Revolution #95, July 15, 2007
The Murder of Cheryl Green…And the Real Cause of It
Not long ago a young friend, Jamal (not his real name), and I were discussing the murder of 14-year-old Cheryl Green. Cheryl was Black and her alleged killers are two Latino gang members.
She was in the 8th grade. Not long before she was killed, she’d written a poem that began, “I am Black and beautiful. I wonder how I will be living in the future.” She was standing on the sidewalk near her home when she was shot dead because she was Black and an “easy” target that day.
Cheryl was murdered in December 2006 in the Harbor Gateway area of Los Angeles--a small, predominantly proletarian community southwest of Watts.
Harbor Gateway sits next to the L.A. ports and shipyards, which at one time employed a lot of people in this community. People settled here and bought homes. At the same time, though, there were no parks or schools built in the immediate area. City services like street sweepers were infrequent at best, and there weren’t any street lights until the late 1980s.
Big Changes in Harbor Gateway
Harbor Gateway has undergone some significant changes over the last 20 years or so.
From the late ’80s to early ’90s, the U.S. was intensely “downsizing”--making its imperialist economy “leaner and meaner” to better compete on a global scale. It was during this time that the port and shipyard jobs that had anchored people to this neighborhood and were considered “permanent” began to disappear. Many people began experiencing long-term or permanent unemployment. The building of and investments in new homes began to slow down, and then came to a stop. Those who were able or inclined to began moving out of the area.
These changes interacted with other changes in this same time period. There was a big increase in immigrants coming to the U.S. to escape the murderous horror of the U.S.-backed death squads in Central America and the brutal poverty imposed on countries like Mexico by the U.S.
Also during this same general time frame, there were moves from the top levels of the U.S. government to “end welfare as we know it.” This started with Reagan and was brought into full effect with Clinton. The government no longer subsidized a large portion of the rent for public housing residents. In some cases, the rent doubled and tripled. This made people’s situation even more desperate and precarious than before. Many, many people were pushed even deeper into poverty--some ending up homeless.
All of these contradictions have been unfolding, interacting, and clashing against each other in different parts of L.A., including Harbor Gateway, for some time now.
Harbor Gateway almost doubled its population between 1980 and 2000. A poorer section of the proletariat moved in: cashiers, gardeners, health care workers, people with government Section 8 vouchers for subsidized “private” housing, semi-proletarians like street or swap-meet vendors, and others.
The demographics (the racial or national composition) also changed. Harbor Gateway was mainly white and Latino in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of Blacks, Asians and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and others living in this area.
People are finding themselves in a new situation--and the dog-eat-dog rules that make this capitalist system what it is force people to compete with each other to survive in a situation of growing poverty.
At one time those who run this system found it profitable and desirable to sustain people at a little higher grade or level of wage slavery in areas like Harbor Gateway. Now these same forces find it a “waste of money and resources” to sustain people at that level because that cramps and undercuts their ability to be competitive against other capitalists in this country and internationally. It’s more profitable to “pull up stakes” and leave areas like Harbor Gateway to rot--and leave the people living there to scramble and fight each other over the deteriorating impoverished conditions they find themselves in.
Lies of the System
Along with these changes, Blacks are told lies about Latinos and Latinos are told lies about Blacks. Everybody is told lies about Asians. Everybody is also told lies about whites, and whites are told lies about everybody else.
The everyday workings of the system, and the lies spread by the rulers, prevent people from seeing that their fundamental interests are in antagonistic conflict with everything this system is about. Instead, people are diverted into competing with each other and into seeing themselves in antagonistic conflict with others.
In addition, the system treats different sections of the people differently—doing some things (like homeowner loans) for this group but not that group, often as official policy. Whatever the rulers do is about strengthening their profit system and keeping those on the bottom in a fucked-up situation—and it makes it very difficult for people to get beyond all the different ways they got to keep us divided.
And when you get caught up in thinking, “I’m going to be the small-time regulator of this neighborhood and put the Blacks in check,”as apparently the killers of Cheryl Green thought…or, from the other side, get caught up thinking, “I’ll run this turf and put the immigrants in check”--then you are being played like a pawn in the game by those who really are regulating things and putting oppressed people here and all over the world in check.
Some people on their own struggle to not be played like that--to not allow the barriers and divisions to hold them down. Like Cheryl Green--she had friends among the Latinos, Samoans, and Blacks living in Harbor Gateway.
Going Up Against—and Getting Beyond—This Stuff
Jamal, who is revolutionary-minded, drew different conclusions from all this than I did. In our discussion, which became very sharp and heated at times, he said Cheryl Green’s murder shows that wherever Black people go these days they will be in adversarial conflict with Latinos and others. He said, “We can’t even go to prison anymore without being pushed up on by Mexicans.”
Jamal still has a lot of the slave mentality mixed up in his thinking. When he argues that Blacks “can’t even go to prison…,” the logic of this will lead him to saying: “What up! We got to stop these Latinos from taking over our prison!” The same logic will lead Latinos to say, “Que paso! We got to stop these Blacks from taking over our prison!”
You’re being played in this way--competing, to the death, for the “right” to victimhood, the “right” to slavery. “I suffered more than you, so I deserve better treatment by the slave master.”
One of the beautiful things about the 1992 L.A. Rebellion was that Latinos and others joined with Blacks, showing the potential for people to get out of the trap of fighting and killing each other--by uniting against the real enemy. Graffiti appeared on the walls in South Central saying, “Bloods, Crips, Mexicans united tonight 4-29-92!”
Charlene Lovett, Cheryl Green’s mom, has been calling for unity and standing against seeking revenge for her daughter’s death. She has been speaking out about how people in Harbor Gateway do get along with each other, and how she and others reach out to people of different nationalities. The mass media gives her message no coverage.
What Jamal said to me reminded me of something another friend, Hector (not his real name), told me some years ago, with some embarrassment. He had got caught up in prison and was squared off with a Black prisoner. They’d pulled out their shanks, ready to fight to the death. Then Mao’s Red Book fell out of one of their pockets--I can’t remember which. They both recognized it because they were both studying it--and this common recognition made them stop and realize that what they were getting ready to do to each other went against their revolutionary interests.
This relates to the debate I had with Jamal--and to the difficulty Hector was having in putting both feet down with proletarian revolution, instead of having one foot dangling in that other stuff. (This is why he was embarrassed telling me the story—because he knew on a certain level that revolution is what the people need.)
In different ways, to different degrees, Jamal and Hector still had some of this kind of thinking that approaches and views revolution within the framework of the capitalist system. A system where people are made to live in cut-throat competition with each other, the goal being to rise to the top where you and “your people” have domination, the power of life and death, over others and can make them work and make profits for you.
We do not need competition for the “rights” to victimhood. We need revolution and we need communism.
The Future We Need
Here’s the deeper truth in all this: All these people--the Jamals and Hectors, the Cheryl Greens, the Charlene Lovetts, the different people in Harbor Gateway, in South Central L.A., in places across the country and around the world--are part of the international proletarian class. On the one hand, the proletariat’s labor activity—picking, processing, packaging, and serving the food we eat; repairing, maintaining, and cleaning the buildings and homes; and so on--makes possible human existence in society and the world today. Even those with no work form part of this class—they have nothing but the ability to sell their labor power, and they are available for the capitalists to exploit when these parasites need more. This is the foundation from which everything comes. On the other hand, this class of people represents the potential for a better, more sensible, revolutionary way of organizing society, where things are anchored around and increasingly geared towards meeting the needs of the people—and where the people themselves increasingly control all spheres of society, and use this power to root out the dog-eat-dog social relations and ways of thinking of this hellish capitalist society.
This is communism. This is revolution. This is the future that the Cheryl Greens of the world dream of, deserve, and demand from us.
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