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Justice for Freddie Grey

Left to right, Amy Dewan, Hampden, and Rhema Wojcik, Charles Village, attend a rally where Freddie Gray was arrested. The demonstrators then marched to City Hall to protest the death of Freddie Gray while he was in police custody. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun)

The real solution to state racism  lies with the people - only a motivated, organised, disciplined mass movement can bring change to America argues Lee Jasper

The tragic scenes that followed in Baltimore as Freddie Gray was laid to rest, revealed the raw passion and pain of a community, whose battle for equality and justice is far from won. As his body was laid to rest and the tears of his mother rolled down her cheeks, the emotion become unbearable.

In the US today the weight of institutionalised racism is destroying lives and breaking spirits. In the face of routine systemic injustice, sporadic criminality by the victims of police racism and brutality is understandable, and is born from a sense of profound ' powerlessness'.

Before the siren calls of the law and order posse begin their neoliberal lament about the 'rule of law and respect for property', lets remember that any such theft or damage to property pales into insignificance when compared to the pain and loss of life suffered by African Americans of late.

That’s not an excuse, and of course as my Dad used to say, in rather more colloquial terms ' Don't defecate on your own doorstep". Whilst the scenes of looting and burning we have seen over the last 24 hours are ultimately counterproductive, regrettable and disturbing, it is as nothing, to the grave murder of innocents and the historical denial of justice that has brought the people to this state of pain and anger.

Other than an initial comment about the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, President Obama has maintained complete radio silence on the death of black people killed by police piling up in American morgues, and whilst there have been a number of US Justice department investigations announced, the killings continue.

The rate of these recent killings of African Americans is now greater than those seen in some international wars. The difference in a civilian context is that the police murders are increasingly being caught on camera and shared on social media.

And civil outburst by the poor and dispossessed is nothing new. The acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2013 sparked similar scenes in Miami Gardens, Sanford, Florida as those we've see in Baltimore today.

Remember the tragic case of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old black boy shot dead by police in Cleveland for carrying a pellet gun.

In 2014 the murder of Eric Garner was broadcast to the world and gave birth to the "I can't breathe" movement. Police officer, Daniel Pantaleo was acquitted by a grand jury and demonstrations took place all over America.

The murder of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson Missouri was no less shocking. What followed was a deluge of controversial deaths: Walter Scott, Eric Harris and Freddie Gray.

What's interesting in the media coverage of these deaths, beside the fact that there has been compelling video evidence that has undermined initial police versions of events, is that the focus has been all on black men.

This year Walter Scott is a case in point, shot eight times in the back whilst running away from an officer in North Charleston Carolina, the initial police account was an attempt to 'cover up' the murder, but once the video footage surfaced police had to quickly take action to arrest the officer concerned. This is what black communities suspect is done on most, if not all, occasions where a suspicious black death in custody occurs.

This is what fuels the righteous anger that burns in our hearts and souls. You can't treat people like idiots, kill them, and then treat them with arrogance and contempt. Such action, repeated often enough, will enrage even the most placid of peoples.

What’s also interesting is the press focus on the deaths that is also reflected on social media and that has seen a focus on black men, and not black women. Reflecting in part the patriarchy of American society and the reality of such, even within the justice movements, this acute failure is a deliberate attempt to further marginalise black women in an attempt to render them invisible in the discourse for justice and equality.

You may not have heard about these women, for obvious reasons stated above, but it is criminal if we allow media racism to deflect us from a clear eyed objective assessment of our struggle. Black women are the heart of our movement for equality and we should refuse to comply or accept the strangulated news agenda that seeks to both deny them justice and render them invisible in the narrative of our struggle and political analysis.

The case of Cleveland's, Tanisha Anderson is a case point. Arrested as a result of a mental health episode she subsequently died after her family claimed she was slammed to the floor with police officers kneeling on her back, Tanisha, 37 died as a result. In December 2014 and investigation by US Dept of Justice concluded that Cleveland Police have a 'pattern of using excessive force' particularly against suspects suffering mental illness.

Or take the case of Yvette Smith, shot in 2012 after being ordered to come out of her property, where a reported fight was taking place. Yvette came out of her property with her hands up, unarmed, and yet was shot dead. Police later claimed that Yvette was armed, however, that was later retracted as untrue. The officer concerned was convicted of murder at a subsequent Grand Jury trial.

How about the case of Shelly Fay? She was shot by an off duty police sheriff working as security guard at Houstan's Walmart store. After trying to apprehend Shelly and her friend for shoplifting, the officer Louis Campbell shot into their car hitting Shelly twice in the neck. She died instantaneously.

The most brutal killing of a black woman was the case of Malissa Williams, killed in November of 2012 by Cleveland police (yet again). She was 30 years of age and shot whilst a passenger in her friend’s car. A total of 137 bullets were shot by 13 police officers that killed Malissa. In this case, officers were thankfully indicted.

Even elderly black women are not immune. Take the case of Kathryn Johnson, 92 years of age, when in 2006 the Atlanta police mistakenly raided the wrong house in a drugs raid. They smashed down her security door and she shot a warning shot into the air with a legal gun, she kept for protection. Officers returned fire - shooting 39 bullets, of which five hit Kathryn. Officers were eventually indicted and $4.5 million dollar law suit was settled. On this occasion, officers also were found guilty of planting cocaine and weed at her home in an effort to justify the murder.

protest

That's why the on-going crisis in the relationship between African Americans and their police, remains unresolved despite decades of Civil Rights agitation and anti-discriminatory legislation. The powerful culture of white privilege and racism combine to reinforce white supremacy to such an extent that the fear of tackling racism and the possible negative and sometimes tragic consequences, act's like a self regulatory mechanism in the minds of black leadership.

Neoliberalism ensures that patriarchy and sexism undermine our struggle from within and without, and we must be alive to it. Moreover the crushing violence of poverty and the commodification of black people as the primary resource for a prison industrial complex, greedy for profits that black bodies provide, ensures the cycle continues unabated. The US Justice investigation into Ferguson Police Department revealed that racial profiling and targeting blacks were means to ensure high profit revenues for the town.

What we see in Baltimore are the strains of a community under oppressive policing whose behaviour is driven by a policing culture of racial profiling and the demands of a rapacious prison industrial complex and an African American community that has been co-modified into a profit centre for a criminal justice system, that either entombs or embalms black people at a staggering rate.

To safeguard the future, there needs to be a new and powerful settlement with African American communities at the level of both Federal and local Government. This will require a constitutional change that empowers citizens to hold to account their police officers offering sufficient disciplinary or criminal deterrent to ensure compliance with the law.

However, laws alone cannot change behaviour, and the reality is that most of the police forces involved in these cases, such as Baltimore have a majority of African American officers. Yet the power of white supremacy and the culture of racism remains unrestrained. The policy of black faces in high places - be they Chief of Police or Presidents - are a necessary, but not sufficient response to the crisis.

The black experience tells us clearly why this happens. We know that white cultural supremacy eats policy and law for breakfast. It’s that simple, if the culture is one that rejects either progressive policy and anti discriminatory law, the culture will prevail.

The real answer to tackling these issues lies not with President or Judges, Officers or Mayors. The real solution lies with the people and only a motivated, organised, disciplined mass movement can bring change to America.

Tagged under: Racism United States
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