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Black Lives Matter: Pluralism in America Despite Dallas


Protests continued in major American cities over Wednesday’s police killing of Philando Castile in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge on Tuesday, both of which were recorded on video by witnesses. They continued despite the political backlash from the Republican right after the shooting of five policemen by a disturbed and apparently delusional African American individual during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas. As a sign held by protesters in St. Paul said: “When 5 cops die it’s tragic. When a Black man dies, we need more evidence.”

Behind the mounting toll of police killings of black Americans is the authorities’ intensified fear of the public. Mass shootings enabled by the NRA’s stance against regulation of weapon ownership – as in Orlando only three weeks ago – has stoked this tension; combined with racial profiling it has produced extreme over-reactions to people of color suspected of possessing guns.

White Americans’ fear of demographic change and loss of political power is echoed within the police, where it has merged with the increased authoritarianism of security forces to create paranoia. Trump and all the coded Republican rhetoric before him taps into this sentiment and legitimizes it.

In Baton Rouge on Saturday, according to the Washington Post, “At least 200 protesters massed outside of police headquarters and gathered on streets, holding their arms in the air and chanting, ‘Hands up, don’t shoot.’ One group of protesters joined in a song drawing back to protests generations earlier: ‘We Shall Overcome.’ Police – some in riot gear – moved in after ordering crowds to disperse.”

In St. Paul, the New York Times reported, demonstrators blocked a major highway for hours on Saturday night, after marching from the governor’s mansion “chanting refrains such as ‘We’re peaceful, y’all violent’ as the police urged them to leave. Officers struggled for more than four hours to disperse the crowd, at times deploying smoke and marking rounds in a standoff that stretched into early Sunday … Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said organizers scheduled [an earlier] march because ‘people are experiencing trauma after trauma after trauma as a result of what happened.’ Ms. Levy-Pounds said many African-Americans here had still been coming to terms with the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by the Minneapolis police in 2015 and the decision not to charge the officers involved.”

Baton Rouge activist Arthur Reed commented: “What we have here is acts of violence by the police department that is being passed down and all of them are being justified. That’s not just in Baton Rouge, that’s in America period. … what you see right here is that these communities are actually fed up with this. They are sick and tired of seeing this happen to their loved ones. And at the end of the day, we look at a backlash because we look at the violence that’s taking place in our community.”

On Thursday in Oakland, California, more than 1,000 people blocked an interstate for hours, hundreds more marched in Denver, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. More than 40 people were arrested amidst a massive march in New York City. One of the protesters told Democracy Now: “I’m sick of waking up and seeing that there’s another black man or person of color … killed or gunned down by the hands of law enforcement, or in police custody, and with no explanation. I can’t handle anymore. I woke up this morning, I checked my Instafeed, and I said, didn’t we just do this yesterday? … I’m not demanding that we get special treatment. I’m demanding that we get the treatment that every other person gets, especially white people.”

Hollywood personalities like Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams joined the denunciations. In a powerful speech at the Black Entertainment awards he said: “what we’ve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm and not kill white people everyday. So what’s going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.” Beyonce said in a message: “We’re going to stand up as a community and fight against anyone who believes that murder or any violent action by those who are sworn to protect us should consistently go unpunished.”

In downtown Dallas after the shootings dispersed the demonstration, “officers asked an African-American man wearing a bulletproof vest to walk toward them. The man slowly approached with his hands up, and a crowd of onlookers became angry and shouted and cursed at the police. An officer had his gun pointed at a black woman, and many in the crowd quickly began filming the scene with their cellphones. The tension eased as people in the crowd chanted, ‘Black lives matter’.”

The growing political assertiveness of African Americans and other minorities collides with the attempts of the police to enforce the racial and class hierarchy. The authoritarianism of the police affects all Americans, especially African, Latino and Native Americans. But the obvious racial dimension to the shootings undermines the assertion of legal color-blindness that is integral to sustaining white privilege.

The Black Lives Matter movement is giving political direction and cohesiveness to the protests. In Washington, DC, protesting outside the White House on Friday, student Jennifer Jones said: “I feel like we as a people should not go out and kill off police officers or cops who are killing off our people, because then we’re becoming them. I don’t want to become the oppressor. I don’t want to become the enemy. I don’t want to become the murderer.”

What people are reacting to is the fact that even when police killings are captured by witnesses on video, there are no legal sanctions on the officers involved. This sets the justice system and the public on a collision course. Justice has to be seen to be done: there must be convictions of police officers who kill suspects without cause.

Political commentator Josh Marshall questioned if these killings threatened America’s “communal and inter-communal bonds.” One of his readers pointed out, however, that the Yemeni-born Muslim man who owns the store outside which Alton Sterling was shot, who had recorded the killing on his cellphone, was held in high esteem in his largely African American neighborhood. The Baton Rouge Advocate reported: “Regular customer Tanisha Johnson said that in her experience, not every business owner is patient with his local clientele. But [Abdullah] Muflahi … cared enough about a regular to secure and distribute a recording that could be instrumental in helping authorities determine whether or not officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II are criminally liable in Sterling’s death. … ‘They’ve allowed me to become a part of this community, … and I wanted to stand for Alton,’ Muflahi said. ‘We just need to stick together — no matter what race we are, no matter where we are from’.”

This pluralistic sentiment is as much a part of American culture as nativist anxieties, and is the foundation for a movement to defeat Donald Trump in November’s presidential elections, much more powerful than the corporate commonplaces of Hillary Clinton.

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Filed under African Americans, aggressive policing, Black Lives Matter, latino americans, Uncategorized

Obama’s Last State of the Union: A Flight of Fancy Dedicated to a Neoliberal Presidency


Obama made his final State of the Union speech last week a rhetorical rebuke to Trump and other Republican presidential contenders. He deprecated the fear being generated against immigrants and minorities, especially Muslims: “Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people?” he asked.

But he showed himself singularly insensible to the actual political struggles of his presidency when he bemoaned the fact he had not been able to achieve bipartisanship in the manner of Lincoln. His failure to grasp the social roots of Republican intransigence parallels his misjudgment of the contribution of his own neoliberal administration to the cynicism Americans feel about government. Trump is able to capitalize on this feeling together with the decline of the American Dream to win support from working-class whites by imagining a new “greatness” for America based on racist attacks and demagogic threats of military force.

Obama himself boasted of US military prowess and the killing of Osama bin Laden in his speech, essentially coopting Republican rhetoric. As Roberto Lovado commented in Alternet: “Democrats have either coded and softened the right-wing message and politics of decline (i.e. Obama and the Dems standing up for Syrian refugee children while simultaneously jailing and deporting thousands of Central American refugee children) or simply not offered the kind of unifying narrative that appeals to the solidarity between working-class whites and other non-white working-class groups.”

The fears that Obama hoped to counter don’t grow out of nothing. Trump’s supporters “feel marginalized economically, politically, and socially … [but] their concerns for our future have led to an overwhelming need to see all of our problems as someone else’s fault,” writes Kaddie Abdul, who went to a Trump rally in her hijab to engage his followers in a dialog. “The people who used to be Tea Partiers, who supported Michelle Bachmann or Sarah Palin or any one of a number of politicians who’ve used this rhetoric before Trump – aren’t going to go away. Whether Trump wins or loses, his supporters will still be out there, longing for another leader to ‘make America great again’.”

His indifference to the social protests that have arisen during his presidency – Occupy Wall Street, the struggle against police shootings of black youth, the Fight for 15 campaign of low-paid workers, the Chicago teachers strike, the DREAM movement – and his detachment from the causes of the protests was expressed in his abstract sermonizing that: “democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.”

Black Lives Matter founder Alicia Garza commented: “The thing that I think was glaringly missing from the conversation last night was really the conversation around not just gun violence broadly, although that is a major issue in our country, but police violence as it relates to black communities … many people who have been involved in this movement certainly wanted to hear President Obama, possibly the last black president in our country’s history, really talk about what’s going on in black communities specifically … about what kinds of proposals are on the table to ensure that black people can live full lives in this country like everyone else.”

Obama’s leadership failed because he was constitutionally incapable of harnessing the social coalition that elected him in 2008. Once elected, he uncoupled from this mass movement and appointed a cabinet dominated by Wall Street insiders and neoliberals, leading to political capitulation over banking regulation and healthcare reform, and an inability to control the workings of the vast federal bureaucracy. The net effect was that he did little to shield the most vulnerable Americans from predatory capitalism.

In his speech he appropriated the language of Martin Luther King to argue for a corporatist version of politics. “Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino … but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word – voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. They’re out there, those voices … I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages to keep him on board.” This flight of fantasy only has a basis in workers clocking extra shifts because they fear the closure of their plants and losing their jobs as part of America’s industrial decline, not out of brotherly love for their bosses.

But while the social movement Obama energized in 2008 may have dissipated as a political force, it has morphed into many other forms of resistance. In particular, the American labor movement is not dead. Although major strikes are infrequent, thanks to repressive legislation, when they do take place they are solid. For example, workers at Wisconsin’s Kohler Company stayed out picketing for over a month at the end of last year after a 94% strike vote against a two-tier wage system that gave younger workers 35% less than those on the top tier. They won an increase in the lower wage to $15 an hour; older workers on the picket lines said they were expressing their solidarity for the younger generation.

The Chicago Teachers’ Union has also voted overwhelmingly to strike if necessary, for the second time in three years. In 2012, the discredited Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, also exploited civil rights rhetoric to cover a neoliberal push to force give-backs from the teachers. As Shaun Richman notes, the public on the other hand “overwhelmingly viewed the CTU as striking for the common good. Partly, this was thanks to two years of deep and meaningful community organizing and partnerships that the union diligently pursued knowing there would likely be a strike. And partly, this was thanks to the union bargaining for school resources demands that resonated beyond just their membership.”

The Fight for 15 is another sign of growing resistance. Richman argues: “Some have dismissed the series of rolling one-day strikes for increases in the minimum wage and organizing rights as mere P.R. stunts. But there is something deeply radical and significant at play here. Workers who don’t even technically have a union are proving their value—and their power—to their bosses by withholding their labor. … The great potential of Fight for 15 is that unorganized workers see reflections of themselves in the strikers and begin to fantasize about what a job action could look like at their workplace.”

Obama’s legacy is a disappointment to many who voted for him, but there is a potential for Bernie Sanders to energize the kind of political excitement that Obama did in 2008. While Hillary Clinton is tied by her umbilical cord to Wall Street, Sanders is getting major support for his anti-corporate message. He still has to reach many voters in the south, however, although his willingness to take on board actual movements of dissent is a huge positive. And as his poll numbers rise, he will get more exposure to potential supporters who would respond to his call for universal healthcare and free higher education.

Whether or not he succeeds in becoming the Democratic presidential candidate, his campaign has connected with the same kind of anti-oligarchic sentiment as did Occupy Wall Street. The hunger for real hope and change is stronger than ever.

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Filed under Bernie Sanders, Fight for 15, Neoliberalism, Obama, Rahm Emanuel, Uncategorized

Bold Expansion of Fight for $15 Campaign as it Challenges Presidential Hopefuls


Fight for 15 protesters outside the Republican primary debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday

Fight for 15 protesters outside the Republican primary debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday

The political process in America has become dominated by a clash between the power of big money in elections on one hand, and a deep-seated public hostility to the sway that corporations and the rich wield over government on the other, a clash intensified by the rampant growth of inequality while wages remain stagnant.

At the same time, the racial hierarchy is challenged by minority youth who are no longer prepared to accept being treated as second-class citizens by the authorities and the police. In the universities, the self-assertion of a new generation of students is an important reflection of this social change. African American students at the University of Missouri this week forced two top officials to resign over their lack of response to racist incidents on campus, and the dean of Claremont McKenna College in California also resigned amid similar protests. At Ithaca College in New York State, thousands of students, faculty and staff walked out demanding the sacking of the college president. The protesters accuse him of responding inadequately to racist incidents, including one where an African-American graduate was repeatedly called a “savage” by two white male alumni.

Meanwhile the Fight for $15 campaign is having an impact on the political dialog as it expresses growing discontent over low wages across the racial divide. Its under-reported day of action on Tuesday mobilized thousands of fast food workers who struck their jobs in 270 cities, joining many thousands more who marched on local city halls to demand that political candidates support an increase in the minimum wage if they want the workers’ votes.

Developments like this disconcert white Republicans, whose anger is driven by resentment at the loss of white privilege as well as distrust of government. But the rise of populism in the electorate coincides with skepticism that the leaders of either party can do anything to halt the slide in living standards or jobs. This is why the Republican rank and file is paradoxically supporting outlier candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson in the presidential primaries rather than the establishment contenders. Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz noted that “a sense of anger” at the decline of the American middle class is common to both Republicans and Democrats, but “the problem is that on the Republican side there’s anger, but it’s basically inchoate.”

Whether or not Trump continues to lead the polls, he has brought to the fore a major gulf between the Republican establishment’s policies and its ageing constituency. His slogans and demeanor resonate with voters like Steve Trivett, a newspaper editor in Florida. who told the Washington Post: “When America was great, our economy was strong. Our economy’s been shipped off to other countries. Can Donald Trump solve that? Hell, I don’t know. Somebody not as flamboyant or egomaniacal might be more effective, but I’m not sure anybody can bring us back. At least Trump gets things done.”

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich was surprised to find that many Tea Partiers and Republicans he met on a recent book tour of the Southern states agreed with his critique of capitalism. “Most condemned what they called ‘crony capitalism,’ by which they mean big corporations getting sweetheart deals from the government because of lobbying and campaign contributions,” he said. “They see Trump as someone who’ll stand up for them – a countervailing power against the perceived conspiracy of big corporations, Wall Street, and big government.” While conservative leaders want to cut Social Security and Medicare, a majority of Republican voters, along with the rest of the public, wants to keep them funded or even expanded.

Ironically, this is a major plank of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders’ platform, along with opposition to corporate control of the political process, but while he has succeeded in pushing Hillary Clinton into a more populist position, his message of defending middle class living standards is not reaching many African Americans and Latinos who in the main have historically been excluded from the middle class and instinctively turn to a stronger federal government for protection, which they identify with the Clinton dynasty.

In support of the Fight for 15 day of action, Sanders joined employees of federal contractors who gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday instead of reporting for work and then staged sit-ins at government building cafeterias. Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton tweeted that low-wage workers’ actions are “changing our country for the better.” Predictably, when Republican politicians were asked if they supported a higher minimum wage during Tuesday’s televised debate, they all replied no. But the fact the question was asked at all was due to the presence of hundreds of Fight for 15 protesters outside the Milwaukee venue. After the debate, the Fight for $15 sent out a text message to supporters: “BREAKING: Donald Trump just said: ‘Wages are too high.’ #Fightfor15 response: See you in Nov 2016.”

The core of the Fight for 15 movement is fast food workers who are overwhelmingly black and Latino, but on Tuesday they were joined by FedEx freight handlers, T-Mobile retail employees, Price Rite retail employees, auto part workers and farm workers, as well as employees of federal contractors, home-care and child-care workers and other low-wage workers.

Significantly, the campaign has expanded further into the anti-union deep South and has taken on board the police killing of African Americans and immigration rights. For the first time, protesters in Selma, Alabama and in Gainesville and Tallahassee, Florida, joined the walkouts, together with workers in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. Letisha Irby, who works at a factory making car seats for Hyundai in Selma, Alabama, drove 76 miles after her shift to join a protest in Tuscaloosa. She only makes $12 an hour after working at the plant for 10 years. Irby is a supporter of the United Auto Workers, who have been trying to organize her plant in Selma and have so far not succeeded.

In Chicago, Fight for 15 protesters marched to police headquarters calling for the firing of Dante Servin, the officer who shot and killed 22-year-old Rekia Boyd three years ago. And in Manhattan, Juan Sanchez reported that “leaders of the Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights movements joined ranks in a united front with Fight for 15. Their placards proclaimed the new alliance’s slogan: ‘Economic Justice = Racial Justice = Immigrant Justice.’ ‘Black Lives Matter and Fight for $15 should be united because in both cases it’s largely about minority people,’ Shawnette Richardson, 43, said.” Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, linked the campaign against police abuse to the Fight for 15, noting it was time to “make the politicians pay attention.”

The convergence of the campaign against low wages with the Black Lives Matter and immigrant rights movements has provoked a rethink of the relation between economic and political struggles. In These Times editor David Moberg commented: “Although SEIU, which has helped to finance the Fight for $15, has been a strong advocate of immigrant and black workers’ causes, it has also—like most unions—seen economic issues as a route to solidarity among workers of all racial or ethnic heritages. But the explosion of concern in black communities over police practices—from profiling to abuse of force—has produced pressure on a group like Fight for $15 to take on a broader agenda. It is also prompting SEIU to examine more deeply how to win white workers’ support for these hot-button issues for its black members, whether it’s crime in their neighborhoods or police misconduct.”

Such a project marks a major expansion of the campaign’s horizons. It could form the nucleus of a new political movement that transcends existing racial and cultural divisions.

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Filed under Black Lives Matter, donald trump, Fight for 15, republican primaries, seiu

Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter Trump the Billionaires


The Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders has been drawing huge crowds wherever he goes – more than 100,000 people in recent weeks – and is tapping into Democrats’ frustration with the Obama presidency and the corporate control of government. Sanders is campaigning on issues that actually affect most Americans, such as defending social security, ending student debt, and restoring regulations on bankers.

This is a much more important phenomenon than Donald Trump’s standing in the Republican primaries, something that obsesses the mainstream media. Trump’s success is due entirely to the fact that he knows how to speak directly to the Republican base that is cheering on his unabashedly xenophobic billionaire egotism. His open contempt for the broken political system resonates with their feelings of resentment.

What is more important than the personal attributes of either man is the social movements they are energizing. Sanders’ supporters are in the main white liberals, and his presidential campaign has collided on a number of occasions with Black Lives Matter activists demanding recognition of the issue of police violence. After his speech at Networks Nation was interrupted, another speech of his was shut down at a rally in Seattle. While Sanders himself, to his credit, has taken on board many of the activists’ criticisms, his Seattle audience was not as receptive to their message. They attempted to drown out the activists with chants of “All lives matter,” “We stand together” and “Which side are you on?” As well as their discomfort at Sanders’ speech being curtailed, their rejection embodies a long-held social-democratic view that economic issues are more essential than the fight against racism.

According to the Seattle Times: “Some in the largely white audience booed and chanted for protesters to let the senator talk. A few yelled for police to make arrests. Marissa Johnson, one of the protesters, shot back, ‘I was going to tell Bernie how racist this city is, filled with its progressives, but you did it for me,’ accusing the audience of ‘white supremacist liberalism’.” The Stranger blog continued the story: “More vocal members of the crowd began booing in response to Johnson. Johnson spoke through the heckling, welcoming Bernie to the town of Seattle, where ‘white supremacist liberalism’ prevails. She called for four-and-a-half minutes of silence in honor of Michael Brown. … After some more booing, the crowd again silenced itself. During the silence, people screamed ‘Bernie matters,’ and ‘all lives matter’.”

Gerald Hankerson, president of the Seattle NAACP, said he was surprised at how hostile some in the liberal crowd were to the protesters. “I know they were there to hear Bernie, but what was missed was the message of these two women,” he said. “I would have loved to have seen Bernie respond to what they wanted.”

After the event, Sanders said he was “disappointed” at the disruption, but at a later rally that day announced the hiring of a new press secretary, Symone Sanders, a Black Lives Matter supporter. She said they had discussed the issue of racial inequality and she suggested to him “racial inequality and economic inequality are parallel issues,” a theme he took up in later press statements and a racial justice manifesto.

Brooklyn-based writer Syreeta McFadden commented in the Guardian: “Arguably, Sanders was less of the target of the message from the Netroots and Seattle Black Lives Matter protesters than were his supporters and their professed allyship. Those Seattle supporters, for instance, proceeded to prove the protesters’ point when they produced a counter chant to drown out the message from possible and probable future BLM protests at Sanders rallies.”

Jennifer Roesch, an activist with the International Socialist Organization, has made a serious attempt at a Marxist analysis of the way race and class intersect. She writes that the idea that racial inequality is a symptom of economic equality “fails to capture the dynamics by which capitalism was established in the United States and by which it is sustained. … Racism and capitalism grew up together in America [on the foundation of slavery] and cannot be separated from one another. Racism is not merely a product of economic inequality, but also part of how that inequality is produced and maintained.”

“Fighting economic inequality is insufficient — any challenge to capital has to be coupled with race-specific demands for reform,” she continues. “Mass incarceration, police violence, and resegregation have devastated black communities, and have to be understood as a corollary to a ruling-class program of austerity designed to permanently lower the standard of living in this country. But to analyze this relationship merely as cause (austerity) and symptom (racism and police violence) is to miss the ways in which racism and repression are indispensable parts of the ruling-class project.”

White leftists have a clear responsibility to engage with the issues that black activists raise, rather than rejecting them as disrupters. At the same time, there is a danger of making the campaign for social and economic justice a black-white issue. Angelo Falcón, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, told Al-Jazeera: “No matter how much people talk about how multicultural things are and how diverse they are, it seems to revert to black and white … How the hell do you break through that black-white way of looking at policy issues?”

The extension of police powers after 9/11 has empowered local forces to follow militaristic strategies of containing protest, encouraged by the open perversions of the rule of law perpetrated by the Bush administration. This is something that imperils all citizens. The Latino community in California, for example, also faces militarized policing. In Anaheim, “there were at least seven killings (by police) between 2011 and 2012,” said Gabriel San Roman, a writer for OC Weekly. Five were Latinos. On the three-year anniversary of the riots following the police shootings of two young Latino men in the town, unlike the large protests in Ferguson on the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death, politicians and protest groups have ignored the community.

Roesch argues: “For socialists, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement is one of the most important developments in recent years. It has exposed the depths of racism in this country, has brought tens of thousands of people — mainly black, but also white — into the streets, and has politicized millions more.”

She points out the challenges this poses for activists, stressing the need to find ways “to bring these struggles together with the social power of the working class.” However, the working class’s social power has been reduced considerably with the decline of the organized labor movement. What is needed today is the building of a pluralist and inclusive movement that confronts the reality of the racial hierarchy underpinning corporatized state power, while recognizing the right of minority groups to organize in their own way.

As I maintained in a previous post, “there is a connection between the fight for a living wage, the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle for immigrant workers’ rights: new coalitions of people and new forms of resistance are possible at their intersection.”

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The Death of Sandra Bland: Her Life Matters


A historic conference of Black Lives Matter activists took place last weekend in the midst of daily police killings of unarmed people of color. Over 1,000 activists from groups including Ferguson Action, Black Youth Project 100, and Baltimore United for Change traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to raise national attention to police brutality, immigration rights, economic justice and LGBTQ rights. The conference ended, almost symbolically, in a videoed confrontation between activists and transit police who had arrested a black 14-year-old.

According to the Washington Post, “a transit police officer in the city turned a can of pepper spray on a mostly African American crowd that had gathered as authorities were placing an intoxicated teen into a patrol car.” Conference participant Destinee Hinton said: “They begin to form a barricade around the car urging the police to let the young man go but they wouldn’t and when they were linking arms and doing chants one of the police officers began pepper spraying the whole line.”

Ever since 9/11, police departments have been showered with military hardware and trained to use lethal force as a first resort, leading to more and more cases of unjustified killings of unarmed people, most visibly African Americans. The resistance to these killings has begun to undermine the legitimacy of state violence and has also exposed the extent to which state power is founded on racial terror: for example, The Intercept revealed that the Department of Homeland Security was monitoring gatherings of people in mainly black neighborhoods, confirming the fear of state forces that black militancy will subvert the foundation of their authority. The growth of a multiracial society and erosion of white privilege is a tectonic shift that has created tremors at the base of the US state, fracturing the racial hierarchy that underpinned social relations.

The conference followed a week of protests across the country, beginning with the anniversary of Eric Garner’s death, followed by demonstrations calling for justice for Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail after being arrested at a traffic stop, as well as other black women including Kindra Chapman, an 18-year-old found dead in her jail cell in Alabama a day after Sandra Bland died, Joyce Curnell in Charleston and Ralkina Jones in Ohio, both found dead in their cells in the same week. Sam Dubose was shot down in Cincinnati during a routine traffic stop by a university police officer, who has been charged with his murder.

What happened to Sandra Bland is a microcosm of the social dynamic between police and African Americans. She was close to arriving at a new job at the historically black university Prairie View A&M in Texas, from where she graduated, and driving along University Drive. State trooper Brian Encinia was traveling in the opposite direction. When he saw her, he made a U-turn and sped up behind her vehicle.

She moved to the right lane to let him pass, but did so without signaling. Encinia turned on his lights – automatically triggering audio recording – and approached her car. At this point the interaction was strained, but civil. He checked out her license in his vehicle, and returning with a warning ticket written out, he saw something in her demeanor that told him she was not passively compliant. He asks why she seemed irritated. “I am, I really am,” she replied, “because I feel like it’s crap is what I’m getting a ticket for, I was getting out of your way, you were speeding up, tailing me so I moved over and you stopped me so yeah, I am a little irritated but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket, so.”

At this point, Encinia dismisses her statement with a curt “Are you done?” He deliberately escalates the confrontation by instructing her to put out her cigarette and she challenges his right to do this. He then ordered her out of her car, threatens to use his taser, shouting “I will light you up,” and arrested her after throwing her onto the ground.

The root cause of the confrontation was the clash between her consciousness of her constitutional rights and Encinia’s need to establish his authority by claiming physical dominance through intimidation.

Whatever happened in Sandra’s cell, she was transformed from an empowered young black woman and social activist to a victim of a Kafkaesque legal nightmare, needing $500 to make bail and possibly facing the loss of her job opportunity due to her arrest.

Her life should be respected in a way the authorities did not; Black Lives Matter activists were therefore justified in challenging Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley at the Netroots Nation conference to address the crisis of police violence. Protesters took over Sanders’ Q&A session, shouting “black lives matter,” and “say her name,” until he grew visibly frustrated.

The Washington Post reported: “Sanders threatened to leave the stage as demonstrators demanded that he repeat the name of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in a Texas jail cell this month. Then he canceled a series of meetings he had scheduled with some of the activists following his appearance.” In a later appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Sanders continued to cast the challenges minorities faced as primarily economic, again pointing to his lifelong support for the civil rights movement. According to CNN, “He pointed to soaring unemployment figures for young African-Americans, and blamed an ‘unsustainable level of income and wealth inequality’.”

Activist Patrisse Cullors told Democracy Now: “[The intervention] was about challenging the notion that there’s only the lens of the economic justice agenda … They were unable to really listen to the needs of the Black Lives Matter protesters.” Alicia Garza added: “There is nothing separate about wages from black life and the survival of black people than police violence and police terrorism … Police violence is the tip of the iceberg when it relates to the conditions overall of black people across the globe.”

While Sanders was slow to recognize the new dimension of the struggle against police brutality – although in his video-streamed house party on Wednesday he was upfront in attacking the institutional racism that led to Sandra Bland’s death and called for police reform – the intervention of the activists succeeded in changing the political dialog, to the fury of right-wing Fox TV pundits like Bill O’Reilly.

The protests in Ferguson showed all too well that the militarization of increasingly trigger-happy police forces across the country is a danger not only to African Americans, who are the most visibly targeted, but to Americans of all ethnicities. Police abuse of power affects everyone – and video of these abuses has affected all sections of society. As a Ferguson demonstrator said last year: “It’s not a racial thing. It’s a police thing. It’s America against the police.”

In the US, class and ethnicity are fused in a complex set of social markers. For example, well-heeled Cuban-Americans in Miami are much less likely to be stopped and shot than working-class Latinos in Anaheim, California, where unarmed Manuel Diaz was shot dead in 2012 while running away from police. The forces of law and order function to keep the rich safe from the poor – and brownness and blackness are perceived as markers of poverty and criminality. The huge transfer of wealth from the poor to super-wealthy billionaires has only exacerbated this tension.

Economic struggle, like the union-backed Fight for 15, doesn’t supersede the political struggle for racial equality and social justice. However, there is a connection between the fight for a living wage, the Black Lives Matter movement and the struggle for immigrant workers’ rights: new coalitions of people and new forms of resistance are possible at their intersection. That’s why Sandra Bland’s life matters.

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Filed under African Americans, aggressive policing, anaheim protests, death of sandra bland, Ferguson, Fight for 15