Rebellion flares across US cities

Issue section: 

Instead of addressing the root causes of police violence, the authorities have done nothing

Minneapolis is burning and the fire is spreading across the country.

George Floyd was murdered on 25 May by the Minneapolis Police Department. He was murdered by Derek Chauvin, an officer who has murdered innocent people in the past and gotten away with it.

For three nights in a row, Minneapolis has been ablaze. Crowds of thousands have gathered, setting buildings on fire, destroying police cars and getting into skirmishes with the cops.

A police station near where George Floyd was murdered was overwhelmed by protesters and set on fire. An image of Marx’s words, spray-painted on the outside of a store, went viral, reading, “When our turn comes, we shall not make excuses for the terror”.

These protests have spread throughout the country, with demonstrations in Portland, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver, Memphis, Columbus and New York. Some of these have turned violent. In Denver, police fired tear gas to get protesters off the interstate.

In Columbus, protesters broke the windows of the State Capitol as police shot pepper spray into the crowds. In Phoenix, there were standoffs between protesters and police. In New York, at least 40 were arrested in a confrontation with police in Union Square.

Conservatives and some liberals have condemned this property destruction, which they see as violence. They believe that this fight should be one of peaceful moral persuasion. Trump has called the protesters “thugs”, and has threatened them with violence, tweeting: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

Trump’s deadly incitement is not just aimed at police, but at far-right militias who may take it on themselves to attack demonstrators. In Louisville, Kentucky, seven people were struck by gunfire on Thursday while protesting over the death of Breona Taylor, a black woman killed by police in March.

This rioting became inevitable when the main solution put forward to the regular killing of black and brown people was that they act respectable and polite to the police. Instead of addressing the root causes of police violence, the authorities have done nothing, and we are told to be patient and to win through slow
peaceful persuasion.

But this is a rigged game. American capitalism was built on the backs of black people brought here against their will. As Malcolm X famously said, “you can’t have capitalism without racism”. Racism was the justification for enslaving an entire group of people based upon the colour of their skin in order to use their
free labour.

This free labour was the fuel that powered the motor of early capitalism. Racism has been used for centuries as a tool to divide the working class, giving white workers a stake in defending the system that
oppresses them through tiny privileges denied to working class people of colour.

The Mayor, Jacob Frey, has called for the involved in the death of George Floyd to be prosecuted. The officers have already been fired and Derek Chauvin has been taken into police custody. While calling for an end to the property destruction, Frey said he understood the anger of the city’s residents, even going so far as to say that the “symbolism of a building cannot outweigh the importance of life”.

While this is a step forward from the long history of mayors stonewalling and supporting their racist police forces, it is important to remember that his response did not occur in a vacuum. It took years of on- the ground organising and action, from Ferguson to Black Lives Matter, to shift the conversation so radically that it even affects elected officials.

It is an important reminder of the kind of action needed to affect social change. The fact that Derek Chauvin was arrested so quickly is further evidence of this. In an impressive act of solidarity, Minneapolis bus drivers have refused to transport police to demonstrations, or act as police vans bringing arrested demonstrators to precincts.

Their union has backed them up, with Amalgamated Transport Union president John Costa stating on Thursday “As our members ... have the right to refuse work they consider dangerous or unsafe during the
pandemic, so too Minneapolis bus drivers – our members – have the right to refuse the dangerous duty of transporting police to protests and arrested demonstrators away from these communities where many of these drivers live”.

ATU Local 1005, the union’s chapter in Minneapolis and St. Paul, issued a letter of solidarity with the protesters, calling for “a new Civil Rights Movement… that is joined with the labor movement”.

“ATU members face racism daily. Our members live in and work the neighbourhoods where actions like this happen, and where this took place, now watched in horror across the globe.”

Discontent with the racist state, economic collapse, and the inequity of the pandemic are all merging. We are seeing the beginnings of a rebellion.