On the Black Lives Matter Movement

by Ralph Keller

This is a story of sadness and pain, but also of hope. It is a story of courage, self-organisation and turning the tables on racism. It is about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the US, its struggle to combat white supremacy and its achievements, and about support for the movement world over.
I start with a list of the continuing police killings and murders of black people in the US. I then discuss the continuing BLM resistance, including the connection between police brutality and the January 6 insurrection. Finally, I offer some thoughts on what might be next for BLM.

Brooklyn, New York, May 30, 2020. Credit: MHI
The Police Continue to Kill Black People in the US
I start with a list of people who were shot dead by US police during the last decade. The sources of the list Al-Jazeera as well as various other news sources. It is by no means an exhaustive list.
Tyre Nichols, age 29. Memphis, Tennessee, 2023.

This case stands out because Tyre was beaten to death by five black policemen.

Amir Locke, age 22. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2022.
Miles Jackson, age 27. Columbus, Ohio, 2021.
Andrew Teague, age 43. Columbus, Ohio. 2021.
Ma’Khia Bryant, age 16. Columbus, Ohio, 2021.
Winston Smith, age 32. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2021.
Daunte Wright, age 20. Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2021.
Casey Goodson Jr., age 23. Columbus, Ohio, 2020.
Andre Hill, age 47. Columbus, Ohio, 2020.
Manuel Ellis, age 33. Tacoma, Washington, 2020.
Rayshard Brooks, age 27. Atlanta, Georgia, 2020.
Daniel Prude, age 41. Rochester, New York, 2020.
George Floyd, age 46. Minneapolis, Minnesota, May 25, 2020.
Breonna Taylor, age 26. Louisville, Kentucky, 2020.
Atatiana Jefferson, age 28. Fort Worth, Texas, 2019.
Stephon Clark, age 22. Sacramento, California, 2018.
Bontham Jean, age 26. Dallas, Texas, 2018.
Philando Castile, age 32. Falcon Heights, Minnesota, 2016.
Alton Sterling, age 37. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2016.
Freddy Gray, age 25. Baltimore, Maryland, 2015.
Janisha Fonville, age 20. Charlotte, North Carolina, 2015.
Eric Garner, age 43. Staten Island, New York, 2014.
Aura Rosser, age 40. Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2014.
Michelle Cusseaux, age 50. Phoenix, Arizona, 2014.
Aki Gurley, age 28. Brooklyn, New York, 2014.
Gabriella Nevarez, age 22. Sacramento, California, 2014.
Tamir Rice, age 12. Cleveland, Ohio, 2014.

Tamir was shot in the playground within seconds of the police arriving. The perpetrators were given only a 10-day suspension, and one of them was eventually fired for discrepancies on his job application! There were no other consequences for killing a child.

Michael Brown, age 18. Ferguson, Missouri, 2014.
Tanisha Anderson, age 37. Cleveland, Ohio, 2014.

An apologetic cartoon. Credit: Unknown

The apologetic cartoon above was sent to me on WhatsApp. Because it angered me, I pointed out to the sender that good cops within the system do not make the system any less brutal and white supremacist, and do not bring back the lives lost. I was treated with silence, as one might have guessed.
Trying to explain the situation, is it as simple as saying that bad cops play judge, jury and executioner—on the spot? And is it as simple as saying that these cops are nothing but dangerous, state-sanctioned, thugs? It would not be wrong to make these points. However, one might expect this superficial thinking from those on the left who do not grasp the heart of the matter. That is, policing in the US works as it is intended to work, as a system of racism deeply rooted in white supremacy. Let us now take a closer look.

Continuing Protests of BLM Against Police Killings and the Unusual Prosecutions
For a long time, police in the US got away with murder, literally. If there were any consequences at all, policemen were suspended, forced to take desk jobs, demoted or dismissed from the force. These penalties are blatantly disproportionate to the crime of on-duty police killing a person. The BLM movement has made great progress on that front, as Radio Free Humanity Episode #43 notes, and we now see a greater number of convictions in court, including murder sentences. And, importantly, we also see a break in the “blue wall of silence.” These are BLM achievements, which—make no mistake—were made possible because of some freedoms of liberal democracy enjoyed by all, irrespective of race. That is, the right to protest in conjunction with the freedom to film the police in public. Amateur filming helped, for example, to indict and sentence Derek Chauvin, the on-duty police officer found guilty of murdering George Floyd.
Against the backdrop of resisting police brutality in the US, MHI’s statement “‘Black Lives Matter’ and the Vanguard Role of Black Masses Today” was written at the height of the BLM movement, in January 2021. It places BLM in a historic context and makes its achievements explicit. The statement is as important today as it was then, especially because others on the left have failed to grasp the historic importance of BLM. Here are the key points that MHI made.
The BLM movement “is totally new, unprecedented, for a mass struggle for racial justice in the US to be multiracial. … But the BLM uprising is the first moment in US history in which massive numbers of whites have actively participated in a struggle for racial justice.” And “the foremost achievement of the new, mass stage of the BLM movement is its own multiracial working existence”. This statement not only recognises that the movement actually existed, but also that BLM captured active support from white people at an unprecedented scale: “Between 15 million and 26 million people protested, making the BLM uprising the largest protest movement in US history.”
Moreover, the importance of standing shoulder-to-shoulder is that: “In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.” These are Marx’s words in Capital Volume I, and the BLM movement has overcome this obstacle.
MHI’s statement further noted that the achievements of BLM included:
● The movement has not let up.
● The movement is not only interracial; it quickly became international as well. In the UK for example, BLM activists recently protested the fatal shooting of 24-year-old unarmed black man, Chris Kaba, on September 5, 2022.
● The movement won a number of victories in the accelerated fight to remove Confederate statues and other symbols of the Confederacy.
● The movement has begun to shift the “Overton window” with regard to attitudes toward police, the funding of police departments, and acknowledgement that racism is a systemic problem, not reducible to prejudice of individuals.
● The movement has won many small, “first-step,” victories against police violence, that is, harsher sentences in stark contrast from “merely being fired for shooting a black person”.
Minneapolis took the world’s centre stage, when protesters set the third precinct on fire on May 28, 2020. “Not only were the police shown not to be invincible, but a sophisticated understanding of the police was articulated in the collective action of the Minneapolis proletariat.” For a brief moment in history, the protesters had turned the tables. They were in charge, they were free from police oppression—proving that a world without the cops was not only possible, but this world actually existed. And all of this was achieved through self-organisation without intermediaries or elected representatives.
Yet BLM also recognised that “[t]he [police] system was designed for white supremacy. The system was designed perfectly. We need…a new one.” However, the police are willing to fight to maintain their funding and power, for which they can count on the support of councils, committees and local government. The result is that, although BLM demanded a defunding of the police, and Minneapolis’ city council pledged to defund it, the reality is that police funding actually increased. This was the case although a veto-proof majority existed to defund the Minneapolis police department. This could be seen as a defeat for the BLM movement. Yet it has shown, rather strikingly, that only a complete uprooting of the current system will bring lasting change.

Are the Police Killings and the January 6 Insurrection Connected?
Making explicit the common ground between police murders and the January 6, 2022, insurrection seems a straightforward affair: both killers within the ranks of the police and the mob that stormed the Capitol were armed. But surely it cannot be that simple, because not all who stormed the Capitol brought guns. Could it be, then, that there is a shared belief in conspiracy theories, such as the QAnon cult? Again, not all insurrectionists believe in that cult, nor do all the cops who have killed black people. Even if these beliefs were widely shared, that would be a weak reason for the killings and the insurrection. Could it be, instead, that the insurrectionists were looking for something better to eat, so that the motivation was economic distress? Hardly, considering who the insurrectionists were; they were not people in economic distress. Was it a riot, as Jacobin, for example, claims? That argument is just left apologism, which plays down what actually went down.
There must be another, substantially stronger, reason that connects the insurrectionists and the police killers. Radio Free Humanity Episode #60, titled “The Jan. 6 Fascist Insurrectionists: Enemy of Jacobin’s Enemy”, critically reviews, and provides an alternative to, the soft-on-fascist-insurrection discourse of Jacobin writers. More specifically, the Radio Free Humanity (RFH) episode critiques Jacobin’s sympathy for those insurrectionists that face prosecution although they were not “personally violent.” Furthermore, it critiques Jacobin’s foregrounding of insurrectionist’s “anti-government” sentiment and alleged economic distress, while Jacobin conceals the racism, xenophobia, and “great replacement” thinking that motivates the insurrectionists. The episode then points out that Jacobin authors draw a facile comparison between the January 6 insurrection and radical protest, thereby shifting the blame to “neoliberalism” and the Democratic Party.
Clearly, Jacobin have descended into left apologism. The heart of the matter is, instead, that the main theme uniting the insurrection and the police killings is white supremacism. Its motivation, as discussed in the RFH episode, is the great-replacement hypothesis. This is the belief, shared by white supremacists, that members of the non-white race are here to replace the withes. In short, “great replacement” is the common ground that police shooters and the January 6 insurrectionists share.
The discussion in the RFH episode then proceeds to asking whether a criterion exists that predicts whether someone subscribes to the great-replacement hypothesis. This criterion exists indeed; it is racial resentment, which itself is rooted in the belief that white people have special privileges, are somehow entitled to enjoying more freedoms, and are entitled to wielding power over non-whites. This lies at the heart of the matter.
Based on that analysis, US white supremacy and its violence, and hence US right-wing authoritarianism, clearly are a reactionary fightback against the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. In addition, the oppression, as well as the ongoing bullying and harassment of immigrants, are an attempt to maintain white supremacy. The aim is to cement Republican power in the face of demographic changes that swing the electorate away from white supremacism.
White supremacy is so pervasive in the US today that it has taken root with many on the left, for example with the Platypus Affiliated Society. One of their founding members, Spencer Leonard, claimed that Kyle Rittenhouse, the killer of two BLM protesters, should be excused because he had the right to self-defence—although this claim does not hold up in light of the evidence surrounding the shooting. And yet, according to Leonard, white supremacism should be excused, even to the point of murder. Indeed, Rittenhouse was acquitted in his trial, in no small part because of the judge’s racist application of the law. Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) and RFH will continue to fight racism and apologetic thinking, unwaveringly and unapologetically.

What is Next for BLM?
Although BLM has had great successes and it had qualitatively advanced the fight against US capitalism’s unique form of oppression, it has not succeeded in dislodging the brutality of white supremacism. The question therefore arises: Should BLM should keep going the way it has? Will sustained action, at great personal cost, eventually bring cops, councils and committees to account?
One obstacle that needs to be overcome is the cycle in which the movement dies down and surges up again. But even if it is overcome, practical activity, on its own, will be insufficient. Indeed, we have already seen that it is insufficient. An indication that some people in and around BLM have been captured is the movement’s reliance on elected representatives and bourgeois politics, which has become the movement’s greatest liability. In the city of Minneapolis, for example, we have seen the emergence of an armed militia that recruits its members from within BLM’s own ranks. Moreover, the city’s mayor, Jacob Frey, seeks to control the militia, for example by urging the police to return confiscated guns as quickly as possible. This is clearly an attempt to replace city policing with policing by armed militia. It is not the road to freedom, but instead is a sellout of BLM, which the militia aims to portray as a success.
To achieve its aims, BLM should not continue to rely only on practical action. I am proposing instead that a push for self-policing by the Black community should be one of BLM’s main objectives. There are precedents in history, for example the Paris Commune, in which the workers in revolt abolished professional police forces and set up civilian policing; the worker-controlled shanty towns in Latin America that stop men from beating their wives; and the Black Panther Party in the US that kept the white police out of neighbourhoods.
However, the idea of self-policing by the Black community should be considered with caution. This is because self-policing must not mean policing by armed militia, armed neighbourhood gangs, or vigilantes that are accountable to no-one and that thus dominate the masses. Replacing racist police by vigilantes and gangs is simply another form of oppression. Even if it claims to be “ethical” or “responsible”, it would still lack accountability. It would thus dominate people, instead of people being in control. In other words, accountability to the people is a key requirement if social liberty and freedom have any meaning.
A call for self-policing by, and accountability to, the people is consistent with MHI’s vision of a society in which people themselves do the thinking and do the doing (forgive the pun). Currently, the idea of accountability to the people is either missing, or it is only a budding issue and needs to be brought to bear as a theoretical idea into the BLM movement, so that theory and practice work together in unity. Such a unity is required because practical activity tells us what we do not want, i.e., a racist and deadly police force, whereas the theoretical idea tells us what we do want. Without theory, practical activity on its own is prone to being captured and undermined—as we are seeing in the form of armed militia. When theory is present as well, in this case accountable self-policing, we would have a force that overturns and uproots the current form of policing to create a totally new reality.
This is not utopian fiction. It was a reality, when the BLM uprising in Minneapolis sent the police running. Regardless of how short-lived that moment was, this reality existed. And where BLM has established self-policing without sending the police running, the movement has created another reality, a new beginning toward the goal of uprooting the current system and starting afresh. Importantly, the new beginning did not emerge out of the blue, nor was it designed on a drawing board. Instead, the seeds of the new beginning emerged in the here and now, within the current system. We need to develop the theoretical idea further and bring it to bear on the BLM movement, to prevent it from dying down and disappearing. This will work only if Black and white people stand together to overthrow the current system.

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