Eight months after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson triggered raucous protests around the country and transformed the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter into a nascent movement, the political scene in Ferguson, Missouri where the shooting took place has changed dramatically. While no federal civil rights charges were brought against Wilson, the U.S. Department of Justice’s audit of Darren’s employer, the Ferguson police department, revealed pervasive racist practices aimed at Blacks and ultimately led the white police chief, white city manager who hired him, and the white municipal judge who issued tickets to Blacks for minor violations to raise millions of dollars for the city to resign, one by one. There is an activist effort to recall Ferguson’s mayor and three out of six city council members decided not to run for re-election, paving the way for eight candidates to vie for the three open seats and guaranteeing that two seats on the council will be held by Blacks.
These developments are a practical repudiation of so-called ‘radical’ responses to the problem of police brutality embodied in articles such as Rolling Stone‘s “6 Ideas for a Cop-Free World“ or RS21‘s semi-anarchist notion of protests without politics or parties and a vindication for the revolutionary democratic socialist approach to the struggle in Ferguson (and elsewhere):
“If Michael Brown’s death is to lead to meaningful change, if he is not to become another Abner Louima or Amadou Diallo — shot by cops, protested about, and ultimately nothing changed — the struggle in Ferguson must become political, that is, it must develop a fighting electoral wing.
“In the 20 years since the Rodney King beating inaugurated the citizen’s video camera as a new weapon in the fight against police brutality, there has been little to no meaningful police reform in the United States because such fights never developed such a wing. Cops kill, we catch it on tape, and the judiciary absolves them of guilt, over and over again, year after year, decade after decade. …
“The only way to break this cycle of shootings-protests-demoralization is to advance the struggle to the level of politics, of political parties, as the only plane upon which the insurgent masses can begin trying to curb an out-of-control police force since protests and riots clearly have not and will not change police behavior.
Part of what made the protests in Ferguson so explosive was the fact that this Black-majority city had an almost all-white local government — the police chief, the prosecutor, and the city council (with the exception of one member) were white — and so when a white officer killed a Black teenager, the almost all-white local government deployed tanks and tear gas against non-violent Black protesters exercising their Constitutional rights.
The contradiction between the majority-Black residents and majority-white local government was rooted in the difference in voter turnout rates between Blacks and whites. With whites three times as likely to vote as Blacks in local elections, whites became a majority of the electorate despite being a minority of Ferguson’s 21,000 residents and the racial makeup of local government reflected that. In its entire history, Ferguson has had only two Black city council members!
Tuesday’s election marks the beginning of the end of this contradiction as local protesters and activists entered the electoral arena and vied for political power in local government. They will have a hand in hiring the next police chief and the next city manager as well as formulating and legislating whatever reforms are necessary to police the police.
Those who mistakenly believe that police reform under capitalism is impossible or that socialist revolution is the only solution to police brutality would do well to study the success of the Black United Front in Cincinnati which helped reign in the city’s out-of-control police force and saved many Black lives despite failing to achieve full communism.