The WSWS site has done a disservice to Marxism and to the Black Lives Matter movement with its ideologically driven study of police killings in the U.S., focusing on dead white people.
“All U.S. cops function in a system that has been purposely organized to contain, control and terrorize specifically Black populations, especially poor Blacks.”
The World Socialist Web Site has brought in the New Year with a scurrilous and sectarian assault on “Black Lives Matter” and what the WSWS calls “the pseudo-left,” claiming that Black activists and their allies are pushing a “racialist and pro-capitalist agenda” that ignores the killing of poor whites by police. In a three-part series titled
“Behind the epidemic of police killings in America: Class, poverty and race,” the site claims to show that “the killing of poor blacks by white cops is only one aspect of the reign of terror by American police against the working class, and not even the most common form of such killings.” Instead, the site’s Trotskyist researchers maintain that, because cops kill whites and Blacks in roughly equal proportions in some parts of the nation, and hardly kill Blacks at all in much of the country, the general phenomenon of police killings of civilians is class conflict, not race.
This bizarre and ill-conceived study serves as a reminder that much of what passes for a “left” in the white settler states and Europe is useless to any movement against racial oppression. Were it not so tiny and ineffectual, the WSWS’s handlers in the Socialist Equality Party would be downright dangerous to Black people.
“The site’s Trotskyist researchers maintain that the general phenomenon of police killings of civilians is class conflict, not race.”
The study looks at police killings data compiled by the Washington Post, the Guardian and Fatal Encounters surveyors. Although the WSWS researchers concede that Blacks are, on a nationwide basis, 2.24 times more likely to be killed by police than whites, they contend that such police killings are limited to just one-quarter of the country, and that three-quarters of the nation’s population “live in cities or counties that were free of such killings.” The WSWS then proceeds to treat the “police killing zone” and the rest of the U.S. as separate countries. The “killing zone” nation is more heavily Black (18.6 percent) and Hispanic (26.7 percent) and less non-Hispanic white (only 44.5 percent) than the rest of the country. The researchers further calculate that the “killing zone” poverty rate is more than twice as high as the rest of the U.S.: 19.5 percent versus 9.5 percent. Voila!: the study concludes that “what whites and blacks who are killed by police have in common is poverty.”
“Whites are the supposedly hidden victims of the ruling class war on poor people.”
The WSWS study finds that “half of all police killings occur in rural areas where the majority is non-Hispanic white, though these areas represent a much smaller fraction of the national population. It is here where white deaths begin to ‘catch up’ to black deaths, and ultimately surpass them.” These whites are the supposedly hidden victims of the ruling class war on poor people. The researchers put them in the same economically targeted class as Black victims of police lethal force in St. Louis, the city with the highest rate of police killings in the nation. “Not only are blacks” in St. Louis “shot in predominately black neighborhoods,” said the study, “but they are also the poorest with median household income even below the city average and poverty levels three times the national average.”
With all this slicing and dicing of numbers, the WSWS study has only “proven” that cops are much more likely to shoot a poor person than an affluent one. The study also confirmed another fact that has long been known to researchers: that white and Asian victims of police violence “had a higher rate of mental illness as compared to blacks and Hispanics” — close to twice as high. “Whites had a rate of 29.6 percent compared to blacks at 17.6 percent.”
“The WSWS study has only ‘proven’ that cops are much more likely to shoot a poor person than an affluent one.”
Yes, it’s a big country, with lots of poor people of all races, who are more likely to be killed by police than are richer Americans. But that doesn’t mean they were killed because they were poor, only that they were not rich enough — or sane enough — to escape being victimized by cops. But class-conscious cops can also be racists, and all U.S. cops function in a system that has been purposely organized to contain, control and terrorize specifically Black populations, especially poor Blacks. The numbers show, incontrovertibly, that lethal police violence is most concentrated in Black, poor urban neighborhoods, which have for nearly a half century been the epicenter of what Michelle Alexander calls “The New Jim Crow”: the post-Civil Rights and Black Power era Mass Black Incarceration State. As I wrote in BAR on September 13, 2017:
“In building the world’s largest prison system to house the mostly non-white prey of the planet’s most intrusive police state, the U.S. has condemned to the dungeons millions of non-targeted whites — unintended, collateral damage of the race wars that birthed the nation and built an empire.”
“The WSWS tortures both Marxism and history in order to stuff U.S. police racism into an economics-only box.”
Not only are U.S. whites killed by police in far larger numbers than their western European, Canadian and Australian cousins, they are also locked up in far greater numbers. The dead whites, like their Black counterparts, are the bodies that didn’t make it to jail, victims of a Mass Black Incarceration State that inevitably also ensnares non-Blacks in its institutional traps. But, that doesn’t change the racial nature of the beast. As most Blacks are well aware, were it not for endemic racism many more whites would be incarcerated or dead as a consequence of the draconian criminal justice system that was concocted to re-enslave Blacks after “Emancipation” — the Old Jim Crow — and refurbished and militarized as a response to the Black and radical movements of the late 1960s: Michelle Alexander’s New Jim Crow.
The WSWS tortures both Marxism and history in order to stuff U.S. police racism into an economics-only box. But the racial roots of the Mass Black Incarceration State — leading inevitably to high rates of police killings of Blacks and others in the U.S. — are irrefutable.
As Richard Nixon top aide John Erlichman told Harper’s Magazine:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
“The racial roots of the Mass Black Incarceration State are irrefutable.”
The federalized militarization of police began with the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, inaugurated in 1968. According to Michelle Alexander, Ronald Reagan’s regime put the campaign into hyper-drive:
“President Ronald Reagan wanted to make good on campaign promises to get tough on that group of folks who had already been defined in the media as black and brown, the criminals, and he made good on that promise by declaring a drug war. Almost immediately after his declaration of war, funds for law enforcement began to soar.…
“The drug war had already been declared, but the emergence of crack cocaine in inner-city communities actually provided the Reagan administration precisely the fuel they needed to build greater public support for the war they had already declared.
“So the Reagan administration actually launched a media campaign to publicize the crack epidemic in inner-city communities, hiring staff whose job it was to publicize inner-city crack babies, crack dealers or so-called crack whores and crack-related violence, in an effort to boost public support for this war they had already declared [and to inspire] Congress to devote millions more dollars to waging it.…
“It was President Bill Clinton who actually escalated the drug war far beyond what his Republican predecessors even dreamed possible.”
First lady Hillary Clinton, aiming to return to the Big House as chief executive one day, marked legions of Black boys for death, back in 1996, with her demonizations:
“We need to take these people on, they are often connected to big drug cartels, they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators. No conscience. No empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way but first we have to bring them to heel.”
Cops took that as further encouragement for use of deadly force. As I reported in BAR, Barack Obama boosted the Pentagon’s infamous 1033 program 24-fold, increasing the flow of battle-ready weaponry and gear to local police departments from $34 million a year, under George Bush, to $787 million under the First Black President in 2014 — the year Mike Brown was slaughtered by a cop in Ferguson, Missouri, outside St. Louis.
“Barack Obama boosted the Pentagon’s infamous 1033 program 24-fold.”
A long-delayed grassroots movement finally emerged to confront the Mass Black Incarceration regime and its killer cops, under the umbrella of Black Lives Matter. The ruling class has attempted to co-opt this movement ever since, with varying degrees of success. But the WSWS critique of Black Lives Matter is bogus and ideologically driven, with numbers sprinkled in to give the illusion of social science. WSWS is opposed to independent Black political activity, including Black political self-defense against state oppression, which the WSWS brand of Trotskyists deems as narrow nationalist and objectively (or even consciously!) in league with the capitalist rulers. Which would be a great slander, if the WSWS were considered as serious Marxists. But, they are not. Although WSWS does some good work, they are also, unfortunately, crazy.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]