This past Saturday, there were rallies and marches, involving tens of thousands of people in big cites and small towns all over this country. The people who gathered were diverse in age, race, ethnicity and gender, though certainly the majority were young. The cry against police brutality was to “Shut the system down” until there is justice.
This wave of protests against police violence and murder dates back to August, when Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Ever since Brown’s murder, the community of Ferguson has continued its protests. Because of their determination, his murder by the police was brought center stage in this country. When grand juries absolved the cops of responsibility for the murders of both Mike Brown and Eric Garner in New York City, more fuel was added to the flames of resistance.
What can be done about this rampant police violence? Some believe that the federal government should get involved because the problem is at the local level. Or that it is a question of police training or monitoring, or of forcing the police to wear cameras. Are we to believe that police cameras won’t malfunction on command, in the same way that police testimonies almost always support their own criminal activity? We need cameras on the cops – in the hands of citizens. But in the case of Eric Garner, even the video evidence didn’t stop the cop who strangled him from getting off.
Unfortunately these solutions leave things in the hands of those who are in charge of the police terror in the poorest communities in our society. They have not shown concern for the lives of Black people. Asking this government to monitor its police is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse
These solutions ignore the role of the police – which is to maintain and protect the property and control of the one percent, to keep their system of exploitation and oppression in place so their profits keep rolling in. Racism and the violence linked to it have been an essential part of this system. Racism is used to keep Black people in the worst jobs or tossed into the streets.
The wealthy have passed on the cost of their economic crisis by imposing extreme poverty on many, especially in Black communities. Large sections of the population have been criminalized and under attack by a militarized police force in the name of the so-called “war on drugs”. This war on poor communities has locked millions away in prisons. In the eyes of this system, if you are Black and poor you are often considered to be a criminal.
We need to put those in power on notice that we will not tolerate their racist violence any more. And that is exactly what some people have done. Night after night hundreds and even thousands of people have marched in the streets, blocking traffic, bridges, and train tracks. The protests have forced those in power to pay attention. But as determined as these protests are, they are limited to causing temporary disruptions.
To make a real impact, the young activists in the streets will need to become organizers, to help others become active. It means connecting with more people, going to workplaces, neighborhoods, churches and schools. We can talk to everyone we see, provide them with information, with fliers explaining what happened. We can wear armbands so everyone who sees us will think about what happened. We can meet and discuss together about what we can do.
When millions of people begin to take a stand, everything can change. We saw this in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 1970s. We saw it in the massive anti-war movement against the U.S. war on Vietnam. All movements begin with a few determined and courageous people who engage others. For us to succeed we can’t just be reactive, we have to be organized and put forward clear aims and goals. We need to mobilize the real power that could change this society. That power lies in the hands of the millions who do the work that makes this system run. And they also have the power to shut it down.
The last weeks are a sign of hope and if the movement grows and continues who knows what possibilities could lie ahead?