‘Reforms’ can’t get rid of police brutality, it’s key to capitalist rule

By Janice Lynn
February 20, 2023

ATLANTA — Since the Jan. 7 beating of Tyre Nichols by Memphis cops that led to his death three days later, workers have been discussing the root cause of police violence and the road to prevent further cop brutality and killings. As part of this, Atlanta members of the Socialist Workers Party spoke with workers door to door in Riverdale, Ellenwood and here Feb. 4-5.

Janice Lynn and Marklyn Wilson talked with Latoya Walker in Riverdale Feb. 4. She is African American and works as an esthetician. “I think the police need better training,” Walker said.

“The Socialist Workers Party explains that the police exist to protect the system of capitalism that we live under and to protect the owners of the big corporations who exploit the mass of workers,” Lynn said. “The job of the police and the job of the courts, prisons and the whole so-called justice system is to intimidate the working class. They try to keep us in check so we don’t organize together to replace this system with one that puts the interests of workers and farmers first.”

Lynn described how in Cuba, where workers and peasants made a revolution, the cops who had brutalized them for decades were replaced by a new revolutionary policing force made up of the workers and peasants who had fought to overturn capitalism.

“That’s the course we need to follow here,” Wilson said.

“I think you’re right,” Walker agreed. “The police and the whole system has be dismantled and we have to start all over again.” She got a subscription to the Militant and a copy of Are They Rich Because They’re Smart? Class, Privilege, and Learning Under Capitalism by SWP National Secretary Jack Barnes, to find out more about the road forward for the working class.

John Benson and Janice Lynn spoke with retired postal worker Gus Howard, who said he thought “the white majority in this country sees the killing of Blacks as a way to keep themselves in power.” He said the five Black cops charged with killing Nichols were just not taught right. “I don’t trust Black cops anymore.” Howard is African American.

Benson replied that it was a question of two classes — workers and bosses — and that workers are of all nationalities, Asians, Latinos, Blacks and Caucasians, all facing exploitation by the bosses.

“Their system is in crisis,” Benson said. “It’s harder for workers to find a job we can live on, and as we begin to resist the rulers fear this resistance. The police are and will be used more to try to keep us in our place so the capitalist class — a small minority of the population — can stay in power.”

Lynn pointed to the massive strikes that erupted in the 1930s demanding the right to have a union, an eight-hour day and other demands. The bosses responded to this threat to their system by using the cops, company thugs and more to violently attack the workers as they fought for their rights.

“I still think the police are being used to get rid of as many of us so the whites can stay in a majority. We get killed more now,” Howard said.

“Blacks face racist discrimination and are killed disproportionately by the cops,” Benson said. “But this will only change when we eliminate the capitalist class that tries to divide us, the better to exploit us. The Socialist Workers Party says the working class needs to unite in struggle so we can take power into our own hands and end the system of capitalism that is responsible for the brutality and violence we face.”

Lisa Potash, Socialist Workers Party candidate for U.S. Senate in 2022, and Wilson talked to dental hygienist Joanna Worelds while knocking on doors in Atlanta Feb. 5.

‘A deeply systemic problem’

“Violence is part of the cultural role of the police,” Worelds, who is Caucasian, said. “The police represent a deeply systemic problem.”

“The police can’t be reformed under capitalism,” Potash said. “The Socialist Workers Party stands with working-class families fighting for some measure of justice for their loved ones killed by the police.” Worelds got a copy of the Militant to find out more about the party and its views.

“I thought what happened in Memphis was horrific,” Alison, a 58-year-old computer operator who asked that her last name not be used, told SWP campaigners Sam Manuel and Susan LaMont when she invited them into her living room in Ellenwood. “Completely uncalled for. Everyone should be treated as a human being. Ninety percent of what the cops do is never caught on camera.

“Now the police are getting charged with things they wouldn’t have been charged with not that long ago,” she said.

“The speed with which they charged the cops in Memphis shows the impact of the victory won over Jim Crow segregation and of protests in recent years,” said Manuel, who was the SWP candidate for governor last year, “It reveals growing opposition among workers of all races and backgrounds against this kind of brutality.”

“They aren’t paying police officers enough and good officers are quitting,” Alison said. “The bad ones get more income on the side.”

“It isn’t possible to solve these problems under capitalism,” Manuel said. “The rulers need the police and will need them more in the future, as the class struggle heats up. Then their role as an armed force against the working class as a whole will be clearer.

“There’s a lot we can learn from the experience of the Cuban Revolution on this question,” he added. “They had to totally get rid of the old cops and build a new kind of police force based on the working people.”

Alison said she was interested in the idea of a workers and farmers government to tackle the problem of police brutality and the other questions workers face. She decided to get a copy of the Militant and an Oct. 11 statement by Jack Barnes, “Demand Washington End Its Economic War on Cuba! Now!” to learn more about the revolution there.

SWP members and supporters have been engaged in similar discussions all across the country.