Police Repression and the Detroit Economic Crisis
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, in 1999 when he was the host of the Pan-African Journal radio program on WHPR in Highland Park. (Photo: Dale Rich).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, in 1999 when he was the host of the Pan-African Journal radio program on WHPR in Highland Park. (Photo: Dale Rich).
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Murder of Aiyana Stanley-Jones represents the depth of ruling class desperation
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Note: The following is the text of an address delivered at a public meeting on political repression in the city of Detroit. The event was held on Saturday, June 12, 2010 near Wayne State University on the city’s west side.
This is the second time in six months that we have held a public meeting to examine the role of the police and all law-enforcement agencies under the capitalist system. The first forum in December was held to both commemorate the 40th anniversary of the United States government’s assassination of Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago and the more recent targeted killing of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah in Dearborn on October 28, 2009.
Both of these assassinations were actions conceived and executed by local and federal law-enforcement agencies. The killings took place within a social and historical context that compelled the state to utilize various forms of terrorism against selected population groups both local and global.
During the early-morning hours of May 16, the home of Aiyana Stanley-Jones on Lilliebridge Street on the city’s east side was raided by the Detroit police. Soon a seven-year-old girl was dead and a massive cover-up was engineered to make the cold blooded murder of a child appear to be the fault of the family and an accident by the police.
At the December forum on Fred Hampton, Mark Clark and Imam Luqman, we utilized as a point of departure the first chapter of V.I. Lenin’s State and Revolution. Lenin lays bare the nature and character of the state within capitalist society. This work draws extensively on the earlier research by Engels on the Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State.
Lenin says in Chapter One of State and Revolution that “Engels develops the conception of that ‘power’ which is termed the state—a power arising from society, but placing itself above it and becoming more and more separated from it. What does this power mainly consist of? It consists of special bodies of armed men who have at their disposal prisons, etc.” (State and Revolution, p. 10)
Lenin emphasizes that “A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power. But can this be otherwise?” This assertion by Lenin in 1917 is still true today. The capitalist state in the U.S. is relying more on the use of the repressive methods. The police, federal agents and the Pentagon are used to reinforce the exploitation and oppression of the working class and the nationally oppressed.
This greater reliance on state repression and police terror is taking place at a critical time period in U.S. history. Although the objective conditions are such that it warrants a revolutionary response from the people, the large-scale outbreak of resistance and offensive political struggle has yet to take place.
Nonetheless, for people who study and understand history realize that there have been similar periods over the last two centuries where rebellions and revolutionary movements have emerged from the depths of horrendous criminal actions taken against the people. These revolutionary movements manifest themselves in many ways through flight from bondage to violent attacks on the property and social relations of production within an exploitative society.
Lenin said in the above-mentioned work that “From the point of view of the vast majority of Europeans at the end of the nineteenth century whom Engels was addressing, and who had neither lived through nor closely observed a single great revolution, this cannot be otherwise.”
He continues saying of the European workers of the period in which Engels was writing, the late nineteenth century, that “They cannot understand at all what this ‘self-acting armed organization of the population’ means. To the question, whence arose the need for special bodies of armed men, standing above society and becoming separated from it (police and standing army), the Western European and Russian philistines are inclined to answer with a few phrases borrowed from Spencer or Mikhailovsky, by reference to the complexity of social life, the differentiation of functions, and so forth.”
Even under a so-called “democratic system” of government as prevails in the United States, it is the dominant position awarded capital and its agents that are the determining factors in both domestic and foreign policy. In fact we can see a continuation of key policy imperatives during both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Lenin in this regard says clearly that in line with the position of Engels during the late nineteenth century that “In a democratic republic, Engels continues, ‘wealth wields its power indirectly, but all the more effectively,’ first, by means of ‘direct corruption of the officials’ (America); second, by means of ‘the alliance of the government with the stock exchange’ (France and America).”
With specific relevance for the situation today in the city of Detroit, the U.S. and the world, Lenin says that “At the present time, imperialism and the domination of the banks have ‘developed’ to an unusually fine art both these methods of defending and asserting the omnipotence of wealth in democratic republics of all descriptions.” We can see this clearly in the policies enacted by the capitalist state in relations to financial crisis and the role of the multi-national oil firms such as BP which can act as an institution that cannot be controlled or seized by the administration or Congress.
Transformation of the Capitalist State
In chapter II of Lenin’s State and Revolution he reflects on the fundamental need for socialist revolution aimed at empowering the working class to take control of the state while he summed-up the lessons of the revolutionary period in Europe during 1848-1851.
Lenin notes that “The doctrine of the class struggle, as applied by Marx to the question of the state and the Socialist revolution, leads inevitably to the recognition of the political rule of the proletariat , of its dictatorship, i.e., of a power shared with none and relying directly upon the realizable only by the transformation of the proletariat into the ruling class, able to crush the inevitable and desperate resistance of the bourgeoisie, and to organize, for the new economic order, all the toiling and exploited masses.”
What does the working class need to do to fulfill its historical task? Lenin says that “The proletariat needs state power, the centralized organization of force, the organization of violence, both for the purpose of crushing the resistance of the exploiters and the for the purpose of guiding the great mass of the population—the peasantry, the petty-bourgeoisie, the semi-proletarians—in the work of organizing a Socialist economy.”
Then Lenin addresses the role of the proletarian party in capitalist society facing terminal crisis. He declares that “By educating a worker’s party, Marxism educates the vanguard of the proletariat, capable of assuming power and of leading the whole people to Socialism, of directing and organizing the new order, of being the teacher, guide and leader of all the toiling and exploited in the task of building up their social life without the bourgeoisie and against the bourgeoisie.”
National Oppression, Decolonization and Revolutionary Violence
In most discussions about the modern urban crisis that are carried out by the ruling class, its spokespersons as well as petty-bourgeois and idealistic elements, a definition of crime and violence are in most instances stripped of a class character. There is no distinction made between inter-personal violence among the people and the social violence that is carried out by the capitalist state against the people.
In fact, for political reasons, there is always a greater emphasis placed on the violence among the people. It is the fear of street crime that is used to justify greater spending on local and national law-enforcement practice.
Going back to the 1960s, the rise in street crime is always utilized as an explanation for the so-called “decline of the cities.” In Detroit, the popular notion that is promoted is that the proliferation of street crimes is the fundamental reason why the city went into decay.
This rise in street crime is always linked to the increased migration of African Americans into the city. The implication is that the inherent violent character of African Americans can only be addressed through the mass outmigration of the whites and some middle-class blacks and the recruitment of police officers to control the people who are creating a dangerous atmosphere in the city.
Of course there is never any real discussion about the traditionally higher rates of unemployment that exist among the African American people. There is the total exclusion of any notion of the historical legacy of racial discrimination, lynching, housing problems, poor education and class oppression as having any relationship to inter-personal violence among the people.
Our position is that there is a distinction, and a distinction to be made, between the violence among the people and the social violence of the state against the people. Among the nationally oppressed both forms of violence are state-sanctioned. There is no real effort by the bourgeoisie to end street crime in the African American community. At the same time, every act of violence carried out by the police against the African American people is justified with the false claim of fighting crime.
What are the solutions put forward by the bourgeoisie and their surrogates in government? There only real solution revolves around putting more police on the street. Yet there is no positive correlation between the high presence of the police and non-existence of crime and inter-personal violence.
In fact the trend seems to be just the opposite. In cities where the presence of police is the largest, there is without failure a serious crime problem. With such a pattern being in existence for well over a century, the assumption could very well be that the large presence of the police in urban areas is a by-product of high rates of street crime and inter-personal violence.
The history of the United States involves the violent usurpation of land from the Native people and the enslavement and importation of Africans for the purpose of exploitation of their labor and the theft of natural resources. In reality America has never been a democratic state. Every democratic reform that has ever been instituted for any length of time, was the result of protracted political struggle on the part of the oppressed.
Frantz Fanon, who was born in Martinique in the French-controlled Caribbean during the 1920s, later wrote on the violent character of the process of colonization and decolonization. Fanon fought with the French during World War II against fascism. He was recruited by the French Overseas services to work as a psychiatrist in the colony of Algeria, which had been under imperialist rule since 1830.
During the 1950s the Algerian masses were awakening to the genuine character of their oppression. They formed the National Liberation Front (FLN) which embarked upon an armed struggle in 1954 that lasted until 1961. This struggle resulted in the independence of the former French colony. Over one million Algerians died in this process of the struggle for national liberation.
Fanon joined the liberation movement while working on behalf of the colonizers. As someone who came from another French colony in the Caribbean, he understood that the struggle against colonialism and imperialism was indivisible.
Fanon wrote in his classic book Les Damnes de la terre (The Wretched of the Earth), that “National liberation, national renaissance, the restoration of nationhood to the people, commonwealth: whatever may be the heading used or the new formulas introduced, decolonization is always a violent phenomenon. At whatever level we study it—relationships between individuals, new names for sports clubs, the human admixture at cocktail parties, in the police, on the directing boards of national and private banks—decolonization is quite simply the replacing of a certain “species” of men (women) by another “species” of men (women). Without any period of transition, there is a total, complete, and absolute substitution. “(The Wretched of the Earth, p.35)
Since the imposition of the colonial system is inevitably a violence process of suppression, coercion and exploitation, the struggle to overturn it will in all likelihood be carried with various degrees of physical force. As Fanon said “The naked truth of decolonization evokes for us the searing bullets and bloodstained knives which emanate from it. For if the last shall be first, this will only come to pass after a murderous and decisive struggle between two protagonists. “ (Fanon, p. 37)
According to Fanon, “You do not turn any society, however primitive it may be, upside down with such a program if you have not decided from the very beginning, that is to say from the actual formulation of that program, to overcome all the obstacles that you will come across in so doing. The native who decides to put the program into practice, and to become its moving force, is ready for violence at all times. From birth it is clear to him that this narrow world, strewn with prohibitions, can only be called in question by absolute violence.” (Fanon, p. 37)
Now let us return to Lenin’s State and Revolution where he discusses in the second chapter the condition under which the proletariat will rise up against exploitation and oppression. Lenin says that “There is no doubt that these are the features common to the latest stage in the evolution of all capitalist states generally. In the three years, 1848-1851, France showed, in a swift, sharp, concentrated form, all those processes of development which are inherent in the whole capitalist world.” (Lenin, p. 29)
He continues by looking at the broader global dimensions of the crisis stating that “Imperialism in particular—the era of banking capital, the era of gigantic capitalist monopolies, the era of the transformation of monopoly capitalism into state monopoly-capitalism—shows an unprecedented strengthening of the ‘state-machinery’ and an unprecedented growth of its bureaucratic and military apparatus, side by side with the increase of repressive measures against the proletariat, alike in monarchial and the freest republican countries.”
Lenin concludes this section by saying that “At the present time, world history is undoubtedly leading, on an incomparably larger scale than in 1852, to the ‘concentration of all the forces’ of the proletarian revolution for the purpose of ‘destroying’ the state machinery.” (Lenin, p. 29)
The Escalation of State Repression and Its Implications for Detroit: 1967-2010
In July 1967, the city of Detroit exploded in an urban rebellion that changed the course of United States history. This rebellion did not take place in a vacuum because these outbreaks of civil disorder were occurring throughout the length and breadth of the country, particularly in the northern and western industrialized regions of the U.S.
In 1967 alone there were over 160 rebellions reported inside the country. Prior to this year, there were numerous rebellions that occurred going back to the summer of 1963. Things escalated in 1964 and in 1965 there was a major turning point with the outbreak in the Watts section of Los Angeles that prompted the intervention of military forces dispatched to quell disturbances among the domestic population in the U.S. These rebellions were led and directed by the African American people.
In 1966, the cry for black power resonated from the Mississippi Delta through to the urban areas of the north, east and west. All of the leading civil rights organizations of the period, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) were forced to grapple with the mass outcry for political power and the expressions anger against racism and national oppression.
The Detroit rebellion of 1967 prompted a harsh response from the state that was ostensibly under the control of a liberal capitalist regime. Although the legitimacy of the violent response on the part of the African masses to their centuries-long exploitation and oppression was questioned by the state, the United States witnessed for the first time since the beginning of the civil rights movement, some implementation of an effective program for jobs, housing and quality education.
In the areas most severely impacted by the rebellion in Detroit, there were hiring centers established which immediately put people to work. There were new neighborhoods that African Americans were able to move into in great numbers. Universities and other educational institutions developed programs for the admittance of African Americans and women in significant numbers.
However, this was a two-pronged approach by the ruling class in response to the escalating and often violent tactics adopted by the African American masses. There were concessions granted but they were issued as more of an ultimatum to the oppressed: either you accept these offers of jobs, better housing and education or face the full armed might of the state.
After the 1967 rebellions there was an escalation in the militarization of the police within urban areas of the United States. By 1969, with the advent of the Nixon administration, the Law-Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) would provide funding for local police under the guise of fighting crime and civil disorder. The notion of law and order in the streets as a prerequisite for addressing other social concerns became the main campaign mantra of both the Republican and Democratic parties.
In the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis on April 4, 1968, there were urban rebellions in approximately 125 cities throughout the country. Government repression against SNCC, the Black Panther Party and other revolutionary organizations escalated.
The FBI declared the Black Panther Party as the greatest threat to the national security of the United States in decades. Many members and supporters of the Black Panther Party were arrested and framed-up on trumped-up and politically motivated criminal charges. Leading members of the Party such as Bobby Hutton, John Huggins and Bunchy Carter were killed through direct and indirect police actions.
The assassination of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark in Chicago represented a culmination of police and FBI terror tactics against the Panthers, but it was not the end of state repression against the Party. 1970 would bring about the continuation of the suppression of progressive and revolutionary movements inside the United States. Panther leaders Bobby Seale and Erika Huggins were facing a possible death sentence for murder in the state of Connecticut.
With specific reference to the city of Detroit, in March 1969 the so-called “New Bethel Incident” would alter the political balance of forces in the city. The Republic of New Africa was holding its first anniversary conference at New Bethel located on the west side. The shooting of two police officers, one fatally, outside the church while the meeting was ending, provided the Detroit cops with an excuse to enter the building firing their weapons at random.
Surprisingly no one was killed in the police action. Detroit Judge George Crockett, Jr., Rev. C.L. Franklin and State Rep. James Del Rio went to the jail where the people who were inside the church and passersby were being held without specific charge. Judge Crockett released all of the people without charge with the exception of two who soon got out of detention.
In response to the release of the people by Judge Crockett, the local police and the power structure in Detroit demanded retribution against the jurist who had served time during the 1950s for his work in defense of members of the Communist Party being prosecuted in the Smith Act trials. Judge Crockett said that the people could not be held without probable cause based on the fourth amendment of the U.S. constitution which prohibited illegal search and seizure.
The episode proved to be another turning point in the history of Detroit. The African American community rallied to the defense of Judge Crockett. There were three people who eventually were charged with the shooting of the cops outside New Bethel. As a result of the defense campaign waged on their behalf, none were convicted. Another attempt to disbar radical lawyer Ken Cockrel, Sr. was also defeated as a result of public support.
The Black United Front that sprung up in response to the attacks on Judge Crockett and the RNA laid the basis for the campaign against police terror during 1971-73 and the eventual election of State Senator Coleman A. Young who became the first African American mayor in the history of Detroit.
During the administration of Mayor Coleman A. Young there was the perception of improved relations between the police and the African American community. In 1971, the administration of Roman Gribbs under Police Chief John Nichols, a decoy unit was formed which became the catalyst for a citywide movement aimed at its abolition and the ascendency of the first African American administration to take control of local government.
Known as “Stop the Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets” (STRESS), the police decoy unit burst on the scene in 1971 with the shooting deaths of numerous young African American men under very suspicious circumstances. That same year a State of Emergency Committee was formed aimed at the abolition of STRESS. Mass demonstrations were held and a petition campaign was launched calling for STRESS to be eliminated.
In late 1972, three African American revolutionaries took on the police through force of arms. During the months of December 1972 and January 1973, one cop was killed and six were wounded in confrontations between Mark Clyde Bethune, John Boyd and Haywood Brown.
A nationwide manhunt for the capture of these youth began. In Detroit a police state of siege took place in the African American community. Homes were raided without warrants in pursuit of Brown, Boyd and Bethune. Eventually Bethune and Boyd were killed by the police in Atlanta where they had fled. Brown was captured and wounded by the Wayne State University police during the same time period.
The subsequent trial of Haywood Brown served as another rallying point for the African American community. Brown would be acquitted after being defended by a legal team put together by Ken Cockrel, Sr. Coleman Young was elected Mayor of Detroit in November 1973. When he took office he immediately abolished STRESS and instituted an affirmative action program throughout city government including inside the Detroit Police Department.
The Rodney King Rebellion and the Murder of Malice Green
Nearly two decades after the election of Coleman Young to office in Detroit, the façade of improved police-community relations was shattered one fall evening on the streets of southwest Detroit. In fact it should not have been a great surprise to the people of Detroit that Malice Green, a 35-year-old African American man, was beaten to death on November 5, 1992.
People were aware of the heightening levels of police, corporate and governmental repression being meted out against African and other oppressed segments of society. However, no matter the degree of consciousness related to these facts of modern day life, the cold-blooded murder of Green could only evoke deep anger and profound outrage.
In the subsequent months after the murder, the city administration, New Detroit, Inc. and its surrogate “community organizations”, the mass media and the academic establishment have sought vigorously to put a cap on the vast reservoir of discontent with the ineffectiveness of local government and the indifference of national state structure in Washington, D.C.
Even though moves were made that initially took officers Larry Nevers, Walter Budzyn, Freddie Douglas and Robert Lessnau from the Detroit police force, people immediately began to raise the question: how could these types of brutal white racist police still remain on the city payroll after being involved in so many incidents of brutality and murder against the residents of the city?
This question leads into a myriad of possible analyses which seek to uncover the nature and character of domestic neo-colonialism in the United States during the 1990s and today. Despite the presence of increasing numbers of African American elected representatives, the overall oppressive economic and political conditions of African people remain in a state of perpetual crises.
In Detroit, even during the early 1990s, it was reported in a newspaper article that only 40 percent of the city’s adult population was gainfully employed. This was taking place in a time period when people were hearing more discussion from official circles about the need to curtail “crime and gang-related activity” in urban areas.
During the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton during 1992 he often spoke about a proposal that would have placed 100,000 newly-trained and armed police officers on the streets of urban areas throughout the country. It was under the tenure of Bill Clinton that numerous draconian bills were passed including the crime bill, the welfare reform act, the effective death penalty act as well as an immigration reform law that set the stage for the current repression against foreign born people in the United States.
In 1992 after the acquittal of four white police officers in the brutal beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, a mass rebellion erupted that last for several days. The rebellion was, after Detroit during 1967, considered the most widespread involving racial injustice in the United States.
This phenomenon of mass rebellion in the aftermath of the police trial involving the beating of Rodney King, influenced the official response to the murder of Malice Green. Mayor Coleman Young terminated the two main officers who were accused in the killing of Green. A trial during the summer of 1993 resulted in the convictions of Nevers and Budzyn. This was probably the first time that white police officers in Detroit have been convicted of murder in the killing of an African American.
The Murder of Aiyana Stanley-Jones and the Worsening Economic Crisis in Detroit
Young Aiyana’s murder by the police has sent shockwaves throughout the city of Detroit and the United States. This death of a child cannot be justified by the criminalization of her family. The cover-up of the murder continues but the economic crisis facing the city is at the root of the entire situation.
Once again rather than address the underlying causes of violence and its class characteristics, the state, its representatives and the corporate media are still calling for the placing of more cops on the street. More cops on the streets will only result in additional deaths of civilians and false imprisonment of the nationally oppressed.
The only solution to the problem of police misconduct within capitalist society is the transformation of the state to one controlled by the workers and the oppressed. Only at this stage can the exploited move toward the creation of a socialist state which will empower the people and suppress the reactionary forces within capitalist society.