The police murder of George Floyd—an unarmed black man, who was handcuffed by four police officers in Minneapolis before being choked to death—has unleashed a wave of protests across the country, escalating out of control in several cities.
Following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, this latest in an endless string of police killings was the straw that broke the camel’s back, unleashing a tsunami of pent-up fury at all the injustices in American society. Necessity has been expressed through accident – although Floyd’s murder was no accident.
In Minneapolis, the police used anti-riot weapons (tear gas, concussion grenades, etc.) against peaceful protesters, which only provoked a less-than-peaceful response. The police eventually had to evacuate the third precinct (where the killer cop had been stationed) in the face of a furious crowd, which proceeded to burn it to the ground. The scenes of police fleeing the precinct station, with patrol cars smashing through the parking gates to escape, were reminiscent of the evacuation of the US embassy compound in Saigon. In the face of the enraged masses, US capital’s armed bodies of men were forced to run for their lives.
After five nights of mass protests in Minnesota, a curfew was declared by the mayor – which was immediately broken by protesters. The protests have included arson attacks and looting—but there is clear evidence that much of this was orchestrated by police agent provocateurs and far-right extremists in order to justify even harsher repression. Crowds gathered outside the fifth police precinct, threatening to burn it down as well. The precinct is now defended with barricades and armed officers on the rooftop.
The National Guard and State Troopers are also on the streets of Minneapolis, trying to enforce the curfew and regain control of the situation. At first, 500 National Guard troops were called by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, but this has already been increased to 1,700. The US Customs and Border Protection services have also used an unmanned surveillance drone to gather information on the course of the protests.
While Minnesota remains the epicentre, protests have spread to at least 22 cities. In Detroit, there have been big demonstrations, and a 19-year-old protester was shot dead in a drive-by attack, likely perpetrated by a right-wing vigilante. In New York City, there were clashes with the police when protesters defied a demonstration ban in place due to the COVID-19 lockdown, and a police van was set on fire in Brooklyn. In California, highways were shut down in Oakland, San Jose, and Los Angeles, and protesters attacked police patrol cars.
In Atlanta, police cars were also torched, and a state of emergency has been declared, with the National Guard also deployed on the streets. Protesters clashed with police officers outside the CNN building which also houses a police precinct.
In Washington DC, the White House was briefly locked down, and there were struggles between demonstrators and the secret service over barricades into the early hours of Saturday morning. And in Phoenix, protesters marched for Dion Johnson, a 28-year-old black man who was killed by an Arizona Department of Public Safety officer in a “struggle”, for which details are scant.
Similarly, in Louisville, there were large protests following the separate police killing of Breonna Taylor: a 26-year old black medical technician who was shot in her own apartment while sleeping. The police were pursuing a drugs warrant against a man who did not live in her apartment – and, as it turned out, had already been arrested. When police entered Taylor’s apartment unannounced, her boyfriend fired a gun in self-defence. In response, the police fired more than 20 shots: eight of which struck Taylor. In response, angry crowds set the Hall of Justice on Fire.
“This ain’t a riot: it’s a revolution!”
The clumsy and vicious reaction of the state is only pouring petrol on the flames. In a particularly hapless demonstration of the inherent racism of the police, a CNN team fronted by a black Latino journalist was arrested live on air by the police as they were filming the protests in Minneapolis. Meanwhile, another news team fronted by a white reporter was allowed to film the same demonstration. In Louisville, the police used tear gas against the crowd and fired rubber bullets at a journalist as she was on the air.
Notably, the crowds of protesters are black and white, and mostly youth: similar to the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement. The political mood, however, is more advanced than last time around, compounded by the economic catastrophe that has befallen tens of millions of Americans. Back then, there was a lot of discussion about how to make police more accountable: mandatory body cameras, community review boards, etc. None of this went anywhere and nothing was solved. In fact, the rate of police murders of unarmed black people has only accelerated over the last six years. Now, protesters have burned down the police precinct – a de facto act of insurrection. In Minneapolis, organisers have declared: “this ain’t a riot, it’s a revolution!”
The significance of this movement, and the dangers implicit in it, have not been lost on the ruling class. As the Washington Post wrote: “the tumult, set in the broader context of the twin health and economic emergencies, could mark a rupture as dramatic as signature turning points in the country’s history, from the economic dislocation of the Great Depression to the social convulsions of 1968”.
These scenes are certainly not normal in the US. If you watched the videos without context, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was happening, not in the world’s foremost imperialist power, but in Chile, Lebanon or Algeria. What we are seeing is a spark triggering an explosion of anger that has been accumulating for a long time, intensified by the latest crisis provoked by the coronavirus pandemic. There are comparisons to be drawn here with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, a single event that triggered the Arab Spring, which lifted the lid on the boiling anger at a thousand and one injustices that had accumulated across the Middle East and North Africa.
The bourgeois press is running rolling coverage of property destruction and looting in an attempt to turn public opinion against the protestors. Mayor Jacob Frey in Minneapolis gave an insulting, hypocritical speech today, chiding the protestors by saying: “There is no honour in burning down your city. There is no pride in looting.”
But the organised working class is showing solidarity with this expression of popular rage. For example, unionised bus drivers in Minneapolis have refused to collaborate with the police, who wanted to use their vehicles for mass arrests of the protesters. The same thing happened in New York, where a bus driver walked out of his vehicle after the police had commandeered it to transport those they had arrested.
NYPD commandeered a city bus for prisoner transport. The driver steps off the bus and refuses to drive it. Crowd cheering. #Brooklyn #BarclaysCenter #BlackLivesMatter #GeorgeFloyd pic.twitter.com/4F9IZ3sfDI— Chad Loder (@chadloder) May 30, 2020
Typically, Trump is inflaming the situation even more. In a transparent attempt to whip up his reactionary base of support in advance of the election, he threw his support behind the forces of law and order. He tweeted that the protestors are “THUGS” who “dishonour the memory of George Floyd.” He added, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, quoting the notoriously racist Miami Police Chief, Walter Headley, who uttered these words in 1967.
This is not an idle threat. Even before coronavirus upended everything, the US ruling class had been bracing itself for escalating civil unrest as the crisis of capitalism deepens. It will use any means necessary – both official and extrajudicial – to maintain its power. In addition to police brutality, there have already been instances of right-wing vigilante violence against protesters, for instance, a drive-by shooting in Detroit.
Protests have swept across multiple major US cities, with crowds taking to the streets to demand action on police brutality.— CNN (@CNN) May 29, 2020
In Memphis, signs were held for black Americans who had recently been killed -- George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. https://t.co/5ZtZGoZwKR pic.twitter.com/nZXVF66dnQ
Following a rare order from the Pentagon, military police and regular troops have been put on alert in several bases. Soldiers from Fort Bragg in NC, and Fort Drum in NY have been ordered to be ready to deploy within four hours if called upon. These forces would be used under the Insurrection Act of 1807, which gives the president the power to deploy federal troops in any state to suppress “any insurrection, domestic violence, unlawful combination, or conspiracy.” The last time this law was invoked was in 1992 in order to quell the uprising in Los Angeles sparked by the acquittal of the police who beat Rodney King.
But far from beating the masses down, the whip of counterrevolution often drives them forward, as we saw in the numerous protests that swept the world last year in Chile, Colombia, Lebanon etc.
It is worth remembering that in 2008, during the Republican National Convention in the small city of St. Paul, MN, they had to bring 50,000 police in from around the country to contain the protesters, and even then they could not control them fully. The ruling class doesn’t have enough cops—or troops—to hold down the entire country.
The fact that Derek Chauvin (the police officer who murdered George Floyd) has been fired and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter has done precisely nothing to quell the protests. The masses have been here before. The problem is not one or two “rotten apples”, but the whole, rotten system.
It’s not enough that George Floyd’s murderers have been “separated from employment” and that one of them has been charged. To achieve genuine justice for all those exploited and martyred by this system, the capitalists must be “separated from ownership of the means of production.” The labour movement should link up with the protestors, and together grow this movement and put it on an organised basis. What is needed is a programme and plan of action to fight for the root-and-stem transformation of society. Only socialist revolution – in the US and around the world – will finally put an end to the vicious cycle of exploitation and oppression.
Read our US comrades' last article on the George Floyd protests below
Anger Explodes at Police Murder in Minneapolis
Erika Roedl, Socialist Revolution
Monday evening at 8pm, police were called to the Cup Foods grocery store in South Minneapolis to investigate an alleged case of forgery. Hours later, a routine statement was issued by the police with the innocuous title, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.”
Overnight, however, the official narrative unraveled as a video of two officers standing over a black man’s body went viral. In the footage taken by a bystander, one of the officers is seen kneeling on the man’s neck as he pleads, “I can’t breathe! Please, I can’t breathe! I’m about to die!” As he continues to gasp desperately for several minutes, one of the officers asks him in an exasperated tone, “what do you want?” Just hours later, George Floyd was pronounced dead.
The original police statement claimed they had found a man suspected of being under the influence. It informed the public that the police had called for an ambulance for someone who had been “suffering medical distress”—with no mention of how an officer kneeling on his neck may have induced that distress.
Over the course of Tuesday morning, more photos and videos emerged on social media. One image shows four officers in total, with three of them casually standing around while their fellow police officer kneels on George’s neck.
A protest was hastily organized through Facebook by Black Lives Matter Minnesota, for Tuesday at 5pm. By 3pm, the four officers involved—Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng—had been fired. But people had already started to gather outside Cup Foods.
In the middle of the coronavirus outbreak, it was unclear what kind of response the call to action would receive. But after a long winter, in the midst of the worst economic crisis in US history, and with millions embittered by the results of the presidential primaries, the simmering anger in society was ready to burst to the surface. This was the 49th police murder of a black man in Minneapolis alone since 2000, and it was clear that enough was enough—pandemic or no pandemic.
Protest organizers distributed protective masks, hand sanitizer, and bottled water to anyone who needed it and social distancing was encouraged. At its height, the protest was several blocks long, as hundreds marched peacefully carrying signs such as “Black Lives Matter” and “I can’t breathe!” and chanting, “Fuck Trump!” and “No Justice No Peace!”
Protesters, most wearing masks, shut down the 101 Freeway tonight near downtown LA to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who died after a police officer stood on his neck while detaining him pic.twitter.com/rgI36eXOys— LAist (@LAist) May 28, 2020
The uncontrolled rage and feeling of powerlessness of some individuals was expressed through a few broken windows on police vehicles as the march neared the precinct station on Lake St. and Minnehaha Ave. In retaliation, the police sent tear gas and non-lethal rounds into the crowd, which included children, parents, and grandparents. On Wednesday morning, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey issued a statement calling for the arrest of the officer who killed George Floyd.
Spontaneously, a smaller crowd gathered outside the police station that evening. Undoubtedly, the size of these protests would have been even larger were it not for COVID-19. Livestreams were watched by thousands of viewers who were overwhelmingly on the side of the protesters.
Although protesters stood still with arms raised in the street, chanting “I can’t breathe,” and “hands up, don’t shoot,” the police tear gassed the crowd yet again. Some of the protesters took the lids off large garbage bins to use as shields against rounds shot by the police, and anyone attempting to throw objects at the cops from behind the makeshift barricades was told immediately by other protestors to stop.
Just weeks ago, the cops stood calmly at the state capitol building in nearby St. Paul as armed protesters demanded that the governor reopen the economy. The racial and class composition of that protest was decidedly different—white and petty bourgeois. But since the police are a tool used to protect private property and the capitalists’ profits, the protests to reopen the economy were under their protection. But the protests for justice in the killing of George Floyd—which are at root protests against a system that relies on racism to exploit and divide the working class—are not permissible to these same officers.
So far, the demonstrations have been largely spontaneous, the product of the accumulated anger being released like pressurized gas finally finding a fault in its vessel. Like the Ferguson movement which erupted in a very similar manner, the justified anger of the community has been met with police violence and repression. In response, more protests are set for Thursday and Saturday. But the movement is leaderless and therefore, ultimately, directionless.
Several unions have published statements condemning the Minneapolis Police Department and calling on the city government to “take action.” But far more is needed from organized labor! They should link up directly with the protests and mobilize their membership to flood the streets. With 364,000 union members statewide, the streets of the city could be immobilized if the union tops took action. It is the working class that has the power to “shut it down” by withholding its labor! A city-wide general strike—along the lines of the 1934 Teamsters Strike—would get the authorities’ attention! Ultimately, it would pose the question: who should run society?
Though some are taking advantage of the chaos and disorganization that comes from a spontaneous, leaderless movement to loot stores, and even burn down buildings, these actions are not a function of the protests but a product of the system the police are defending. Capitalism creates a world of plenty in the big retail stores, while armies of starving people are unable to afford to buy the products beyond their doors, and luxury condos stand vacant in the midst of a housing crisis. These contradictions have been exacerbated by the economic catastrophe that has befallen the workers and poor. Across the US today, fully 41 million workers have lost their jobs since March, including fully 39% of low-wage workers earning less than $49,000. A full 35% of households with children are now food insecure. This has led to an explosive mood of anger that is searching for an outlet.
Nonetheless, elements of organization have been seen in embryo in the first 48 hours of this movement, such as the distribution of masks, hand sanitizer, and other donations to those who need it. We also see the evidence that large crowds of protesters are perfectly capable of “maintaining order” among themselves. For example, when individuals have tried to throw litter at the police in brash anger, but were stopped by the rest of the crowd so as not to give the cops an excuse to unleash even more violence.
To take things to the next level, organized labor should actively link up with the protesters in recognition of the workers’ common struggle against the racist capitalist system. With the unions’ resources and numbers, the movement would take on an entirely different character. The police would be less likely to fire teargas at thousands of firefighters, iron, and steel workers! But if they did this against the broader working class, this could unleash a much sharper crisis for the government—and it would not be limited to the Twin Cities.
Despite its “Minnesota nice” facade, Minnesota is one of the most racially unequal states in the country, and the seething class anger and frustration is palpable. Before COVID-19, just 7% of white Minnesotans lived under the official poverty line, compared to 32% of black residents. Official unemployment for blacks was nearly three times higher than the jobless rate for whites. For decades, black families were barred from buying property in designated “white neighborhoods” through so-called “racial covenants” embedded in deeds written between 1910 and 1950. This is institutionalized racism, pure and simple, and it is hardwired into American capitalism.
As a rule, police officers don’t patrol their own neighborhoods. They are often recruited from the most reactionary layers of society and unleashed on poor and working-class neighborhoods to terrorize the very populations they disdain. This is why calls for “community control” of the police, and for officers to patrol the neighborhoods they’re from, are at the forefront of many people’s minds every time a white cop kills a black person in the street.
But it is impossible to establish community control over our own neighborhoods, and to guarantee our safety while there is fundamental inequality in every other aspect of life. “Equality of life” can only be realized by abolishing capitalism and replacing the capitalist state with one run democratically by the workers. The police are part of the apparatus of the capitalist state used to defend the tiny minority that owns the means of production. No amount of oversight measures or “community review boards” will change the repressive nature of these bodies.
The workers cannot rely on the capitalist police to protect us. The Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation should organize neighborhood defense committees to unite both unionized and unorganized workers and the unemployed to mobilize at a moment’s notice to respond to police violence in working-class neighborhoods—we can collectively defend ourselves!
Likewise, the recent demands for “action” and “justice” are not sufficiently concrete. What actions? Whose justice? What does justice look like when the whole system is guilty?
Compared to many other similar cases, Mayor Frey has moved more aggressively to hold these particular officers to account—because he knows he’s sitting on a powder keg. But we should not trust this tool of the Democratic Party and the city’s capitalists. Nor should we have any faith that the FBI, which has been called in to investigate, can bring about “justice” in any way shape or form.
The institution of the police as a whole is rife with racism and abuse of power, a reflection of the system it upholds. Removing a few “bad apples” does nothing to fundamentally change the class relations that bring about such tragedies. Even if the police are on their “best behavior” for a time, eventually, another extrajudicial murder by another “out of control” officer will occur.
In order to maintain a system in which a small ruling clique can repress the vast majority of society, they must divide us by race, nationality, religion, sexuality, gender, and anything else they can come up with. When one section of the working class is blaming another for having a bigger piece of the pie, the capitalist class sleeps peacefully knowing they own the bakery. A socialist revolution would not immediately erase all of the prejudices of capitalist society, but it would destroy the very foundation racism rests on, so that we may dismantle it from the bottom up.
Before he, too, was murdered by the police in Chicago, Fred Hampton explained:
We’re going to fight racism, not with racism, but we’re going to fight it with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism … We’re going to fight [reaction] with all of us people getting together and having an international proletarian revolution.
And as we explain in our program: “Reparations for centuries of exploitation, racism, and oppression can only be achieved by ending capitalism and building socialism.”
Join the IMT and the fight to make this a reality!