.

The so-called police “union” (which actually operates like a criminal cartel to protect violent actions by police) defended the cops’ criminal actions and attacked community activists as “anti-cop”.

Two Americas

“Justice for George Floyd” is a central demand for national protests. But the underlying reason for this death in custody is the inequalities rooted in a capitalist system based on systemic discrimination. The pandemic of racism, which has no solution under the current system of national oppression of African Americans, is being raised by the peaceful, multiracial demonstrators.

Blacks, who are 13% of the US population, suffer mass incarceration and represent nearly 50% of deaths at the hands of cops. Many liberals see the issue as excessive police use of force; Blacks know otherwise. We live in two Americas — one white majority, one Black minority.

Why is this important?

Whites today still refuse to understand that democracy is not real unless all peoples are treated as equals and respected as humans.

The concept of “Two Americas” is a recognition that Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Indigenous peoples as well as immigrants (legal and undocumented) were never included by the white male Founding Fathers as “citizens”.

That false concept is why every fight for social change leads the status quo ruling class to organise legal and extra-legal counteractions by the white majority to reverse those gains.

The white-led backlash following the election of the first Black US president, Barack Obama, was white supremacist Donald Trump. Any illusions that a colour blind US was on the horizon was quickly shattered. It is why a vast majority of African Americans see the 2020 presidential election as life-threatening.

Whites continue to see most things in racial terms, even as they deny doing so. It is why a liberal white woman in Central Park, New York City, recently played the “race card”, telling police in an emergency call that an “African American man” was “threatening” her (he was a bird-watcher) because he had asked her to put a leash on her dog.

A Black man jogging in Georgia was murdered by three white vigilantes believing — as white citizens — they could do so with impunity.

A Black woman — an emergency medical technician — was killed by plain-clothes cops, who burst into her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky. The only person arrested for attempted murder was her boyfriend, who grabbed his legally-registered gun to shoot at the intruders.

Dual pandemics

How do we fight the twin pandemics of coronavirus and racial inequality?

The health crisis is much simpler to deal with than racism. Social distancing and wearing masks works while a vaccine or cocktail of treatments is developed. Four hundred years of racism requires a change of the capitalist system and laws that enforce equality.

Most Black street protesters wore masks because of the coronavirus. Cases and deaths are disproportionally high among Blacks. Most Trump-MAGA (Make America Great Again) supporters did not.

The greater white public generally tries to avoid discussing US history honestly. Racism is a “Black person’s issue”. It is not taught in schools.

The protests in Minnesota, New York, Los Angeles, California, Louisville, Kentucky and dozens of other cities are demanding more than justice for George Floyd.

The white-nationalist-in-chief, Trump, has urged violence against the protesters. He invoked a racist comment from a white Miami police chief who said in 1977, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”. Trump added he would use “vicious dogs” against a Black rebellion.

Trump did not condemn the killer cops and the failing justice system. He asked his Justice Department to blame the violence on “left-wing agitators” and declared — without evidence — the antifascist group “Antifa” a terrorist organisation.

Antifa has responded to racist actions with firm counter actions. However, it is a violation of US law to label a group “terrorist” because you disagree with it. Crimes are based on illegal actions, not speech or goals. Nevertheless, Trump has not used this label on a single white supremacist organisation or on any armed vigilante that has actually murdered innocent Blacks and Jews.

Trump also said “MAGA loves African American people” showing that, like previous bigots in the White House, he views people of colour as inferior to the white majority.

History of revolt

The US was founded on mass disobedience and breaking unjust laws.

The most famous incident was the 1773 Boston Tea Party, which was attacked by the British rulers as “hooliganism” and “illegal”.

Slave revolts and runaways were “illegal”.

The labour strikes in the 1930s were infiltrated and attacked by employers’ agents (the Pinkertons) and cops. Strikes were declared “illegal” until victory was won.

Without civil disobedience and struggle against corrupt rulers and police, no progress can be made.

What has been most positive about the current explosions is that young whites and other minorities joined with African Americans united in protests everywhere. A true multiracial coalition emerged where many stood up to the police and demanded justice.

The roots of inequality lie in the capitalist system itself, which uses racial and class inequalities to maintain national oppression (“Two Nations” —  white nationalist privilege of skin colour versus Black oppression).

Rebellions occur frequently. The revolts of 1967–68 read like today’s struggles.

The difficult task of forging unity between oppressor and oppressed peoples is necessary to launch mass revolutionary movements for fundamental change. African Americans are an oppressed national minority without full citizenship — deserving self-determination.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels made this analysis about oppressed peoples in the 19th century. It was elaborated on by Russian revolutionary leaders Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky and remains valid today.

Engels wrote: “No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations.”

Marx wrote: “The nation that oppresses another nation forges its own chains.”

The revolutionary Russian Social Democratic Labour Party affirmed the “right of self-determination for all nations included within the bounds of the state” in 1903.

US revolutionary MalcolmX said in response to police brutality and national oppression: "That's not a chip on my shoulder. That's your foot on my neck."

The most prominent leader of the mass civil rights movement in the 1960s and advocate of nonviolent protest, Martin Luther King Jr, said: “We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself. We will try to persuade with our words, but if our words fail, we will try to persuade with our acts.”

He also said: “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”

In a 1967 speech, the “Other America”, King said this about “riots”: “In the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

Until the four cops in Minneapolis are arrested and charged with first or second degree murder, the movement will continue and spread. A Minneapolis Black Lives Matter leader put it clearly when they said that there should be divestment from the police force and resources put into Black, Brown and native peoples’ communities.

The occupying force should be dissolved and replaced with community control of police, with strong regulations. The new police force must live in the community they patrol and be accountable to that same community.

No Justice! No Peace!

[Malik Miah is a long-time Black rights and revolutionary socialist activist, a contributing editor with Against the Current, a US socialist magazine and on the editorial advisory board of Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal. He will address an online forum on June 7, 12-2pm AEST on the topic 'Black Lives Matter & mass revolt in the United States'. The zoom link is here.]

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