Bob Avakian on
POLICE BRUTALITY AND MURDER:
CONSENT DECREES WON’T STOP THIS—WE NEED A REVOLUTION!
Editors’ Note: The following is the transcript of a question posed to Bob Avakian (BA), and BA’s answer, in Chicago in 2018, after BA’s presentation of the speech Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution.
Question: As Fred [Hampton] used to say, “And the beat goes on.”1 They just recently passed last week a new Consent Decree in Chicago. What are your thoughts on that?
BA: What’s the content of it?
Q: Police brutality.
BA: This is what the Chicago Police Department is supposed to “not” do? Is that kind of what this is all about, the Consent Decree?
Q: It is.
BA: They’re supposed to limit their brutality. Is that the idea, then?
Q: Exactly. (skeptical laughter)
BA: I mean, on the one hand—I would look at it this way—on the one hand when they are forced to sign consent decrees, it’s a reflection of the struggle of the people… It’s not that they did it out of the goodness of their heart or they woke up one day and said, “Oh, we’ve been brutalizing and murdering a lot of people, let’s sign an agreement that we’re not going to do that, as much, any more.” It’s more that they recognize that the degree and the ways in which they’ve been doing this has kind of exposed something very basic about their whole system and has aroused the anger of a lot of people, including not only the people that they want to brutally keep down—that’s one thing—but also other people like in the middle class, and so on, who want to cling to the illusion that this is a society of justice and fairness and all these kinds of things but who find it harder and harder to do so in the face of these killings, one after the other. We saw, for example, in the Laquan McDonald thing2—let me say one thing: When I was doing up the list of people killed, for this presentation, I kept feeling badly because, “Well, this one should be included, and that one should be included…” But there are SO many people that you can’t include all of them. So I just want to make clear, it’s not that I’m unaware of all—it’s just that there are literally thousands of people and that’s the real striking thing—the list goes on and on. There’s just so many, and it’s seemingly every day there’s another one.
Or if it’s not the police, it’s these Zimmerman types, in Florida.3 You probably all saw, I think it was also in Florida, this “stand your ground law”—I’ll get back to the point, but I just wanted to say, this “stand your ground” law—I don’t know if you all saw this but there was this thing where there was an altercation in a parking lot and this white guy in Florida has a gun and he’s harassing this woman in a car because the car is parked in a handicapped zone or something and [he] takes it upon himself to act like a pig until the boyfriend or whatever of this woman comes out and pushes the guy to the ground, and that would be the end of it except the guy pulls out a gun and kills him, while lying on the ground. This kind of thing is of a piece of what the police do.
And now of course when you have Trump and unreconstructed white supremacists like Jeff Sessions as the chief law enforcement officer in the country who is trying to do away with—see, I told you I’d get back—he’s trying to do away with all these consent decrees.4 So, the point is there’s a certain atmosphere they’re setting. In Chicago they have a Democratic administration with Emanuel who’s all tied in with Obama and everything.5 They’re trying to act as if they’re paying some attention to this, but on the one hand, like I said, it’s a certain recognition that a lot of people are angry about this. On the other hand, these consent decrees, while they may, in a certain limited way, temporarily cause them to be a little more careful, it won’t change anything fundamental, because of everything I was talking about in terms of the role of the police.
Look, here’s the situation. You’ve got a whole section of people, in particular youth—Latino youth and Black youth in the country and in the inner cities… Like I was saying, back in the days when masses of people, like Black people, were living in the rural South, working on cotton plantations, tobacco plantations or whatever, even after slavery ended, that was vital to the economy. And then, as you all know, after WW1 but especially more so after WW2, millions of Black people left the South—on the one hand with the positive thing of hoping they can find a better life, and the negative thing of getting away from the really concentrated oppression in the South, and certain naked brutality. And for a while (and I’ve made this point before but it’s important to understand this better in terms of why things are the way they are right now specifically) a lot of people got jobs, even well-paying jobs after a while even though they were stuck for a long time… (and Carl can talk about that) working in the steel plants and all the Black people who got hired and never got out of the shit jobs in the factories.6 But still there was an opening for a lot of people to get hired in the auto plants in Detroit or some of the meatpacking here, I think, and the steel plants in the South Side of Chicago—thousands of people working there. Gary, Indiana, I think had one of the largest steel plants in the entire world, back in the ’60s. And almost all of those things are gone. First, a lot of the capitalists moved their stuff to the rural South where they could hire people more cheaply, and then they moved it to Mexico where they set up the maquiladoras on the border where they paid people even less and exploited them more. And then they moved from there to places in Asia.
So what’s happened is, the youth coming up have no prospects of that kind of employment that people coming after WW2 had some opportunity to get into. So what does this system do with youth that have no future and no prospects? It contains them. It robs them of any decent future. It contains them and then promotes various ways—contains them violently. That’s why we’re talking about police murders and consent decrees. Violently contains them. And I remember when I was living in Chicago back in the 1970s; actually I lived in Maywood; there was a whole phenomenon. [The person who asked the question laughs.] Did I say something wrong? [The questioner explains that his family is from Maywood.] Oh, I see, OK, well that’s where I lived for a number of years, back in the ’70s. And there was a whole phenomenon where the “gang intelligence unit” that they had [in Chicago] would infiltrate the gangs and set up gangs to fight each other, and then when they would bust somebody they would take them from one gang or set, and drop them off in the territory of another one to get shit going.
I remember back in the days of the Black Panther Party, headed by Fred Hampton, and he was trying to work with some of the gangs. And the FBI sent a letter to Jeff Fort, who was the head of the P Stone Nation, saying that the Black Panther Party had a plot to assassinate him, and so on and so forth, to try to set up this stuff. So this is the kind of stuff that they do. In other words, here was a revolutionary force that didn’t have the science that was needed—it sort of had one foot in reform and one foot in revolution (the Black Panther Party)—but it was a very advanced force for that time, and we all learned a lot from them, I just want to be clear about that. They were trying to win some of these youth who were caught up in the gangs to become part of the revolution—and this is the conscious way the government, the FBI and so on, worked to prevent that. So they have a lot of ways. And they set up these youth. After a while the thing gets going on its own. You get into these conflicts and then the whole thing, first of all the thing of revenge—it’s a never-ending cycle of “you killed my nephew or my kid, now you have to die,” and then it comes back the other way.
So that’s one thing, but also, if you’ve taken away everything from people and they have no hope and no future, people are going to find a way to try to do something that expresses—in the wrong way—expresses their feelings that they’re worth something, no matter how messed up what they’re doing might be. And this is something that’s left to people who form street organizations. And a lot of it is imitating the whole system in the first place, the ways of thinking, the ideology of the system, but you get into it and it takes on a life of its own, and pretty soon you’re deeply into it. And when you’re young, you both get drawn to it but you can also get forced into it. I know many people try to send their kids away so they wouldn’t get forced into the gangs, but it also has an attractive force. It’s a way of having meaning, even though it’s really messed up, but it’s still a way of having meaning.
And, let’s face it, compared to revolution, if you just want to look at things in the very short term, it’s easier. We’re talking about a really big thing of taking on this whole system and doing a lot of work to the point where you could actually have a chance to win. Well, if you’ve got a certain mindset and a certain thing you’re into, going down the street and shooting somebody who’s on the wrong block is easier; in the short run, it’s easier. It doesn’t require you to make big changes; it’s what’s been left to you. That’s why this stuff has to be really struggled with hard and really met deep down where people really feel, and struggled hard over, about what should your life really be about.
A lot of people are into the “Stop the Violence” stuff. (I know I’m getting far afield here but this is important.) A lot of people are into “Stop the Violence” stuff. They have good intentions but at least to some degree in some instances they end up working with the police and everything because they don’t understand—and this has to be really brought home—that you’re not gonna get these youth out of this unless you have a whole different way you’re coming at it that really speaks to the whole thing they’re caught up in, whether they really know that or not yet. You can’t just come to this saying “stop the violence.” And do what? Let’s be real—“stop the violence” and do what? Work for chump change all my life on a job that then goes away anyway?
Listen. There’s not a single sphere of life in this society (you all know this, but I gotta say it anyway) in which Black people do not get the dirty end of the stick—not a single thing. I was reading an article in the New York Times about the changing economy. A lot of these industrial jobs I was talking about are gone. And this applies also to people from El Salvador, and other people… Puerto Rico also. There’s a whole history which we can get into. But there’s a particular history of Black people in this country, and I was reading this article in the New York Times about the changing economy and it was talking about the loss of industrial jobs and the shift from industrial work to service work—people interacting directly with the public in sales. I was reading some statistics from somebody who did some research on it, and 80 percent of industrial production jobs in the world are now done in the Third World, if you include China. So that tells you a lot about where everything has gone. Most of the clothes are made in Bangladesh. Seafood is done in Thailand. Haiti, Pakistan, over in Asia… This country is sitting at the end of the food chain. All these people! The coltan for your cell phone is mined by people under terrible conditions in a place like the Congo. All this work is gone [from the U.S.] because of the nature of the system. They can exploit people much more ruthlessly in these conditions where they’ve messed up these countries. And don’t even tell me, “Well it’s better than not having a job at all; if we didn’t go in and do that, they wouldn’t have any…” Bullshit! There’s lots of raw materials and lots of people, and you could have a whole different economy that didn’t exploit people if you had a revolution. So I don’t want to hear your crap about how “if we didn’t exploit them, they’d be even worse off.”
But anyway, this article I was reading in the New York Times, it made the point that this shift from industrial to service work in this country has hit Black men particularly hard because while a lot of people (and they’re talking about white people, let’s face it) who go into these stores are willing to interact with Black women but not so willing to interact with Black men. It’s good if a Black woman has a job. Let’s be clear, this is not about a thing against Black women at all. But what is the point here? They’ve created this whole image, through the culture and everything. That’s why you have the Starbucks thing in Philadelphia [where they harassed two Black men, and called the police on them, when they were doing nothing wrong].7 And Lake Merritt in Oakland. See, I grew up in the Bay Area; I know about Lake Merritt in Oakland. A lot of people go there and hang out—Black people, white people, whatever. Somebody calls the police on some Black family because they’re barbequing with charcoal briquets which the city of Oakland has a thing against for environmental reasons. They called the pigs on them. Why? Because people have gotten this image that’s been consciously created.
Look, a lot of the youth are into messed up stuff, OK, but there’s also been a conscious effort to portray all these youth as a bunch of savages. It’s all in the way this system operates. You’re not going to change it with consent decrees or calls on people to “stop the violence.” You’ve got to change it with a revolution. And you’ve got to go deep with these youth, deep and hard with these youth about what is really worth living and dying for. Let’s get right down on the ground with this. What is worth living and dying for? If you’re going to fight and die, at least let’s get to the point—we have to get into the science of it and why we can’t just jump the whole thing off now—but let’s get to the point [where] at least if you’re going to fight and die, let it be for something that will leave the next generation coming along a much better world, rather than what they’ve got you caught up in now.
We can understand why they’re caught up in it, but we got to go deep and hard to fight about “make your life count for something that really would be meaningful to people, that you do care about, whether you act like you care about them or not.” You see them out there. I see gang bangers out there with their little kids rolling [them] around in strollers. Don’t tell me you don’t care about anybody else! We got to go deep and hard to get to where people really feel, and struggle with them about what is worth living and dying for.
I have to say one other thing. I know I’m going all over the place but just let me say this: I get really mad when people say, “All this talk about revolution—you’re going to get people killed.” People are getting killed all over the place, all over the world, including right around the corner, right now, for nothing, for no good reason, and we are trying really hard to do this in a scientific way so people don’t die unnecessarily.
Let’s be honest. You can’t make a revolution, you can’t go up against this thing and defeat them and nobody’s going to suffer, and nobody’s going to die. OK, let’s be honest. There’s no good point, in fact it works against everything we need to be going for, if you go up and lie to people and tell them [there is] some easy way to do this. But at least let’s not have it be for nothing. Let’s not have it be only to keep the same thing going for generation after generation. Your kids are going to come up and face the same thing, or worse, than what you’re going through, whether it’s the police or someone just like you who’s going to do them in. So we’re really working very hard to be very scientific so that, yes, people are going to need, when it comes down to it, to fight and die, but at least let’s not have it be for stuff that doesn’t count for anything and really works against what we need to do. At least let’s make it count for a future that’s better for all the people in the world, the great majority of people in the world who are suffering terribly under this system, including for all the violence that’s brought down, and for absolutely no good reason and completely unnecessarily.
So, consent decrees are not going to solve the problem!
1. Fred Hampton was the leader of the Black Panther Party in Chicago, who was murdered by police, with the active involvement of the FBI, as he lay asleep in an apartment in Chicago in December 1969. Another Black Panther, Mark Clark, was also murdered by the police during this middle-of-the night raid. [back]
2. Laquan McDonald, a 17-year-old Black youth, was murdered by Chicago police in October 2014. This was followed, for more than year, by a systematic attempt of the Chicago police, and higher-up authorities, to cover up this wanton killing—including the suppression of video footage of the killing. Finally, as a result of massive protest, Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago cop who fired the shots that killed Laquan McDonald, was tried and convicted of second-degree murder; but he was sentenced to only three years and nine months in jail. And the cops involved in the cover-up of this murder were either not indicted and tried or, in the case of three others, were found not guilty by a judge in a separate trial from Van Dyke’s. [back]
3. In Sanford, Florida, in February 2012, George Zimmerman, an armed white wannabe cop, confronted Trayvon Martin, a Black youth who was walking back from a neighborhood store to the nearby home of his father. Zimmerman instigated a confrontation with Martin, which resulted in Zimmerman shooting Martin to death. After a massive outpouring of outrage, Zimmerman—who was not even initially arrested and instead was treated in a sympathetic manner by the police right after this incident—was finally put on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin. But, as happens so regularly when it is the police who kill a Black person, the wannabe cop and friend of the police Zimmerman was acquitted! Nonetheless, the murder of Trayvon Martin, followed by the acquittal of Zimmerman, gave rise to a powerful wave of protest against police brutality and murder, which became even broader and more determined after the murders by police of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri (near St. Louis), and Eric Garner on Staten Island, New York City. [back]
4. At the time of this speech and question and answer with Bob Avakian, Jeff Sessions—a white supremacist former senator from Alabama—was the attorney general of the U.S. government. [back]
5. Rahm Emanuel (a Democratic Party politician who was a close adviser of Barack Obama) was then the mayor of Chicago. [back]
6. Here Bob Avakian is referring to Carl Dix, who a number of decades ago worked in a steel plant, where the Black workers were stuck in the dirtiest, lowest-paying and most dangerous jobs—and Carl himself was seriously injured while working in those conditions. Carl, a former soldier who spent time in prison for refusing to take part in the U.S. imperialist war in Vietnam, has been a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party since its founding in 1975. [back]
7. This refers to a situation in a Starbucks in Philadelphia, in 2018, where two Black men were waiting for a friend and one of the Starbucks workers accused them of loitering and called the police. This particular situation was resolved without serious physical harm being done to these Black men— although they were already handcuffed by police by the time their friend showed up! And it is not at all hard to imagine this turning into another one of these cases where the police escalated things and ended up brutalizing, or even killing, Black people who were doing absolutely nothing wrong. Along with the very real danger of being brutalized or even murdered by the police, incidents of this kind, which happen over and over again in this country, take a terrible toll on the psyche of those who are subjected to them—and, on the whole people, in particular Black people, who collectively suffer as a result of this kind of constant treatment. [back]