Revolution#137, July 27, 2008

Chicago Cops Shoot 12, Kill 6 in 4 Weeks

Trigger Happy Police
…and a Criminal System

Between June 11 and July 5 of this year, Chicago police shot twelve people, all Black and Latino. Six were wounded and survived. Six were killed.

The victims were young and old, a mother, fathers, and children. They were students aspiring to go to college, and workers. They were people with friends, families, and dreams. They included Shapell Terrell, a 39-year-old sanitation truck driver raising seven children; police fired 14 bullets into his back, killing him on the spot. That very same evening, Chicago police killed 49-year-old Darius Nicholson; his wife told TV news,  “They came on a domestic [disturbance call], we ended up with a death.” Robin Johnson suffered from mental health problems and epilepsy; she was shot. The list goes on.

The very randomness of the police shooting spree in Chicago reveals much about what this is all about. A young high school student…a sanitation worker…a mother with a history of mental illness. The message is that anyone could be next—especially any African-American or Latino young man. The rash of police shootings in Chicago this summer is part of a reign of terror that means that millions of people in this country wake up every morning knowing that they could be shot for any reason. Or no reason at all. The police stories are suspiciously similar—“a gun was found.” Police acted as judge, jury, and executioner.

What has been the response? A public outcry? Indignant editorials in the city’s media? Calls for investigations? No, no, and no. There has been near silence in response to this wave of police shootings.

Over the past months, there has been a frenzied blizzard of news about crime, and a great deal of paralyzing confusion has been spread among different sections of people...from those who are most directly under the gun to people in all walks of life. We must clearly state the real situation: there is NO justification for the police going on a rampage against Black and Latino people, NO MATTER WHAT THE EXCUSES THEY PUMP OUT THERE. In this article, we will zoom out with the camera, and show how the police shootings and murders, and the problem they are claiming to solve—youth violence directed at other youth—come from the same place. More police flooding the communities, jacking up youth, and shooting people is not the solution.

But before we do that, let’s focus in on the intolerable reality of what has been going on.

A Reality Check

Seventeen-year-old Jonathan Pinkerton lies in a hospital bed, paralyzed by a bullet fired by the Chicago police. Jonathan was planning to tour colleges this summer, between his junior and senior years at Corliss High School. On June 11 graduation and the prom were over and he was passing a warm summer evening with his friends at Altgeld Gardens housing project. On that evening, police chased Jonathan, shot him in the back. Then, while he was lying on the ground wounded, one cop knelt on his back while, according to witnesses, another cop kicked him in the head.

Jonathon Pinkerton had no police record. This stands out because in the ghettos and barrios of Chicago, and across the country, many youth are scooped up into the juvenile “justice” system at a very young age. Jonathon’s uncle told Revolution that in the neighborhood where Jonathon was shot, youth are frequently arrested for as little as just being outside. People in the neighborhoods of Chicago told Revolution that police routinely stop and harass young people just for wearing white t-shirts, which are very commonly worn among youth.

Luis Colon apparently did have a gun when he was shot and killed by Chicago police on June 24. He was 18 years old, and yes—already had a criminal record. But neighbors told Revolution that Luis had put his gun down and was attempting to surrender when he was shot and killed by police.

As one young woman from the South Side put it, many youth like Luis find it necessary to carry a weapon as part of the life they have found themselves in, to survive. But they do not carry guns to shoot police. According to residents from Luis’s neighborhood, when Luis was confronted by police, it made no sense that he would try to surrender—as witnesses in the park saw him do—and at the same time still pull a gun on police. Luis “would have known that would be suicide” because police shoot young Black and Latino men with guns—or under any pretext that they can claim indicated the youth had a gun.

“Choices,” and the Workings of the System

People are killing each other in Chicago. One painful example: some 27 Chicago Public School students were killed in violent incidents last year.

Why? Are these things fundamentally the result of “bad choices” made by the youth? Or are they a product of, and determined by, the very nature and workings of this system? To answer that question, we have to pull back the lens, and look at the conditions that put people in these situations. And define what  “choices” people have.

Consider three factors shaping the so-called “choices” youth find themselves confined to.

First, how did a million Black people come to end up in Chicago—hundreds of thousands of them in very desperate circumstances? Before and after World War II, millions of Black people migrated to the cities of the north from the rural south; pushed by Jim Crow, vicious poverty, and lynch mob terror, and pulled by word of factory jobs in “The Promised Land.” In Chicago, as elsewhere, the super-exploitation of African-Americans in the most low-paying, dangerous, and tenuous jobs was a great source of super-profits for the capitalists who owned the steel mills, packing houses and factories. Throughout society, Black people were segregated, brutalized and discriminated against in every sphere. Whites got government loans to buy homes in the suburbs; Black people were shunted—by government policy—into high rise housing projects. Today, vast stretches of Chicago have become economic wastelands as the jobs have changed, or moved on in search of fresh blood to exploit even more ruthlessly (see pg. 14, “Chicago’s Economic Disaster Zones”). In short, the masses of Black people who were brought north to work the jobs in heavy industry are now no longer being exploited in the same way. For many (and especially for youth) there are no jobs.

Second, in response to the grinding conditions Black people faced, and in the context of a worldwide revolutionary upheaval as well as other global economic and political factors, a powerful Black Liberation movement arose in the 1960s. Youth who the system had cast off, for whom the system had no future, found something to live for: revolution. The system hated, feared, and lashed out viciously at this revolutionary movement. And the system was able to derail and crush the revolutionary movement that gave real hope and something positive to live and fight for to youth from all walks of life.

Third, where did the huge growth in gangs come from? Gangs arose to fill an economic and ideological vacuum. They arose in circumstances where youth saw no chance for jobs, and where the influence of revolutionaries had been to a great degree wiped out by government repression. Along with this the government both flooded the ghettos with drugs, and passed laws that criminalized whole communities of youth with the “war on drugs,” and the “war on crime.” Tens of thousands of Chicago youth were arrested during the nineties for “loitering,” and many more added to gang databases.

…And Government Policies

The economic decimation of whole zones of Chicago, the stripping of jobs from sections of the city, and the abandonment of these neighborhoods; the attacks on the revolutionary movement of the sixties; and the promotion of gangs were not “bad choices” made by young people coming up on the South or West Side of Chicago today. No, these were and are the conscious “choices” of the imperialists—a “choice” to continue the oppression of Black people in new and in many ways even more grotesque and sadistic forms. The so-called “choices” these youth face are the products of the workings and policies of the capitalist system.

Under these conditions, conditions not of their own making, youth are scrambling to survive—and in desperate competition with each other to do that. They are presented with a world where for them, “crime is a rational choice,” as one bourgeois economist summarized. And with that “choice” comes a set of values, a morality, and a “do or die” mentality that echoes the values and thinking of the big time capitalists. On the street level, this means fighting over turf to run a small time hustle, in competition with others. It means, even beyond those directly involved in the drug trade, being locked into a culture of settling disputes with guns. Even youth who do their best to distance themselves from “the life” have to live in communities where the code of the street sets the terms of things, and where to be caught without a gun can mean death at the hands of someone else desperate like yourself.

Government policies like widespread school closings and reassignments, and the decimation of public housing have intensified the conflicts between people locked into the ghettos. Speaking of the Chicago Public School students who were killed last year, Bill “Doc” Walls, director of Committee for a Better Chicago and former mayoral candidate told Revolution that, “The blood is on Mayor Daley, Police Superintendent Weis and [Superintendent of Schools] Arne Duncan’s hands. There has been a real spike in gang violence, but it’s nowhere near what their sensational claims make it to be. The source for this spike is the closing of the schools, creating a situation where youth have to cross gang lines to go to different schools. The tearing down of the projects has led to the same problem.”

The same system that sends police into communities like an occupying army also works to put people—especially youth—in kill-or-be-killed situations. And when the youth do react in the ways that they have been set up, conditioned, and programmed to react, the very system that did the programming uses that as an excuse to clamp down even more relentlessly. The system is the problem. It, and those who front for it, can never be part of the solution.

Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution

Does all this mean, then, that there is no hope? Or that the only option is to hope against hope that somehow, someway, the system can be relied on to deal with horrors that it has created?

No! There is a way to break through here. But the only hope for this generation, and for the vast majority of people, is to confront the real cause of the problems that are killing people, and to struggle against the system that is responsible for all this suffering and death.

And, then, in the course of, and only in the course of and through fighting the powers that be, with their eyes on the prize of building a revolutionary movement that really does have an answer to all the madness of capitalism, people can and must begin to change themselves. We saw this in society in the 1960s—when very widely in the ghettos and barrios youth got out of all kinds of bullshit, and into something positive—fighting for revolution. We saw sparks of this even short of a revolutionary movement—in the LA Rebellion in  ‘92 when people set aside divisions between gangs and nationalities to rebel against the system, and fight for justice. We have seen glimmers of this in how youth and others have come together from different neighborhoods and gangs in Chicago and set aside, at least for a time, turf conflicts to protest police brutality. And this kind of transformation of people’s outlook can take much more powerful expression—and indeed it can truly flower—in the context of a revolutionary movement aimed at emancipating all humanity.

This process is spoken to in a slogan put forward by the Revolutionary Communist Party: “Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution.” This is how the youth, and everyone else too, can transform themselves, in the course of and in the context of building a revolutionary movement to uproot the source of all the physical and mental chains that enslave people.

And from that perspective—of building a revolutionary movement—it is critical and urgent to build powerful, mass political struggle against the police rampage in Chicago.

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