By JOHN LESLIE
The 2020 murder of George Floyd, a police lynching that went viral on social media, sparked a months-long 2020 rebellion that terrified the ruling class. This rebellion was the result of decades of police abuse and murder, mass incarceration, and the rising tide of white supremacy. The murder of George Floyd lit the match, but the situation was nothing new. From Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown to Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor, there is no justice for Black and Brown people in the U.S. criminal injustice system.
The fact that brutality and racism is endemic to police operations was reiterated on Sunday, April 11, when police gunned down Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, in a Minneapolis suburb. During a traffic stop, ostensibly for an air freshener hanging from Mr. Wright’s rearview mirror, cops shot him as he attempted to reenter his vehicle. The killing has reignited protests; the state sent in the National Guard in response to “growing unrest,” as hundreds protested this latest outrage.
Daunte Wright’s murder coincided with the trial of George Floyd’s murderer, Derek Chauvin, in nearby Minneapolis. The trial exposes the way the system routinely fails to hold killer cops accountable. The defense has done everything in its power to characterize George Floyd as a dangerous drug-addicted thug, while playing on Mr. Floyd’s size to justify the use of force. The stereotype is that large Black men are dangerous and hard to control. According to researcher Anna Mollow, “I would, indeed, say that the defense’s comments about George Floyd’s size do draw upon, and do recirculate, stereotypes of Black people as possessing superhuman physical strength while at the same time calling up dehumanizing stereotypes about Black people’s supposed moral and intellectual inferiority.”(1)
The witnesses on the street were portrayed by the defense as an angry mob that made Chauvin fear for his life. This lines up with the usual practice of vilifying the victims of cop violence.
What is different in this trial is the parade of police testifying against Chauvin for his violation of use of force rules and ignoring his training in how to de-escalate situations involving interactions with people in crisis. The chief medical examiner of Hennepin County, Dr. Andrew Baker, testified that the pressure of George Floyd’s neck “was just more than Mr. Floyd could take” given his underlying heart condition. (2)
Police are the enforcers of the capitalist class and the system of exploitation and oppression that capitalism rests on. It is the mass explosion of millions of workers, the oppressed and youth demanding justice for George Floyd, that led to the criminal prosecution of Chauvin. What this represents is not a sudden thirst for justice from the system, but the calculation that sacrificing Chauvin, a temporary break in the blue wall of silence, will stave off the threat of more rebellions.
The meaning of the Chauvin trial, whether he is found guilty or not, is that the system shields cops from the consequences of their misdeeds. Cops serve the interests of the ruling class. Cop “unions” support murderous cops no matter what, offering refuge behind the so-called “blue wall.” The repressive forces of the state ultimately cannot be reformed. They must be dismantled root and branch and replaced with defense guards based on organizations of the oppressed and exploited.
Political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal has been imprisoned for more than 40 years and now faces the threat of death by medical neglect, with multiple health conditions in a prison system where the coronavirus has run wild. As Socialist Resurgence goes to press on April 15, 2021, Mumia faces yet another health crisis, having tested positive for COVID-19 weeks ago. Supporters report that Mumia is in the hospital and scheduled for emergency heart surgery; they are demanding that he be allowed to speak to family members and supporters beforehand. They are also demanding his immediate release.” We will report more on this development as information comes in.
In the meantime, a recent victory in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has signaled a possible opening in the fight to free Mumia. The court struck down a “King’s Bench” petition filed by the widow of police officer Daniel Faulkner, whom Mumia was falsely accused of killing in 1981. The petition, backed by the Fraternal Order of Police, aimed to remove Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner from Mumia’s case based on a claim of pro-defense bias. The court found this claim was unsupported by facts.
In a series of court hearings over the previous two years, Mumia’s lawyers sought a new appeals process under the Williams v. Pennsylvania decision. Ron Castille, the retired chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, was formerly district attorney of Philadelphia when Terrence Williams was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. During Williams’ appeal, his attorneys asked that Castille recuse himself from the case, given his previous role as prosecutor. Castille refused. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors who later become judges should recuse themselves if asked to hear an appeal in a case they had prosecuted.
There are more than 24 constitutional violations in Mumia’s case, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has so far refused to hear any of them. Castille, the Philadelphia district attorney during Mumia’s prosecution, also refused to recuse himself during Mumia’s appeals process. Mumia’s legal team sought to prove that Castille’s involvement in the appeal constituted a violation of the Williams decision.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a so-called progressive, had initially indicated that he planned to appeal Tucker’s decision but withdrew the appeal on April 17, 2019. Then, on Feb. 3, 2021, Krasner reversed his position, and filed a prosecution response in opposition to any appeal by Mumia, stating that Mumia should remain in prison for life. Krasner is seeking reelection with the support of liberals and house-broken socialists. He should be compelled to reverse his biased stance against Mumia.
The state Supreme Court rejection of the King’s Bench petition puts the case back under the jurisdiction of the Philadelphia Superior Court, where Common Pleas Court Judge Leon Tucker ruled, in December 2018, in favor of Mumia, citing former District Attorney Ron Castille’s “lack of impartiality” and “the appearance of bias” in his handling of the case.
The decision opens renewed hope but does not mean Mumia’s case is over by any means. There must be mass pressure as well as the pursuit of legal remedies in court. It was the mass movement that helped keep the pressure on the state, first winning the commutation of Mumia’s death sentence, and it was the outcry from the movement that ensured that Mumia received medical attention during his struggle with Hepatitis C.
Hundreds of thousands of Black and Brown people languish in U.S. capitalism’s gulags—many for minor drug offenses or crimes that would not exist if the system itself didn’t thrive on the poverty and misery of the many. Politicians offer lip service, but offer no real action to address mass incarceration, police violence, or deep social and economic inequality.
Photo: People take to the streets in suburban Minneapolis to protest the April 11 police killing of Daunte Wright. (Aaron Nesheim, The New York Times)