Workers Vanguard No. 1142
19 October 2018
No Illusions in Capitalist Justice!
Chicago: Killer Cop Convicted, Racist Cop Terror Continues
Like the recorded killings of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Philando Castile and countless others, the dash cam footage of Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke pumping 16 bullets into the body of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in October 2014 showed what happens all the time in capitalist America. The cops routinely get away with murder because their job is to enforce racist law and order. So this month’s conviction of Van Dyke for second-degree murder was as rare as lightning striking the same place twice. The first Chicago cop to be found guilty of an on-duty killing in half a century, Van Dyke will be sentenced later this month. We and many others would find satisfaction in seeing Laquan McDonald’s executioner rot in prison. But as one woman from the city’s South Side said after the verdict, “Just because we got this one victory doesn’t mean we’re free.”
Chicago’s political bosses are seizing on the conviction to promote the lie that the cops can be made accountable to “the people” and the system can provide “justice for all.” But all this talk is really about refurbishing the cops’ image so they can get on with business as usual, i.e., the violent repression of the segregated black masses and the rest of the city’s working people, poor and oppressed. A week after the conviction, a Chicago cop was cleared in the killing of black 15-year-old Dakota Bright, who was shot in the back of the head in 2012. Racist cop brutality is endemic to American capitalism, an economic system founded on chattel slavery and built on the bedrock of black oppression. It will come to an end only when the multiracial working class sweeps away the capitalist order and its killer cops through socialist revolution.
The whole city was on edge before the verdict. Chicago’s rulers mobilized their armed thugs for a massive crackdown on any unrest, and the bourgeois media whipped up a hefty dose of fearmongering about “dangerous” protesters. City Hall drew up a 150-page plan to contain a potential explosion, ready to transport cops on city buses. Businesses in the downtown Loop were shuttered, and preachers polished their appeals for peace and healing.
During the trial, the defense spewed racist venom against Laquan McDonald, depicting him as a “monster,” a “deranged” youth on PCP with eyes “bugging out.” This is exactly how the cops view black ghetto youth. Laquan McDonald, who had shuttled between numerous foster homes and juvenile detention and coped with mental illness and learning disabilities as well as physical abuse, was just one example of how generations of minority youth have been cast out and criminalized by this country’s capitalist rulers. Like the vigilante George Zimmerman who executed Trayvon Martin in cold blood in 2012, Van Dyke claimed he feared for his life because of a black male in a hoodie. The cop had every intention of executing his victim, telling his partner while driving to the scene, “We’re going to have to shoot the guy.”
One day before Van Dyke’s trial began, Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would not seek a third term, thus avoiding even more heat over the “16 shots and a cover-up” that led to a political crisis in 2015. Already widely reviled for destroying public schools, cutting social services and attacking the unions, Emanuel notoriously buried the explosive Van Dyke footage to ensure his re-election bid that year. The former hatchet man for the Obama White House channels all the arrogance of this country’s capitalist rulers with his open contempt for workers, black people and Latinos.
It’s not surprising that many black Chicagoans hark back to the days of Mayor Harold Washington, who postured as a defender of black and minority rights when he ran Chicago in the 1980s. A product of the Democratic Party machine, Washington was one of many black front men for racist capitalist rule who kept a lid on the inner cities as the bourgeoisie took an ax to welfare, jobs, education and housing. Washington was mayor during part of the two-decade reign of infamous police commander Jon Burge, who tortured black suspects to extract confessions. No matter which Democrat is at the helm, rampant cop terror against black people has always been a trademark of “Segregation City.”
Today, the Democratic Party administration bandies about an array of police “reforms” meant to divert discontent and to co-opt critics. A proposed federal consent decree, which grew out of a Justice Department investigation of the Chicago PD, pushes community policing, increased “oversight,” the tackling of corruption and other timeworn fantasies. Such shams are designed to whitewash the cops while promoting the illusion of police “accountability” to the public. The cops will never be accountable to anyone other than the capitalist masters they serve. Police “reform” schemes are meant to restore the cops’ credibility so they can better carry out their murderous work.
Many activists around Black Lives Matter and Black Youth Project 100 seek to tweak laws in order to clean up the police. Likewise, the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression promotes the campaign for a Civilian Police Accountability Council, or CPAC, to investigate “police misconduct” and increase “transparency.” For its part, the reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO) directs outrage over cop terror into the same dead-end liberal appeals to reform the capitalist state.
On September 5, the ISO’s socialistworker.org ran an article, “The Movement That Brought Laquan’s Killer to Trial,” asserting that a conviction for Van Dyke “would be a major victory” because it might make cops “think twice before pulling the trigger.” They should try that one on the South and West Sides. Black people know that any encounter with a cop is a potential death sentence. Following Van Dyke’s conviction, on October 8 the ISO intoned, “We should celebrate this verdict as an opportunity to build the movement and push harder for even more ambitious changes,” like “community control” of the police and getting pledges from the cops to stop racial profiling. Virtually every U.S. city has seen a version of such things, and the cop terror goes on. The notion that the capitalist state can be forced through popular pressure to serve the interests of the working class and oppressed is a social-democratic pipe dream.
Black activists and others coming to social consciousness through the struggle against cop terror must be won to the understanding that the only force in society with the potential power to root out the entire system of capitalist injustice is the multiracial working class. The labor movement in this country, not least in Chicago, was built through hard-fought strikes in which workers went head-to-head with scabherding cops. Doubly oppressed black workers are an integral part of Chicago’s unionized proletariat. With ties to the ghetto masses, they are a key link between the struggle against wage slavery and the fight for black freedom.
To unleash labor/black struggle requires a fight inside the unions against their misleaders, who have undermined union strength with their loyalty to the capitalist profit system and ties to the Democratic Party. The crisis Emanuel faced at the end of 2015 was a golden opportunity for militant class struggle that could have galvanized the black and Latino masses as well as the city’s workers. By January 2016, both the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) and the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) were working without contracts, with the teachers having voted overwhelmingly to strike. Transit workers know that their own union brothers and sisters have been in the police crosshairs. In 2009, ATU member Ricardo Mendoza was assaulted on his own bus by an off-duty cop. By refusing to fight when Emanuel was on the ropes, the labor tops, including then CTU vice president Jesse Sharkey, who is supported by the ISO, gave the hated mayor a new lease on life and sold out their own members.
We said it straight at the time in our article, “We Need a Multiracial Workers Party! Chicago: Emanuel Must Go! Enough with the Democrats!” (WV No. 1081, 15 January 2016). We wrote: “The point isn’t to replace this strutting bully with a ‘nice guy’ face of Democratic Party rule in a city lorded over by this capitalist party for over 80 years.” The article went on: “Our purpose is to fight to translate the mounting anger and discontent into a conscious understanding that the working class needs its own party—not an electoral vehicle vying to be the administrators of the capitalist state and its cops, courts and jails—but a party that would play a leading role in a broad fight against the ravages of capitalism.” We are committed to building a vanguard workers party that champions all the exploited and oppressed, uniting them in the struggle for workers rule.