by Nick Eusebio
Tens of thousands rallied on October 10th at the White House to protest the police violence and economic marginalization faced by the majority poor/working-class Black, brown and indigenous citizens of the United States. The event bore the name “Justice or Else!” and was assembled in response to a call by Black religious and social leader Louis Farrakhan. It is widely-recognized, however, that the impressive turnout is due, in great part, to the momentum sustained now for over two years by a diverse set of activists and organizations, the most prominent being Black Lives Matter, which has helped to build a social movement to fight back against police killings of Black Americans.
“There’s a volcanic eruption that’s coming now,” said Farrakhan following, among other speakers, the father of Michael Brown, a teenager whose death by police hands in Ferguson, Missouri last year sparked a massive Black Lives Matter-led wave of protest.
“Ferguson ignited it all,” Farrakhan remarked before praising the quick action of the activists to respond to the killing. “So all the brothers and sisters from Ferguson. All the brothers and sisters that laid in the streets. All the brothers and sisters that challenged the tanks. We are honored that you have come to represent our struggle and our demand.”
Other speakers included the mother of Trayvon Martin, whose murder by George Zimmerman in 2012 was one of the original catalysts for the movement, and the sister of Sandra Bland, an anti-police brutality activist who died in Texas while in police custody. All of the family members of these victims of US state violence urged participants of the rally to continue their involvement in the struggle for social and economic justice.
Black Lives Matter is currently the most significant mass-based challenge to the US imperialist state that has been mounted by the country’s own citizens. And, although the movement, which is acknowledged by its own leaders to be in a formative stage, has no clearly-defined anti-imperialist program as of yet, there are voices within the movement who seem to be pushing it in this direction.
Many recognize, for example, that the current system of racist and anti-poor policing practices represents, in important ways, the US state’s response to the 1965 Watts Rebellion and the Black Liberation movement. The state’s response to these included increased surveillance and the provision to police personnel of military-grade equipment that was previously used only in US imperialist war-making abroad.
Connections between the US war-making abroad and the policing of its own citizens have begun to be better documented. The historian Alfred McCoy, in fact, has shown that, during the American colonization of the Philippines, the US first deployed new surveillance and policing technologies that later became a standard part of law enforcement back within its own borders. In other words, the Philippines served as an experimental testing ground for these methods of control and repression. These had disastrous consequences for the Filipino people and shaped the policing of the poor/working-class people of color in the US.
Black Lives Matter may be in an excellent position to bring such global connections to wider public attention. And considering the need for all movements around the world to act with greater awareness of such global connections, it is encouraging that there has been signs of communication between Black Lives Matter and the victims of oppression and marginalization in other countries.
During the more-than one hundred days of protest last year in response to the Ferguson Police Department’s killing of Michael Brown, messages came in from Palestinian citizens via social media. These provided protestors with instructions on how to protect themselves from the tear gas that the Ferguson Police was using against them. Partly as a result of this interaction, it appears that some Black Lives Matter activists began to make demands for the end of US support for the Israeli state’s genocidal aggression.
While the Farrakhan-led “Justice or Else!” did not touch upon such global connections as much as it could have, the event does represent a broadening of the movement beyond demands so far articulated explicitly by Black Lives Matter.
Notably included among the participants were Latinos and Native Americans, who also face high rates of police violence and incarceration. Farrakhan also added a new demand to the discussion: “We want land.” And this is a demand that has historically played an important role in Latino, Native American and Black Nationalist activist movements. Furthermore, when articulated with the correct understanding, the demand might speak to the necessity of rejecting private ownership over the means of production in the effort to end the economic marginalization of the poor/working-class and people of color.
Formulating the correct demands and plan of action are crucial because the racist and anti-poor police violence continues. It is presently estimated, in fact, that a Black American dies every 28 hours as a result of police action.
Activists around the world must support the struggle by condemning the US imperialist state’s aggression, whether against its own citizens or those of other nations. We must support the economic self-determination of the poor, the working classes, the oppressed and be pronounced in our condemnation of the marginalization of Black lives.