As is well-known, on Saturday, August 9, Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was brutally assaulted and tortured by members of the NYPD in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. In an extreme act of sexual sadism, two cops took Louima, who was handcuffed, to the bathroom of the police station. While one held him, the other pulled down his pants and shoved a toilet plunger into his rectum and then into his mouth, breaking several teeth. The cop is said to have walked through the precinct with the plunger in full view of the other cops there, boasting of what he had done. Louima is still in the hospital, suffering from severe internal injuries.
When the facts of the case were revealed 3 days later, Mayor Giuliani's administration went into full-scale damage control. Four of the cops who were directly involved were arrested and a "shake-up" of the precinct heads was announced. The two top officers were transferred, thus allowing them to oversee or "overlook" other acts of racist terror in other precincts, the desk sergeant was suspended, and several cops were placed on desk duty.
None of this has anything to do with any change in the position of total support of the police by the local ruling class. It was only based on their inability to deny or justify this outrageous crime. There is no way that the cops could claim that they were acting in self-defense, as they usually do. They also left the victim alive, with injuries that could come from nothing other than this extreme act of sexual torture.
Everyone knows that these acts of police terror are not isolated incidents. Just look at some of the recent cases of police killings: Danette "Strawberry" Daniels, a pregnant woman, who was shot in the head by a Newark cop in June while she was handcuffed in an unmarked police car; the murder of 18-year old Esequiel Hernandez in Texas in May by a special camouflaged marine unit working with the Border Patrol, the shooting of Kevin Cedeno in the back in Washington Heights in April, the murder of Nathaniel Gaines on a Bronx subway platform in July of 1996, the killing of Anthony Baez in the Bronx in December of 1994, to mention just a few of the most well-known cases.
There were equally outrageous cases in New York City under the former administration of liberal Mayor David Dinkins. We remember the shooting of Josť "Kiko" Garcia by police in Washington Heights in July of 1992, the murder of Dagoberto Pichardo, who was pushed off the roof by police during the subsequent rebellion, the death of Federico Pereira, who was beaten and choked by 5 cops in Queens in February of 1991, again to name just a few.
In almost all cases of police terror the cops are routinely exonerated, based on the most unbelievable tales of "self-defense." "He turned as if to shoot me," "he made a move under his coat," "I saw what I thought was the handle of a pistol" and so "I shot him" in the back. The cops are well-schooled in what to say before a grand jury or in open court, and they are so cynical that they have a special police term for this form of perjury: "testilying." Of course, this is all routinely accepted by the capitalist judicial system, the prosecutors and the judges.
In continuing its attempts at damage control, the administration has appointed a task force on police-community relations. This, like the previous commissions such as the Mollen Commission, will only serve for further cover-up. This commission is even explicitly designed to restore "community trust" in the police, rather than to reduce police terror.
While some members of the commission are open supporters of the current city administration and the police, other liberal members are there explicitly as fire fighters designed to douse the flames of the people's struggle. One member, Norman Siegel, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, concedes that it is not just "a few rotten apples" in the police department. He says that there are maybe 2,000 brutal cops out of 38,000, who need to be weeded out of the force. Siegel already played the role of fire fighter after the police murder of "Kiko" Garcia, when he called on residents at a community protest meeting to accept the verdict of the judicial system in the case (which was of course not to indict the police). The capitalist press in attendance gave full coverage to Siegel's remarks, while entirely ignoring the stories of several mothers there who told how their sons had been killed or otherwise brutalized by the police.
Besides the admissions of such liberals, others, particularly reformists in the African-American movement, such as Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, say openly that police brutality is pervasive throughout the country. Let us first be clear on one thing. The capitalist media only allows them to say this because this fact is already well-known to a large number of people. What these forces cannot do, however, is to provide any serious explanation of the reasons for police terror, nor any solution to it. Thus, they can only channel people's outrage back into meaningless measures, such as calls for more police sensitivity training and accountability, more Black cops, etc.
The Police are There to Suppress the Working People
All this talk of a few rotten apples, of a small group of brutal cops or even simply admitting the pervasiveness of police brutality only serves to cover up the actual role of the police in capitalist society. The purpose of the police is to suppress the workers and oppressed peoples, to keep them in their place. The capitalists want the poor people to fear the police, not to respect them, to jump when the cops say jump. That is why working people are not only subjected to petty harassment and indignities by the police on a daily basis, but also to acts of brutality. Only there must be some way to justify or deny these acts, to preserve appearances. Lenin wrote of a case of police murder in 1901 in tsarist Russia in which the police took a peasant who had been drinking to jail and, to "teach him a lesson," beat him before throwing him into a cell with other prisoners. Their only mistake was that they beat him so hard that he died, causing an investigation and minor sentences of the police involved. Lenin used as the title of the article the lesson that this sent to the police: "Beat, but not to Death!"
The great majority of cases of police terror are directed at members of the oppressed nationalities and immigrants. This is part of the special oppression that they face at the hands of the racist ruling class. The rulers also want to divide the white workers from the workers of the oppressed nationalities. But white workers are not immune from acts of police terror. For example, Patrick Phelan, an Irish immigrant, was shot by a drunken cop in the Bronx in January of 1996, and Paul Fava, a 20-year old white youth, was killed by a cop for jumping a subway turnstile in the Bronx in February of 1985. Moreover, the same police that carry out murder and other acts of brutality are used to put down striking workers. For example, during the recent UPS strike, dozens of workers across the country were arrested by police enforcing injunctions limiting picketing or escorting scab trucks through picket lines. It is the task of the multi-national working class to stand up against police terror. White workers must not think that they can stay away from this struggle because it "does not concern them."
|"In all bourgeois republics,
even the most democratic, the police (like the standing army) is the chief
instrument of oppression of the masses.... The police beats up the
"common people" in the police stations of New York, Geneva, and
Paris; it favours the capitalists either because it is bribed to do so
(America and other countries), or because it enjoys wealthy
"patronage" and "protection" (Switzerland), or because
of a combination of both (France). Separated as it is from the people,
forming a professional caste of men trained in the practice of violence
upon the poor, men who receive somewhat higher pay and the privileges that
go with authority (to say nothing of "gratuities"), the police
everywhere, in every republic, however democratic, where the bourgeoisie
is in power, always remains the unfailing weapon, the chief support and
protection of the bourgeoisie. No important radical reforms in
favour of the working masses can be implemented through the police. That
is objectively impossible.
"A people's militia instead of a police force and the standing army is a prerequisite of effective municipal reforms in the interests of the working people. At a time of revolution this prerequisite is practicable."
Lenin, They Have Forgotten the Main Thing, May 1917.
The police, in committing acts of terror and suppression, are merely carrying out the will of their capitalist masters. It is for this reason that we are opposed to attempts to "prettify" the role of the police, such as by new or improved "civilian police review boards." It is worth noting that of the 13 cops affected by the precinct shake-up, 10 (including all 4 of the cops arrested) had had previous complaints against them, the great majority for "excessive force." But New York's Civilian Complaint Review Board, established during the Dinkins administration, had not substantiated a single one of them.
Only Socialist Revolution Can Eliminate Police Terror
We call for the arrest, conviction and maximum sentencing of all the police involved in the acts of brutality against Abner Louima and all other victims of police terror. Only a massive and militant continuing movement among the workers and oppressed peoples, that follows up on these cases and keeps them in the public eye, can have any chance of forcing the capitalist courts to convict any of the police. There must also be movements of self-defense to prevent similar acts of brutality. Only the fear among the police that they will not be able to get away with such acts can in any way restrict these acts of brutality.
At the same time, we must point out that only through the socialist revolution and the liberation of the oppressed nations can police terror be eliminated. The working class must lead a revolution that will smash the capitalist state apparatus, which is a dictatorship of the capitalist exploiters. The workers must set up their own state, a dictatorship of the proletariat (working class) over the overthrows exploiters. This workers' state, based on workers' councils, would replace the hated police with a workers' militia, under the control of these councils. This dictatorship of the proletariat would continue the class struggle to the final elimination of classes, communism.
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