Police brutality incident exposes the role of cops under capitalism
by John Leslie, Philadelphia, PA
On September 30, during a street party following the annual Puerto Rican* Day Parade; a Philadelphia cop brutally attacked, then arrested, Aida Guzman. Video uploaded to youtube later that day, clearly shows the unprovoked assault by Lieutenant Jonathan Josey. On the video, someone behind Guzman is throwing liquid on the cops. Josey walked up to Guzman from behind and punched her in the face with his fist.
Josey has a history of abuse complaints from members of the community. The video quickly went viral on the internet and sparked outrage in the community. However, these sorts of incidents happen every day in oppressed communities in the US. Philly cops have a history of racist violence. Perhaps the most notorious was the reign of terror of Police Commissioner, and later Mayor, Frank Rizzo. Rizzo’s cops repeatedly assaulted members of the Black Panther Party and the radical MOVE Organization. In 1978, cops attacked the home of MOVE members in Powelton Village. The attack resulted in the death of a police officer from friendly fire. Nine members of MOVE were arrested and imprisoned for the death of the officer.
The MOVE 9 remain in prison to this day. In 1985, police surrounded the MOVE house on Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia. They fired thousands of rounds of ammunition into the house and dropped a bomb on the roof from a helicopter. The resulting fire destroyed 56 homes and killed 11 MOVE members, including 5 children. Police also framed Black journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal for the killing of a cop. Mumia had become a thorn in the side of police for his reporting on police corruption and brutality.
Other, more recent, incidents include the unprovoked beating of Askia Sabur and the terrorizing of Askia’s family after they organized demonstrations against cop brutality. Nationally, the Oscar Grant case, where a Bay Area transit cop shot Grant in the back, provoked demonstrations and outrage. Police also attacked the Occupy movement in cities across the US. All of this occurs in the context of the mass incarceration of Blacks and Latinos and in an atmosphere of repression against Muslims and immigrants.
Political dissidents are also the target of police repression, including FBI raids on socialists and antiwar activists. Capitalism in crisis increasingly needs to turn to state repression. At the close of 2011, Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which, for the first time, allows for the detention without trial of US citizens.
What is the role of cops in society?
We are often told that cops are here to protect and serve, but to protect what and serve who? Cops are usually from working-class backgrounds, but it’s a mistake to think that they bring a working-class identity into the job. By becoming police, they become enforcers of the capitalist social order and protectors of capitalist property. This is clearly demonstrated by the police murder of striking South African miners and the daily violence against workers and the oppressed around the globe.
Guzman’s attacker, Lt. Josey, has been suspended pending termination ,and Mayor Nutter has expressed horror at the incident. The fact that Josey is African-American is irrelevant. Black cops serve the same racist power structure as white cops. Josey should be prosecuted for assault and the cops who stood by while Aida was battered should be fired.
On Friday, October 5, Nutter met with Guzman to apologize for the actions of his police. More than an apology is needed! An elected community-based civilian review board with the power to subpoena witnesses and fire and prosecute bad cops is essential. This will only be won through the unified, independent mass struggles of communities of color and poor whites.
*Puerto Rico (Boricua) is a colony of the US in the Caribbean. Socialists and anti-imperialist support the right of colonized Peoples to self-determination and the right of oppressed nationalities in the US to equal social, political and economic rights.