Police repression, racism and class struggle

Racism has always been the strongest bulwark of class rule in the United States. Racism divides and weakens the working class and provides monopoly capital with super-exploited minorities from whom they can extract extra profits.

Racism makes the bombing of countries whose inhabitants look like U.S. minorities more acceptable to sectors of white public opinion stateside, and so is a bulwark of imperialism and war.

Racism is a powerful tool of the ruling class and a powerful enemy of the working class. We draw from this knowledge the understanding that we must fight racism day and night, with every fiber of our being. We also understand from this that white working people have a special responsibility not to falter in the struggle against racism.

However racism is not an abstract thing; it manifests itself in specific practical forms of social, economic and political activity. The ideology of racism is based on the practice of racism, as well as vice-versa. The practice of anti-racism must also, then, be based on active struggle against specific racist practices. Exhortations “not to be racist” are totally inadequate.

How does racism manifest itself in the United States today? It manifests itself in media and in the symbolism of daily and public life, for example in the insulting stereotypes of Native American people used by sports teams. It manifests itself in discrimination in hiring and on the job in discriminatory practices. It manifests itself in the channeling of African-Americans and other minorities to certain (inferior) housing stock or under-funded schools. It manifests itself in court decisions against affirmative action. It manifests itself in a thousand economic and cultural practices that keep African Americans, Latinos and other minorities in a disadvantageous position.

These forms of institutional racism destroy more lives than the Ku Klux Klan ever did. Yet there are many who deny that these things constitute racism at all. And that denial is itself one of the most dangerous forms of racism, akin to Holocaust denial except much more widespread and found among much “nicer” people.

An extremely important way in which racism manifests itself is in police brutality, racial targeting for repression and other abuses of the criminal justice system, such as:

• The channeling of young, poor and minority people into modes of life that entangle them permanently with the criminal justice system.

• Physical brutality, including police murder – remember Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Rodney King, LaTanya Haggerty and Bobbie Russ.

• Frame ups, including suborning of perjury by witnesses, concealment of exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys, confessions extorted by torture, etc.

• Discrimination in the provision of adequate criminal defense.

• Discrminatroy sentencing, especially for drug-related offenses.

• Denial of rehabilitative possibilities of prisoners and ex-convicts.

• Probable execution of innocent people.

• Life-long discrimination including the denial of the right to hold many jobs and the denial of the right to vote and hold public office in many states.

Remember that 30 percent of African-American men were not able to vote in Florida in the 2000 elections, more than enough to put George W. Bush in the White House. Imagine the impact of a 30 percent disenfranchisement rate on other elections, from state governor to county sheriff, in the Sunshine State and beyond where similar practices abound.

Consider, also, that these abuses of the criminal justice system are denounced every day, all over the country. We write, we speak, we picket, we march against them. Yet they go on and on, decade after decade, with no letup. That means they are a systemic feature of our society, not an aberration. Were it not so, they would have been stopped long ago.

You will then understand that abuses of the criminal justice system are deliberate political acts, not mistakes or unfortunate social problems to be cleared up by philanthropy or social engineering One must conclude that these forms of class and race repression are part of the central strategy of the ruling class. On this basis, it is important that all labor and community activists and working people in general get involved in the struggle against them.

Emile Schepers is a reader in Chicago. He can be reached at pww@pww.org