This is not an uncommon occurrence in the United States. Earlier in the summer, unarmed African-American man Eric Garner was choked to death by police in Staten Island, New York. Akai Gurley was shot and killed in the stairwell of his Brooklyn apartment building just last month. Ramarley Graham was shot through the chest in his Bronx apartment. Cleveland Police have recently taken a few innocent lives also.
In the last decade alone, the number of African-American men killed by police, correctional officers, and racist vigilantes is very high. Almost every African American has a sibling, parent, cousin, or neighbor who has been beaten up, choked, or otherwise terrorized by law enforcement. Fear of the men in blue uniforms who are supposed to uphold “law and order” is part of everyday life for African-Americans and Latinos.
In the aftermath of Michael Brown’s summary execution, the small St. Louis suburb in which he lived has become world-famous. Ferguson has been the site of a mass insurrection, and the whole world watched as youth went out and fought the police, trashed stores, and faced down police tear gas and rubber bullets.
Like all events in the United States, especially in the epoch of economic decline and the suppression of civil liberties, these events cannot be divorced from the changing global dynamics.
Moscow and Black Liberation
There has always been resistance from the African-American community in the United States. At no moment have African Americans passively accepted their oppression. During slavery there were constant revolts, the most famous of which was led by Reverend Nat Turner. In the period of Jim Crow segregation, armed Black militias formed for self-defense. From the time of Harriet Tubman to Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X to Cornel West, within the Black nation there has always been a struggle-oriented leadership, fighting against harsh and hostile circumstances.
However, in 1917, thousands and thousands of miles away from the United States, an event took place which gave a tremendous boost to the Black liberation struggle there. That event was the Russian Revolution, in which the Bolsheviks took power and began the construction of socialism.
In his “Letter to the American Workers” in 1919, Lenin highlighted the Black freedom struggle, and urged workers of all nationalities to get involved. In the 1930s, the Soviet Union promoted the case of the Scottsboro Nine, a group of African-Americans falsely accused of rape. The mother of one of the Scottsboro Nine toured the Soviet Union, speaking in factories and universities about the horrors of racism. Rallies were held in Red Square against the Ku Klux Klan, where Soviet workers carried placards saying “Smash Race Prejudice!” and “Jim Crow Must Go!”
The US Communist Party made a point of showing that the Nazis and fascists the US battled in Europe during WWII were cut from the same cloth as the poll-taxers and lynchers of the South.
In 1954 African-American teen Emmett Till was lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman, and his killers were acquitted in a biased southern court. The Soviet Union projected the image of Emmett Till’s mutilated corpse across the world, exposing the hypocrisy of the United States, which claimed to be a “homeland of freedom” while waging extreme brutality on African-Americans.
Black freedom fighter Angela Davis was greeted as a hero in the Soviet Union, Democratic Germany, and other socialist countries around the world, after she won her freedom in a highly publicized trial.
It is almost universally acknowledged that the rise of the Black Liberation struggle in the 1950s and 60s was closely linked to international events.
At the time, many leading political figures in the United States realized that Jim Crow segregation was a public relations nightmare in the propaganda battles of the Cold War. The northern wing of the Democratic Party hoped to give a “facelift” to the country by adjusting the blatant apartheid of the southern states. The approval of this “facelift,” and the conflict within the circles of power, opened the door to a mass movement of millions. This movement in turn led to an explosion that shook the country like never before.
The youth who battled the police in Ferguson are greatly inspired by the events of the 1960s and 70s. T-shirts with Angela Davis are commonplace, as is respect for the history of the Black Panther Party. The media cannot ignore the presence of self-proclaimed communists in the protests. The Soviet Union, as well as Cuba, People’s Korea, and other socialist countries, have left their mark on the nightly street battles in a small Missouri suburb.
The Role of Technology
The internet was developed by the US military as a mechanism for coordinating its efforts internationally. Soon, however, the scope of internet usage spread much wider. The internet became a place to spread information, discuss world events, and do all kinds of things.
Like Frankenstein’s monster, the internet soon caused great frustration for its creators. Wikileaks allowed secret diplomatic cables to be leaked to the public.
Edward Snowden has fled the United States, revealing that a vast apparatus of secret government spying exists, and the “right to privacy” of US citizens is routinely violated.
News agencies like PressTV and Russia Today, with a completely different perspective, are now widely available and popular in the United States, and millions of US workers get their news from them.
Technology, which has completely changed the global political landscape, is also having an impact on the uprising in the aftermath of the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson.
In the aftermath of the grand jury’s verdict, protesters began taking action. Each of these actions was photographed or video recorded, and put on social media. Each action inspired more actions. It was as if young people were “one-upping” each other to see who could take the most militant and creative action as part of the internet campaign proclaiming “Black Lives Matter.”
In the New York protests that erupted the night the Ferguson grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, Bill Bratton was doused with red paint, and the image resounded throughout cyberspace.
The annual “Black Friday” shopping ritual, which usually involves highly embarrassing scenes of consumerism, as well people being injured or trampled to death, was completely different this year. In numerous cities around the country, youth were finding creative ways to highlight the Michael Brown verdict, video recording themselves shutting down malls and raising chaos in shopping centers.
The movement to unionize the low-wage retail workers suddenly found allies in the Black liberation struggle, as together they gave the country a “Black Friday” to remember.
A group of young activists intended to disrupt the Thanksgiving Day Parade — and the NYPD preemptively arrested them, knowing that such an action would result in more actions. Pre-emptive arrests were also made outside of Macy’s Department Store in New York, and at other sites throughout the country.
The protests, done in the form of flash mobs, multiply themselves. Each action spawns more actions. With cell phones in their hands, recording their actions, youth of the next generation have made confronting the police, raising chaos, and preaching against injustice the trendy new activity.
The Changing Landscape of US Society
There have been many mass rebellions in the US in response to police brutality. Los Angeles, Benton Harbor, Toledo, Cincinnati, have all been the sites of uprisings throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
The rebellion that followed the killing of Michael Brown is unique for several reasons. Primarily, it involved not a few days but months of sustained street fighting in Ferguson, Missouri. Secondly, it struck a chord with millions of people throughout the United States, who shared similar grievances in their own geographic location.
Technology and rising alternative media enabled millions, night after night, to cheer for the young street fighters — and to highlight their grievances as well. It allowed a counter-narrative in which the youth, not the police shooting at them and tear-gassing them, were the heroes.
The fact that consumerist holiday “Black Friday” became a target of the protests shows a growing anti-capitalist consensus among newly politicized forces in the United States. Each year for the last few decades, millions of people in the United States look at their TV screens with disgust, seeing their countryfolk camping out all night, waiting to charge into stores, in a desperate drive to acquire some commodity. People are sometimes trampled to death. Others are arrested in petty fistfights over commodities. “Black Friday” has become symbolic of the disgusting consumer culture of the United States, where people sob and assault each other over clothing or electronic toys.
Starting in 2012, “Black Friday” became a target for labor activists looking to organize the low-wage retail workers, who suffer long hours on this day as their bosses make millions. In Secaucus, New Jersey, the nearest Walmart to New York City was invaded by Occupy Wall Street activists, whom the completely overwhelmed sheriffs and cops chased up and down its aisles. Outside, a radical marching band struck up songs like “Solidarity Forever” and “The International,” as a panicking crowd of police desperately called for backup.
This year, the protests by low-wage workers were joined by those screaming “Black Lives Matter.” The fact that malls were shut down on “Black Friday” by anti-racist activists in multiple cities shows a rising understanding of the task at hand. Millions of people seem to understand that the rising police state and summary execution of young Black men by police is linked to disgusting consumerism and low wages displayed at “big box stores” on “Black Friday.”
By targeting Black Friday, the millions of people pushed into motion throughout the US in response to police brutality are taking aim at Wall Street’s global system of capitalism-imperialism. They are calling out a system that worships nothing but profits and money, even as it collapses on a global scale.
As the US transitions to a low-wage police state, struggle is rising among the domestic population. Low-wage workers, African-Americans, and youth are rushing to defend themselves as they look into the future with horror.
As they do so, millions are coming to see that their real enemies are not around the world, but at home. They are realizing that they share a common enemy with Iranians, Cubans, Russians, and Chinese people. They are realizing that the real “fight for democracy” that lay ahead will be a fight against the bankers and billionaires in Wall Street and London, and will take place on the streets of cities like Ferguson, Missouri.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.