From Ferguson to Staten Island: The logic of racism is genocide

In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide…To use a philosophical analogy here, racism is not based on some empirical generalization; it is based rather on an ontological affirmation. It is not the assertion that certain people are behind culturally or otherwise because of environmental conditions. It is the affirmation that the very being of a people is inferior…I submit that however unpleasant it is we must honestly see and admit that racism is still deeply rooted all over America.
—Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Protests erupted in cities across the U.S. and around the world following the Nov. 25 decision of a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for the cold-blooded murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9. Thousands marched under the slogan “Black Lives Matter!”

Ferguson solidarity marchers walking on FDR Highway, New York City, Nov. 25, 2014. Photo by Resa Sunshine, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nomadnewyork/15261839893

Ferguson solidarity marchers walking on FDR Highway, New York City, Nov. 25, 2014. Photo by Resa Sunshine, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nomadnewyork/15261839893

These mass demonstrations continued, and grew, in the wake of the equally outrageous Dec. 3 decision of a Staten Island, New York City, grand jury not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the killing of Eric Garner—choked to death for the “crime” of selling loose cigarettes. This despite Garner’s murder being captured on video, the NYPD policy prohibiting choke holds, and the coroner’s ruling of death by homicide. The slogans “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” and “We Can’t Breathe!” throw the crimes of the police and the racist system right back in their faces, thousands of times over—even the well-paid warriors of the St. Louis Rams joined in protest.

Both these jury decisions were steeped in the current state of U.S. racism. In both cases, the fix was in—“prosecutors” had no intention of holding murderous cops responsible. This is standard practice following four decades of cancerous growth of the prison industrial complex, U.S. capitalism’s response to its structural crisis, which has targeted Blacks, Latinos, and the poor. The warehousing of millions, their disenfranchisement as citizens, and the denial of their basic humanity, has created a social order in which Black youth are made to live continuously suspended over an abyss of non-existence.

In Ferguson, Darren Wilson’s dehumanizing testimony, which called on racist images of the Black man as a “demon,” a dangerous animal incapable of feeling pain, convicted him of the intent to murder Michael Brown. But prosecutors did everything in their power to support his racist narrative and impugn the many witnesses against him. Wilson did the killing, but the State effectively acted as a lynch mob in his defense.

This is the sick social context in which sociopaths like Wilson, Pantaleo, and wanna-be cop George Zimmerman are given license to kill.

A NEW MOMENT OF REBELLION

In contrast, the tens of thousands who have shut down the Brooklyn Bridge, Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, and West Side Highway in New York City; Lake Shore Drive in Chicago; and Crenshaw Boulevard and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Los Angeles, among other main arteries, represent a new moment in which a young generation is connecting to high points of past struggle (the Civil Rights Movement, the L.A. Rebellion of 1992) and aiming to go further. Led by Black youth including Black women, the protests have attracted white, Latino and Asian allies—and again, largely youth.

Ferguson protest by Stanford students in Palo Alto, Calif., Nov. 25, 2014. Photo by Paul George, https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulgeorge/15259081264

Ferguson protest by Stanford students in Palo Alto, Calif., Nov. 25, 2014. Photo by Paul George,
https://www.flickr.com/photos/paulgeorge/15259081264

The mass national protests overlapped with Black Friday labor protests (with Wal-Mart a special target) and calls for boycotts helped to lower sales by as much as 8% from last year.

Recently formed groups like We Charge Genocide make the same connection between the murders of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Rekia Boyd, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, John Crawford, Dante Parker, Ezell Ford, VonDerrit Myers Jr., Laquan McDonald, Cameron Tillman, Tamir Rice, and so many, many others made by the larger Black community.

This new generation fully comprehended the reality of the racist prison system, and of a generation of opposition to it. They see its roots deep in the development of U.S. and world capitalism, in the genocidal conquest of the Americas and the ensuing enslavement of Africans. They are very close to Marx’s development of the absolute contradictions of capitalism, close enough to give every promise of the further development of revolutionary theory and practice.

‘IT SURE FEELS LIKE A WAR’

This current state-supported racism isn’t just a reversion to the oppressive past. It is one section of the ruling class sending the message that it is fully in tune with the virulent neo-fascist movement that has arisen and consolidated itself over the last decades, and in particular since the economic crisis of 2008 was accompanied by the election of President Barack Obama.

Since then the racist Right has engaged in a non-stop effort to crush whatever ideas of freedom and self-determination allowed Obama to enter the White House—ideas, ironically, that Obama has largely ignored or repudiated. It has brought big corporate money together with formerly fringe elements, from the Klan to the John Birch Society, in the Tea Party and other falsely claimed “grassroots” organizations. It has brought neo-Confederate and white nationalist figures from internet obscurity to FOXNews prominence.

While some have tried to counterpose the issues of race and class, in fact this is how the class issue has been expressed. The Right’s relentless attacks on President Obama haven’t been directed against the failings and limitations of bourgeois democracy, nor only at Obama’s person, but rather at the drive toward revolutionary democracy that inheres in the historic Black freedom struggle.

Further, by way of the U.S.’s imperialist wars, we have witnessed the militarization of domestic policing that has been so much a part of the State’s response to justified community protests in Ferguson. As Amnesty International observed, the rights to peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression were seriously imperiled in Ferguson. A Marxist-Humanist activist there said, “It may not be a revolution yet, but this sure feels like a war.”

Black and poor communities have long understood the role of the police as an occupying army. Ferguson is a perfect example. It is a community that has long been exploited and cheated as St. Louis County squeezed the people with traffic fines and petty arrests for the profit of the white power structure. When protests over Michael Brown’s murder began, they were immediately met with a bullying disrespect, with riot police in military gear, tear gas and rubber bullets, sonic cannons. It escalated from there.

This “white nationalism” wielding state power is as vile as Milosevic’s Serb state, or Assad’s genocidal state, and potentially capable of greater crimes. It carries the seed of future imperialist world wars within itself. The police revealed its true face in Ferguson—an army, always dedicated to the preservation of capitalist “order,” and with plenty kept in reserve to protect a looming U.S. fascism.

REVOLUTIONARY HUMANISM IN ACTION

One of the most lasting achievements of the Civil Rights Movement was the way it unlocked the truth of U.S. history, bringing the continuous story of Black freedom struggles out of the long-suppressed archives. While blank-eyed sociopaths like Wilson, Pantaleo, and George Zimmerman are the template for the white supremacist mind, the absolute opposite can be found in the rich, revolutionary humanism developed through four centuries of freedom struggles, from Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth and John Brown to Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, Malcolm X and the National Welfare Rights Organization, to the Pelican Bay hunger strikers.

A new generation of revolutionaries is now entering the scene, on the streets and fighting hard for a different, more human world. As force and as passion, these youth and their allies mean to tear this racist society up by its roots. They aren’t inclined to compromise, they will not be intimidated by anyone, and they are aware of the high stakes involved in their struggle.

We in News and Letters Committees recognize the historic moment and encourage the fullest political and philosophic dialogue within the movement.

As Raya Dunayevskaya wrote in American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard (1983), the absolute challenge to our age is the concretization of Marx’s concept of “revolution in permanence.” The Black dimension is crucial to the total uprooting of existing, exploitative, racist, sexist society and the creation of new, truly human foundations.

–Gerry Emmett
For the Resident Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees
December 5, 2014

6 thoughts on “From Ferguson to Staten Island: The logic of racism is genocide

  1. I liked the article very much. Could you elaborate on increasing dialogue…to what end? With whom?

  2. I loved a sign photographed in the protests: “When tyranny is law, revolution is order.” It underlines the truth of a recent News & Letters article describing the movement among fast food and other low-wage workers for a living wage–and a decent way of life, including an end to arbitrary scheduling of work hours and shifts without notice to the workers.

  3. There is a “two way road” between protests in US against Ferguson’s racists crimes and protests in Mexico (and other parts of the world) against the forced dissapearance of the 43 normalistas in Ayotzinapa. On each side, demonstrators have showed their solidarity with the other; this is, quite surely, because both feel that the crimes have been committed by the same entity: the State (be it Mexican or American). And, behind the State, there is always capital. There is surely still no clear consciense about it n the masses; however, the dialectic of the movement has within it the possibility of aknowledging that truth: in US, it is specially Black and Latino youth who has raised as the main revolutionary subject in this moment; in Mexico, it is also students and youth who “have taken the lead” of it. Why is it so? Although all of the society is opressed by capitalism —specially, in this its neoliberal stage, began in the 1970’s worldwide—, it is youth who is suffering its more devastating effects. Black and Latino in US, and students in Mexico, have within themselves the possibility not just of a political struggle against the State, but of an economic struggle against capital. However, we haven’t arrived at that moment yet. But this moment is of no less importance: youth (and with it, the society in general) has aknowledged State as the main enemy. As it happened with the Paris Commune or the 1905 Russian Revolution, once the State is defeated, we will find behind it the next enemy we should fight against: capital. Then, a crucial step towards the whole reconstruction of society would have been made.

  4. In response to Michael: dialogue with all who oppose this brutality, and with all who want to deeply transform this society to a truly human one. A prime example is the youth who are the heart of the recent revolt. And at the same time with people who know they are exploited as workers but may or may not be clear about how that is related to the racist criminal justice system that divides and conquers the working class. Dialogue with the aim of making connections to the true history of our country and the world, and of bringing out the meaning of these events, both in terms of what needs to be uprooted and the positive in the negative–the reach for and the ideas of a new alternative that may not have been made fully clear–making explicit what is implicit in the movement as well as the power of philosophy of revolution to push us toward freedom and to enable the movement to find its direction forward.

    Let’s talk to people about the current state of racism, and what this statement calls “a social order in which Black youth are made to live continuously suspended over an abyss of non-existence.” And if they agree, what does it mean about what and how to change? Let’s help connect this wave of revolt with high points of past struggle, and with how race and class have historically intertwined and still do. (See American Civilization on Trial.) Let’s talk about how workers’ liberation is inseparable from Black liberation, and both from women’s liberation, and how the struggle for freedom needs the philosophy of liberation.

    I think this statement is deeply in line with the passion of the youth and others in these protests and other activities, and yet articulates what the struggle is against and what it is for in ways that are not usually articulated. It is meant to be the opening/continuation of dialogue, as our newspaper always is–rather than the statement of a line that all must accept and go no further.

  5. Not only is the logic of racism genocide, racism is genocide. It was an act of genocide when millions of Africans were brought to the Americas in slave ships to toil for their new masters. It was genocide when he white European settlers exterminated the Native Americans. It was genocide when the U.S. government, controlled by Southern racists, seized the northern part of Mexico and tried to eliminate all vestiges of a centuries long Hispanic culture and way of life, after the war of conquest of 1848. It was genocide during the Vietnam war that a disproportionate number of front line soldiers were Black or Latino. It is genocide today when both the levels of incarceration and of permanent unemployment are higher in Black and Latino communities than in any other communities. However, what is great today is that people are fighting back. And it is not just young Black people fighting, although they are taking the lead, at least here in New York City. Thousands of young anti-police murder, anti-racist white people are joining in the protests. As the statement says, it is a new generation of revolutionaries that has stormed the stage of world history. We should be bold enough,in our public work, to say that racism is genocide, that capitalism is genocide, and the only solution is a Marxist-Humanist revolution. Only News and Letters is a position to state this. Michael

  6. The News & Letters December 5 statement, “From Ferguson to Staten Island: The logic of racism is genocide,” captures the mushrooming totality of opposition to today’s racist police state in the context of present capitalist crisis. Mass demonstrations have continued practically daily especially here in Oakland, taking no break to celebrate holidays, including commemorations on New Year’s eve and New Year’s day of the murder of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART Station six years ago. There are multiple forms of demonstration from “die ins” on San Francisco streets to Berkeley Black Student Union youth, who elaborated on their “Black lives matter” message on January 3rd at Peet’s coffee shop in a high end area of Berkeley. The students shared their fearful experiences of being Black and stopped by police. The Ferguson grand jury farce generated a new moment, as the statement put it, in “the drive toward revolutionary democracy that inheres in the historic Black freedom struggle.”

    Many whites and others are solidarizing with the struggle, but part of the “political and philosophic dialogue” needed, in the Bay Area especially, is over the tension between some of the white anarchists, who substitute their immediate opposition to police authority, for the movement. For example, a Marxist-Humanist here, who joined the mass non-violent demonstrations that stopped the local freeways the night the Ferguson non-indictment was announced, passionately expressed her view that in light of the depth of racism towards people like herself, police authority is totally illegitimate. Yet she questioned why more Black folks weren’t participating even as she sensed that anarchists, who immediately went off on their own to test police authority with fires and and looting, were tacking their own agenda on to this moment.

    That concern is not new around here…(read further at: http://ronkelch.wordpress.com/2015/01/12/local-discussion-on-from-ferguson-to-staten-island/

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