The whole world seemed to hold its breath during the trial of Derek Chauvin. Would a racist cop finally be held accountable? When the guilty verdict came, it was justly celebrated as a testament to the power of the Black Lives Matter movement.
And yet, any hope that the conviction would even slow police killings was dispelled by almost 90 more over the course of the trial and the 24 hours after. As usual, a disproportionate number were of Black and brown people.
The question now is how to fundamentally change an entrenched, racist policing structure that has operated since slave patrols and deadly attacks on early labor struggles. The fight for immediate reforms is only the beginning. The role of police is to enforce capitalist rule, which was founded on slavery and genocide and is still based on racism. That is why the key to winning the battle is to recognize that only deep-seated social restructuring that ends the rule of the rich can ultimately end racist oppression and all other forms of subjugation. Economic equality is essential.
The road to conviction. What made the trial possible was the raw video taken and shared by then 17-year-old Darnella Frazier. It countered the initial police story and exposed Floyd’s murder. What insured the conviction was the vast international movement the video inspired. It exposed how little governments around the U.S. and the world serve the people. This created a sea change in consciousness about white privilege and racist police killings.
The movement changed the context the trial took place in. Great credit also goes to the brave bystanders from the community who testified so powerfully and made the evidence against Chauvin overwhelming. They showed how police use this type of terror in an attempt to keep the Black community and other oppressed groups down. But this time it backfired when the racially diverse group, from children to seniors, stepped forward to expose the cops.
While the prosecution argued that Chauvin was just a “bad apple” and the police system was not on trial, the facts show otherwise. As the graphic on this page illustrates, police slayings are common and the vast majority of killer cops get off scot free.
Campaigns against police brutality have been waged around the country over many years. Yet progress has been limited. The deeply ingrained police state against Blacks and other people of color still has to be broken. What must the movement do to win change?
The path forward. The explosive expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s murder is led by Black youth and supported by a multiracial mass of working people, especially the young. Its very size gives it new militancy. Many aren’t accepting empty promises and are reaching for radical demands.
But the movement has no clear leadership or national structure. Huge sums have been donated by supporters, but often distributed with little accountability. A portion of the leadership is being bought off with funding for their non-profits and groups backing Democratic campaigns, or accepting tiny changes like small cuts to police budgets. Careerists trying to get their piece of the pie are a conservatizing influence.
Important demands include disarming cops and cutting police funding significantly, along with providing large-scale public funding of social services to deal with needs like mental health care, addiction services, housing, and most important of all, well-paid jobs. Another is control of cops by elected civilian review boards with real power and independent prosecutors (see cover story on the campaign in New York City). The ultimate fight is to abolish police, and since property trumps people under capitalism, practically speaking that amounts to a call for revolution.
In order to win any of these things, the movement needs to get more organized and capable of united action among disparate groups. (See The United front: key to the essential fight against fascists.)
But even the best reforms can only go so far. Juanita Young, whose 23-year-old son Malcolm Ferguson was killed by police in 2000, is active in the New York City fight for an elected civilian review board. She says, “Until the system has a drastic change, we are going to continue to have the police murdering people on the streets for no reason.”
Revolutionary change to uproot racism has to go to the core of the problem — the economic inequality that perpetuates it. The only total solution is socialism, based on public ownership of large industries; with jobs, housing, healthcare and education for all. It can win social equality and break the back of racism, sexism, xenophobia and all forms of bigotry.
Black leadership is essential. Because of their oppression under slavery, Jim Crow and today, Black people are on the bottom. When they rise, all the oppressed follow. And since Black segregation is essential to capitalism, integration — within a liberation movement — has revolutionary implications. Freedom Socialist Party calls this program and leadership Revolutionary Integration.
What happened last summer was the rise of Black leadership that was followed by the workers of the world. A multiracial, revolutionary, working class movement with African Americans in the lead can achieve the deep changes all working people need.
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Read more about Revolutionary Integration in these FS articles:
Revolutionary Integration explores bond between Black liberation and class revolt
Excerpts from “Revolutionary Integration” — Black leadership: prerequisite for everyone’s liberation