Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 34, September 5, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Use of State-Backed Racist Militias in the United States

Resistance Persists against State-Organised Attempts to Undermine Movement for Change

Memorial and march in Rochester, New York, September 3, 2020, for Daniel Prude who died in police custody in March 2020.

In the United States, the ruling circles and their elected representatives are going all out to undermine the growing movement for change. They are portraying those protesting for rights and against police violence and impunity as the source of conflict and violence which is, in fact, caused by the state. They also claim the way forward is by choosing sides in the November election or other reliance on the state machinery.

The people across the country are persisting in relying on their own initiatives and organising to defend rights, despite brutal police violence against them. To divert and disrupt the movement not only are elections presented as the solution but now state-backed racist militias are being deployed. This is not only used to incite violence against peaceful protesters, but also to justify using far greater state violence in the name of controlling "extremists" of the "right" and "left".

The unjustifiable racist police killings of African Americans continue with the latest such crimes in Rochester, New York and Los Angeles, California. The Rochester case only came to light because of efforts by the family demanding police video. Local police knew it was a homicide in March and New York's Attorney General has had the case since April - yet both kept the crime hidden. This has further exposed efforts by the states to quell resistance by claiming the solution to police killings is an "independent" investigation by the state attorney general. Hundreds immediately came out in protest in both Rochester and New York City and were met with a massive police presence and repeatedly sprayed with what police now call a "chemical irritant".

The level of brutality of the police forces everywhere - in Los Angeles again shooting an unarmed African American man in the back as he ran away and in Rochester suffocating another while he was naked, handcuffed, and on the ground in cold weather - make clear that these racist institutions are organised to impose submission to a system that protects property interests and generates fear, then presents such inhumanity as democratic and acceptable. The fear of the rulers that their "democracy" and "justice" are no longer being accepted is palpable. Their violence will not deter the resistance which is determined to prevail.

Use of Armed Militia

The use of armed militia with state backing and protection has been especially evident in Portland, Oregon and Kenosha, Wisconsin. In Kenosha, police did not arrest or disarm a young militia member from Illinois who shot and killed two people. He was only arrested at his home the following day. By comparison, organisers of the demonstrations were snatched off the street by local and federal forces in unmarked vans and held for 24 hours, charged with violating curfew.

Portland is one of the cities where state-backed efforts to discredit and criminalise protests, often using state-backed militias, has long occurred. The success of rights organisers there in making their demands for equality and against racist police violence and impunity heard and reckoned with, including daily protests now for nearly 100 days following the killing of George Floyd, is supported by tens of millions across the country. Demonstrators there have persisted undaunted despite vicious violence by local and state police as well as federal forces. Now, militias like Patriot Prayer, based in Washington State, and Proud Boys, also active in New York City, are increasingly being used.

Both commonly organise actions together, such as the recent August 29 "Trump Cruise" where dozens of vehicles were permitted by police and federal forces to caravan through downtown Portland, assaulting demonstrators by firing paint balls and pepper spray into the crowds. Police did not stop them, did not declare it unlawful when they diverted from their approved route, enabling them to reach the demonstrators. Demonstrators, on the other hand, in similar circumstances are routinely barricaded, charged with bicycles or police lines and tear gas.

In Portland, August 24, at a "No Marxism in America" rally by "Proud Boys", notorious for their violence and anti-people stands, an individual member of Proud Boys, with an arrest warrant out for previous assault on a demonstrator, was not stopped or arrested. Police knew of his presence, yet, as Police Chief Chuck Lovell put it, "What is it going to take for us to wade into a crowd of people to make an arrest on a warrant?" He added, "It's probably not something we'd look to do in that type of crowd control situation." Yet people here and worldwide have seen police and federal forces do exactly that night after night after night against people standing up for equality and an end to police violence. Further, there were only about 30 officers present at the "Proud Boys" rally, as compared to the hundreds of heavily armed officers commonly at the protests defending rights.

The militias involved are known for their violence against those standing up for rights and their openly Hitlerite, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant actions. Both have been used to violently target demonstrators in Portland for more than two years. Their members are usually clothed in military style uniforms and their actions commonly guarded by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials. Numerous videos show them isolating and then beating protesters and assaulting them with paint balls and pepper balls. They are rarely arrested and police and federal forces usually do not intervene in the beatings, many severe enough to require hospitalization. Instead, they commonly tear gas and arrest the pro-people demonstrators.

In practice, these activities by police and militias exacerbate the policing issues facing the society. They are in part an effort to divert the movement into making these militias their main target, rather than the state that foments and protects them, while also increasing tensions among the people and justifying further state-organised violence by police or the military. Kenosha, for example, currently has more than 1,000 National Guard present.

At the August 29 confrontation with demonstrators in Portland by the armed militia forces, a member of "Patriot Prayer" was shot and killed. Reports indicate that Black Lives Matter protester Michael Forest Reinoehl responded in self-defence. He was from the Portland-area and a regular at the demonstrations. Unlike Kyle Rittenhouse, who killed two protesters in Kenosha and was only arrested the next day in a "routine" manner, Reinoehl was shot and killed in a hail of 30-40 bullets by US Marshals.

Further rallies by these armed militia are being promoted in Portland for September 7, 19 and 26. Governor Kate Brown has called on "outside agencies," like federal DHS and US Marshals, to assist. Oregon State Police will allow troopers responding to protests to be deputised by the Marshals so demonstrators can be charged with federal crimes, which often carry harsher sentences.

Los Angeles

Two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies shot and killed 29-year-old African-American Dijon Kizzee on August 31. He was stopped while on his bicycle for what the police department called "bicycle code violations". He fled and was pursued, and a physical confrontation reportedly broke out. Police claim that Kizzee dropped some clothes and a firearm at this point, although none of the video of the incident can verify the firearm. However, it is clear he posed no threat. Police reports admit he was unarmed and fleeing. Police fired 15 times, killing him with shots to the back.

Attornies for Kizzee's family point out that police often use bicycle code violations as an excuse to justify a stop when a police shooting or other use of force has occurred. "That could be something as benign as riding his bicycle on the sidewalk or against traffic," said attorney Carl Douglas. "You never see anybody in Beverly Hills or Santa Monica stopped for a code violation."

Attorney Dale Galipo said Kizzee was shot in the back without any commands or verbal warning by police. "Another reckless, unnecessary shooting of a person of colour," he said. "One has to wonder: How long is this gonna go on? And why is it continuing to go on, day after day, week after week? How many families are watching right now concerned that their children, their loved ones are gonna be the next victims?"

Kenosha and Elections

Protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, August 29, 2020. Protests have been ongoing since the police shooting of Jacob Blake.

Following the racist police shooting of Jacob Blake on August 23 and the killing of two protesters by an armed militia member on August 25, President Trump visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, on September 1. He did so despite a request from Governor Tony Evers, who publicly said his presence would "only hinder our healing" and "delay our work to overcome division and move forward together". Reports indicate that privately he also asked Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden not to come, but he also visited Kenosha on September 3.

Protests against Trump's visit took place from the time he arrived in the early afternoon until the 7:00 pm curfew. There have been marches in Kenosha even before the police shooting of Jacob Blake and daily ones since. There have also been numerous community events, such as providing free food and medical supplies to further strengthen the unity and resistance.

To divert and dampen the ongoing actions in many cities, both Trump and Biden are trying to present the election as the "most important in modern history". People are supposed to divide for or against Trump and devote energy and resources on the candidates. Instead, people are organising to step up their resistance and already making plans for continued actions after the elections. They reject the old and obsolete "justice" of the existing system. The growing consciousness is that by sticking to their demands for equality and accountability and defending the rights of all, change that favours the people can be achieved.

In Kenosha, Trump took part in a "Community Safety Roundtable" where he began by praising the role of the police and military against demonstrations, which he termed as "anti-police and anti-American riots". He referred to demonstrators as "violent mobs", engaged in acts of "domestic terror". He said that the federal government is providing more funding for "hiring more police, surging tough-on-crime federal prosecutors, increasing penalties for assaulting law enforcement".

By defaming the movement as "terrorist", charges of domestic terror, or even those of "resisting arrest" if it involves federal officers, are going to be increasingly used against demonstrators to impose harsher sentences. This was further shown in Trump's remarks attempting to dismiss protesters and their just demands as followers of a violent ideology, specifically targeting those opposing fascism.

His exchanges in the roundtable focused on the destruction of property and the need to protect it, not people. He said he would provide emergency funding of $1 million for Kenosha police and another $42 million for statewide police forces and prosecutors.

US Attorney General Barr was also present. Like Trump, he emphasised continuing efforts by the federal government to control policing at the state and local level. For Kenosha, in particular, Barr said, "This is an example that when you have the local political leadership backing the police, you have the state willing to put in the resources in terms of National Guard, and the federal government able to come up with support such as the FBI, the Marshals, and ATF who have some special skills and forensic ability to help, there will be peace on the streets."

During his visit to Kenosha on September 3, Joe Biden, amongst other activities, took part in a community meeting and spoke by phone with Jacob Blake, still hospitalised and paralysed, and met with his family members. Trying to appear to support the cause of the demonstrators, he said that the police officer involved in the Blake shooting should be charged. But, his campaign clarified, only after "a full investigation to ensure all the facts are known first".

People in Rochester are well acquainted with such investigations by local and state officials, which hide yet another brutal "I Can't Breathe" killing of a black man. In the case of the individual who was only suspected of the August 29 fatal shooting in Portland of militia member Aaron J Danielson, there was no investigation; he was summarily gunned down and killed by federal forces.

"Full investigation", is reserved for agents of the state and whether conducted by local, state or federal officials, it is common to result in no charges. Though more than 1,000 police killings occur yearly, of the 42 non-federal police officers convicted between 2005 and 2020, only five were convicted of murder, 22 of various degrees of manslaughter, five of the lesser charges of negligent or reckless homicide. The rest were convicted for assault or lesser charges. (Statista Research Department, June 10, 2020).

Further, the broad resistance is demanding far more than just charges against individual police. The resistance is striving for new arrangements that provide justice by guaranteeing equal rights, provide the people with control, recognise that peace and security require dealing with poverty and state-organised violence, not denigrating protesters as the source of the problems.

The Trump and Biden visits and ongoing campaigns are part of the pressure from the ruling circles to divide the people and have them line up behind one or the other candidate. Instead, continuing actions in Kenosha, Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago and many other cities show the people are speaking out in their own name and organising to achieve their demands.

Sports Teams Join in Protests Following Shooting of Jacob Blake

Community gathering in Kenosha organised by the Blake family, September 1, 2020.

Since the police shooting of Jacob Blake, actions are being taken by professional athletes across North America in support of the Black Lives Matter movement against racism and police violence. On August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks led a historic boycott of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs to protest against the escalation of racial violence in the country. Minutes before the game began, only the referees and athletes from the Orlando Magic were on the court. Orlando decided to walk off to join the boycott.

Strikes are banned under the NBA's collective bargaining agreement, which means the Bucks players broke their own contract in order to protest against racial injustice and police violence. The decision by the teams caused a chain reaction that included the Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers, prompting action by the sport's top executives.

Teams from the Women's NBA, Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball, including the Milwaukee Brewers, have also joined the boycott, with athletes in the National Hockey League and professional tennis also holding similar actions. Many university and college sports teams also held protests and marches in solidarity across the US.

The stands taken by professional athletes against racism and police violence this year were preceded in recent times by then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, who in that year's pre-season, began the practice of sitting or kneeling during the playing of the US National Anthem. He later explained, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." His remarks came in the context of the growing Black Lives Matter movement following several outrageous police killings of African Americans.

Kaepernick's kneeling protest has since been picked up by many other players in the National Football League (NFL), while Kaepernick himself is said to have been blackballed and has not been signed to a team since 2016, despite being acknowledged as having the skills to be a starting quarterback. Monopoly media as well as President Trump have used this issue to try to sow divisions. Nonetheless, many ordinary youth taking part in amateur sport across the US, whether African American or not, have also taken up this form of protest to express their demand for an end to racism and police violence and to show their unity and refusal to be divided on a racist basis.

(TML Weekly, September 5, 2020)


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