Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Police Terrorism and the Global Economic Crisis: Implications for Workers and the Oppressed

Police Terrorism and the Global Economic Crisis: Implications for Workers and the Oppressed

As the capitalist downturn deepens state repression escalates against people in the U.S. and internationally

by Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Over the last several months, a series of dramatic cases involving police killings of civilians have brought to light the essential role of law-enforcement within capitalist societies. Numerous cities throughout the United States have seen a dramatic increase in the murder of African Americans by cops as well as the escalation of raids and deportations against immigrants both legal and undocumented.

Although the problem of police terrorism and repression has existed for well over a century in the U.S., even going back to the period of slavery and the post-civil war era, since the beginning of this decade, there have been disturbing trends indicating that the level of repression is reaching critical proportions. This rise in reported incidents of police brutality and killings of civilians is taking place at the same time as the economic underpinnings of low-wage capitalism continues to deteriorate.

In regard to the repression carried out against the immigrant communities in the U.S., a Human Rights Watch report released on April 15 pointed out that the overwhelming majority of forced removals are carried out for relatively benign reasons that do not pose any threat to the larger communities where the deportees live. In fact approximately 75% of all non-citizens deported from the country over the last ten years after serving prison and jail sentences had been convicted of nonviolent offenses.

According to the Human Rights Watch Report, entitled "Forced Apart: Non-Citizens Deported Mostly for Nonviolent Offenses", 20% of those forcefully ejected had been in the United States legally, sometimes for decades. The report illustrates that most victims of deportations had been convicted of crimes such as drug possession and traffic offenses.

Alison Parker, the deputy director of the U.S. Program of Human Rights Watch and author of the report, said that "In 12 years of enforcing the 1996 deportation laws, no one bothered to ask whether ICE actually focused on the target group--undocumented immigrants convicted of serious, violent crimes. We now know that a good number of people who are here legally and who are convicted of nonviolent offenses are regularly swept into the dragnet." (Human Right Watch, April 15)

In utilizing Census data and figures reported by the Pew Hispanic Center, Human Rights Watch estimates that over 1 million people have been effected by these deportations through family separations and the consequent economic and social consequences of these actions carried out by ICE, which operates under the rubric of the Department of Homeland Security.

"We have to ask why, in a time of fiscal crisis, significant immigration enforcement funds are being spent on deporting legal residents who already have been punished for their crimes," says Alison Parker. "Many of these people have lived in the country legally for decades, some have served in the military, others own businesses. And often, they are facing separation from family members, including children, who are citizens or legal residents." (Human Rights Watch, April 15)

Disproportionate Impact of Police Killings

In addition to the escalation of deportations within immigrant communities, the African American population has been severely effected by the misconduct and brutality of law-enforcement agencies throughout the country. Most of the killings are deemed as "justifiable homicide" by the prosecuter's offices and these notions are often reinforced by the corporate media which portrays African Americans as violent prone and criminally inclined.

During the summer of 2007, the publications ColorLines and the Chicago Reporter carried out a collaborative national investigation of police shootings in the 10 largest cities in the United States. As a result of this effort, a number of trends emerge related to police-community relations in urban areas.

African Americans were highly affected disproportionately as victims of fatal police shootings. The most highly noticeable areas of the country where this phenomena existed was in New York, San Diego and Las Vegas. In each of these urban areas, the percentage of African Americans killed by law-enforcement was twice the number of their proportion within the population of these cities.

According to Delores Jones-Brown, who at the time of the study was the interim director of the Center on Race, Crime and Justice at John Jay College in New York, "There is a crisis of perception where African American males and females take their lives in their hands just walking out the door. There is a notion they will be perceived as armed and dangerous. It's clear that it's not just a local problem." (ColorLines, Issue #41, Nov/Dec 2007)

At the same time this above-mentioned study also points out that the number of Latinos killed by law-enforcement is rising. Beginning in 2001, "the number of incidents in which Latinos were killed by police in cities with more than 250,000 people rose four consecutive years, from 19 in 2001 to 26 in 2005. The problem was exceptionally acute in Phoenix, which had the highest number of Latinos killed in the country." (ColorLines, #41)

ColorLines states in their report that between 1980 and 2005, 9,500 people around the country were killed by the police. This on average is one person per day who dies as a result of aggressive police actions against civilians.

"Unless we begin to hold these officers accountable in these cases, they'll only grow in number and signficance," Jones-Brown said.

Police killings of African Americans and other people of color have resulted in massive protests, the formation of anti-brutality coalitions and urban rebellions. In Cincinnati during the early part of the decade, cops shot to death more people than any other city of similar size with the exception of Minneapolis.

In a study conducted by the Dayton Daily News in 2001, Cincinnati was second only to Minneapolis in the number of people shot. Minneapolis police shot 29 people between 1995 and 2001, resulting in the deaths of 12 individuals. In Cincinnati police shot 22 people during the same time period, 13 resulting in fatalities. Another two died after they were sprayed with chemical agents while being attacked by the cops. (Common Dreams, April 28, 2001)

In Cincinnati, the fatal shooting of an unarmed African American man on April 7, 2001 sparked three days of rebellion. The community was mobilized through the formation of a Black United Front and the Justice Department established a monitoring commission to encourage reforms within law-enforcement.

More recently, the killing of African American men in New Orleans, Louisiana and Oakland, California drew national attention. Adolf Grimes III was shot 12 times in the back by the New Orleans police on December 31, 2008.

Grimes, who was an alumni of one of the city's most prestigous high schools, had no criminal record. Grimes was the father of an 18-month-old baby and a hard working man living in Houston, Texas. He was visiting his family in New Orleans when he was killed by the police.

Oscar Grant III of Oakland was killed the same day by the transit police in the city. He had been detained by officers and was then shot in the back. As a result of outrage in the community, youth erupted in rebellion for several days. The community anger and fightback resulted in the indictment of the officer involved in his killing.

In the city of Detroit on April 10, young 16-year-old Robert Mitchell died after being tased by Warren Police, a neighboring suburb. Mitchell, known as "Tazzy" by family and friends, was described by his mother as having a "learning disability."

Mitchell was in a car that was pulled over by Warren Police for no apparent reason. Although police claim that the license plate was expired, this allegation proved to be false and no ticket was issued or arrests made in the stop.

Mitchell, fearing for his safety, ran into Detroit and was chased by the Warren cops. He was later tased in an abandoned house on Pelkey Street and died. His family has recently filed a wrongful death civil suit in federal court.

The cops involved in his death have not been charged with any crime or have they been disciplined by the city of Warren. The cops have returned to regular police duties after an internal investigation.

A Global Problem

The use of state repression to control, contain and exploit oppressed and working people is an international problem. In February and March of 2009, the workers of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the French-controlled Caribbean launched a general strike against the impact of the global economic crisis and the racist-colonial control of their islands.

The French colonial state sent in hundreds of riot police to suppress the strike. In Guadeloupe strike supporter Jacques Bino was killed during a confrontation between the French police and striking unionists and youth. The French took no action against the police involved in this incident.

As a result of police repression against the strike, rebellions erupted in both Martinique and Guadeloupe in February and March. As a result of the discipline of the workers and their organizations, the strike demands were largely meet by the French colonial authorities, however, the presence of riot police illustrated clearly that law-enforcement agencies within a capitalist and colonial society serves the interests of the ruling classes.

In Kenya during early March, two human rights activists, who had provided evidence to United Nations investigators over execution-style killing by authorities, were assassinated on a busy Nairobi street. Oscar Kamau Kingara, the director of the Oscar Foundation, along with the program coordinator of the agency, John Paul Oulo, were shot in their vehicle by gunmen just several blocks away from the presidential palace.

The Guardian of the UK reported that "Only a few hours earlier the government had publicly accused their organization, which runs free legal aid clinics for the poor, of being a front for a criminal gang.... The Oscar Foundation made its name investigating police abuses. Since 2007 it has reported 6,452 'enforced disappearances' by police and 1,721 extrajudicial killings." (Guardian, March 6, 2009)

Kenya's government has been supported by the United States for many years. As a result of the corporate media generated hysteria surrounding the seizure of cargo vessels by Somalis in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, the U.S. and other imperialist states have called for the formation of an international "piracy court" to prosecute Somalis caught on the waters off the coast in the Horn of Africa. This "piracy court" would be based in Kenya and funded by the imperialists.

In Nigeria, where U.S. multi-national oil companies have exploited the national resources of the people for decades, police repression is a major force in maintaining the status-quo. As a result of the high incidence of police killings, Human Rights Watch urged that "Nigeria's government should launch an independent public inquiry in light of official statistics indicating that police have shot and killed more than 8,000 Nigerians since 2000. The figures show 785 killed in just three months this year (2007), while the true number of people killed by the police since 2000 may exceed 10,000." (Human Rights Watch, November 18, 2007)

Economic Crisis Will Breed More Repression

In the United States, the impact of the economic crisis has impacted the African American community at a far higher rate than the white population. In a recent report issued by the Center for American Progress entitled "Weathering the Storm: Black Men in the Recession", the study points out that the current economic downturn is taking a devastating toll on African American males.

The reports says that "March was one of the worst months for layoffs on record. The current recession has been particularly difficult for the manufacturing and construction industries--two industries in which black men are disproportionately employed. Many workplaces have also implemented hiring freezes, a more important and less acknowledged contribution to sharply rising rates of unemployment.

"Black men's unemployment rate of 15.4 percent in March 2009 was more than twice that of white men and up almost 7 percentage points from a year earlier. One recent study called African American's economic situation 'a silent economic depression,' in which soaring levels of unemployment impose significant social costs on black families and entire communities." (Weathering the Storm, pp. 2-3)

As a result of this growing crisis, it is not surprising that police repression and terrorism will escalate against working people in general and the oppressed national groups in particular. The growing levels of state violence can only be counteracted through mass organization and mobilization.

The demand for a complete end to police brutality and terrorism must also coincide with calls for a real jobs program aimed at the unemployed and underemployed in the United States. Any genuine economic stimulus package must take into consideration the rapidly rising unemployment and poverty rates in the African American and other oppressed communities throughout the country.

The failure of the United States government to participate in the recently concluded Durban Review Conference in Geneva speaks volumes in regard to the state's lack of commitment to address the worsening problems related to national oppression and economic exploitation. It is essential that the coalitions that have sprung up around the country to fight foreclosures, evictions and utility shut-offs must also advance demands to create meaningful employment aimed at putting the jobless back to work with all deliberate speed.
Abayomi Azikiwe is the editor of the Pan-African News Wire and has written extensively on the global economic crisis and its impact on working people and the nationally oppressed in the United States and around the world.

1 comment:

deandre said...

To Read a good investigative article on this:

The Cold-Blooded Murder of Oscar Grant: What Happened the Night of January 1, 2009

also a walk-through narration of cell phone video at: