The uncharged murder of Mike Brown, just one of the Black people killed every 28 hours by police, epitomised the systematic violence and oppression faced by millions of people of colour in today’s society.
What makes Ferguson so striking is that a whole community stood up and fought back! This collective struggle magnified the need to have Mike Brown’s case brought to justice and also began to take on its own character, speaking out against all aspects of the oppression felt by the Black working class over the years – decades of throwing young Black men into prison, record-high unemployment rates, low-wage jobs and false election promises of Democratic Party leaders like Obama.
Seeing the threat posed to the system by these community upheavals, the corporate media went on a campaign of invalidating them with the New York Times proclaiming “Mike Brown – He’s no angel”. They went on to tear apart his past as if his “dabbling in drink and drugs” might justify his murder. The powerful #BlackLivesMatter movement, which encapsulated the struggle against a racist state, was watered down to the hashtag #AllLivesMatter, an attempt to divert attention away from the specific oppression faced by the black community. Peaceful protests were presented as riots, while brutal tactics of the police were praised as a return to order.
This case must be placed within the context of a long struggle for freedom. Revolutionaries have long pointed out the connections between racist state repression and class society, such as the Black Panther Party whose program featured demands for 100% employment, fully funded social programs, and ending the Vietnam War in addition to demands for an end to police brutality and the retrial of all Black prisoners by “People From Their Black Communities.” We need to realise the very same militarized police used in Ferguson will be used to repress other strikes and social movements that challenge the current system. We need to be aware that the racist tactics used by the police and advocated by the government are used as a means of creating divisions within the working class, preventing collective struggle which could bring about real change.
Institutional racism is not just an American issue that we can comfortably distance ourselves from. In the UK, a Black person is 29 times more likely to be stopped and searched than a white person, demonstrating that Britain has the worst reputation for racial profiling internationally. Along with unjust immigration policies and an increase in race-related hate crime, there is clearly much needed progress to be made on a national level. Closer to home, in Belfast, we have an average of 3 reported race-hate incidents a day – making us a contender for race-hate capital of Europe.
The capitalist system has racism built firmly into its roots and has no vested interest in removing it. The American ruling class has benefitted from the exploitation of the black population since slavery, where the ruling class accumulated great wealth from the forced labour of African men and women. This was ‘justified’ by presenting Black people as sub-
human or inferior. Abolition of slavery did not mean the abolition of racism, but merely that new ways had to be found to enforce it. In the 1990s the media became fixated with “gangsta rap,” which lent a certain justification to the U.S. government’s racist “War on Drugs” and “Get Tough on Crime” legislation by presenting Black people as dangerous criminals. Today Black people make up roughly 40% of the prison population, despite making up only 13% of the US population.
Malcolm X said “You can’t have capitalism without racism”. Racism cannot be fought against through reform but has to be challenged head on in a genuine struggle to change society. We need a coordinated movement of young people, trade unions and the rest of the working class to overthrow the capitalist system!