As our latest paper went to press, working-class anger was spilling onto streets across the United States, as mass uprisings and nationwide protests followed the brutal murder of George Floyd, a black working-class man.
On the afternoon of 25 May, an employee at a delicatessen in Minneapolis accused Mr Floyd of using a counterfeit banknote to buy cigarettes and called the police. Just seventeen minutes after they arrived, Mr Floyd was dead.
Bystanders documented the state execution on mobile phones, and it was not long before the shameful behaviour of his murder squad had been witnessed by millions more on social media. Writing for Sputnik news, Tommy Sheridan described the scene:
“George Floyd called out for his mother as he gasped for air in the final minutes of his life.
“Lying face down on the ground with his hands handcuffed behind him, George posed no threat to anyone, but was restrained by three Minneapolis police officers kneeling on him, and one of those brutes placed his knee deliberately and sadistically onto George’s neck.
“George Floyd’s muffled and fear-laden cries of ‘I can’t breathe’ were ignored by the four police officers who surrounded him.” (America 2020 – where anti-racists are terrorists and racists are president, 1 June 2020)
So blatant was the murder of Mr Floyd that, the day after his death, the Minneapolis police department fired all four of the officers involved in the episode (an almost unprecedented event), and, on Friday, the Hennepin County attorney, Mike Freeman, announced murder and manslaughter charges against Derek Chauvin, the officer who can be seen most clearly in witness videos pinning Mr Floyd to the ground.
Officer Chauvin kept his knee on Mr Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Particularly shocking for the millions who have seen the video of his crime is the calm manner in which it was carried out. With his hands in his pockets, Chauvin coolly and calculatingly took his victim’s life. The video also shows that Chauvin did not remove his knee even after George Floyd lost consciousness, or for a full minute after paramedics arrived at the scene.
In an attempt to cover up the murder, a preliminary autopsy by the state found the cause of death to be the “combined effects of Mr Floyd’s being restrained by police, underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants in his system”.
The suggestion that Mr Floyd was partly responsible for his own death only inflamed the situation on America’s streets, and barely a week later an independent autopsy declared what everyone knew – that his death was straightforward murder.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, has been pouring oil on troubled waters by declaring that the thousands of angry workers who have taken to the streets in protest are criminal anarchist gangs and calling for extreme retribution against them, and by resuscitating a racist slogan/threat from the civil rights era on Twitter: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Not an isolated event
The murder of George Floyd was not an isolated event. Working-class people in the USA know from their daily experience that the police who are supposed to “protect and serve” them are in fact little more than an armed gang, rampaging through the streets with total immunity, free to commit any crime as they protect the private property of the rich – and that their violence is disproportionately aimed at black workers.
Racism has a long and bloody history in the USA, whose very founding took place on the backs of black African slaves and via the genocide of America’s native peoples. This historic racism has not gone away for the simple reason that every modern imperialist society needs racism to survive.
Our rulers need it to justify their unjustifiable wars, to justify the heinous inequality in the world they have created, and to preserve their rule at home by keeping workers divided and weak.
This latest murder, however, was not only more cold-blooded and better documented than most, but it took place against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen millions of Americans forced even deeper into unemployment and poverty, with little or no support from the government, even as they have found that a lifetime of the poor nutrition and chronic stress that accompany poverty and institutional racism has left black Americans disproportionately vulnerable.
Into the simmering rage of a brutalised, marginalised and impoverished community, the video of George Floyd’s murder dropped like a petrol bomb into a hay barn, sparking a conflagration that quickly spread across the country and all the way to the White House front lawn, forcing President Trump to take shelter in a bunker underneath the White House.
While Trump has been quick to push for the use of extreme and brutal force against protestors, the fact that in one or two places police officers have refused to follow these orders will be giving America’s rulers serious pause for thought.
British workers in solidarity
At a meeting organised by the Workers Party of Britain on Tuesday 2 June, George Galloway gave a damning condemnation of state racism in the USA, whilst members of the WPB pledged to support protests called across Britain in solidarity with black workers on both sides of the Atlantic.
As we go to press, the situation shows little sign of de-escalating. Violent conflict across America is demonstrating to all the brutal realities of life for working-class people, especially working-class black people in the USA.
These events have shown once again what poor working-class communities know full well: that the police are not a neutral or benign body dedicated to serving the community and helping old ladies across the street, but a hired force dedicated to violently upholding the rule of the super-rich.
To put it in Marxist terms, they are a special body of armed men, whose job is to enforce the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
Without a trusted revolutionary party of the entire working class, it will be extremely difficult for the American masses to achieve a decisive victory over their enemy, US imperialism. Black workers and white workers must unite in common cause against a common enemy. There can be no victory in a race war; only through a united class struggle for socialism can racism be finished off once and for all.
No matter the things which hold them back, the anger of the working people, their brave spirit of resistance, and their instinctive desire to live in peace and at liberty may prove to be sufficient to fatally weaken US imperialism, which is now at war at home as well as abroad.