Last summer, tens of millions of people in the US participated in the Black Lives Matter movement sparked by the racist police murder of George Floyd. Nearly one year later, on 20 April 2021, his killer Derek Chauvin was convicted of three charges: second-degree unintentional felony murder; third-degree “depraved mind” murder; and second-degree manslaughter. Chauvin’s conviction is a far cry from justice for George Floyd and all those constantly facing police brutality.
One individual cop being “held accountable” for his actions is a symbolic gesture that comes in response to the enormous energy expended by the masses during the movement last year.
But the uprising last summer was not just caused by George Floyd’s murder—it was an explosion of all the pent-up anger from the constant harassment and exploitation that millions of oppressed people experience every day. In Minneapolis alone, police killed nearly 50 black men over the past 20 years. Between 2013 and 2020, police officers in the US killed over 9,000 people—a quarter of them black. The movement last year was sustained by the killing of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. It called for justice, not only for George Floyd, but also for all the nameless victims whose killers in blue never had a court date.
In the last eight years, just 151 of those police killings that have been documented resulted in officers being charged with a crime—let alone convicted. That amounts to just 1.6%. For example, the officer who brazenly shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha is not facing any consequences for his actions. He is also not reflected in these statistics because he is still alive, paralyzed from the waist down after being shot point-blank in the back seven times. The officers who murdered Breonna Taylor faced no charges. Neither did the Chicago officer who shot 13-year-old Adam Toledo, despite the graphic bodycam footage that shows the kid raising his hands right before his murder.
Since the beginning of the Chauvin trial on 29 March, police have killed more than three people per day. And on 11 April, before Chauvin’s defense could even present their case, Daunte Wright was murdered by police in Brooklyn Center, a short distance away from downtown Minneapolis.
There was an immediate response to this latest killing, with hundreds pouring out in protest. The National Guard, which was poised and ready for the Chauvin verdict, was deployed ahead of schedule. Democratic Governor Tim Walz notified Minnesotans that the “largest police presence in Minnesota history” would be enforcing a curfew, conveniently to begin at 7 p.m.—the time set for a protest after Wright’s killing. But the protesters assembled anyway, and faced vicious repression, with rubber bullets and tear gas causing injuries nearly every night. Far from a show of strength, this police violence against protesters, alongside Chauvin’s guilty verdict, shows that the ruling class is deeply concerned about another mass movement. Last year’s Black Lives Matter protests struck fear in the hearts of the ruling class. At its height, it had President Trump hiding in an underground bunker, threatening to use the full might of the military against unarmed civilians.
Biden’s hundredth day of office is fast approaching, and after four turbulent years of Trump’s presidency, the bourgeoisie was looking to re-establish the credibility of their system. So, along with the stick, the carrot is also being used. During the trial, Biden called George Floyd’s family to say he was “praying” for the “right verdict,” and congresswoman Maxine Waters said she hoped Chauvin would be found “guilty, guilty, guilty.” Even the police chief testified saying Chauvin’s actions were out of bounds. The guilty verdict is part of a concerted ruling-class effort to prove that the justice system is “fair”—in order to prevent another nationwide, millions-strong outburst.
Given the high stakes, the government made an effort to control the information, dialogue, and “stability” during the trial. Shortly before the proceedings began, the Minneapolis government erected barricades around the downtown courthouse—the very image of a “free, fair, and confidence-inspiring” justice system. In coordination with Governor Walz, the city of Minneapolis deployed 2,000 National Guard troops for the duration of the trial as part of “Operation Safety Net.” The police placed barbed wire around government buildings in an attempt to intimidate protesters. Nonetheless, about 1,000 people protested outside the barricaded Hennepin County Government Center on the first day of the trial, and there have been nearly daily protests since then.
The city also tried to “influence” public opinion of the trial through a plan to contract social media influencers to disseminate information. The hiring ads specifically targeted ethnic minorities in the area, offering $2,000 each to six people who would spread “city-generated and approved messages.” The majority-Democrat City Council tried to do what Democrats do best—co-opt the movement’s leaders to push their agenda. Facing public backlash, these “job opportunities” were eventually retracted.
Additionally, the bourgeois media attempted to provide “neutral” and “accurate” coverage during the trial, and the state accommodated a greater degree of “transparency” for the press, this being the first criminal trial in state history to be televised. Some of this “neutral” coverage by the St. Paul Pioneer Press included the opinions of University of Minnesota Law School professor Richard Frase, who defended the need to find jurors who “don’t have their minds made up on the case” in rural areas of Hennepin County—which happen to be predominantly conservative and white.
Contrary to the Pioneer Press’s idea of “impartiality,” black defendants are convicted 1.25 times more often by an all-white jury than are white defendants. Pools of 50 or 100 potential jurors usually only have one or two potential black jurors—if any—even in the most “diverse” counties in the country. In this trial, a pool of 300 jurors was sorted through by both the defense and prosecution. The final jury of 12 and two alternates was heralded as “more diverse than Minneapolis”—which essentially meant that it was not all white.
But there can never be genuine “impartiality” and “fairness” under capitalism because it is the ruling class that sets the rules for an inherently racist system. As stated in the ABCs of Communism: “Whatever the composition of the court, its decisions are restricted in accordance with the volumes of statutes in which are incorporated all the privileges of capital and all the lack of privileges of the toiling masses.” You cannot exorcise systemic racism from society through more “diversity” in the system’s justice or law enforcement apparatus. The police enforce the racist laws passed to defend the interests of the property-owning minority, and the courts uphold and legitimize them.
The capitalist criminal justice system is particularly rigged against poor, working-class black people. It is illegal to strike jurors based on race alone, but lawyers can easily manufacture “race-neutral” reasons for disqualifying them. For example, Chauvin’s attorney Eric Nelson dismissed potential juror number 76, stating that the juror “had a bias against the Minneapolis Police Department”—simply because of his experience with everyday racism. The potential juror had described that police would drive through his neighborhood blasting “Another One Bites the Dust” after a shooting or arrest in the area. Still, one selected white juror, who claims to have a “neutral view of Black Lives Matter” and strongly opposes defunding the police, was not considered “biased.”
While George Floyd was extrajudicially executed for being black, the watchdogs for capitalism opened their pocketbooks to foot an enormous bill. Chauvin received over a million dollars in legal funds from the Minneapolis Police and Peace Officers’ Association, and has 11 lawyers at his disposal, in addition to a private attorney.
The defense rested on the contrived argument that George Floyd’s death was not the direct result of the nine-minute chokehold, but rather, due to drug use and other unrelated health problems. But the evidence is clear and plainly contradicts this: Floyd was slowly choked to death as he pleaded for his life. The prosecution showed the videos from security cameras and cell phones at the beginning of the trial. Witnesses were brought to the stand by the prosecution, including a former wrestler who explained that Chauvin was using a “blood choke.” A forensic pathologist with over 36 years of experience summarized the autopsy plainly: “The activities of the law enforcement officers resulted in Mr. Floyd’s death.”
In the minds of the millions of people who saw the viral video of George Floyd’s final moments, there was not a shadow of a doubt that he was brutally murdered in broad daylight and cold blood. But while the immediate perpetrator of this racist crime was Derek Chauvin, he was just one link in a chain of institutions designed to uphold a system with exploitation and racism in its very foundations. Capitalism engenders the need for an armed force to defend private property and repress the working class and poor. It was capitalism that gave rise to racist ideology and violence to divide and rule against the working class. Capitalism aided and abetted the murder of George Floyd. Derek Chauvin and the other officers who stood by him are products of this system.
And yet, the police department was not on trial—nor were the three other officers present at the scene with Derek Chauvin, who will be tried in August. The city council, which voted to increase the number of police officers in the city last December after promising to dismantle the force, was not on trial. Hundreds of killer cops will continue to get away with murder as long as this system persists.
There is no such thing as blind, impartial justice in a society built on exploitation and oppression. Nothing exists in a vacuum. A racist, exploitative society will not produce an unbiased justice system, a “color-blind” police force, or humane rehabilitative prisons. The courts are not neutral arbiters of justice, but an arm of the state that serves the ruling class’s interests, and we can have no illusions that the courts will indict a system they belong to and uphold. There can be no justice as long as a police force that evolved out of slave catchers is maintained.
Last summer, many in the movement concluded that what was needed was to “defund” or “abolish the police.” But the only way to eliminate the law enforcement apparatus is to overthrow the system that dictates the laws. Ultimately, it is not as simple as just “disbanding” the Minneapolis police force—the whole system must be upended.
To achieve this aim, the BLM movement needs greater organization, coordination, and a clear program of struggle. Organized labor must throw its full weight into the movement. We saw a glimpse of the potential power of organized labor during the protests after Daunte Wright’s murder. After it became known that National Guardsmen had been using the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation building as a base, rank-and-file workers showed up to demand they vacate, and the National Guard left without a fuss. Many unions have expressed solidarity with the protesters, including the Minnesota Nurses Association, Minnesota Workers United, and the St. Paul Federation of Educators.
The neighborhood watch committees that emerged in Minneapolis last summer were a concrete example of what workers’ self-defense and self-organization could look like. As conditions demand, they should be revived, coordinated by the labor movement, cemented with democratic leadership, established in every workplace and neighborhood, and spread throughout the Twin Cities and across the country. Along with protecting our neighborhoods from the police and far-right vigilantes, these committees, with their organic connection to the working class, would play a vital role in coordinating preparations for a general strike—which the labor leaders should call and mobilize for. This is the only serious way to challenge the dominance of the capitalists and their system!
Only a truly massive movement and the conscious power of the working class can win even an ounce of justice for George Floyd and the billions of other victims of this system. To end racism, we must end capitalism. This is what the IMT fights for, and we invite you to join us!