Groundhog Day II- The Sequel
We have compared the police and vigilante terror against black people in the United States to a horror version of the film “Groundhog Day” before. The overt murder of unarmed, black citizens killed by police is a recurring theme in the news and on social media. And it's on social media that the biggest impact is seen and felt. The proliferation of cell phone cameras and apps that allow immediate uploads of the deadly interactions between police and citizens of color in the US brings the horror to everyone's Facebook page within hours. And sometimes minutes. And it's on social media that the organization of the responses to this terror usually finds it quickest and most immediate focus.
The latest manifestation of police terror against black people though, like all sequels, brings an added element into the narration. After the killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a suburb of the Minneapolis/St. Paul “Twin Cities” area, and the subsequent outcry and outrage on social media, there were two incidents that appeared to be retaliation against the police by lone gunmen, one in Dallas, Texas, where 11 cops were shot and 5 died, and one in Baton Rouge, where 6 were shot and 3 died. Oppression, especially murderous oppression, will always dialectically bring resistance from the oppressed, but for a resistance to be effective there needs to be a disciplined focus for the resistance and not just random acts of anger, no matter how understandable these anarchistic acts themselves are.
The Actions - Police Terror
The killings of Sterling and Castile happened within 48 hours of each other and follow the sickening pattern laid down in other episodes of this type. Sterling in Louisiana was selling CDs outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge with permission from the store owner. Someone phoned in a 911 call to the Baton Rouge police department complaining that there was a black male threatening people with a gun. Sterling was not identified as the object of the complaint, although he was armed, which is legal in the state of Louisiana. The police came and the situation escalated and Sterling died with multiple shots to the chest from close range, all caught on the surveillance cameras at the store and on the cell phone camera of the owner of the store. Although the police claim that Sterling was reaching for the gun, the vids clearly show both of his hands pinned down by the cops and empty. It seems clear that Sterling was executed by the police. Apparently, selling CDs while black is now a capital crime.
If anything, the murder of Philando Castile was even more egregious than the killing of Sterling. He was stopped by the Falcon Heights police for having a problem with his car's tail light. At least that was the initial excuse for the stop. Subsequent reports show that the officer radioed that he was stopping Castile because he had a “wide nose” and that fitted the description of an armed robbery suspect who was at large. Castile was a solid member of the community, working as a cafeteria supervisor for a local elementary school and, apparently, much beloved by co-workers and the children he served for over a decade. He was also a member of the Teamsters Union. He was armed with a legal weapon and had a concealed carry permit. He had taken the course for concealed carry and had also taken a course in how to interact with the police in a traffic stop. In short, he had done everything he could to minimize the danger he faced as a black person in the United States when interacting with the enforcement arm of capitalism, that is, the police. It did him no good. When he was stopped he, as required by law, informed the cop that he was legally licensed to carry a concealed weapon and that he was armed. He informed the police that he was getting his drivers' license, as requested, when he was shot three times and bled out in the car. The final straw that made the killing of Castile all the more heinous was the fact that he was riding in the car with his girlfriend and his girlfriend's four year old daughter in the back seat. Since bullets have no eyes, it is safe to say that he was not the only innocent who was in danger of being shot when the cop decided to take his life. The repercussions of this killing will, inevitably, echo into the future in the lives of his family, his girlfriend, and especially a four year old child who can't help but suffer the consequences of witnessing this act of police terror.
The Reaction - BLM, Protests and Assassinations
Also similar and familiar was the reaction. The Black Lives Matter coalition quickly organized demonstrations in over seventy cities across the country. All were relatively peaceful, considering the circumstances of yet another case of police terror, but the response from the various police departments was also familiar with massive shows of force in many areas, including Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, of battle ready and heavily armed police facing off against unarmed and peaceful protestors. It would not be an overreaction to say that the places where the killings took place were the same places where the police were the most aggressive in dealing with the protests. Obviously, the state felt it had to double down on suppressing the justifiable outrage of the communities most affected by the original killings.
Then, on Thursday night, July 7th, things took a new turn. Near the end of a march in downtown Dallas, Texas, police were ambushed by Michah Johnson a US Army veteran. Five cops died before the police used a robot controlled drone to blow him up after surrender negotiations broke down. Ten days later, in Baton Rouge, and two weeks after Alton Sterling was killed, another ambush style attack by Marine Corp veteran Gavin Long killed three more police. And of course, Long died in a hail of police bullets.There is a sense of high tragedy and irony in military veterans of the imperial adventures of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq turning the tables and becoming insurgents in their own land against cops who are also, in many cases, military veterans. This is the natural outcome of a culture and system steeped in violence and conquest and where the justified rage of the oppressed will find any outlet, including random acts of political assassination, as the ultimate answer when nothing else works to stop the murders. So it is an understandable reaction.
Understandable, but Counterproductive
No matter how understandable, however, it is an incorrect reaction if the objective is to change the paradigm of police murder and violence against the people. As Trotsky said over a century ago when talking to the anarchists of his day, outside of a situation of individual or collective self-defence, killing representatives of the system does nothing to change the system itself. They will just plug another cog into the machine and carry on as before. Our characterisation of anarchistic violence as counterproductive is not based on the bourgeois notion of pacifism; as a strictly tactical consideration, killing individual cops is not going to stop the cops killing individuals on the streets.
It is a fact that, in historical terms, random and individual acts of assassination and terrorism merely strengthen the state's hand in dealing with the justifiable reaction to oppression. What is needed is collective self-defense of black and other oppressed communities and, indeed, working class struggles, and that means giving organised expression to the individual citizen's constitutional right to bear arms. In these tense times of heightened class struggle and oppression, and in a country armed to the teeth, there is a need for self-defense guards and workers' militias to protect the people who are brave enough to protest. The right-wing and proto-fascists are becoming more and more of a presence at protest events and it is inevitable that, at some point, this powder keg will explode, so we will need to be ready.
Johnson and Long and other veterans like them, rather than dying in a useless act of barely focused anger, would be better off using the skills they were taught by the US military to train anyone brave enough to want to become a protector of the people. Our militias must be disciplined, in addition to being brave. It's too late for Johnson and Long to be a part of this needed project, but for anyone else considering this path, remember that there are better ways to use your skills. Train us and we will train others and, at some point, we will change the system that oppresses us all.