Outrage at police violence has erupted once again across the United States. Protests began in Memphis on Friday, Jan. 27, following the release of video showing the barbaric and fatal police beating of 29-year-old photographer and FedEx worker, Tyre Nichols. The protests then spread to at least 38 cities nationwide.
Five cops dragged Nichols from his vehicle and attacked him with pepper spray, tasers, and batons, along with copious punches and kicks, while he cried out for his mother. Sickening footage of a young Black man being murderously assaulted by the police is all too familiar, but the scene was no less shocking or disturbing for its tragic commonality. The stated reason for the deadly traffic stop was “reckless driving.” Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis later admitted there is no evidence whatsoever that police had any legal reason to stop Nichols.
As of yet, the protests have not come anywhere near the size and intensity of the nationwide uprising in June 2020 that followed the murder of George Floyd. The ruling class’s fear of a repeat of those dramatic events is palpable. Politicians and police chiefs across the land have been tripping over each other in a race to the TV cameras to call for “calm.” Their fear explains why the five killer cops were charged with second-degree murder even before the video was released to the public. It also explains why the unit these police belonged to—the so-called SCORPION unit—was “permanently deactivated” the day after protests began.
In addition to these cynical half measures, the representatives of the capitalists have proved rich in hypocritical and empty phrase mongering. Police Chief Davis called the murder, “a failing of basic humanity.” FBI Director Christopher Wray—the man in charge of the agency responsible for shooting Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton at point-blank range while he slept—claimed to be “appalled” by the video. Attorney General Merrick Garland reportedly found it “deeply disturbing.” Of the disgusting act of police terror, Democratic President Joe Biden said: “Tyre’s death is a painful reminder that we must do more to ensure that our criminal justice system lives up to the promise of fair and impartial justice, equal treatment, and dignity for all.”
But neither the ruling class’s tinkering reforms nor their rhetoric about “impartial justice” and “dignity for all” gets to the heart of why police violence and murder are so common in US society. The horrific brutality of police, as well as its disproportionate use against Black people and other minorities, is deeply rooted in American capitalism. As Socialist Revolution has explained before:
There is no way a small minority can exploit a large majority without “armed bodies” to enforce their rule. This is especially true when living conditions for the majority are already bad and deteriorating fast…
Laws, social inertia, ideology, propaganda, religion, “divide and rule,” and all the rest are not sufficient to keep all of the people in line all of the time. To maintain the status quo and to make an example of all those who question or act against this obscene set up, the full repressive force of the state is brought to bear on this or that part of the population, sometimes selectively, sometimes indiscriminately.
Nearly a decade ago, when the Black Lives Matter movement first erupted, many anti-police violence activists argued that the solution was to hire more Black and female cops. And yet, in Memphis, all five police were Black, and Police Chief Davis is a Black woman. She has served as president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and in 2020, she appeared on Good Morning America and called for “sweeping changes and police reform” following the murder of George Floyd. And yet, she allowed the continuation of the SCORPION unit—an Orwellian acronym for the “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods.” In what way did the race or gender of the killer cops and their police chief change the outcome of Tyre Nichols’s fatal encounter with the “armed bodies” of the capitalist state?
In the final analysis, racism, inequality, and police violence are functions of a society divided into classes. Despite the hand wringing of their representatives before the TV cameras, the small minority of capitalists who own and control the United States rely on the savage cruelty of police for their very survival as a class. Even the indiscriminate killing of an unarmed FedEx worker like Tyre Nichols plays a vital role in enforcing their rule. Only in the dreams of utopians will the ruling class ever dispense with such violence. But there is a force that can end police terror once and for all: the working class.
In contrast to a capitalist state, a workers’ state will not enforce the rule of a small minority over the immense majority of society. Instead, the vast majority will rule over an infinitesimally small minority, which itself will be absorbed organically into the broader population as social inequality and classes wither away over time. While the use of force cannot be ruled out, a healthy workers’ state will have no need for anything like the unending barrage of systematic and indiscriminate violence that has been the hallmark of state power in all prior forms of class society.
From the genocide of the Indigenous peoples of North America to the brutality of chattel slavery, from the Ludlow and Italian Hall massacres to the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tyre Nichol, and innumerable others, the history of American capitalism has been a festival of horrors with few if any rivals in the annals of human history. But this should not demoralize us for a single moment. US capitalism has already produced the mighty army which will bring it down: the many-millioned working class.
Protests and uprisings against police brutality offer only a glimpse of the immense power our class will bring to bear in the coming socialist revolution. The conditions for this revolution are maturing before our eyes. But to succeed in this struggle, the working class must be organized and led by a revolutionary party guided by the theory and methods of Marxism. The IMT is building such an organization, and if you are outraged as we are by the endless stream of racist violence and human degradation, we invite you to join us in the fight for socialism in our lifetime.
For working-class unity!
An injury to one is an injury to all!
To fight killer cops, fight capitalism!