This article first appeared in The Anvil 10 No 2, published on 30 April 2021.
The recent trial and conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd was greeted much more with relief in the United States than with either joy or anger. Only the hardest line racists and supporters of the police were angry about the conviction, while only the most politically naive rejoiced.
Police in the US kill an average of over three people every day. The racism that pervades US policing and which dominates the United States as a whole ensures that killer cops are almost always allowed to walk. The system is biased in their favour at every step. They lie about the circumstances of the death. Superiors suppress evidence from reaching the public domain. Mass media largely report police press releases uncritically. Government officials support them almost every time. And even if the cop is charged and the case reaches court, the prosecution usually runs dead and the jury is stacked.
So how did this particular killer cop get convicted? Fundamentally, it was because of the vast social movement which has built up in the US against police brutality and which had adopted George Floyd’s case as its touchstone. Initial media reports of George Floyd’s death were based on a police press release saying he had died from a medical emergency while being arrested. It was only the circulation of the video by witnesses that exposed those lies and got Derek Chauvin convicted in the court of public opinion.
The ability of people to use their mobile phones to record videos of police actions now allows the capitalist media’s defence system to be broken through. Your average crime reporter is still a stenographer for the cops most of the time, but when video evidence generates community outrage, editors have to choose whether to cover it or ignore it. A cover-up becomes harder to maintain.
It was precisely because of the accumulated rage that was focused on the pressure point of Chauvin’s trial that a cover-up was not attempted there, either. Indeed, Chauvin couldn’t find a single serving Minneapolis Police Department copper to testify in his defence. The real defendant in the trial in Minneapolis was the State of Minnesota. Everybody in the US was watching to see if it was prepared to convict a copper who was videoed kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. And everyone in the US knew the outpouring of rage that would follow an acquittal.
When a police murder is sufficiently blatant and the public anger is sufficiently intense to prevent a cover-up, a Plan B is needed. In this case, it involved sacrificing one copper to save the system of violence. So, as well as the series of coppers testifying against Chauvin, we saw the prosecution presenting this case as an outlier and filling its presentation with pro-police rhetoric. And, once the verdict was in, the entire propaganda machine of US capitalism swung into action. Everyone from the Vice-President down called it a great step forward for the reform of policing and praised the courts of Minnesota for getting it right.
Even here, though, the triumphalism was muted. There could be no wholehearted victory celebrations, because George Floyd was only one of many Black people murdered by US police in recent years. Indeed, while the trial was going on, protests erupted against the killing of Daunte Wright in the suburbs of Minneapolis by a copper who says she mistook her gun for her taser. And almost as the verdict was being read out, police in Ohio killed Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16 year old Black girl who had called them herself because she was being attacked.
The intractable nature of police brutality in the US has led increasing numbers of Black people there to reject the failed strategy of police reform. Thirty years of “reforms” in Minneapolis have not stopped the MPD from being a pack of murdering racist thugs and the story is the same in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and many other cities. The demand that is animating grassroots organisations in the US is to defund the cops – i.e. cut their budget. This demand means different things to different people. Democrats who have picked it up talk about sending health professionals instead of cops to deal with mental health crises. The Anarchist position is total abolition of the police and support for this is growing.
The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group believes that a just society needs no police, no body of armed professionals with special powers not available to the rest of society, who impose the law on the street. We work to build the movement which will make a workers’ revolution that abolishes capitalism, abolishes police, smashes the state apparatus and sweeps away racism and all other forms of oppression.
FOR A WORLD WITHOUT POLICE