A Socialist Program for Fighting Police Racism and Brutality

View the Independent Socialist Group’s new pamphlet Against Racism & Police Brutality here!

Explosive protests against police brutality have emerged across the U.S. in the wake of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We in the Independent Socialist Group have drafted the following program in response. We hope it can help point the way forward in the fight against police brutality, racism, and related forms of oppression under capitalism. Ultimately, the capitalist legal system is set up to defend profit and punish those in poverty, so this document is complemented by our broader program (What We Stand For), where we attempt to point the way forward in the fight against capitalism as a whole. We encourage all activists in the anti-racist movement to read, discuss, and debate this program.

Justice for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor! Build a Fighting Movement!

Convict all killer cops, past and present, and fire racist police. Police officers involved in the murders of unarmed civilians should be charged with and convicted of first-degree murder. Old cases should be reopened and investigated; there should be no statute of limitations on murder! If the district attorneys refuse to prosecute cops for murder, then they should resign or be fired/recalled. All police officers who espouse racist or white supremacist ideas should be fired, as should those with a history of domestic violence. 

Release all jailed protesters and political prisoners! Protesting is not a crime. Charges against protesters should be dropped and bail refunded to the individuals or the funds which bailed them out. Release all people jailed and imprisoned for anti-racist protesting, labor organizing, and other forms of activism, including former Black Panthers and civil rights activists held in custody since the 1960s and ‘70s.

For community committees to organize protests. Workers, youth, and community members should organize democratically elected councils to develop clear political programs and coordinate action to win their demands. Any leaders in these efforts must be accountable to the movement and subject to recall. Community councils should organize protest support, medical treatment, legal responses, and community self-defense efforts to ensure the health and safety of protesters and develop appropriate responses to police aggression and escalation. These community committees should link up with labor unions, and form city, state, and national councils to ensure the movement’s success on a larger scale, while also addressing the unique needs of each locality. 

For solidarity between organized labor and the anti-racist movement. An injury to one is an injury to all! We have already seen numerous examples of labor solidarity with the protests from unions like the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), where unionized bus drivers in Minneapolis and New York City have refused to transport police or arrested protesters. More recently, unions like the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and Communication Workers of America (CWA) have called for organized work stoppages and strikes in solidarity with the growing anti-racist movement. Unionized public school teachers are struggling in their local communities to remove police presence from middle and high schools. We need unions across the country to follow these examples and organize workplace actions in solidarity with the protesters. Workers at corporations that indirectly fund police departments, like Target, Google, and Bank of America, should organize job actions to demand an end to bankrolling the cops. Unions should get involved with planning protests, turning out members for union contingents at protests, and organizing members as safety volunteers to help protect demonstrators from police. Unions should also use their financial and legal resources to support arrested protesters.

Expel police unions from the labor movement. The main role of police in the U.S. is to serve and protect the capitalist class, including by enforcing racist and anti-worker policies, repressing strikes and labor activity, and putting down protests. Current police unions protect police officers from facing any consequences for their actions (up to and including murder). They actively oppose disciplining or firing bad cops and they block any public oversight of the police. All existing police unions should be expelled from labor federations and excluded from the labor movement nationally.   

Bring back a fighting union leadership in the U.S. Union leaders like AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka who refuse to condemn or take action against police unions or to support the protests must be pressured by the membership to resign and must be replaced with militant pro-worker and anti-racist union leadership. This new leadership must be democratically elected from the rank-and-file workers, subject to recall, and paid only the average wage of the workers they represent.

Police Demilitarization and Accountability

Demilitarize the police! In the U.S., the police act more like an occupying army than a force concerned with public safety. Outlaw the sale of surplus and new military equipment and armored vehicles to police departments. Ban the use and ownership of chemical weapons by police departments and heavily restrict the carrying and use of firearms by officers. Disband particularly militarized and costly police units such as anti-gang units and SWAT teams. End “warrior training” programs and instead fund de-escalation training, with an emphasis on mental health competency and racial sensitivity.

End “no knock” raids. We have a right to defend our residences and to see a warrant before police enter our homes. “No knock” raids, such as the one which led to the death of Breonna Taylor, contradict this fundamental right and routinely result in unjust killings of bystanders and innocent people. Law enforcement must be required to announce themselves and wait outside until the resident comes to the door to see their warrant.

End surveillance practices and attacks on our rights to organize and protest. Stop the use of drones, facial recognition, electronic surveillance, and other technology that contribute to the surveillance state. Police, ICE, and other law enforcement bodies should immediately stop all contracts with the companies that provide this technology, such as Amazon and Microsoft. 

Police out of our schools! Public schools should be a safe space for students and staff to learn and work. Police officers in schools have done little to prevent mass shootings, often hiding in their offices during emergencies, and have actually served the purpose of criminalizing minor offenses committed by students. Police in schools routinely brutalize and needlessly arrest students and make schools unsafe, disproportionately targeting students of color and students living in poverty. We need to stop criminalizing children and end the school-to-prison pipeline, firing police in schools and instead allocating resources to better counseling, more teachers and support staff, and college readiness and career preparation programs.

Defund the police! Dramatically reduce bloated municipal and county police budgets, especially through demilitarization. Police officers are currently among the highest paid public employees in most cities and towns, especially when you count overtime and detail pay. Use the money cut from police budgets to expand necessary social services and programs—like emergency housing services, mental health and addiction treatment, and domestic violence shelters—that are not only vital to improving the health of our communities but are also proven to be the most effective ways to reduce the most common forms of crime. 

Decriminalize poverty and ban racist police practices. End the policing of poverty-related and so-called “lifestyle crimes” such as non-violent drug offenses, sex work, loitering, homelessness, and undocumented immigration. Being poor is not a choice, it is a product of capitalist exploitation and inequality; it should not be treated like a crime. Decriminalizing poverty will help reduce the racist dimensions of policing. End the use of arrest and ticket quotas, which serve to encourage harassment of workers and inflate crime statistics to justify more funding for the police. Policies of racial profiling, “broken windows” policing, “stop and frisk”, and the racist War on Drugs should likewise be banned. End police cooperation with ICE, Border Patrol, and Homeland Security. Abolish ICE!

End qualified immunity for cops! Police benefit from legal protections unlike those available for any worker, which shelter them from punishment. Ending qualified immunity will ensure that cities and towns are not on the hook for enormous legal settlements against violent, racist officers. And while we must understand that the function of policing within a racist capitalist system is the bigger problem, not individual “bad apples,” we should support democratically determined consequences, including immediate firing and convictions, for all individually criminal police officers. 

Community control and oversight of the police. We cannot trust bureaucratic city councils and powerless “civilian review boards” to discipline police and protect us. We need to demand the formation of community control boards for each precinct, composed of democratically elected residents with the ability to hire, fire, subpoena, investigate, and charge police officers along with setting police budgets. Community boards can also convene investigations to ensure that police do the necessary work of investigating hate crimes, murders, and sexual assaults, not brutalizing people of color, workers, and the homeless.

Fight Poverty and Systemic Racism for a Socialist Future!

For a multi-racial struggle against racism and poverty. Black people in the U.S. are the targets of police violence and mass incarceration at a disproportionately high rate. Latino and indigenous people are also affected at a higher rate than average. A movement to end police brutality, racism, and poverty must involve all oppressed groups under capitalism. Capitalism brutally exploits the working class as a whole, and people of color, immigrants, indigenous people, the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities, and women especially. This exploitation is possible when we are divided and blame each other for the problems inflicted on us by capitalism. We must unite all workers, regardless of their identity, under a common banner to fight back against the capitalist system which is responsible for perpetuating these different oppressions.

For massive investment in green jobs, healthcare, education, and fare-free transit. The money saved by cutting police budgets can be reallocated towards social services. We need a federal jobs guarantee, ensuring that all workers can find unionized jobs at a living wage. This can be achieved with the creation of millions of new state and federal jobs to promote ecologically-friendly infrastructure and energy, along with expansions of public education with more teachers and support staff to reduce class sizes and ensure students receive a quality education. Programs such as fare-free public transit, affordable public housing, and free universal healthcare will also go a long way toward lifting working-class communities, in particular communities of color that have been systematically marginalized, out of poverty. Additionally, factories used to produce tear gas and military grade police equipment should be retooled and taken under democratic public ownership by the workers to produce goods for the benefit of the working class.

Democratize public safety and develop alternatives to policing. Resources saved through demilitarization and defunding portions of police budgets can also be reallocated towards developing and expanding programs and counseling to treat drug addiction and mental illness. We can also fund alternative first responders and other workers to handle basic public safety functions such as directing traffic, overseeing construction projects, wellness check-ups, and de-escalating conflicts. 

End mass incarceration, abolish private prisons, and ban low wage and unpaid prison labor. Prison labor is the modern equivalent of slavery, due to a loophole in the 13th Amendment allowing prisoners to be paid far less than minimum wage, often only a few dollars per day. Release all non-violent drug offenders, expunge their records, and provide re-entry assistance. All remaining prisons should be taken under public ownership, with a focus on rehabilitative justice and ending the prison-for-profit system. Any labor performed by prisoners must be voluntary and compensated at the rate of a living wage, with safe and sanitary working and living conditions. Prisoners must also receive certification for any skilled labor (e.g., fire fighting, welding, wood working) performed successfully during their imprisonment, with the guaranteed option of a job in that field upon release and an end to all job discrimination based on someone’s criminal record.

For general strikes to win the demands of the anti-racist movement. Work stoppages will be even more effective than protests or symbolic days of action. The way to get the capitalist class’s attention and force them to concede to the movement’s demands is by shutting down “business as usual”—ultimately, they only care about actions that affect their profits. A 24-hour general strike would mean total work stoppage by the vast majority of workers in a specific area, essentially shutting down the local economy for a whole day. For example, if the anti-racist movement in Minneapolis agreed on a common program of reform for the police department, all workers in the city could stop work for 24 hours and call for those demands to be met. Union activists should work with each other to put forward resolutions in their union locals supporting such a strike. Workers in non-union workplaces should discuss with their coworkers and cooperate with unions and other activists in the area to plan the strike. This would be a first step; longer and broader actions would need to be planned to continue the fight as necessary. These smaller strikes will help to develop militant, anti-racist union leadership drawn from the rank-and-file and build workers’ confidence and experience with strikes. Local general strikes can then be organized to occur on the same day, linking the smaller strikes into a nationwide strike wave. As the economy comes to halt and profits fall, the capitalists will increase pressure on politicians to meet the demands of the strikers in order to get people back to work.

For social movements, community organizations, progressive groups, and labor unions to break away from and end support for the Democratic Party. Some of the worst recent repression of protesters and long-term police violence has occurred in cities that have been dominated by Democratic Party mayors and city councils for decades. Presidential candidate Joe Biden, architect of the infamous 1994 Crime Bill, has distanced himself from Black Lives Matter and stated that he opposes defunding the police. His proposed solution to police violence is to train police to shoot for the legs, not to kill, in essence ignoring the call for systematic changes in how policing is structured and in no way combatting racist police violence. Biden’s progressive counterpart Bernie Sanders has argued for more funding to go to police to increase their pay and promote training programs and other measures which failed to solve the problem of police brutality during the Obama Administration. Democrats in the House of Representatives have proposed a bill that would ban chokeholds, limit no-knock raids, and promote training and data collection programs around racial bias. Yet, this bill would do nothing to reduce bloated police budgets or establish real community control of the police. We recognize that many of those currently taking part in the movement may vote for the Democratic Party as a “lesser-evil” but we disagree with this approach, as the role the Democrats have played in the current movement and their failure to reform police in cities around the country makes clear that they do not actually present a serious alternative. The best the Democratic Party can put forward is a few technocratic reforms, and “tinkering around the edges,” without posing any real systemic changes. The Republican Party offers no alternative, continuing to crudely support racist “tough on crime” policies and unabashedly promoting the use of police violence to protect business interests. 

Build a diverse workers’ party to put forward an alternative to racism, austerity, and capitalism. Community councils formed by the current anti-racist protests can link up with fighting labor unions to build an alternative to this corporate duopoly and create a political party funded entirely by membership dues and donations from working-class people, progressive groups, and unions. This new party for working people can select its own candidates and develop its own platform through democratic debates and voting procedures, with all elected officials subject to recall and only receiving the wage of the average worker they represent. 

Abolition Through Socialism

As Marxists, the Independent Socialist Group recognizes that the modern institution of the police in the U.S. is intrinsically linked to the rise of industrial capitalism following the Civil War. In many cases, the police were recruited from the ranks of slave catching patrols, and the institution was created to enforce the will of the emerging capitalists upon their impoverished workforces. Worldwide, police brutality against poor people and oppressed groups is a feature of every capitalist country. The institution of the police is a central element to capitalism in general. Ultimately, the institution of the police must be abolished alongside the capitalist system as a whole, but this cannot be achieved through reform.

Marxists understand the role of the state well. As Vladimir Lenin, one of the key leaders of the 1917 Russian Revolution, explained in The State and Revolution,

“A standing army and police are the chief instruments of state power. But how can it be otherwise?… It is impossible because civilized society is split into antagonistic, and, moreover, irreconcilably antagonistic classes, whose “self-acting” arming would lead to an armed struggle between them. A state arises, a special power is created, special bodies of armed men, and every revolution, by destroying the state apparatus, shows us the naked class struggle, clearly shows us how the ruling class strives to restore the special bodies of armed men which serve it, and how the oppressed class strives to create a new organization of this kind, capable of serving the exploited instead of the exploiters.”

Recently, some Democratic Party politicians have given into the demands of protesters and agreed to “dismantle” local police forces in order to build something new. We must recognize that any form of “abolition” or “dismantling” achieved under capitalism will result in the creation of police by another name. Private police forces have existed throughout U.S. history, including groups like the Pinkertons which have been used to attack workers and violently break up strikes and protests. We’ve already seen the use of private contractors and mercenaries to reinforce police when breaking up the recent protests. In a recent article from Black Agenda Report, activists Max Rameau and Nefta Freeman note how private security firms play a central role in policing in South Africa and argue that in the U.S.,

“…the shift from private security to public utility created the contradiction that allowed civil rights organizations to fight for equal protection under the law, public transparency and other reforms. Of course, this did not end police brutality or alter the fundamental function of police as protectors of wealth and enforcers of the will of the ruling class, but turning the police into a public utility did provide some important tools necessary for the reduction of harm and heightening contradictions when those harms came.”

Community control of the police in the immediate future can disempower the institution and ensure working people and oppressed communities play a role in determining public safety policy. While socialist revolution will be necessary to end capitalist oppression and police forces, winning reforms today that increase police regulation and accountability will make building leadership and parties for the next revolutionary situation significantly easier, ensuring that black lives can be saved to help lead that effort. We must organize and fight for a workers’ government which can make major inroads in terms of dismantling the police and, through beginning the transition to socialism, can build truly democratic alternatives for public safety based on the working class and oppressed communities.

In conclusion, we quote the late Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton on the only permanent solution to capitalist oppression:

“We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism. We’ve stood up and said we’re not going to fight reactionary pigs and reactionary state’s attorneys… with any other reactions on our part. We’re going to fight their reactions with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.”