Published on April 15, 2021
As the trial of Derek Chauvin continues, another Black man, Daunte Wright, was senselessly killed by the police. Like so many other police killings, the incident began with the victim being stopped for no reason – for driving while black. Routine traffic stops should never be a death sentence. Now, body camera footage from March 29 has been released showing Chicago Police officer Eric Stillman fatally shooting 13 year-old Adam Toledo, who had his hands in the air. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot originally tried to cover up this horrific murder and blame this child for his own death.
Following the mass protests led by working-class youth of color last summer in response to the murder of George Floyd, establishment politicians in Minneapolis, Seattle, and a number of other cities and states across the country made sweeping promises of police reform, including pledges to defund the police to invest in communities of color, which they subsequently abandoned.
Chauvin isn’t just one bad apple, and neither is Eric Stillman nor Kim Potter, who allegedly mistook her gun for a taser after 26 years on the force, while training another officer. The whole system is guilty, and stopping at piecemeal reforms and empty promises will only lead to more brutal deaths.
Minnesota’s governor Tim Waltz imposed a curfew and called in the national guard, assembling the largest police presence in the state’s history — literally the opposite response to that demanded by millions of Black Lives Matter activists and supporters around the country. Peaceful protesters are being met by a brutal onslaught of rubber bullets and floods of teargas, particularly dangerous during a respiratory pandemic.
In his response to the protests, Joe Biden emphasized that there is “absolutely no justification” for looting or violence. So if there’s no justification for violence, why doesn’t that apply to police during traffic stops? Nationally, the Democrats’ lackluster George Floyd Justice in Policing Act offers the same bare minimum police reforms seen across the country, such as body cams. This simply isn’t enough. We stand in solidarity with the movements demanding justice for George Floyd, Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo and an end to police brutality and systemic racism.
The ongoing backlash against Black Lives Matter is visible across the country. Here in Seattle, Kshama Sawant has been singled out by the backers of the Recall campaign based explicitly on her active support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite sweeping promises from a supposed “veto-proof majority” at the height of last summer’s protests, all 8 Democrats on the City Council refused to support legislation brought forward by Councilmember Kshama Sawant to defund the bloated police budget by 50% to invest in affordable housing and underfunded social services. These same Councilmembers also refused to support legislation to establish community control of the police.
The Recall is not afraid to resort to racist attacks, claiming that Kshama promoted “lawlessness” by participating in and supporting Black Lives Matter protests last summer, and it has no bones about even resorting to blatant dishonesty. As police accountability activist Katrina Johnson explained:
“The recall campaign against Councilmember Sawant is fundamentally dishonest and harmful for our community. One lie is that Kshama led a Black Lives Matter rally to Durkan’s house. This is completely false. The rally was organized and led by families, like mine, whose loved ones have been killed at the hands of the Seattle Police department. Kshama was the only City Councilmember to speak at our rally, and she spoke powerfully in solidarity with us since Charleena was killed.
Since 2011, at least 28 Black and Brown community members have been killed by Seattle police. My cousin, Charleena Lyles, was one of them. Charleena was shot 7 times, and my family is yet to receive any justice, nor have the other families. The recall/smear campaign wants to erase the complicity of the political establishment, and the advocacy by impacted families. Kshama has stood unwaveringly with the Black Lives Matter movement and alongside impacted families. The recall is an attack on all of us fighting racism and police violence in our city. We must unify to defeat this.”
It’s clear to the Recall — just as it’s clear to so many fighters for racial justice and police accountability — that Kshama is the only Seattle City Councilmember who does not just pay lip service to racial justice, but who consistently fights alongside the Black Lives Matter Movement.
As we fight against this racist, right-wing recall, we’re also continuing to fight for the bold policies Seattle’s working people need, including a vision for transformative racial justice.
While the pressure of the Justice for George Floyd movement won a tangible victory with an 8% cut to the police budget, this is still a far cry from what’s needed to stop austerity and fund affordable housing, restorative justice, and public transit.
Kshama is also fighting for a democratically elected Community Oversight Board with full powers to hold the police accountable, including the right to set policy and the power to hire and fire officers. The deep issues in the Seattle police department are longstanding and systemic. A recent Crosscut investigation found that at least 183 officers flagged for issues of dishonesty, bias, and excessive force remain in the force in Washington state. At least 6 Seattle police officers participated in the right-wing January 6 storming of the capitol. No officers were held accountable for the murders of Charleena Lyles, Che Taylor, Herbert Hightower Jr., or any of the 28 victims of Seattle police killings since 2011.
Derek Chauvin had a history of violence and 18 complaints on his record before he murdered George Floyd. Setting up an elected oversight board with real teeth would be an important model for cities across the country. At the same time, police violence is part and parcel of the capitalist system, which relies on structural racism and inequality. That’s why the fight against racist policing must also be expanded to include a fight against the corporate political establishment and the capitalist system itself.
We’ve seen time and time again that we can’t rely on the capitalist courts for justice: from the Washington state Supreme Court siding with a right-wing recall that could set a dangerous precedent attacking the right to protest while dismissing recalls against establishment and right-wing politicians; to Minneapolis, where the trial of Derek Chauvin may not have even happened without the pressure of the movement; to their role throughout history, at one time sanctioning the system of slavery and later utterly refusing to convict racist lynchers.
Sustaining the struggle and winning justice for all victims of police violence will take an organized, multi-racial, working class movement. This Sunday, join Kshama and RWDSU and BAmazon organizer Big Mike to discuss more.
We also need to unite against the Recall Campaign, which is an attack against the Black Lives Matter movement targetting the only Seattle City Councilmember who consistently fights for racial justice in not just words, but in action.