‘Stop racist killer cops’

Killings of 23-year-old unarmed groom, 92-year-old woman are not isolated acts

Published Nov 30, 2006 12:59 AM

Sean Bell was killed on what was supposed to be the morning of his wedding, Nov. 25, when police unloaded more than 50 bullets into the car he and two friends—all African American and all unarmed—were in. The three were leaving Bell’s bachelor party in Queens, N.Y.

Bell’s friend Joseph Guzman is in critical condition after being hit at least 11 times. The other, Trent Benefield, was hit three times. A report from New York in the Sydney Morning Herald said the two had been shackled to their hospital beds. (Nov. 28)

One white officer alone, Detective Mike Oliver, emptied a full magazine of bullets, reloaded and then emptied a second magazine—a total of 31 bullets. New York Police Department policy on shooting at moving vehicles clearly states that police cannot fire at a moving vehicle “unless deadly force is being used ... by means other than a moving vehicle.” (AP, Nov. 26) The officers involved were placed on administrative leave, yet are still being paid.

Not just ‘bad apples’

Authorities are scrambling to come up with excuses for Bell’s death. The police claim that one of Bell’s friends made reference to a gun. “Experts” discuss the problem of “contagious shooting”—which was amplified in 1993 when the NYPD switched from revolvers to semiautomatic weapons. The media is quick to point out that a multinational group of officers were involved in the incident—two white, two Black and one Latino—to downplay the racism in the killings. However, to reiterate, all the victims are Black.

But despite any excuses and “bad apple” theories, police violence and terror in communities of color is systemic, not individual. The police act as an indiscriminate, armed occupying force, with the mentality that the poor and people of color are disposable. Brutality against these communities is a daily occurrence.

As if to prove this point, the next day in the Bronx police attacked and then arrested Juanita Young, an activist against police brutality and the mother of Malcolm Ferguson, who had been killed by the NYPD in March 2000. According to a press release by the October 22nd Coalition, as many as eight cops participated in the attack, kicking her in the chest and back.

In addition, the group TransJustice has called for a press conference and rally on Nov. 29 to denounce the Nov. 1 beating and arrest of two African American men beaten by cops in the West Village of New York City. When a white male police officer pushed a young African-American woman without provocation, 23-year-old African-American college student Shakur Trammel requested his badge number. In response, the officer punched Trammel in the face and chest, threw him onto the police van and choked him with his nightstick. Eyewitnesses report that between four to six mostly white cops then kicked and punched Trammel and another African-American man who was being very vocal about his outrage at Trammel’s beating.

State violence grows with class tensions

Frederick Engels, Karl Marx’s closest collaborator and co-founder of scientific socialism, described the state as a public power that “consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons and institutions of coercion of all kinds.” Engels continues to explain, “It [the public power] grows stronger ... in proportion as class antagonisms within the state become more acute.” (Engels, “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State,” 1884)

Anger in poor communities and communities of color is growing over the lack of jobs, healthcare and social services, the number of soldiers coming home dead or maimed from a war for big business, the news that the rich are getting even richer while the poor are still getting poorer. As during the Vietnam War, the ruling class fears organization and rebellion in the communities. The police apparatus is stepped up to keep these communities in line, to remind them of their “place.”

But this kind of repression inevitably leads to resistance. At a rally held the day after Bell’s killing, New York City Councilperson Charles Barron told the crowd, “I am fed up. I am not asking my people to do anything passive anymore. ... Don’t ask us to ask our people to be peaceful while they are being murdered. We are not the only ones that can bleed.”

A rally against the police state is planned for Dec. 6, 4:30 p.m., at One Police Plaza in downtown New York City. A statement by the December 12th Movement, organizers of the event, reads, “The issues on the agenda include the police profiling of Black youth; NYPD/Homeland Security occupation of the Black community; police aggression, harassment and overkill, as well as President Bush’s assault on Habeas Corpus; the erosion of civil rights; and Iraq war for oil.”

Atlanta cops kill 92-year-old woman

Police brutality of course is not unique to New York City. In Atlanta, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston was killed Nov. 21 when an Atlanta drug squad executed a “no-knock” search warrant at her home.

Johnston’s neighborhood is close to an area known for drug trafficking and crime. According to her family, she was very concerned about being victimized and so had bars on her windows and doors and a permit for a pistol.

When Atlanta police pried the bars off the front door and broke it down, Johnston fired her rusty gun in self-defense, wounding three of the cops. They responded with a barrage of bullets.

Initially, the police claimed an undercover agent had purchased drugs at her home. Then the story changed: an informant had purchased crack cocaine with city-supplied funds at the address.

This informant allegedly told police that there were surveillance cameras at the house—an element which increased the likelihood of a “no-knock” warrant being granted. On Nov. 21 around 6 p.m., a Fulton County magistrate issued that warrant, based on an affidavit with these details submitted by narcotics investigator Jason R. Smith.

Barely more than an hour later, Atlanta police smashed through the front door of Johnston’s home.

Outraged neighbors and family insist that she lived alone. No one recognizes the description of the drug suspect, “Sam,” named in the warrant.

Johnston’s long-time neighbor Curtis Mitchell said, “I think that’s just something they made up.” Her niece, Sarah C. Dozier, agreed, saying, “As far as I am concerned, they shot her down like a dog.”

That suspicion was verified six days after Johnston’s death, when the informant publicly stated that he provided no such information to the police. He says that shortly after the shooting occurred, police called him, telling him to back up their story. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he has told internal affairs investigators and local media that the police fabricated the whole thing and told him to lie about his role in it. (Nov. 28)

Johnston’s killing came on the same day that the district attorney in adjacent DeKalb County announced that she will ask a grand jury to review a string of deadly police shootings there to determine whether criminal charges should be filed. Organized pressure forced this move by local officials, though it is only a modest response to community demands for police accountability and civilian review.

Since January 2006, DeKalb police have shot and killed 12 people and admit that several officers violated standard procedures. A 13th person died in custody after being hit with a baton and pepper-sprayed. Just days before the DA’s announcement, a 34-year-old woman was fatally shot by a police officer who said she came at him with a knife. Others at the scene said that she was scared and running away.

Congressperson Cynthia McKinney made a formal request on Nov. 25 for an immediate Department of Justice investigation into “a developing national pattern of police misconduct and abuse.”

From New York to Colorado to Milwaukee to Georgia, family members, community activists and progressive elected officials have demanded not only answers to what happened to these individuals but an end to police disregard for the lives of residents of working class and poor neighborhoods.

For weeks in Atlanta, there have been vigils, press conferences, rallies and other protests that have forced the issue of police killings into the public spotlight. Over and over, the people have made it clear: “No justice, No peace.”

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