Rebuild a Mass Anti-Racist Movement!
by Ashley Rogers
Police have killed over three thousand people in the U.S. since May 25th, 2020 when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Floyd’s death sparked one of the largest protest movements in U.S. history with over fifteen million people taking to the streets. Yet almost three years on, police continue to kill without consequence.
Recently, five Memphis police officers murdered Tyre Nichols on January 7th during a traffic stop. The officers responsible were initially just fired and not charged with any crime. However, just ahead of the release of the bodycam video, the officers were charged with second-degree murder to try to head off mass anger.
Still, Nichols’ murder led to the first outburst of BLM protests in a while. ISG participated in organizing a protest in Worcester, MA. Unfortunately, despite initial anger, protests were almost entirely off the street within a week.
Just before Nichols was killed, police in Cambridge, MA murdered 20-year-old student Sayed Faisal on January 4th while he was in the middle of a mental health crisis. Despite Cambridge having both a dedicated “alternative response team”— Cambridge Community Safety Department (CSD)— and a community response organization—HEART—meant to answer to mental health calls, police were dispatched instead and Faisal was shot and killed. The city refuses to release the names of the officers involved, who are currently relaxing on paid leave. ISG participated in protests organized around the shooting, demanding these killer cops be convicted, but outside of Cambridge the case has seen little, if any, attention.
Very little changed since the 2020 protests against racism and police brutality. How could such a large movement disappear without accomplishing its goals? The 2020 election and ties between the Democratic Party and the Black Lives Matter brand’s leaders demobilized the movement. Democrats told protestors to fight police brutality by ending protests and voting blue in the 2020 elections. They attempted to position themselves as friends to the movement, appearing at protests, kneeling at the Capitol building in a moment of silence for George Floyd, and claiming support for “police reform.”
By the time of the election, the movement was almost entirely off the streets. After the election, instead of continuing the protests, BLM’s official leaders chose to lobby the Biden administration.
But while they spoke of “police reform” in 2020, Democrats were pushing a “tough on crime” policy by 2021. This switch was backed by a corporate media frenzy about a supposed “crime wave.” News stories were based around an increase in violent crime statistics in 2020 despite an overall 30-year decline and further decline in 2021. These figures were used to mount a counter-offensive against the BLM movement.
Instead of defunding the police, the Biden administration quickly granted $350 billion in “COVID relief” to police departments. Biden’s “Safer America Plan” intends to hire 100,000 new cops over the next five years.
It’s demoralizing that the 2020 protests failed to accomplish their goals. But by understanding why, we can learn how to build a movement that can win the demands of workers and youth. The leadership of the 2020 protests were unelected and unaccountable to the movement. In some places, ideas of “decentralized” organizing prevailed and there was no leadership, which left a vacuum for corporate politicians to step into.
Protests should be organized by elected community committees that are transparent, with leadership that is accountable and subject to recall. The beginnings of such committees have sprung up within recent mass protest movements in Sri Lanka, Chile, Peru, and Iran. These committees should organize protest support, medical treatment, legal responses, and community self-defense efforts, and should link up with each other to form city, state, and national councils that can coordinate the movement and ensure its success on a larger scale. These committees should unite with the labor movement, to arm the movement with labor actions like walkouts and strikes to win its demands.
Together with the labor movement, democratic protest organizations can lead the charge to break from the Democratic Party. The movement can help build a workers’ party that puts forward an alternative to the racist capitalist system and represents the movement in the electoral arena. This party can fight to convict killer cops past and present, demilitarize the police, decriminalize poverty and racist police practices, end mass incarceration, and win community control and oversight of the police. To defund bloated police budgets and put that money towards community services like housing, healthcare, education, transit, mental health services, addiction treatment, and other social services and programs that actually address crime at its root.
Ultimately, only a working class movement that brings together workers and youth across lines of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity, or any other oppressions can replace capitalism with a democratic, egalitarian socialist society run by the working class. Only then can police brutality and racist oppression be done away with entirely.