Strategies to confront police violence

January 12, 2016

Dan Russell contributes to a discussion about the movement against police violence.

DANNY KATCH provided an excellent summary of the challenges facing Black Lives Matter in 2016 with his recent article "What will stop the police killing spree?" However, I realized at the conclusion that he failed to provide much of an answer to the question posed in the title.

This question is only taken up in the final paragraph, which is short enough to quote here:

Moving forward will require more than mobilizations against new police atrocities, as important as these demonstrations of anger and outrage are. Those committed to challenging injustice and violence need to also understand and confront the connection of a racist and militarized police force to the wider political and economic system whose rulers are determined to preserve the status quo at any cost.

I agree that the spontaneous and short-term uprisings against particular incidences of police brutality--though courageous and inspiring--are not enough to strike at the root of the problem.

The rebellions and protests of the last two years have achieved some unprecedented victories--particularly in terms of popular consciousness--and helped secure indictments and convictions in some of the most egregious and well-documented cases. They have not, however, produced a generalized and coordinated strategy that would enable the movement to go on the offensive against the structural causes of police brutality.

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So while it is certainly true that the movement needs to understand these connections between racism and capitalism, it remains unclear why it needs to do this. has run many articles using theory and history to demonstrate this connection. The question is what practical implications these lessons have for the direction of the movement. What do they tell us about the best targets, the correct tactics and the sharpest demands?

In other words, we need to ask: How will understanding this connection contribute to actually stopping (or at least seriously impeding) the killing spree that Danny so eloquently describes?

THE QUESTION of strategy is being taken up inside and outside the movement and is one where Marxists must have something to say--especially in an election year when the twin pressures of lesser evilism and abstentionism will be particularly high. Many--including President Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders--have called for police forces to implement fairly minor reforms, including extra training, hiring more people of color, or requiring that all officers wear a body camera.

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Others have advanced a more ambitious--if ambiguous--goal of expanding democratic community oversight and control over local police forces. Others still call for the police to be disarmed and disbanded, presumably immediately. Some argue that any meaningful reform of the police is impossible under capitalism, and this will have to wait until there is a much broader and stronger movement capable of fighting for a different kind of society.

Many of the more radical forces in the movement already agree that it needs to link up with the struggle for economic justice. does little to advance this conversation if it only repeats back to these activists what they already know without offering any particular strategic advice. Even if these activists disagree with a particular proposal about the best demands or strategy this would both give them a sense of what socialists think and provide the basis for a productive debate in which both sides learn from one another. has provided some of the best on-the-ground reporting and analysis of Black Lives Matter thus far. I hope that in 2016 it can take a step further and host a serious and wide-ranging debate on the demands and strategies necessary to stop the killing spree.

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