Reflections from a Reader on Chicago:
Crisis in the Halls of Power, Outrage in the Streets... and the Potential for Total Revolution

December 14, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


They shot Laquan down like a rabbit.

What we’re feeling in Chicago is the real feeling of America itself, and that’s injustice against people of color.... This has been a problem in America ever since there has been an America. Laquan represents thousands of Laquans—same Black skin, same poverty...
—Rev. Marvin Hunter, Laquan McDonald’s great uncle

This letter is some thinking about how the current crisis in Chicago, set off by the video of the police murder of Laquan McDonald, could contribute to a potential legitimacy crisis, and about the relationship between a legitimacy crisis and a revolutionary crisis. In the current crisis there is broad questioning of the legitimate use of force by the police against Black people and other minorities, and deep anger and questioning of the cover-up of Laquan’s murder. “On the Strategy for Revolution” talks about “sudden jolts and breakdowns in the normal functioning of society, which compel many people to question and to resist what they usually accept.” This is such a jolt. It also talks about situations where cracks appear in the ruling structures and institutions, how the raw relations of oppression are more sharply exposed, conflicts among the powers that be deepen and are not easily resolved, and how it becomes more difficult for the ruling powers to hold things together under their control and keep people down.

The video of Laquan McDonald brought to the light of day not only the acts of one murdering pig who pumped 16 bullets into Laquan’s body, and not just the instantaneous and prolonged cover-up by the police department, but the fact that the main institutions of local “civilian” power swung into gear and played their role in protecting the murdering cop and covering it all up. The fact is that the murder was plain as day on video and yet over a year had gone by while the police department, the State’s Attorney, the mayor, the “independent” police review authority, and the city council had ALL tried to cover it up.

People in the oppressed communities, especially Black people, have long known that the police act with impunity up to and including murder, and there is no justice to be found anywhere. Chicago describes itself as the “city that works.” This is how it works and has worked for decades, this is how police murder, shootings, torture, and brutality are routinely carried out, covered up, and justified... this is business as usual in Chicago and in America.

When this ripped open, more exposures of other horrendous police murders and police terror began to come out; things people have been trying to expose for years but were either suppressed or downplayed: More videos, showing teenagers shot in the back while running away, mentally ill people beaten and tased to death, families of police murder victims terrorized by police. Planted guns, cover-ups, and the lies, the lies, the lies, always the lies.

And now this has become known to much broader sections of society. There are white people out in the suburbs who normally either turn away or blame the Black masses for their conditions who are discussing all this. Some are saying they are afraid of protests and especially of riots, but at the same time want to support the people protesting, even join them, because they see there is a huge problem with the police and how they treat the Black community. If you’re one of those people—jump on in and join the protests! You are needed... and you will be welcomed.

It is worth thinking about a point Bob Avakian (BA) brings out in an article where he is examining the relationship of a legitimacy crisis to the development of a revolutionary crisis (“Legitimacy Crisis and Revolutionary Crisis—‘Legitimate’ Armed Force and ‘Illegitimate’ Armed Force,” While this article is discussing the role of the military in a situation of war, there is applicability to the role of the police as well. BA quotes from the book Experience of War by Martin Van Creveld: “Killing is an activity no society can tolerate unless it is carefully circumscribed by rules that define what is and is not allowed. Always and everywhere, killing done by certain authorized persons, under certain specific circumstances, and in accordance with certain prescribed rules is saved from blame and regarded as praiseworthy. Conversely, killing that ignores the rules or transgresses them usually provokes punishment... Where this distinction is not preserved, society will fall to pieces and war will be mere indiscriminate violence.”

The legitimacy of the police in the eyes of broad sections of people can become unraveled when those people see the police as forces who are killing illegitimately and without punishment. Look at how many people believed at first that the killing of Laquan was unfortunate but necessary state violence (based on the official story that “Laquan had a crazed look in his eye, he was lunging at police with his knife, the police were in danger”)—and then came to see that none of this happened! And not only that, but this cold-blooded murder was covered up by the authorities inside and outside the police department all up and down the line. On top of video after video of other murders by police in the past year, the exposure of the lies and cover-ups around the murder of Laquan McDonald is fueling the mounting fury.

As noted in Revolution/ coverage of the crisis in Chicago, the powers that be are scared and maneuvering to contain the outrage. They are scrambling to limit how much more about police murder and brutality comes out, to quell questioning of the legitimacy of police use of force against oppressed communities, and to channel the furor into dead ends. The authorities were terrified of the reaction of the Black masses in the neighborhoods—the people they terrorize every day, that people would rise up.

Once a judge ordered the release of the video of Laquan’s murder, the powers that be tried to keep everything under control—but it is important to understand that each step they took to do damage control backfired and outraged people even more. For instance, the mayor summoned ministers and community leaders before the video was released and threatened them with withdrawal of all funding for their programs/services if anything got out of hand in the neighborhoods. This was met with stony anger. Most refused to play the fireman role, and some actively called for people to be in the streets.

In the firestorm that followed the video’s release, Mayor Rahm Emanuel admitted it wasn’t just one bad apple but a systemic failure, and he fired the police chief. He announced the formation of a task force to “study the problem.” Hillary Clinton and many others said that the Department of Justice should be called in for a thorough investigation. Emanuel first said “No!” Then he had to welcome the DOJ as part of the “solution.” Key figures were forced out or resigned. Then Emanuel gave the speech of his life—an emotional “I’m sorry” speech. It was too little, too late and was seen as completely phony by a wide swath of people. Immediately, 1,000 people took to the streets to demand that everybody who was involved in the murder and cover-up be held accountable. Dozens of doctors, residents, and medical students held a die-in for 16 symbolic minutes in front of city hall.

The main expression all this is taking is the demand for the resignation of State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and the mayor. While nobody can say where all this will lead... this has the potential to break out of those bounds. And we have to fight to break it out—we cannot let them just “patch it up” and go back to their brutalizing business as usual.

The line is being drawn that what is needed is for everyone who was part of the murder of Laquan McDonald and the cover-up—and part of ALL the police murders and cover-ups (nationwide), all the way to the top—to be INDICTED and CONVICTED of murder and locked up as part of the struggle to STOP POLICE TERROR. And what is needed to stop all this madness and the centuries of the oppression of Black people once and for all is a total revolution!

The outbreak of resistance and the widespread condemnation of the cops’ role in murdering and brutalizing people is having an effect on Chicago police morale and is sharpening up contradictions in their ranks, as well as between the police and the local ruling authorities and representatives from the federal agencies. While the police have terrorized whole neighborhoods for a long, long time and gotten away with it, now they are on the defensive. Videos are being leaked from within the department itself. Several higher-ups have resigned/retired to get out of the way of the coming investigations, leaving underlings to take the heat. Police blogs are angrily denouncing that they are being thrown under the bus by the mayor and are calling on their brethren to not do “policing” in any way that could bring them scrutiny or risk. (BTW: What does it tell you about the role of the police that if they are not allowed to wantonly murder Black teenagers and get away with it, then they cannot and will not do their job? It tells you that IS their job.)

It is worth reflecting on this point from BA:

The essence of dictatorship—all dictatorships, all forms of the state—is the monopoly of armed force, of armed force legitimated through the prevailing political system and the prevailing “social compact” and the attendant “ideological norms.” When, again, the legitimacy of this monopoly of armed force is significantly called into question—and particularly when this becomes widespread in society, affecting broad strata, not just among the proletariat and basic masses but extensively among the “middle class” as well—then this can be a crucial part of the development of one of the key elements making possible a revolutionary struggle, the emergence of a revolutionary people, of millions and millions determined to make revolutionary change.
(from Great Objectives and Grand Strategies: “Legitimacy Crisis and Revolutionary Crisis—‘Legitimate’ Armed Force and ‘Illegitimate’ Armed Force”)

A legitimacy crisis does not automatically turn into a revolutionary crisis, but it is a key ingredient of a revolutionary crisis. As the work cited above from BA goes on to point out, “This leads into the broader question of the sharpening of social contradictions—including those within the ruling class—and the relation of this to legitimacy crisis and to an actual revolutionary crisis.”

The potential for a revolutionary situation to emerge, in no small part in relationship to the oppression of Black people in the U.S., is definitely a possibility—not a certainty but a possibility, as BA and the RCP have been pointing to in the past year. It was just weeks ago that in the wake of Rise Up October, police unions—including the Fraternal Order of Police in Chicago—were all puffed up and attacking Quentin Tarantino for being part of Rise Up October and taking a strong stand against murder by police. Since October, there has been the wave of student resistance starting with Mizzou; the encampment protesting police murder in Minneapolis and the shooting attack there on protesters by white supremacists and thousands taking to the streets in response; the outpouring around the release of the video of Laquan McDonald and the cover-up. In Baltimore, there is the current trial of the first cop for Freddie Gray’s murder. The decision of the grand jury in Cleveland on the police murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice is pending. This contradiction around the oppression of Black people is roiling society.

This all has to be put in the international context in which this is taking place. Obama was put at the helm of the U.S. imperialist empire mainly so that this empire could recover its position in the world after the debacle of Bush and the war in Iraq—which has led to the mushrooming growth of Islamic fundamentalism in the world and the problems that have beset the U.S. and its allies as they try to bludgeon the Middle East into line with their strategic objectives. (See Bob Avakian’s “Obama: Playing the Trump Card?” from correspondence written after Obama’s first election.)

Secondarily, after the meltdown of the economy in 2008, Obama was also a significant safety valve in relationship to the Black community, which was and continues to be hardest hit by the economic crisis. In the current situation in Chicago, there is a significant element of a section of Black people, especially from the middle strata, who are feeling betrayed by Obama both around police brutality and murder and in relationship to the fact there is no future for the youth. There is a lot of pent-up anger at Emanuel for carrying out austerity measures during his first term as mayor—closing 50 schools, closing mental health clinics, etc. The teachers are currently voting on a strike authorization.

This is one of those times where nobody can say how far things can go toward a revolutionary crisis—both because of the depth of the oppression of Black people, the protective blanket afforded to police, the interpenetration with both the international situation and the other “5 STOPS,”1and how the fascist side is being unleashed and mobilized around the Republican Party through the election campaign. The revanchism (retaliation) in defense of white supremacy and patriarchy is intensifying and becoming emboldened. All this is an indication that things can take dramatic turns and leaps.

The last 16 months have brought the question of police terror much more to the fore nationwide, from Ferguson to Baltimore and elsewhere. This is now focused up in Chicago, one of the biggest cities in the U.S. Mayor Emanuel has direct ties to the White House. The only reason Emanuel is mayor in the first place is because Obama installed him here. Obama campaigned in the recent election for Emanuel against a “progressive” Democrat in a close race. The fact that Emanuel was Obama’s chief of staff and is a major player in Hillary Clinton’s bid for president has some people demanding to know who in the White House Emanuel consulted about how to manage the Laquan McDonald crisis. Both Obama and Clinton have been very quiet about the Laquan McDonald murder and the cover-up, given that both hail from Chicagoland.

It was striking that even after the horrors of the San Bernardino shooting, which dominated the national news, the Chicago TV news and newspapers were mainly focused on Chicago with the police department scandal. Objectively, this poses a big problem for the U.S. rulers if the population does not fall in line behind more militarization of the police, more police powers, etc. This is not to mention the international exposure of police murders of Blacks and Latinos.

There is a “moment” here, one that the ruling authorities are trying to turn into a long, slow, go-nowhere direction, with maybe making some small superficial changes in the way policing is done while keeping the whole system intact. That would be deadly for the people. And that is precisely the role of the DOJ investigations.

The situation in Chicago has been characterized by the media as a breakdown in people’s “trust and confidence” in the mayor’s office and in the police department, the second biggest in the country, and the need to “restore the trust.” Some who have been in the trenches fighting to expose Laquan’s murder and the crimes of the CPD are advocating that now that the depth of the problem has been revealed in all its ugliness, this is an opportunity for a “truth and reconciliation process ... to progress from a society that tolerates apartheid justice to one that guarantees equal treatment under the law.” But until people understand the actual role of police in a capitalist society, they will be the victims of deceit and foolish self-deceit.

BA says in BAsics 1:24:

The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness.

As it says in the revcom article “Chicago Goddamn”:

Now is the time to double down, to get organized for an actual revolution and to bring into it everyone who dreams of justice, of freedom, of a radically different, liberatory world. It means getting out to the communities of the oppressed, those whose conditions of life scream out for revolution, to get organized and play a much greater role both in the current situation and in reaching out to and uniting with different sections of people, especially youth and students of all nationalities in the city and suburbs... doing all this to transform the terrain and the people, preparing the ground TODAY for revolution. Those who normally count for nothing in this society—what we do in this situation can count for a great deal in putting an end to all this madness here and around the world.

Anyone who is serious or is just waking up needs to know there is a revolutionary leader out of the great worldwide revolutionary struggles of the 1960s who they need to get into. Tell people to go to the website and find out more about Bob Avakian and the revolution we need. Get with the movement for revolution the Revolutionary Communist Party is building and Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution.

Right now we have to be in the streets like mad, raising hell and demanding justice and at the same time giving out real answers as to WHY this happens and WHAT we could do about it. There can be no half-stepping—all the truth must come out. All the criminals—the real criminals who are behind the crimes committed surrounding the murder of Laquan and the cover-up of that murder—as high as it goes—must be indicted, convicted and go to prison for their crimes. All the other police murders, torture, shootings that have long been buried must also come to light.

To take things back to where we started—through all this we have to raise to people that the monsters who run this society, who command, carry out, enable, and cover up the murders of people like Laquan MacDonald every day, have no legitimacy, their use of force and violence is utterly illegitimate and should be opposed... and that we need a whole new system, a whole new society, where the instruments of power are used to back up those working to transform society toward the emancipation of ALL humanity.


1. The “5 Stops” refers to the slogans appearing regularly at
STOP Genocidal Persecution, Mass Incarceration, Police Brutality and Murder of Black and Brown People!
STOP The Patriarchal Degradation, Dehumanization and Subjugation of All Women Everywhere, and All Oppression Based on Gender and Sexual Orientation!
STOP Wars of Empire, Armies of Occupation, and Crimes Against Humanity!
STOP The Demonization, Criminalization and Deportation of Immigrants and the Militarization of the Border!
STOP Capitalism-Imperialism from Destroying Our Planet! [back]




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