On Monday a video was shared across the globe showing a black man called George Floyd, groaning “I can’t breathe”, as a white policeman knelt on his neck. Within minutes George Floyd was dead. There are striking similarities with an incident in 2014 in which Eric Garner was also suffocated to death while being arrested, which spurred on the Black Lives Matter movement to international prominence. The killing of Floyd also comes less than a week after the killing of another black man, Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot by two white men, whilst he was out for a jog.
The killing has led to spontaneous protests across Minneapolis, Los Angeles and other US cities with protesters chanting in solidarity ‘I can’t breathe’ and ‘it could have been me’.
Despite the police officers being sacked, the protests have continued, showing the community’s sheer anger and hatred of the police and the system they protect. Unsurprisingly, these have been met with the brutal tactics of the state, such as tear gassing and assault, to put down the protests.
The continuation of the demonstrations clearly show that there is more than just anger at a handful of racist killings. In 38 States it’s been found that black people are dying at double the rate of white people – in Washington D.C. they are 6 times more likely to die of the virus. Clearly, the demonstrations are against a system that is contradictory to the interests of ethnic minorities.
14.7% of US workers are now unemployed, the worst rate since the Great Depression with minorities, especially black workers, being hit at a disportionate rate due to them being more likely to be in low-paid, precarious work. Black people in the US have long faced structural inequalities in health, housing and the so-called ‘justice’ system. In addition, non-white workers are now being forced to bear the costs of this pandemic, being used as cannon fodder to get the economy back up and running.
The American ruling class and their mouthpieces in the press have been quick to condemn the uprisings as ‘looting’ and ‘rioting’. But their hypocrisy is clear to see. The real looters in society are the pharmaceutical companies seeking to profit from the virus, the landlords who leech off the working class, and the billionaires who appropriate the products of our labour, which they sell back to us for a profit.
It is those interests who the police primarily seek to protect and serve through its justice system – enforcing the rule of capitalists through violence. This was explained by Engels, who described the police as ‘special bodies of armed men’ who in the bourgeois state exist to maintain the dominance of the ruling class by force over the working class.
Racism based on skin colour developed alongside capitalism, when colonialism and slavery were important sources of profits for the ruling class. It is this structural racism built into the system that means that racism is inextricably tied up with the capitalist exploitation of workers. The most oppressed layers in society are seen as less worthy and disposable to a ruling class which only wishes to use them to make a profit
In the UK and internationally many working class people have reacted to this brutal killing with shared horror and anger at the callousness of the system we live under. It is the same system which detains refugees in this country, that has led to the deaths at Grenfell, and leads more BAME people to become infected and die from coronavirus.
As Malcolm X famously remarked, “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” While capitalism continues so will racism. The only way to root out the scourge of racism is for all workers to unite and fight against a system which allows such brutality and barbarism to exist. Only in the fight for a socialist revolution and the overthrow of capitalism can we win a society free of racism and exploitation once and for all.
Olivia Rickson, Sheffield Marxist Society