|“Look at the masses Black, white, all races, all religions,” Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner, killed by NYPD, said at Dec. 13 protest in Washington. Above, 1199SEIU union at march.|
“Look at the masses — Black, white, all races, all religions,” Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, said from the stage. “This is a history-making moment. We need to stand like this at all times.”
Garner died July 17 after Staten Island cop Daniel Pantaleo grabbed him in a chokehold and other cops piled on his back. The cops claim he was selling untaxed cigarettes. The confrontation was captured on a video in which an unarmed Garner tells police, “Stop harassing me.” After cops threw him to the ground, Garner told them 11 times, “I can’t breathe.”
The Dec. 3 grand jury decision not to indict Pantaleo has galvanized broad actions nationwide. On Dec. 13 more than 25,000 also marched in New York; 10,000 in Oakland, California; and thousands more in Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and elsewhere.
The Washington rally brought together the families of many individuals killed by the police. Samaria Rice told the crowd how her 12-year-old son Tamir was shot by Cleveland police Nov. 22 while playing with a toy gun. A video shows the boy was shot two seconds after police arrived. “Let that officer be arrested,” Rice said. “Let him be brought before a criminal jury.”
Other speakers included the parents of Michael Brown from Ferguson, Missouri; Kimberly Ballinger, whose domestic partner Akai Gurley was fatally shot by New York police in the stairwell of a Brooklyn apartment building Nov. 20; John Crawford Jr., whose son John Crawford III was shot and killed by cops in a Walmart near Dayton, Ohio, Aug. 5; Carlos Ball, whose brother Cary Ball was shot to death by St. Louis police in 2013; Sybrina Fulton, whose son Trayvon Martin was killed by a vigilante in Florida in 2012; and Kadiatou Diallo, mother of Amadou Diallo, killed by the cops in New York in 1999.
Some speakers focused on calls to reform police procedures. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Network, called for Congress to make it easier for federal officials to get involved in cases of police killings, and for special prosecutors supposedly less connected to cops they are assigned to investigate.
Marc Morial, national president of the Urban League, presented a list of measures to provide “police accountability,” including greater use of police body cameras, training cops in “community policing,” a “uniform deadly force policy” to apply to all police departments and a national law against racial profiling.
‘It’s police abuse of power, not race’
None of these measures touch the fundamental problem of the role of the police in capitalist society — enforcing the interests of the propertied ruling families and keeping working people in their place. When the cops decide to act, for whatever reason, they move to establish complete control as rapidly as possible, whether through a chokehold, beating, Taser or gun.
Because of their history, including leading the fight to overthrow Jim Crow segregation and against continuing racist discrimination from hiring to housing, Blacks are disproportionately a target of cop assault, even though most of those killed by cops across the country are Caucasian.
Speaking on the national TV show “Meet the Press” Dec. 7, Esaw Garner described how, because her husband sold loose cigarettes, the cops kept tabs on and harassed them often prior to the fatal assault. “We would go shopping and they’d say, ‘Hi cigarette man,’ ‘Hey cigarette man’s wife,’ stuff like that. … I feel like he was murdered.”
“This is not a black and white issue,” insisted his daughter, Erica Garner, in an interview with CNN. The real issue is “the police abusing their power.”
“I’ve never seen something so beautiful. Seeing the Asian community, seeing union workers, seeing people who probably don’t even speak English,” Josh Toney, a young African-American, told the Chicago Tribune as he marched in New York City.
The New York State Nurses Association and 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers organized buses to Washington. Many members of International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422 came on a bus from Charleston, South Carolina.
“This is an issue for the whole community, and unions are part of the community,” said Warren Chapman, a maintenance worker for DC Metro who marched with the Amalgamated Transit Union.
Shane Lee, who lives a few blocks from where Garner was killed, rode to Washington on a bus. He pointed out that it’s not only white police who act this way. “I recently saw on the news where a Black cop was beating a kid for jumping a subway turnstile.”
“This won’t stop unless we fight and organize,” said Bill Cummings, a maintenance worker at Howard University. “I’m glad to see all races coming out. This is not just a question for Blacks. It’s about all of us.”
James Harris contributed to this article.
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