USA Today: police brutality and the electric chair

The last defiant words of Gary Graham, who was executed by lethal injection in Texas, was to accuse his captors of “the systematic state murder of black people”. This murder not only takes place on death row but in the cities of America.

James Quarks, a market trader in Baltimore, Maryland, was cutting open a box, when a group of police officers, guns drawn, responding to a call, came racing up in their squad cars. The young African American man looked up from his work to see what was happening.

Not realising that the knife was still in his hand, the police order him to drop it. As he does so, the cops open fire and shoot him dead. Like the Rodney King case in Los Angeles, this murder was caught on video and the police, who tried to cover it up, were caught red handed.

This is no isolated event. Police brutality is an everyday occurrence in the United States. Trigger-happy cops have murdered countless individuals, overwhelmingly none-whites. In the Bronx, N.Y., Amadou Diallo, another street vendor, was murdered by police in cold blood. Four cops – members of the deadly Street Crime Unit – fired 41 shots at unarmed Diallo, pumping him with 19 bullets. The police officers were later acquitted, giving a clear signal that there is a state-sanctioned “open season” for police to kill unarmed blacks.

There were similar incidents in Riverside, California, Charlotte, N.C., and on the New Jersey Turnpike. In Philadelphia, four more African Americans have been killed by police this year. For instance, in January, Erin Forbes was shot in the heart by Lower Merion police as he returned home from his night job. He was surrounded by at least five fully-armed officers, yet the police story was that he threatened them with a stick.

There is a national epidemic of police violence. It has escalated with the CIA-linked, influx of drugs into many areas in an attempt to poison the youth. Many of the victims of police brutality have committed no crimes, but are attacked because they are Black, Latino, poor or young. Millions are victims of racial harassment and discrimination. African Americans continue to feel the full weight of racist US capitalism upon their backs.

The rage that rises up in all black Americans and all racial minorities against their conditions is met with the repression of the racist police force and the legal system. Increasingly, in African American and Latino communities, people fear the police more than the criminals. This is directly due to the repressive actions of the police themselves, who are getting away with murder – literally.

But they do not act on their own. They are part of the apparatus of oppression used to maintain the political and economic domination of big business and their hangers on. The police act in a brutal fashion because they have been given the green light from the higher-ups in the police department to commit all manner of murder and mayhem in the name of the “war on crime.”

The policies of the capitalist parties, the Republicans and Democrats, have created the atmosphere in which these activities take place. In their dog-eat-dog society, where the gap between rich and poor is constantly growing, repression is an integral factor. With the passage of the Omnibus Crime Bill, Clinton and Congress, on down to the governors, mayors and the precinct captains have given local police licence for violent and reckless behaviour.

The state is attempting the “pacify” the growing anger of the unemployed, the exploited, the down-trodden and the oppressed by use of the frame-up and the bullet. They are bringing down the hammer of repression in the ghettos.

State violence is reaching new heights in the United States. There are two million in prison – the highest incarceration rate in the world. While the USA has only 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of the world’s prisoners. This year around 100 convicted Americans will be poisoned, hanged, gassed, electrocuted or shot. Such a figure will surpass anything since 1951 and is incredibly approaching the level of the 1870s.

African Americans and Latinos are facing the brunt of this new wave of repression. Despite their minority status, Blacks and Latinos account for 56% of death-row inmates and 42% of executions. Without doubt a sizeable proportion have been framed by police in their on going effort to break the resistance within the African American and Latino communities.

This is nothing new! The revolt of Blacks in the 1960s was met with outright repression. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, George Jackson and the Black Panther leaders were murdered, and the movement suppressed. The struggle was pushing them in a socialist and class direction which threatened to link up their cause with the workers’ movement. Alarmed by this development, it seems irrefutable that sections of the ruling class were behind these murders.

Later, in the mid 1970s, the radical black group, MOVE, was targeted for repression by the Philadelphia police department under the city’s mayor Frank Rizzo. A series of arrests, raids and beatings quickly escalated in 1978 to a shoot-out during a military assault on MOVE headquarters by hundreds of riot police. Nine MOVE members were found guilty of third degree murder, conspiracy, and multiple counts of attempted murder and aggravated assault. Each defendant was given a sentence of 30 to 100 years. Others were framed and imprisoned on other charges.

One of the few media people to accurately report on MOVE was the black Philadelphia journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal. This brought him into conflict with the authorities and his employers. He was targeted by police, and in December 1981, he was involved in an incident which led to Mumia being badly wounded and a police officer dead. He was arrested on a murder rap and badly beaten in custody.

At his trial evidence was ignored, testimonies were changed, and evidence tampered with. The jury, from which over ten blacks were excluded and only two remained, returned a verdict of guilty and a sentence of death. Mumia has been on death row ever since.

In May 1985, in order to eliminate the organisation, police mounted a full scale assault on the MOVE headquarters. Eventually, a bomb was dropped on the building, which was to destroy the headquarters and 60 surrounding buildings. Those who tried to escape were met with police gunfire, in which six adults and five children were killed in cold blood. The only adult survivor, Ramona Africa (interviewed opposite), was found guilty of riot and conspiracy and was jailed for 7 years.

The answer of the American ruling class to the discontent within society has always been increased repression, building more jails, increased use of the death-penalty, acts of racist violence, and the elimination of democratic rights. The murderous practices of the police are not confined to minorities. Violence is being used against workers on strike, against peaceful protesters, against immigrants and against innocent people of all races and nationalities that stand up for their rights. Events in Seattle and Washington – as well as their bloody adventures overseas – show the real face of American capitalism.

Only the elimination of the causes of violence – the conditions in which people are forced to live and the rule of the giant corporations – can this nightmare be ended once and for all. While fighting against the injustices of capitalism, the police brutality, racism, at the end of the day, only though the socialist transformation of society can these evils be eliminated once and for all.


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