In Napoli, a struggle for justice after police kill 16-year-old

By Jelle Bruinsma On May 19, 2015

Post image for In Napoli, a struggle for justice after police kill 16-year-oldLast September, Napoli police killed a 16-year-old kid from a poor neighborhood. Together with social movements, the family still fights for justice.

In the night of September 4 to 5, 2014, 16-year-old Davide Bifolco was shot and killed by the carabinieri (military police) in his own neighborhood in Naples, Italy. Seven months later his friends, family and the supporting social movements have not forgotten his brutal murder at the hands of the state. Last month, April 18, a protest of roughly 800 people marched through the city center for hours, shouting Davide’s name and demanding justice.

The story starts in Naples’ Rione Traiano neighborhood, a poor and rough part of the city where the state’s power is always shared with the local camorra. On that tragic night Davide mounted a scooter together with two friends, a common sight in Naples. They bypassed a police roadblock because their vehicle was not insured. The police later claimed, moreover, that one of the boys had broken “house arrest”, though this appears to have been a lie.

The carabinieri chased and followed them into the neighborhood, finally ramming their scooter, throwing the boys to the ground. When the pursuit continued on foot one officer decided to shoot Davide, killing him on the spot. The cop later claimed he tripped over the curb, causing him to accidentally pull the trigger, though he did not bother to explain why he was running with his gun out in the first place.

The nights that followed saw big protests in the neighborhood, with police cars set on fire. “The state doesn’t protect us but kills us. Let’s defend ourselves!”, one banner proclaimed. Some people from the neighborhood recalled (though others dispute this) how in the weeks after the shooting the police was not able to enter the district. Their cars were reportedly pelted with stones or they were confronted by angry people. Davide’s brother, Tommaso Bifolco, told reporters: “Around here we see a lot of deaths but last night an entire neighborhood came out into the streets and you know why? Because it wasn’t a mobster that got killed but an innocent boy.”

Another neighborhood protester, Annalisa, expressed her anger to reporters after the nightly protests that followed Davide’s murder: “What happened is shameful. The police should defend us and instead they killed an innocent boy. Here in the Traiano neighborhood, we don’t want the police anymore.” In one of the protests in the days following the murder, the neighborhood people marched to a local police station where they demanded from the police chief that he take off his hat out of respect for Davide. He did so, a symbolic act that his superiors did not appreciate and scolded him for.

A complicating factor in this part of Italy is the presence of the camorra, a second state besides the state, which partially takes on the state’s functions of control, order, welfare (taking care of neighborhood people, offering jobs, and so on), and taxation. Activists from the neighborhood report that camorra people were also present in the protests. On Saturday, September 6, when the protests in the neighborhood continued, it was the camorra that told them to stop. The protests disrupted their drugs trade, especially since the weekend traffic makes Saturday a major selling day.

At the same time, the labeling of the Rione Traiano neighborhood as a camorraarea has also been unjustly used by Italy’s mandarins and intellectuals to stigmatize all its inhabitants. Framing the people who grew up in poverty as criminals and dangerous classes serves to justify the militarization of these areas. It even made one wretched columnist, 48 hours after the murder, pen a defenseof the police forces and berate the protesters to never “lose the respect for the uniform that represents our state,” implicitly justifying the “accidental” murder. We thus need to be explicit in our differentiation between the majority of the neighborhood people and the camorra organizations.

In the months since his murder, the response has broadened. On September 9, an organization of the unemployed which marched through the center in solidarity with Davide was beaten by the police. On September 29, a silent march was held in Rione Traiano for Davide’s birthday. On December 29, another protest took place in the neighborhood for his name day (of equal importance as the birthday), organized by his family. These and other protests were organized by his friends, family and a neighborhood group called ‘Committee Soccavo’. In the first month, the church, too, was very active, organizing small protests nearly every day that left from the church to different places in the city.

The goal of these protests was first and foremost to find out the truth and obtain justice. The shooter had to be held accountable and the cover-up lies had to be unmasked. These lies included the story of the presence of a fugitive on the scooter and the sickening portrayals of the dead teenager as a petty criminal, both meant to justify or explain away the police killing.

The cop, for now, has been temporarily suspended from duty. The first investigative phase of his case finished in March, ending up in the accusation of “manslaughter by inexperience in handling weapons” — a formulation that sounds troubling, to say the least. The hearings will begin this month. Portraying his death as a mere accident seems to drive home the need for sustained protests and pressure on the local government.

The social movements in Napoli have also been very actively involved in these mobilizations and solidarity actions. Soon after the murder, a committee of most leftist organizations was formed, with Davide’s family involved as well. This committee focused, on the one hand, on raising money (via benefit dinners, and so on) to pay for the legal costs of the family, enabling them to pursue the judicial processes.

The rest of the focus was on mobilizing for a big protest, which took place on April 18. The mobilization included writing articles, handing out thousands of leaflets and spreading posters throughout the city. But it also consisted of visiting high schools in the neighborhood with a big banner calling for the protest. Moreover, a new organization (named “Davide lives. The pain does not stop us”) was formed which combines the struggle for justice with social activities for youngsters in the neighborhood. Two weeks ago, for instance, a football tournament was held with 50 kids from the neighborhood, showing the social purposes of the mobilizations as well: providing hope and alternatives.

The protest itself was a passionate march through the city, with his friends and acquaintances (dressed in T-shirts with his picture and supporting texts) filling the front lines. It was a heartbreaking sight to see and hear these young people singing their lungs out: “Davide vive con noi,” Davide lives with us. Several of them had their wrists tattooed with his name.

Comrades tried to make the participants and public conscious of the fact that the injustice that was done in this case was connected to more widespread problems. They had prepared placards with the faces of others who have been killed by the cops in Italy, from activists to African migrants. Connecting this case to state violence in general, one of the banners read “I can’t breathe”, referring to Eric Garner’s last words when a New York cop choked him to death.

There could not have been a more appropriate banner.

Most people in the world are faced with an increasingly militarized system of repression and control. This system is aimed first of all at poor people, controlling their behavior and giving a sense of order and safety to middle- and upper class citizens. Davide was one of those poor people. Trapped in poverty, he and his friends tried to avoid a fine for driving without insurance. The police saw them as street punks who needed to be disciplined, and treated them as such.

At the same time, this system is also aimed at all those who dare to challenge authority. This includes defiant activists, such as Carlo Giuliani and many others the world over. It is also in poor neighborhoods, however, that we find that spirit of rebellion against authority, the bravery to disobey orders. Perhaps it is also in this shared spirit that we can find the hope for solidarity and future struggles.

Jelle Bruinsma is a PhD researcher in History at the European University Institute in Florence, and an editor for ROAR Magazine. He would like to thank comrades of the Ex OPG Occupato “Je so’ pazzo” and people from the neighborhood for providing him with a lot of the necessary information.

Baltimore: ‘we want justice, by any means necessary’

By Valentina Dallona On May 4, 2015

Post image for Baltimore: ‘we want justice, by any means necessary’
People had to resort to bricks and fire to be heard, but finally the authorities can no longer ignore the voices of the marginalized and oppressed.
It is not easy to sum up the history of oppression that is being expressed in these days of protests and riots in Baltimore. It becomes even more difficult when your hands are shaking with anxiety and helplessness, while right outside your window a couple of police officers are arresting a teen and the entire city is a frenzy of sirens.But let us start from the beginning. Or not quite, as the beginning of this story is not easy to spot. Let us start with Freddie Gray. On April 12, at 8.40am, at the intersection between Presbury and N-Mount Street (in the neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, West Baltimore), Freddie made the fatal mistake of running away from a police officer (Brian Rice) on bicycle, who had just made eye-contact with him. After deciding that this was enough of a probable cause to arrest the 25-year-old, Rice called out for the support of five other officers (Garrett Miller, Alicia White, William Porter, Edward Nero, Caesar Goodson) with whose assistance he arrested Freddie (probably already injuring him at this point) and threw his limp body into a police van.

Despite several calls for medical assistance by Freddie Gray, none of the officers responded. Instead, they dragged the victim around for 40 minutes, picking up other suspects in the meantime, before arriving at the police station. By that time Freddie was lying unconscious on the vehicle’s floor. A week later, on April 19, Freddie died in the hospital as the result of a severe spinal injury.

The death of Freddie Gray is only the latest in a long series of which we remember but a few names, such as those of Trayvon Martin (killed in February 2012) and Eric Garner (July 2014). The issue of police brutality against the black community suddenly hit newspaper headlines after the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August. Mike Brown’s premature death triggered days of riots and months of protest in Ferguson and across the country, with thousands taking to the streets to declare that “black lives matter.”

The murder of Freddie Gray thus occurred in a context in which police actions are under close scrutiny of public opinion, on the one hand, and of the legislators on the other. Tensions in black-majority neighborhoods are running high. To this background we must add the fact that we are speaking about Baltimore: a city in which 65% of the population is black and where a large majority of the overall population lives in the “hoods” of East and West Baltimore, with only a very thin “safe strip” remaining in the predominantly white middle.

In sum, this is a tale of two cities, where the wealthy, white-majority neighborhoods of Guilford, Roland Park and Canton — with their perfectly mowed lawns — stand in stark contrast to the worn-down, crime-ridden neighborhoods that make up most of the city, where the rates of unemployment are — in the best cases — double those recorded in white neighborhoods. This is without taking into account those who have stopped actively seeking employment, which includes many young black men who are prevented from pursuing a job because they have criminal records.





Table extracted from the paper ‘Down to the Wire: Displacement and Disinvestment in Baltimore City’, by Lawrence Brown

In this context, many black youths in the hoods find that the only remaining job opportunities are in drug trafficking and the informal economy that revolves around it. The drug-dealing business is not only destroying the black community as a result of addiction, but is also producing the chain of violence that inevitably comes with the trade.

Thus, the umpteenth murder took place in a city where social tensions were already at fever-pitch, waiting to burst. In the days following Freddie’s death, Sandtown has taken to the streets every single day to protest, bringing along a growing crowd of supporters. Last Saturday, April 25, everybody was there: from Freddie’s friends to Johns Hopkins academics, from local unions to the angry mothers who have lost their husbands, their sons, their brothers at the hands of the police force: 1,500 people yelling “we want justice for Freddie!” — some at the police officials, some at the Mayor, some others at the sky.

After four hours of marching through the city, the crowd poured into the square in front of Baltimore City Hall, where the leadership of the New Black Panther Party made an attempt to keep the mass of people in place for a series of speeches. This attempt failed about half an hour afterwards, when Malik Shabbazz’s request to ‘calm down, we will let you march again in about an hour’ was met by a group of hundreds of people spontaneously “leaking” back into the streets and heading towards the stadium, where the baseball season recently started again.

Although the Baltimore police department had been almost invisible throughout the march, the stadium full of devoted Orioles fans could not go unprotected: rows of riot police equipped with horses and pepper-spray blocked the entrance. At the same time, however, it was clear that police officers received orders to stay calm, so much so that they remained relatively composed even as protesters attacked six police cars parked nearby the stadium and blocked the intersection between W-Pratt St and S-Howard St for four hours.







Image: protesters smash up a police car nearby the stadium on April 25.

It was only towards 8pm that the police helicopter, which never stopped circulating overhead, began to relay the usual message: “you must clear the intersection or you will be arrested.” Even in this case, however, the authorities showed a surprising degree of restraint, clearly ordered from above: the mayor, police authorities and everybody else knew how incendiary the situation was.

But the composure displayed by the police was not enough to sedate the deep-seated anger, rooted not only in the racism and abuse of the law enforcement apparatus, but also in the lack of alternatives available to black youth in the hoods. Hence, while only 50 miles away President Obama was letting loose in a stand-up show for the annual White House correspondents’ dinner, the protesters in Baltimore went back towards the Western District, where people engaged in a night of clashes with the police.

Following the night of clashes in Sandtown, the community called for peace in the streets until Freddie’s funeral, scheduled for Monday, April 27. Rallies were not to be resumed until the following Tuesday. But things soon got more complicated: April 25 saw the announcement of a truce between the three major gangs in the city: the Bloods, the Crips and the Black Guerrilla Family. While only a few days before they had still been killing each other, on April 25 the members of the different gangs were walking together in the same march, for the first time since the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, following the savage police beating of the African-American taxi driver Rodney King.

The truce is of such importance that it was invoked by the police later as a reason to abandon the low-key approach of April 25 and deploy the National Guard in the streets. On Monday morning, the Baltimore Police Department (BCPD) released a declaration stating that intelligence sources had issued a warning about a “credible threat” regarding a partnership between the city’s gangs aimed at “taking-out law enforcement officers.”

With this statement (whose validity has been questioned by the public declarations of some of the gang members involved), the authorities intended to send a clear message: we do not appreciate your unity, so be careful, as we are ready to act. The criminal economy, after all, constitutes the main relief valve of the marginalized urban underclasses, and the possibility of different criminal networks reaching common ground represents too big of a threat to law enforcement.

And so city authorities decided to first close down all public schools in the area and send the students home, and secondly to position 400 riot police nearby Mondawmin Mall, where riots were rumored to start. At this point, hundreds of school boys who had just been told to leave the nearby public school Douglass High found themselves facing off with hundreds of policemen dressed in riot gear and determined to not let anyone leave. This standoff was the immediate trigger for a long day (and night) of riots, which ended — according to estimates by the city authorities — with more than 200 arrests, 144 car fires and 15 structure fires.

In response, a state of emergency was declared across the city and the newly elected Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan called in the National Guard. Helicopters have been circling over the city 24/7 and on Tuesday, April 28, a week-long curfew was imposed, forcing everybody to stay indoors between 10pm to 5am. In the meantime, protests continue.

The riots of April 27 started around 2.30pm and went on throughout the night.

These are important days, not only for Baltimore, but for the entire country. People had to resort to bricks and fire in order to be heard, but finally the authorities (and the world) can no longer ignore the voices of the youth, the mothers, the fathers of Sandtown, who have much to talk about. They talk about the constant abuse of the police force and the everyday racism that consigns black people to a sub-human status. They talk about how the city authorities have completely divested from these neighborhoods, privatizing the little social housing that was left, closing down the recreation centers and cutting down water provisions to those households that cannot afford to pay the bills, while at the same time spending millions of dollars in TIFs and other subsidies to the big downtown developers.

They also talk about jobs, or more precisely the lack thereof, and the absence of perspectives for most of the black youth of Baltimore (and so many other cities in the United States). Because racism is the mask exploitation hides under. It constitutes yet another instrument to oppress marginalized communities and undermine social solidarity. Hence, in a city that has since the 1970s experienced a process of severe de-industrialization while companies fled abroad in the search for cheaper labor force, African-Americans have been consigned to poverty — either stuck in unemployment or hired for low-end jobs, predominantly in the service sector (the only sector that has expanded in the last few decades). As the first victims of the sub-prime mortgage bubble that trapped so many household into a spiral of debt, now they are also the first to be evicted from their residences to make space for the plans of the big private developers.

The protests of the past week talk about all of this — and, yes, they also talk about Freddie. We want justice, by any means necessary.

Valentina Dallona is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where she studies social theory and labor. She is a member of the Clash City Workers collective in Italy.


UPDATE, 02/05/2015:

As many of you have probably heard by now, in the morning of May 1, the recently elected state attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that the six police officers involved in Freddie Gray’s arrest and transport to the police station have been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. The announcement was completely unexpected, especially after rumors had been circulating in the previous days about police authorities sticking to the version that Freddie actually deliberately broke his own spinal chord while locked up in the police van. These charges constitute an important victory, despite the police union effort to revert the verdict by pointing to an alleged “conflict of interest” between the state attorney, Gray’s family and the local media (see picture below for the official statement).

The struggle is not over, though. While people are now being arrested for defying a needless curfew (there have been no clashes, only peaceful rallies, since the National Guard entered town), concrete steps are needed to turn this victory into systemic change.

‘Indiscriminate’ Killing in Gaza Was Top-Down War Plan, say Israeli Veterans

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Over 60 officers and soldiers who took part in ‘Operation Protective Edge’ anonymously testify about acts they committed or witnessed

IDF soldiers deployed during “Operation Protective Edge.” (Photo: IDF/flickr/public domain)

The “massive and unprecedented harm” inflicted on the population of Gaza during last summer’s 50-day Israeli military assault stemmed from the top of the chain of command, which gave orders to shoot indiscriminately at civilians, according to the anonymous testimony of more than 60 officers and soldiers who took part in “Operation Protective Edge.”

The Israeli group Breaking the Silence, an organization of “Israeli Defense Force” veterans who engaged in combat, on Monday released the 240-page collection of testimony entitled,This is How We Fought in Gaza.

“While the testimonies include pointed descriptions of inappropriate behavior by soldiers in the field,” the report states, “the more disturbing picture that arises from these testimonies reflects systematic policies that were dictated to IDF forces of all ranks and in all zones.”

Breaking the Silence said that the war on Gaza operated under the “most permissive” rules of engagement they have ever seen.

“From the testimonies given by the officers and soldiers, a troubling picture arises of a policy of indiscriminate fire that led to the deaths of innocent civilians,” said Yuli Novak, director of the group, in a press statement. “We learn from the testimonies that there is a broad ethical failure in the IDF’s rules of engagement, and that this failure comes from the top of the chain of command, and is not merely the result of ‘rotten apples.'”

Gaza is one of the most densely-populated places on earth—home to an estimated 1.8 million people, over 60 percent of whom are children under the age of 18. Approximately 2,194 Palestinians were killed in last summer’s attack, at least 70 percent of Palestinians killed in the assault were non-combatants, according to the United Nations. The assault damaged and destroyed critical civilian infrastructure—including houses, shelters, and hospitals—and nearly a year later, hardly any reconstruction has taken place and the civilian population remains strangled by an economic and military siege.

Numerous soldiers said that, during the war, they were told that all people in given areas posed a threat and were ordered to “shoot to kill” every person they spotted.

“The instructions are to shoot right away,” said an anonymous First Sergeant who deployed to Gaza City. “Whoever you spot—be they armed or unarmed, no matter what. The instructions are very clear. Any person you run into, that you see with your eyes—shoot to kill. It’s an explicit instruction.”

Some said they were lied to by their commanders, who told them there were no civilians present.

“The idea was, if you spot something—shoot,” said an anonymous First Sergeant identified in the report as having deployed to the Northern Gaza Strip. “They told us: ‘There aren’t supposed to be any civilians there. If you spot someone, shoot.’ Whether it posed a threat or not wasn’t a question, and that makes sense to me. If you shoot someone in Gaza, it’s cool, no big deal.”

Soldiers testified that thousands of “imprecise” artillery shells were fired into civilian areas, sometimes as acts of revenge or simply to make the military’s presence known. Civilian infrastructure was destroyed on a large scale with no justification, often after an area had already been “cleared,” they said.

“The motto guiding lots of  people was, ‘Let’s show them,'” said one Lieutenant who served in Rafah. “It was  evident that that was a starting point.”

One Staff Sergeant described perverse and deadly acts committed by soldiers:

During the entire operation the [tank] drivers had this thing of wanting to run over cars – because the driver, he can’t fire. He doesn’t have any weapon, he doesn’t get to experience the fun in its entirety, he just drives forward, backward, right, left. And they had this sort of crazy urge to run over a car. I mean, a car that’s in the street, a Palestinian car, obviously. And there was one time that my [tank’s] driver, a slightly hyperactive guy, managed to convince the tank’s officer to run over a car, and it was really not that exciting– you don’t even notice you’re going over a car, you don’t feel anything – we just said on the two-way radio: “We ran over the car. How was it?” And it was cool, but we really didn’t feel anything. And then our driver got out and came back a few minutes later – he wanted to see what happened – and it turned out he had run over just half the car, and the other half stayed intact. So he came back in, and right then the officer had just gone out or something, so he sort of whispered to me over the earphones: “I scored some sunglasses from the car.” And after that, he went over and told the officer about it too, that moron, and the officer scolded him: “What, how could you do such a thing? I’m considering punishing you,” but in the end nothing happened, he kept the sunglasses, and he wasn’t too harshly scolded, it was all OK, and it turned out that a few of the other company’s tanks ran over cars, too.

While numerous human rights organizations and residents have exposed war crimescommitted during last year’s assault on Gaza, this report sheds light on the top-down military doctrine driving specific attacks by ground and air.

One First Sergeant explained that soldiers were taught to indiscriminately fire during training, before their deployments. “One talk I remember especially well took place during training at Tze’elim—before entering Gaza [the Gaza Strip]—with a high ranking commander from the armored battalion to which we were assigned. He came and explained to us how we were going to fight  together with the armored forces. He said, ‘We do not take risks, we do not spare ammo—we unload, we use as much as possible.'”

No Israeli soldiers, commanders, or politicians have been held accountable for war crimes, and the Israeli government has resisted international human rights investigations, from Amnesty International to the United Nations.

Breaking the Silence says it “meticulously investigates” testimony to ensure its veracity. The group garnered global media headlines when it launched a report featuring testimony from Israeli soldiers who took part in the 2009 military assault on Gaza known as “Operation Cast Lead.” In that report, soldiers testified about indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including use of chemical weapon white phosphorous.

Baltimore rally against police brutality encourages illusions in Democrats

By Nick Barrickman and Jerry White
4 May 2015

On Saturday, over a thousand people protested in Baltimore, Maryland against police brutality and the continued presence of National Guard troops in the city. Protests also took place in Boston, Atlanta and other US cities over the weekend to oppose the wave of police killings across the US, including the murder of 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.

A group of protesters

The Baltimore protest occurred as Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan and Democratic Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake continued the police-military occupation of the city by 3,000 National Guardsmen, 578 state troopers and 432 cops from the city and surrounding areas.

Fifty people were arrested Saturday night, including two members of the National Lawyers Guild and individuals serving as medics, for violations of the 10 pm to 5 am curfew imposed after minor rioting broke out early last week in the city’s most impoverished areas. The mayor ordered police to essentially stand down on April 27 so isolated cases of looting could be used as the pretext to declare a state of emergency, deploy troops and impose the curfew.

Nearly 500 protesters have been arrested since April 23. Prisoners, including young teenagers, have been penned up for days and then dragged into court with their hands and ankles shackled. Among those arrested was Kevin Moore, who shot the video of Freddie Gray being arrested and loaded into the police van before his fatal “rough ride” on April 12.

National Guardsmen deployed throughout the city

After the deployment of troops was unable to suppress opposition, city officials, in close coordination with President Obama’s Justice Department, decided to file charges against six cops involved in the murder of Gray. Announcing the charges—which range from second-degree murder to manslaughter by vehicle and false imprisonment—State Attorney Marilyn Mosby last week said the charges were not an indictment of the entire police force. Insisting no further protests were necessary, Mosby said she had heard protesters in Baltimore and across the US say, “No Justice, No Peace,” and now “your peace is sincerely needed as I work to provide justice on behalf of this young man.”

Leading the protest on Saturday were groups tied to the Democratic Party, which sought to boost illusions in the city’s political establishment, which has long been dominated by an affluent layer of African American politicians, judges, prosecutors and other administrators.

Malik Z. Shabazz, president of the Washington, DC-based activist group Black Lawyers for Justice (BLJ) and the former leader of the so-called New Black Panther Party, praised Mosby. He claimed that the wave of police killings was due to racism, not the class division of society. Such claims fly in the face of reality under conditions in which the president, the city’s mayor, police chief, half of the Baltimore Police Department and three of the six cops indicted for the murder of Freddie Gray are African American.

This promotion of racial politics is aimed at shoring up the credibility of this deeply discredited social layer and protecting the wealth and power it has accumulated in one of the most unequal cities in America. A household in the top five percent of income earners in Baltimore receives $12.30 for each dollar earned by those in the bottom 20 percent.

Democratic State Senator Catherine Pugh—who only days before was peppered by angry crowds when she implored them to honor the curfew—told protesters they were “lucky” to have a state prosecutor such as Mosby, adding, “we know that police reform is on the way.” As regards the crushing poverty in cities across the US, she said the answer was to “equalize the wealth,” by setting up “public-private partnerships for investments not only in downtowns but in our neighborhoods.”

In an interview with WBAL-TV, Pugh made it clear exactly who she thought should get a bigger share of the wealth. While denouncing “looters,” Pugh insisted, “We have to bring back the jobs but we have to understand that the African American community is not monolithic. We are a microcosm of America—we have very poor and very rich. We have people who have the capacity to expand the businesses in our communities. We just need a fair playing ground so we all take part in it.”

Pugh said she had authored legislation for the state of Maryland to channel a larger portion of its pension investments into minority-owned businesses in order to “share the wealth.”

Ruling class spokespersons such as Pugh hate and fear the masses of working class people. They offer no program to ameliorate the poverty and inequality created by decades of deindustrialization and the systematic dismantling of public education and other essential services, carried out to channel more money into the hands of the corporate and financial elite.

The Obama administration and local Democratic Party in the big cities are seeking to cultivate a new layer of opportunists and careerists as “civil rights leaders” and “community activists” on the basis of seed money for minority start-ups and other lucrative projects.

While Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake lifted the city’s curfew Sunday and Governor Larry Hogan announced a “draw down” of National Guard troops, these repressive forces remain on alert and could be redeployed if social anger erupts again. Whatever the legal outcome of the Freddie Gray case—and indictments are not the same as convictions—the police and the military are required to defend the property and wealth of the super-rich minority against the ever more impoverished majority.

The fascistic outlook that permeates a wide layer of the cops was revealed last week by a caller to a WBAL talk show. Saying there was widespread support in the police department to throw the mayor out for restraining them during the protests, he said, “The moment it started, we could have ended it. Trust you me. They would not let us. It’s on the mayor’s shoulders now for the people who were injured, the buildings that were burnt, and the officers that were hurt. The city may never recover from what she let happen.

“You had no idea what it did to us as police officers to sit there and let people, I’m gonna say it, thugs, hoodlums, little animals do what they did to us in the streets of Baltimore,” the caller added. He praised the police in New York City for immediately arresting 120 protesters last week.

Similarly, Teana Walsh, a member of the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office in Detroit, was forced to resign Friday after saying the solution to such disturbances was to “Shoot ’em. Period. End of discussion.”

Many in attendance at Saturday’s march in Baltimore expressed doubts there would be any serious effort to provide jobs or decent public services. Trina, an out of work cook living in east Baltimore, told the World Socialist Web Site,“[Mayor] Rawlings-Blake has got to go. She’s closed all the city’s recreation centers and the kids have nowhere to go now. Drugs and everything else infests these neighborhoods, not to mention there are hundreds of vacant lots in the city.”

Tavon Miles

According to an article published in theWashington Post ’s Wonkblog section last week, there are dozens of neighborhoods located in the city of Baltimore that have standards of living equivalent to those of an undeveloped country. “Fifteen Baltimore neighborhoods have lower life expectancies than North Korea. Eight are doing worse than Syria,” the Post reported.

Tavon Miles, another protester, expressed doubts that Mosby’s announcement of charges against the officers would end in a conviction. “You want to know what the real injustice here is? It’s that the kid who broke the police car’s window [during the eruption of social anger after Freddie Gray’s funeral last week] is still being held on a $500,000 bail, when the cops, who are charged with committing a murder, got $350,000 bail. That’s the injustice here.” Tavon added, “I’ve never even seen someone able to get bail for a murder charge.”

Fight for $15 marks a new era of workers’ struggle in the US

By Chris Wright On May 1, 2015

Post image for Fight for $15 marks a new era of workers’ struggle in the USThe struggle for fair pay is establishing itself as a successor to failed trade union strategies and a key node in the emerging social justice movement.

Photo by Christopher Dilts.

The demonstrations across the United States on April 15 revealed the significance of the Fight for $15, and has already been dubbed “the largest protest by low-wage workers in US history.” Tens of thousands of people in 230 cities marching, chanting, broadcasting their voices over loudspeaker so that the “Masters of the Universe” could hear them — demanding fair pay for all.

Consider the scene at the University of Illinois in Chicago: thousands of black, white and brown faces cheering together — retail workers, graduate students, professionals, unions organizations for the homeless, interested individuals, schoolchildren, the middle-aged, the elderly: a panoply of humanity shouting in unison against poverty wages, union-busting, racism, police brutality, corporate oligarchy — the status quo.

Even in its early stages, Fight for $15 already finds itself at the forefront of a new social justice movement. As it intersects with the Black Lives Matter and feminist movements, community organizing and workers’ struggles the world over, Fight for $15 exemplifies an innovative new form of social movement unionism — the desperately needed successor to the old failed AFL-CIO strategies of narrow collective bargaining, ossified bureaucratism, and concessionary negotiations with union-busting employers.

It’s time we took the fight to the streets, to resurrect and fuse the spirits of the 1930s and the 1960s. The Fight for $15 is rapidly emerging as a key node of this revolutionary 21st century fusion — what we can expect will become a massive international movement of movements for economic and social justice.

In less than three years, the Fight for $15 has grown from a single strike in New York City to what we saw on April 15, which included demonstrations in Italyand New Zealand. Seattle and San Francisco have passed $15 minimum wage laws, Chicago will have a $13 minimum wage by 2019, and other cities and statesare considering similar laws.

More and more politicians are coming out in support of minimum wage hikes, which, on less dramatic scales, have been passed recently in several states and cities. Social movements take years to build, but this one is already picking up steam.

As it continues to gain visibility, moreover, the pressure it brings to bear on politicians will deepen and broaden. When issues like a higher minimum wage, anti-racism, workplace safety, immigrants’ rights and social welfare are seen to overlap and are pressed forward, together, on multiple fronts — as happened, for instance, in the 1930s, when the wide range of social movements pushed American politics to the left on dozens of issues — real political change can result.

Ultimately, systemic alternatives can emerge, whether interstitially or squarely in the mainstream. As important as the Fight for $15 is, therefore, it may be only the beginning of something truly momentous.

We’ve already seen other glimmers of the possible, some of which flared up only briefly and then sputtered into semi-darkness after months or a couple years. Occupy Wall Street is the best example. It had enormous influence at the level of public discourse, thrusting the issue of income inequality into the spotlight, but after being savagely repressed by the political establishment and its police goons, it rapidly petered out.

The Fight for $15, by contrast, while lacking Occupy’s creative anarchist spontaneity, is much more organizationally robust, oriented towards the long haul and towards specific legislative goals that can serve as stepping stones toward ever more ambitious goals. The movement is building networks and coalitions, politicizing working people, raising awareness, and pushing public opinion to the left. As the American mainstream becomes sensitized to the demand for higher wages and enforcement of workers’ rights, it is more likely to support anti-racist policies, prison reform, action against police brutality, anti-war agendas, and other left-wing goals that all overlap.

These fights are not likely to suffer the fate of Occupy Wall Street, largely because they don’t depend on a single specific tactic that is vulnerable to police action. They will build strength year by year, aided by the momentum of the Fight for $15.

It is significant, incidentally, that a large cross-section of American business — including two out of three small business owners — supports a higher minimum wage, because it makes good economic sense. When radical ideas like these start being adopted by large sections of the ruling class — even if only in a defensive move — it is clear that the momentum is on the side of change.

In short, there is cause for optimism on multiple fronts. Of course there is little doubt that society, in the long term, is in for catastrophic social and environmental disruptions — but in the midst of these tragedies, there will still be accumulating successes, thanks to the work of activists like those who have made possible the Fight for $15. The more of us join them, the more victories the left will be able to claim in the years and decades ahead.

Chris Wright is a doctoral candidate in U.S. labor history and author ofWorker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States and Notes of an Underground Humanist. Visit his website.

The social eruption in Baltimore, Maryland


29 April 2015

The eruption of mass anger in Baltimore, Maryland over the police murder of Freddie Gray, and the subsequent military-police takeover of the city, have once again revealed the reality of social life in America. The United States is a seething cauldron of social discontent, over which a frightened and isolated ruling class rules ever more nakedly through the methods of violence and repression.

Two thousand National Guard troops, many of whom were previously deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, have poured into one of America’s largest cities, only 40 miles from the nation’s capital. A curfew has been imposed, and anyone found after dark without a driver’s license and a document from their employer attesting to the fact that they work after hours will be arrested.

The entire political and media establishment has seized on the rioting and unrest following the funeral of Gray to declare their support for the paramilitary occupation of the city. The gamut of opinion represented on the television news ranges from full support for the crackdown to criticism of Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake for not having called in the National Guard earlier.

On Tuesday, President Obama, who has fully backed the crackdown in Baltimore, weighed in with his own remarks, delivered at a press conference announcing a new military agreement with Japan. Obama took the occasion to denounce youth in Baltimore as “criminals and thugs” and said that there is “no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday.” He added that the violence “robs jobs and opportunity from people in that area.”

To say that there is no excuse is to say that there is no reason, that the social eruption in Baltimore is simply the product of “thugs”—a term used ubiquitously by the political and media establishment over the past several days. In fact, the cause of the unrest in Baltimore is not hard to locate. It is the product of intense anger over poverty, unemployment, social decay and the unending reign of police violence and murder in Baltimore and cities throughout the United States.

For the youth targeted by the police crackdown, there are no “excuses,” but for Obama, and the corporate aristocracy and the military-intelligence apparatus that he represents, excuses abound. The United States government is built on a mass of excuses for all the crimes of the ruling class.

Just last week, Obama excused the fact that a drone strike he ordered in January killed two hostages, with the bland declaration, “During the fog of war mistakes happen.” There is no shortage of excuses for the hundreds of thousands killed as a result of US military operations.

And there are plenty of excuses for the real criminals in Baltimore: the police, armed to the teeth with military gear provided by the Obama administration. The killing of Gray—an act that has yet to result in any arrests or charges—is only the latest in a long string of daily harassment, brutality and abuse, in Baltimore and throughout the country. Those responsible are almost never held accountable. Following the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri last year, the Obama administration worked closely with local and state officials and prosecutors to ensure that his killer was exonerated.

As for Obama’s claims that the actions of youth in Baltimore “robs jobs and opportunity,” this comes from the chief representative of a financial aristocracy that has laid havoc to Baltimore and countless other cities.

For decades, the ruling class in America has carried out a policy of deindustrialization, shutting down entire sectors of the economy. Obama himself has presided over the largest transfer of wealth into the pockets of the rich in US history, even as he has overseen the destruction of wages and the decimation of social services. Since Obama came to office, Baltimore has lost 80 percent of its manufacturing jobs, and thousands of children are homeless and tens of thousands live in poverty.

The events in Baltimore reveal starkly the fraud of identity politics, based on the claim that race, not class, is the fundamental social category in America. Obama’s denunciation of young people in Baltimore mirrors that of the entire African-American political apparatus in the city, which has responded to the protests with a combination of hatred, rage and fear.

In her press conference Tuesday, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake repeatedly referred to young people expressing their anger over police violence as “thugs” in announcing the imposition of a curfew and the calling in of the National Guard. She was flanked by Patrol Chief Darryl De Sousa, the City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, and City Council member Brandon M. Scott, all of whom were black, with the latter two also calling the demonstrators “thugs.”

This coming August will mark the 50th Anniversary of the Watts rebellion, a wave of social unrest that engulfed the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1965. The Watts rebellion, sparked by an incident of police brutality, was followed in the coming years by a series of uprisings in urban centers throughout the country, including Baltimore.

Two social phenomena characterize the subsequent decades. First, the extraordinary growth of social inequality. The conditions of workers and working-class youth, including African Americans, are worse today than they were a half century ago. Second, the ruling class has integrated into positions of power and privilege a layer of the black upper middle class, which has presided over an economic and cultural catastrophe in city after city.

In its response to the eruption of police violence over the murder of Freddie Gray, the black political establishment, headed by the first African-American president, has shown itself exactly for what it is: corrupt, self-interested and utterly hostile to the interests and aspirations of the poor and workers, black and white.

The fight against police violence is fundamentally a class question. In the methods deployed on the streets of Baltimore, the ruling class is demonstrating what it is prepared to do in response to all opposition to its policies of war and social counterrevolution.

The eruption of anger in Baltimore, however, is the expression of these sentiments in a form that lacks political direction. Police violence, inequality, poverty and unemployment cannot be ended in this way. This requires a political movement of the entire working class, which must come to the defense of the workers and youth of Baltimore.

The fight against police brutality and murder must be connected to a conscious political mobilization of the working class, independent of the Democratic and Republican Parties, and aimed at the overthrow of capitalism and the reorganization of society on a socialist basis.

Andre Damon and Joseph Kishore

The nobodies have lost their best chronicler

By Raúl Zibechi On April 27, 2015

Post image for The nobodies have lost their best chroniclerThe Uruguayan writer Raúl Zibechi commemorates his friend and compatriot Eduardo Galeano, who passed away this month after a long battle with cancer.

Spanish original published by La Vaca, translated by Leonidas Oikonomakis.

Whoever listens to the heartbeats coming from below will feel their pains, share their smiles and tears. Whoever makes the effort to understand them without interpreting them, to accept them without judging them, can win a place in the hearts of those below.

Eduardo Galeano traveled the most diverse geographies of Latin America by train, on the back of a mule and on foot, moving around by the same means as those from below. He wasn’t trying to mimic them but rather to do something more than that: to experience, underneath his own skin, the feelings of others — in order to revive them in his texts and help them escape anonymity.

Eduardo was a simple man, committed to the common people, to the nobodies, to the oppressed. His loyalty lay with the people of flesh and bones, with the men and women who live and suffer. It was a loyalty much deeper than ideological attachment, which can always change depending on the interests of the moment. The pains from below, he taught us, cannot be negotiated, nor can they be represented. They cannot even be explained even by the best writer. And the same goes for their hopes.

Among Eduardo’s many lessons, it is necessary to hold on to his meticulous attachment to the truth. He stumbled upon these truths far away from the worldly noise of the media, inside the hungry eyes of the indigenous girl, in the worn feet of the farmer, in the innocent smile of the female street vendor — where the nobodies speak their truths every single day, without witnesses.

He never had a minor doubt about exposing those responsible for the poverty and the hunger, as  he did in his chronicles on the crisis of Uruguayan industry as the 20-year-old editor of the weekly Marcha, one of the first and most important exponents of critical and engaged journalism in Uruguay. In those chronicles he would denounce the powerful by name, surname and characteristics. Without taking back his word — because, as he liked to say, “the media prostitute the word.”

But it was his reporting on the struggles and the resistances of those below that left an early, indelible mark. Like his piece entitled “From rebellion and beyond,” in March 1964, which reported on the second march of Uruguay’s sugarcane workers. His gaze stopped at doña Marculina Piñeiro, who was so old that she had forgotten her own age, and to the more than 90 children that had surrounded her with admiration. “They wanted to beat us into submission through hunger. But what would we lose with hunger? We are used to it,” he was told by the wife, mother, and granddaughter of sugarcane workers.

His pen was shaped by the everyday lives of the underprivileged, but it wasn’t enough for Galeano to simply portray their pain. He got engaged in painting — with lively colors — the dignity of their steps, and the anger that was capable of overcoming both the repression and the torment. In each and every one of his articles, the people who embodied the suffering and the torment would be at center stage — perhaps because he was obsessed with the indifference of the rest, which he considered “a lifestyle” whose protective layer we should destroy, perhaps that’s why he wrote his articles.

Among the many homages he received in his life, he had the privilege to see  Galeano (his surname) being adopted as a  nickname by the  teacher of theEscuelita Zapatista José Luis Solís López. It is very probable that the teacher was not referring to the author. In any case, Eduardo and Zapatismo met and got to know each other right away, as if they had been waiting for it their entire lives. He did not leave us a program or a list of demands, but rather an ethics of being — being from below and on the left.

Eduardo Galeano was in La Realidad, Chiapas in August 1996. He participated in one of the roundtables of the Intercontinental Gathering for Humanity and against Neoliberalism. He spoke little, was very clear, and said a lot. In those days, and in the days that followed, he planted Galeanos, disseminated Galeanos — so that now there are Galeanos walking around to brandish his dignified and Galeano-like rage. The nobodies of all ages are carrying him in their hearts.

Raúl Zibechi is a Uruguayan journalist, activist and political theorist.