Above photo: A protester carries a U.S. flag upside-down, a sign of distress, next to a burning building early Friday, May 29, 2020, in Minneapolis. Julio Cortez/ Twitter.
Stephen Jackson Is Right.
Black America is heartbroken and angered by the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. Floyd’s murder occurred in the third month of a pandemic that has taken over 100,000 lives overall and a disproportionate number of Black Americans. The Black masses in Minnesota have taken to the streets to not only call for justice for Floyd and his family but also to stand up to centuries of state sanctioned white supremacist violence. If George Floyd teaches us anything, it is that COVID-19 is not the only contagion in the U.S. that needs to be eradicated. Floyd’s close friend and former NBA player Stephen Jackson shared his heartfelt response to the tragedy, the content of which should spark a conversation about the kind of power that is needed to eradicate the centuries-old contagion of white supremacy.
Jackson spoke for over five minutes on Instagram after waking up to the fact that his friend was killed by the cops. Corporate media outlets shared Jackson’s words, but only the first minute. It was in the second minute that Jackson raised the question of power as emotions poured from the pain of Floyd’s murder:
I hope they punish you for killing my boy, why we just can’t kill you? That’s the justice we want because we can’t get nothing back so the cops should die too. Y’all just killing people for no reason. The only justice is takin’ y’all life. But they not gonna do that. They not gonna give y’all the death penalty.”
Jackson was right. The cop who killed Floyd received a charge of third-degree murder after being protected by hundreds of militarized cops surrounding his home for more than two days. Jackson’s words speak to the fundamental contradiction of U.S. society: white supremacy. White supremacy is not merely an idea that floats in the minds of white Americans. White supremacy is the U.S. power structure; it is the imperial state. Without white supremacy, there is no America. What Lenin called special bodies of armed men, or the police and the military, not only protect the private property of the rich in the U.S. but also act as shock troops for the violent oppression of Black Americans and the racially subjugated everywhere.
Those who characterize discussion of white supremacy as “divisive” surely do not understand just how common George Floyd’s murder has become in the United States. In 2019, Black Americans made up 235 of the 1004 murders committed by police officers or around one murder every 36 hours. Rarely do police officers face criminal penalty for their actions, and most cases end up with police officers facing no punishment at all. No police officer has been given the death penalty for lynching a Black American. Yet dozens of Black revolutionaries reside in U.S. prisons across the country and some have been placed on death row. Many of them have been wrongfully accused of killing cops, which in the 1960s to the 1980s was a popular allegation meant to justify the repression of revolutionary organizations such as the Black Panther Party and the outright murder of Black revolutionaries such as Bobby Hutton.
The Minneapolis rebellion demonstrates with utter clarity how the state in a capitalist and imperialist society stands above society. A Black CNN reporter was arrested by state police on May 29th. That same day, a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) predator drone designed to hunt “terrorists” was spotted making circles around the city. President Trump threatened to send the military to shoot down the Black masses on Twitter. It took over three days of rebellion for one police officer who already possessed a record of killing civilians to be arrested and charged. Before Floyd’s death, Minnesota Senator and former District Attorney Amy Klobochar was rumored to be the Biden campaign’s favorite for the VP slot despite her role in protecting Floyd’s killer cop when he murdered a Native American man in 2006.
White supremacy has been protected by the U.S. state since its inception, albeit in varying forms. During the period of Post-Reconstruction America, revolutionary and eventual first President of Vietnam Ho Chi Minh wrote an essay on lynching in the United States. He declared affirmatively that “. . . the Black race is the most oppressed and the most exploited of the human family. It is well-known that the spread of capitalism and the discovery of the New World had as an immediate result the rebirth of slavery.” Lynching has been a key component of the larger war of repression waged against Black Americans since the formal end of chattel slavery. Thousands of Black Americans were killed by an alliance of white vigilante and national security forces to ensure that free Black workers remained property-less, impoverished, and without political power.
In the post-Civil Rights era, the mass incarceration regime has served a similar purpose to lynching in post-Reconstruction America. This is not to say that lynching by white vigilantes has ceased in the present day. Ahmaud Arbery’s murder earlier in March is a clear indication that white terrorism, defended by the state, is far from a thing of the past. George Floyd was lynched by the Minnesota police department because the social control of poor Black Americans is as profitable as it is necessary to the upkeep of imperialism. The massive build up of the national security state helps suppress wages and gives finance capital the freedom to dispose of a large section of the labor force. Prison labor produces billions in profits to many of the biggest multinational corporations. Furthermore, extrajudicial lynching and mass incarceration disposes of the surplus labor that finance capitalists no longer see as necessary in the production process.
All of this speaks to a condition of powerlessness. Stephen Jackson alluded to the need for power when he suggested that the only way things will change in the U.S.A. is if police begin to die as well. The dialectical relationship between the powerlessness that so many Black Americans experience from the constant threat of lynching and the power of the police state inevitably sparks rebellions such as the ongoing upsurge in Minneapolis. Rebellion must be nurtured, but it also needs direction. Black revolutionaries such as Frank Chapman and formations such as the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression have laid the pathway toward Black power in the demand for community control of the police. This organization has been able to elect nineteen grassroots members to the City Council to fight for the establishment of a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). The Council would be elected by the community and have the authority to hire the superintendent, negotiate the police union contract, and lead in the disciplinary process of police officers.
CPAC offers a model for community control of the police in cities across the United States. The murder of Black Americans by police officers often occurs in majority Black cities such as Detroit. But even in those cities and localities where Black Americans are not the majority, CPAC would represent a major shift in power relations around one of the most critical issues facing Black families. Furthermore, community control of the police could serve as the basis for building a broader movement for the self-determination of oppressed peoples in the United States. Native peoples, for example, suffer the most from police terrorism. White Americans seeking to make themselves useful could respond to the demand to end police terrorism by placing their full support behind all efforts toward its realization under the direction of Black grassroots leadership.
In 1951, W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Claudia Jones, William Patterson and a host of Black revolutionaries and activists submitted the We Charge Genocide petition to the United Nations. The petition charged the U.S. government with genocide in violation of the U.N. Charter and argued that Black Americans deserved protection under international law. In a world where a number of nations around the world are regularly demonized on a racialized basis by the same U.S. imperial state that killed George Floyd, there is ample evidence that the solidarity needed to change the balance of power in the U.S. resides globally and not with the U.S. government. China, Iran, Syria, Russia, the DPRK, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and others have seen their right to self-determination violated by the U.S. empire at the expense of tens of thousands of lives and the dignity of their people. White supremacy is a global system that fuels wars to the advantage of a small, racist ruling minority that dehumanizes entire nations to maximize private profit. It will thus take a global movement to eradicate the institutional power of white supremacy once and for all.
As tens of thousands of Black Americans take to the street in Minnesota and elsewhere in response to George Floyd’s murder, the question of power will inevitably loom large over what comes next. Justice for George Floyd and the thousands of Black people who have suffered a similar fate can only be realized through a decisive shift in power that no existing institution in the U.S. is prepared to bring about on its own. Donald Trump and Joe Biden stand against the self-determination of oppressed nations. The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated American labor to the point where twenty-five percent of the U.S. workforce is unemployed. Spontaneous rebellion is no crime; it is an inevitability under these conditions of crisis. Power to the people will require the creation of independent institutions and a movement to demand their survival on the long road to building a new social order that is not dependent on the murder and dispossession of Black lives.