[Marxism] The racist murder of Sean Bell by cops in NYC

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sat Dec 2 15:00:40 MST 2006

The Sean Bell murder by the New York cops is being used to establish what
has become firm law for New York cops over the past ten or fifteen years.
Being unarmed IS NO EXCUSE.  The police have a right and basically a duty to
shoot to kill whenever they FEEL threatened.  After all, if they didn't
shoot everyone they suspected, more cops would be illed. (This is probably
true of police. More will be killed if they don't kill everybody who they
think might kill one of them. Of course, this may be true of serial killers,
for all I know, who certainly seem to know fear. For that matter, it is
probably true of everybody -- but only in the long run if those you fear
really are unarmed. And clearly, it is more important to prevent killings of
police than to prevent killings of civilians -- especially Black civilians,
who, as everybody knows, constitute a kind of criminal class in itself.
Killing Blacks who might pose a threat is the logic of the very special
police right of self-defense sanctified by the Diallo jury and many cases
before and since.

The machinery is rolling.  Someone may have had a gun. Indeed, who can ever
prove that no one involved in any way never had a gun.  And in a carload of
Blacks, there are sure to be people with juvenile records. Indeed, if noone
had an adult criminal record and jail time, this would have been a very
selective Black group indeed.

As an old admirer of the late Robert F. Williams, one of the great leaders
and thinkers of the civil rights movement and an advocate of armed
self-defense among other things, I have a certain trace of identification
with the right-wing slogan, "If guns are outlawed, only criminals will have
guns."  For me, the "only criminals will have guns" phrase always brought to
mind the cops, wherever I have lived (Philadelphia, Oakland, New York,
Pittsburgh, Newark). I don't think the argument over Black self-defense is
completed by any stretch.

Is there a resurgence of racism?  There has to be. We are in a new period
of imperialist war.(Does anyone imagine that the Democratic victory in the
last election means an end to this period? If so, they are learning right
now! Imperialist wars have always been racist, and even more so today when
they are PRIMARILY directed against nonwhite people.  (We should not forget
that Japanese imperialist wars were always racist, whether against whites or
colonial peoples -- though they much preferred the wars against colonial
peoples and, in 1939-41 at least, had tried until there was no imperialist
alternative to avoid the war with the United States. The US war against
Japan was, of course, racist through and through.)

Fred Feldman

Weekend Edition
December 2 / 3, 2006

The Bride Wore Black
The Shooting of Sean Bell and the Resurgence of American Racism

Sean Bell was murdered and his two friends, Joseph Guzman and Trent
Benefield, were maimed by New York City cops minutes after the trio finished
celebrating Bell's marriage the next day. The three were set up by
undercover cops who were looking for trouble in a bar in Queens; they were
trapped in their car desperately trying to leave the scene. New York's
finest pumped fifty bullets in their direction-twenty-one shots hitting the
car the three friends were in-invoking the ghost of Amadou Diallo.

The NYPD is already leaking and spreading lies to a willing press in hopes
of shifting the blame onto three unarmed, innocent Black men-as per usual.
So now we can read about the "sympathy shooting" explanation-likened to how
when one person in a room laughs then everyone starts laughing: when one cop
started shooting they all started shooting. The cops and the media are
bending over backwards to troll through the histories of these men to bring
up juvenile criminal records that were supposed to have been sealed. We are
fed uncorroborated stories that Guzman bragged he had a gun. Predictably, in
the smoking carnage of the aftermath of the NYPD execution of the three
buddies no guns were found. 

In many ways this case is just another example of the racist police terror
that grips most of the inner cities in the United States. Police departments
in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Dallas, and Philadelphia-to
only name the most egregious-have spent the better part of the last two
decades locked in corruption scandals from accusations of torture and
racism; to drug dealing and murder for hire; to forced confessions and
planting evidence, and battling lawsuits against charges of police brutality
and police misconduct.

Racist police practice remains the main culprit for the disproportionate
numbers of imprisoned African-American men and women in the nation's jails
and prison. 58 percent of all convicted drug felony cases involve
African-American men-even though Black men are only 6 percent of the
national population and 72 percent of all illegal drug users are white. 12
percent of Black men aged 25 to 29 years old are imprisoned compared to 3
percent of Latinos and 1 percent of white men. In 2002, there were 603,000
Black men in college compared to 791,600 Black men in prison. Black women
are two and a half times more likely than Latinas and four and a half times
more likely than white women to be imprisoned. In total, 49 percent of the
U.S.'s two million prisoners-in prison or in jail-are African American. This
is a shocking statistic considering that Blacks are less than 13 percent of
the entire United States population.


Legitimizing Racism

The legal lynching of Sean Bell certainly fits into the historical
continuity of racist police violence directed at African Americans. But
racism against Latino immigrants, Arabs and Muslims have also risen sharply.
The cold, hard facts are that the political rancor in Washington amongst
Democrats and Republicans about immigrants, so-called border security,
homeland security, and the War on Terror in general has made racism
permissible, tolerable and legitimate all in the name of "political debate".

The racist backlash against the nascent immigrant rights movement is not
only embodied in the neo-fascist Minutemen Project, but has also found
expression in a number of "state's rights" initiatives aimed at
rehabilitating Jim Crow segregation for Latinos and relegating Latinos to
second class citizenship. Since the mass marches of last spring, several
local ordinances have passed in favor of English only laws, prohibiting the
extension of social services to the undocumented, and essentially
criminalizing the undocumented-and those who look like the
undocumented-across the country. Local officials and anti-immigrant
activists have taken their cue from Washington D.C., where politicians from
both parties have blamed the presence of immigrants in this country for
everything from unemployment, to low wages, to poor schools, and to placing
an undo burden on the social safety net-a ludicrous charge considering the
now two billion dollars a week the U.S. continues to plow into a losing
effort in Iraq. Both Democrats and Republicans worked together to sanction
the building of 700 mile long wall along the U.S. and Mexican
border-including liberal darling Barack Obama who pitched in his vote for
the wall as well. During a heated race for a Senate seat in Tennessee
Democratic Congressman Harold Ford bragged, "I'm the only person on this
stage who has ever voted for an anti-illegal-immigration bill" Congressman
Tom Tancredo-an elected representative of the United States
government-recently compared the 65 percent Latino city of Miami to a Third
World country. He complained about Miami, "the sheer size and number of
ethnic enclaves devoid of any English and dominated by foreign cultures is
widespread. Frankly, many of these areas could have been located in another
country. And until America gets serious about demanding assimilation, this
problem will continue to spread." 

It is not only the racist nature of the "debate" over undocumented
immigrants that poisons the atmosphere, but it is also the shrill anti-Arab
and anti-Muslim rhetoric that has been the political vogue since 9-11-with
no end in sight. Since 9-11 and the racist roundups of thousands of Muslim
men, it has been open season on Arabs and Muslims in American society.
According to a Washington Post poll taken last March, a majority of
Americans think that "Muslims are disproportionately prone to violence." The
same poll found that one in four Americans has a negative view of Arabs. A
USA Today poll in August found that almost 40 percent of Americans harbored
some prejudice against Muslims and the same number favored Muslims having to
carry national identification cards.

This anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism has been sanctioned from the highest
levels of government as the Bush administration and the Democrats who
support its war efforts demonize and de-humanize the Arab "enemy" to justify
both the U.S. and Israeli destruction of Arab country after Arab country.
The unfathomable, genocidal deaths of 655,000 Iraqis since the war began in
2003 is only tolerable if the Iraqis are viewed as having less humanity and
less worth than the rest of the world. Even as late into the war as 2005,
there was a 30 percent increase in hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) tracked 1,972 incidents
against Muslims in 2005-the highest number since 1995 in the aftermath of
the Oklahoma City bombing. According to a study compiled by the University
of Illinois, the wages of Muslim men in the United States have dropped by 10
percent since 9-11. 

Racism and the State

Racism in American society is hardly new, but there is a new respectability
for it that is sanctioned by the highest levels of government lending an air
of authority and legitimacy to the attacks on Latinos and Arabs in our
society. Racism has historically been used to divide, distract and rule
American workers. Today is no different. Neither political party has
solutions for the ongoing crisis that all workers lives are mired
in-unattainable healthcare, rising taxes, low wages, raided pension funds,
perpetual downsizing and layoffs and general insecurity spurred on by
unending wars and an uncertain future. In the absence of a real political
program, the powers that be have opted for scapegoating and repression. 

The resurgence of racism is coupled with ever expanding police powers and
the legitimization of a "by all means necessary" approach to law
enforcement. From wiretapping to the purposely vague "enemy combatant" label
the Bush administration is not only preparing for battles abroad but the
inevitable conflicts at home. In other words, not only has the Patriot Act
allowed the Bush Administration to follow and surveil perpetually suspect
Muslim organization, but the same laws are used to monitor and harass peace
and anti-war organizations. From Abu Grahib to Guantanamo to the South Side
of Chicago, to East L.A., to the streets of Queens where Sean Bell was
gunned down law enforcement has been allowed to roam unchecked by city
halls, state houses and the federal government.

It is inevitable that this web of "respectable" racism directed at the
undocumented, Latinos, Muslims and Arabs would eventually entangle African
Americans. American racism is not like a water facet that can be turned on
for some and turned off for others. It is a continuous stream that
eventually gets everyone wet. In the 1990s in California, tens of thousands
of African Americans voted for the racist Proposition 187---an ordinance
aimed at stripping immigrants of their access to a wide range of social
services. Blacks were told that the presence of Latino immigrants-documented
and undocumented-were cutting into desperately needed resources for the
Black community. Of course the passing of Prop 187 did not increase
resources in the Black community it only helped to stoke general racial
animosity so much so that a few years later Proposition 209-a California ban
on affirmative action-passed resulting in thousands of Black students being
locked out of universities across the state. 

When Latinos buy into the stereotypes that Blacks do not work as hard as
immigrants, it helps to preserve an atmosphere of finger pointing and
scapegoating and divides Latinos against a necessary ally. When Blacks and
Latinos accept the racist caricatures of Muslims and Arabs as terrorists it
only helps justify government spending on "security" and law enforcement
which in turn contributes to a "law and order" atmosphere allowing the
police, the military and the border patrol to do "whatever it takes to keep
us safe"-including harassing, detaining and sometimes killing Muslims,
Latinos and Blacks. The American state has used the scapegoating and
demonization of undocumented immigrants and Muslims to rehabilitate racial
profiling after African American protest in the late 1990s largely
discredited the practice.


Fighting Back

The attacks on these affected communities has not only created victims but
has also produced resistance. The immigrant rights movement, which drew
millions of documented and undocumented workers onto American streets in
unprecedented numbers, is the most powerful example of this dynamic. The
movement was largely born out of reaction to a proposed congressional bill
which would have criminalized the mere presence of the undocumented in the
United States while turning all Latinos into suspects.

But there have been smaller expressions of resistance showing that the
pieces for a generalized movement against racism exist. Earlier this month
when six imams were handcuffed and herded off of a U.S. Airways plane
because some passengers complained the men made them "uncomfortable",
supporters organized a pray-in at the airline's ticket counter at Reagan
Airport in Washington, D.C. UCLA student, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, was
handcuffed and tasered in the school library when he was profiled and asked
to show identification and he refused. In response to this blatant act of
racism and police brutality, two hundred students organized a protest
against the police tactics and anti-Muslim racism. When management at
Smithfield Foods fired 75 immigrant workers because they said the workers
social security numbers did not match federal data, nearly 1,000 Latino
workers walked off the job to audible shouts of "justicia" , "we want
justice" and "no more abuse." Within two days management caved reinstating
most of the fired workers and promising no reprisals for those who
participated in the wildcat. Finally, in the aftermath of the murder of Sean
Bell hundreds of Blacks took to the streets to demand justice and an end to
police brutality in the Black community. This all just in the month of

The current debate and discussion amongst activists and in movement circles
on how to achieve "Black-Brown" unity and collaboration are not simply
abstract projections on "can't we all get along". These are desperately
needed discussions on how to organize a movement based on the political
principles of solidarity and "an injury to one is an injury to all." In fact
that debate needs to be widened to include Muslims and Arabs and white
workers who are rapidly being disabused of any false notions of privilege
and power as their living standards have followed everyone else's down a
bottomless sink hole.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes regularly on issues of race and class for the
International Socialist Review. She is author of Civil Rights and Civil
Wrongs: Racism in America Today and Racism and the Criminal Injustice
System. She can be reached at keeanga2001 at yahoo.com

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