Nationwide Uprising Against Failed State

To achieve the changes we need, people must stay in the streets and connect the problems we face to the demand for systemic changes, write Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers.

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers

The nationwide uprising sparked by the murder of George Floyd and other recent racially-motivated events is a response to the bi-partisan failed state in which we live. It comes in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and the largest economic collapse in the U.S. in more than a century. These three crises have disproportionately impacted people of color and added to long-term racial inequality and injustice.

Black Lives Matter erupted six years ago when a police officer shot and killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Since that time, police have murdered approximately 1,100 people every year. The response of the government at all levels to the crisis of police killings has been virtually nonexistent. While people seek to avenge the death of George Floyd, the problems are much deeper and the changes needed are much broader.

Root Of Problem Is Failed State

During the pandemic, millionaires and billionaires have been bailed out by the government with trillions of dollars while working people were given a pittance of $1,200 per person and a short-term increase in unemployment benefits for the more than 40 million people who have lost their jobs. Many workers who provide essential services have had to continue to work putting themselves and their communities at risk.

Urgently needed healthcare is out of reach for millions with no or skimpy health insurance resulting in people dying at home or not going to the hospital until their illness became serious. For this and other reasons, Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting communities of color.

Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report puts the mass revolt in the context of the long history of white supremacy that has existed since Africans were brought to the United States. Chattel slavery was enforced by the earliest form of policing, with the first formal slave patrol created in the Carolina colonies in 1704. After the Civil War and a brief period of Reconstruction where African people could participate in civic life, Jim Crow followed with white racists, often allied with Southern police, inflicting terrorism against the Black population through lynchings and other means. Black people were arrested for laws like vagrancy and then punished by being forced to work picking cotton or other jobs. This new form of slavery continues as inmates are forced to work for virtually no pay in prisons, are leased out to dangerous jobs like meat processing, or are used as scabs.

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George Floyd’s murder enraged people who have seen too many deaths as a result of police violence. The murder in broad daylight with cameras filming and scores of witnesses showed the impunity of police who are used to not being held accountable for their violence. During the uprising, police have used extreme violence and targeted people with cameras and the media even saying they were the problem.

The root of the problem is a failed state that does not represent the people and has a deep history of racism and inequality that are being magnified by the current crises. The failure to respond to these crises is resulting in an ungovernable country as the social contract has been broken.

Lawlessness among the wealth class, corruption of politicians by campaigns financed by the wealthiest with payoffs to their children and relatives has set the stage for no respect for the law. As one protester exclaimed, “Don’t talk to us about looting, you are the looters. You have been looting from black people. You looted from the Native Americans. Don’t talk to us about violence, you taught us violence.”

“Last Words” sign at demonstration against police violence in Washington, D.C., May 30, 2020. (Twitter)

The Failed State Cannot Reform Itself

George Floyd’s final words, “I can’t breathe,” echoed the same words of Eric Garner, who was killed six years ago by a New York police officer. Although there were protests then, not much has changed. The system failed to respond. 

Failure starts at the top. There have been years of inaction at all levels of government. The New York Times reports “The administration has largely dismantled police oversight efforts, curbing the use of federal consent decrees to overhaul local police departments. Mr. Barr has said that communities that criticize law enforcement may not deserve police protection, and Mr. Trump has encouraged officers not to be ‘too nice’ in handling suspects.”

Trump poured gasoline on the current fire with incendiary rhetoric promising “looting leads to shooting” echoing racists of the past and promising to send in the U.S. military if Democrats can’t stop the uprising. Trump has put the military on alert to deploy to civilian protests. He maintains power by dividing people; praising armed protesters who demanded that the economy reopen despite the pandemic and calling unarmed protesters against police violence “thugs.”

On Friday, the White House locked down on security alert because of protests. Trump responded by calling for MAGA protesters to come to the White House. They did not come but protests at the White House have continued to increase.

Both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for the current rebellion. Joe Biden has described himself as a “law and order” Democrat from the beginning of his career. He was the primary architect of the federal mass incarceration of black people and helped add hundreds of thousands of police with militarized equipment to urban communities. He courts police unions that defend killer cops. And Biden opposed the integration of schools.

A man stands on a burned out car as fires burn behind him in Minneapolis, May 28, 2020. (Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The failure of leadership continues at the state and local levels with politicians closely tied to the Fraternal Order of Police, which aggressively defends police who kill civilians. Every city can point to a series of police killings with no prosecutions or acquittals and few convictions. Minneapolis has a long history of race-based police violence. Indeed, violence against indigenous peoples led to the formation of the American Indian Movement.  The Intercept summarizes some of the cases:

  • In 2015, the police killed Jamar Clark a 24-year-old black man. Protests lasted two weeks but led to no prosecution.
  • In 2016, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black motorist,was killed in a Minneapolis suburb. More than two weeks of protest followed and two years later the officer was acquitted.
  • In 2017, Justine Ruszczyk, a 40-year-old white woman, approached a Minneapolis police car to report a sexual assault. The police officer, Mohamed Noor, who shot and killed her was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and her family was awarded a record $20 million settlement.
  • In 2018, body camera footage showed Minneapolis police chasing Thurman Blevins, a 31-year-old black man, and shooting him to death. Prosecutors refused to file charges against the officers who killed Blevins.

Protests have led to some changes but they haven’t solved the problem. Money has been spent on body cameras, which have rarely had any impact. Similarly, training on de-escalation and racial sensitivity has made little difference.

Over the last six years, cities have increased funding for police departments at the expense of health, education and other underfunded urban programs. Rather than providing people with necessities, the government has relied on controlling neglected communities with an occupying police force. Some of the police are even trained by the Israeli occupiers.

Even in the midst of a pandemic and economic collapse, the government cannot give people access to healthcare, protect their jobs, suspend their rents or control food prices. As Rosa Miriam Elizalde writes in her comparison of the United States to Cuba, the difference is a matter of values. The United States government spends more than 60 percent of the discretionary budget on weapons and war. It should be no surprise that the government acted more quickly to suppress people with militarized police, thousands of National Guard troops, and curfews than it did to protect their lives when the pandemic and recession started.

Reform Is Not Enough

George Floyd protest in Columbus, Ohio, May 30, 2020. (Becker1999, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The country must look more deeply at policing. Retired police major, Neill Franklin, the executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership told The Intercept, “We need a new paradigm of policing in the United States. It needs to be completely dismantled and reconstructed, not changing a policy here or there.”

The Minneapolis group, Reclaim the Block, wrote a statement calling on the city council to defund the police department. Last week, they made four demands of their city council:

  1. Never again vote to increase police funding.
  2. Propose and vote for a $45 million cut from MPD’s budget as the city responds to projected Covid-19 shortfalls.
  3. Protect and expand current investment in community-led health and safety strategies.
  4. Do everything in their power to compel MPD and all law enforcement agencies to immediately cease enacting violence on community members.

This is an agenda that makes sense for cities across the country. A growing movement demands the defunding of police departments. It is evident that the way to reduce police violence is to fund alternative non-law enforcement approaches to conflict resolution, safety strategies, and mental health as well as investing in neglected communities. 

Another growing movement calls for democratic community control of the police where communities elect a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). The critical difference between this and Civilian Police Boards is that the Accountability Council is democratically elected not appointed by the police chief or politicians who are allied with the police. Neill Franklin urges a national database of officers terminated for misconduct so they will not be hired by other police departments. 

The New York Times reports that “in 2012, the civilian board in Minneapolis was replaced by an agency called the Office of Police Conduct Review. Since then, more than 2,600 misconduct complaints have been filed by members of the public, but only 12 have resulted in an officer being disciplined.”  The most severe censure was only a 40-hour suspension. Derek Chauvin, who killed George Floyd, has at least 17 misconduct complaints, none of which derailed his career, in nearly two decades with the Minneapolis Police Department.

Chauvin was involved in the fatal shooting in October 2006 when Senator Amy Klobuchar was Minneapolis’ district attorney. Rather than prosecuting Chauvin, she sent the case to a grand jury that declined to indict Chauvin. In 2011, Chauvin was involved in a high-profile shooting of a Native American. He was placed on administrative leave but was reinstated to the force when no charges were brought. If democratic community control of the police were in place, it is highly likely Chauvin would have been removed as a police officer and George Floyd would still be alive.

Support for change is growing. Bus drivers refused to transport arrested protesters for the police in Minneapolis and New York. Payday Report wrote transit union leaders nationwide are instructing members not to cooperate with police in arresting protesters. And universities are dropping their contracts with the Minneapolis Police Department.

Protests continue nationwide. Thus far escalating police violence and the use of the National Guard has failed to stop them. The government may use the military, although by law there are restrictions on that. There will be efforts to pacify the protests by political leaders and non-profits who will try to take over the leadership. These must be rejected.

To achieve the changes we need, people must stay in the streets and connect the problems we face to the demand for systemic changes. We will need to support each other as many are doing by distributing food and providing medical care, jail support and legal representation. We urge people to meet in assemblies to discuss what their goals are, their vision of how communities could be organized differently and what actions they can take.  We need to build confidence in each other that we can work together for the future we want. That is how we will get there.

Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers co-direct Popular Resistance.

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17 comments for “Nationwide Uprising Against Failed State

  1. robert e williamson jr
    June 6, 2020 at 22:09

    Question: If I pled for everyone to vote for trumpo rather than Biden to show our disgust with the democraps couldn’t the democraps, DNC, be charged with sedition, (hint: conduct or speech inciting people to rebel) ?? Since trumpo seems to be bent on doing it himself. Seems to me their actions are equally insane and damaging as Dumbo’s behavior and actions. See SEDITION in order for trumpo to be king he must overthrow the state and he seems to me to be hell bent on it.

    Seriously, these people are defying reason and everybody in the streets is trying to send everyone in power a message. If you have in excess of three months to design a campaign around a solid candidate and you don’t you have no reason to expect support from people who need a solution immediately. You See Nancy & COMPANY this is your predicament, say it with me now. You are running out of time!”

    Hint: maybe the DNC needs to be canvasing the protestor to see what they are thinking about this next election! They have done a great job of doing what needs to be done with respect to the murder of George Floyd..

    Best be listening up!

  2. June 5, 2020 at 12:39

    Like many people, these writers declare change must occur. And in most cases the changes are never detailed. Instead a melange of emotion is expressed. But this has at least one albeit vague suggestion. Cut police budgets and redirect the funds to medical care and education.
    Some how that will solve our problems today. Let’s see, how to deal with an epidemic. How to redirect our momentum to unsustainability because of ecosystem collapses and resource depletion. And how to make everyone feel blissful in a society of conflicting cultures and perspectives which are mostly molded by whatever advances the interest of the most money and power.

  3. DH Fabian
    June 3, 2020 at 19:33

    How many media campaigns and declarations that “this is a turning point?” And nothing changes.

    Now we hear frantic shouts about “Trump dividing the country!” What? For the past quarter-century, tremendous work went into splitting us apart, middle class vs. poor, further pitted against each other by race. Millions of us didn’t have the luxury of remaining oblivious to this fact.

  4. Tom Kath
    June 3, 2020 at 19:26

    Like it or not, this is modern day “Pitchforks”! The same as Yellow Vests, it is a revolt against the SYSTEM. As such, I see it predominantly as a CLASS struggle rather than a RACE struggle, although various “struggles” try to claim it as their own.

    • June 4, 2020 at 01:44

      In the US you will be mistaken if you strip race completely from class. Class more or less in the US intersects with race. Centuries of slavery, Jim crow segregation and mass incarceration have devasted the Black community. The opioids crisis has exposed the suffering of rural whites in the rust belt and former coal towns. The crack epidemic of yester years never was treated with compassion or as a health crisis. The opioids epidemic afflicting mainly white rural communities have been accurately discussed as a medical crisis. But all available statistics paint a grim and dire picture for black America. Racism is endemic because it is baked or woven into the fabric of US society. This is a fundamental fact that must be recognized by the white working class and socialists.

  5. Jay B
    June 3, 2020 at 15:04

    Politicians blame each other and the media chooses side. Now CEOs are lining up to tell you they just realized something is amiss and, by god, they’re going to do something about it. In reality, all of the above ARE the problem. This is not new nor is the response from those at the top. I have no doubt we’ll soon see various aspects of the protests sponsored by P&G, Comcast and Verizon. Maybe a new Ben & Jerry’s flavor to mark the occasion. What we won’t see is any substantive change. It’s in the USA’s DNA. (And by the way, November’s election will have ZERO impact on any of this. It didn’t start in 2016 and won’t end in 2021.)

  6. Dianne Leonard
    June 3, 2020 at 13:38

    Another demand would be to require police to actually live in the communities they police. Here in Oakland, Calif, over 90 percent of the cops do not live in Oakland, and I understand the situation is the same in other cities. Partially, this is the result of high housing costs, but I think it is mostly because the cops have contempt for the city and people who live here.

    • Nylene13
      June 3, 2020 at 15:09

      I agree. A mentally handicapped Black man was shot by police in my neighborhood years ago. He had done nothing wrong, but he could not speak well, and he would go from door to door asking “Got work?”
      He would mow lawns, weed and do general yard work.

      He was well known and liked around the neighborhood, but one day he knocked on the door of a new resident, and older white woman.
      She saw him standing at her door, and started screaming and called the police. The police came and shot the then running away man in the back, and killed him.

      The police were not at all apologetic. How could they know anything about him? I said then that police should live in the neighborhoods they serve.

  7. Aaron
    June 3, 2020 at 13:05

    It’s really heartbreaking to see so many millions of very well-intentioned idealistic young people trying to change the system/world, and now they’re basically just arresting everyone, and who knows what will happen to them when they disappear from the streets, with the directive to not treat them too nicely. And it’s so much worse now because they are going to be exposed and more vulnerable to getting Covid19 now, just for maybe simply violating these curfews. It’s all a big Catch-22- peaceful protests = no systemic change, we saw that with the 400,000 climate change peaceful protestors, violent protests = total condemnation from all public officials with the help from all their media mouthpieces, so therefore – no systemic change, we saw non-violent civil disobedience-type protestors sitting down on the streets, and the authorities just steamrolling them,kicking them and knocking them over and trampling them, while tear-gassing them at the same time, – no change with that stuff either. And when Ellison finally gets around to arresting those 3 officers and is so proud of himself and everybody celebrates that “first-step” to justice, it will result in even less pressure/likelihood of systemic change. I’d really love to believe that this is “different” this time, but I don’t see any signs of that really. Certainly Biden’s no solution at all, maybe at the local levels things might change slightly, but systemically speaking, I seriously doubt a change is gonna come. Sad, but true

  8. Sam F
    June 3, 2020 at 08:49

    Indeed the USG does no epidemic contact tracing to protect the people, but sends militarized police to protect property.
    The article properly suggests dismantling failed police organizations and constructing a “new paradigm of policing”:
    1. Fund and require conflict resolution training and accountability, and revive industries in neglected communities;
    2. Legislate and empower elected independent Accountability Councils to monitor public officials for abuses of office;
    3. Assemble a national database of abusive officials to prevent hiring by other government entities.

    Corrupt judges allow police violence, and juries do what the judge says in instructions, usually ignoring the law.
    So we must “connect the problems we face” to demand structural changes, to solve the underlying problems of money control of elections and mass media, party control of judges and officials, and the resulting judicial corruption.

    1. Demand amendments to restrict funding of elections and mass media to limited individual donations;
    2. Monitor all public officials and their associates intensely for life, and make organized corruption treason;
    3. Prohibit all lobbying, “donation” bribes, bribes to relatives, revolving-door bribes, etc.;
    4. Purge the state and federal judiciaries, allow multiple venues and appeals, and monitor judicial corruption;

    The alternative is tyranny by the rich, using bully boys to enforce their scams. Democracy must be restored.

  9. John R
    June 3, 2020 at 08:39

    Excellent piece – thank you Kevin and Margaret.

  10. June 3, 2020 at 08:15

    Failed state, indeed.

    A plutocracy running a gigantic empire and military machine, a government having no time nor interest nor resources for so many harsh problems at home.

    In other words, a government the just couldn’t care less about all the ordinary people of America.

  11. Nathan Mulcahy
    June 3, 2020 at 07:59

    I am not young, courageous or an “activist”. How where can people like me start? Any practical suggestions? Thanks.

    • Sam F
      June 3, 2020 at 17:05

      My plan is to found and grow the College of Policy Debate, hoping that it develops a model policymaking branch.
      Much depends upon your knowledge and strengths: there are other educational roles in the alternative press.
      Or you could sit at home writing to your congresspersons’ form-letter team, knowing who pays for their elections.
      Be not deceived by hopey changey: study the options and wait for opportunity, but early options are not peaceful.
      Movies might suggest preparing senior suicide bombers to be immortalized by taking out mass media facilities.
      Study Aric McBay’s Full Spectrum Resistance, a masterpiece of instruction in the activist roles of direct action.

  12. Ryan
    June 2, 2020 at 23:21

    What the nation needs is what we saw from FDR and Harry Hopkins—building the Nation for its people—because the Nation needs it. It is true that the Billionaires have been getting cash handed to them and that the Nation’s vital infrastructure (health included) has been sacrificed to the alter of mammon; however, it seems to me that at times like these, one must step back, breath and ask, “who benefits from the chaos?” Though the President (but also the House and Senate) is not doing what an FDR would do in a moment of crisis, is it not possible that we are seeing unfold an Americanized Maidan Revolution on the coattails of the murder of George Floyd? Wasn’t that Victoria Nuland, a Joe Biden ally? I ask because I fear we are going from the frying pan into the fire.

  13. Nathan Mulcahy
    June 2, 2020 at 23:02

    A great summary of what’s going on. And now our options are supposed to be between Dotard and Retard, with potentially Klobuchar as the running mate for Retard?

    Btw, we are not only a failed state, we are also a rogue state- just look at our foreign policy. Both parties own this.

    • June 5, 2020 at 12:45

      Amen, Nathan. I have been an educator and journalist. The changes in both in my lifetime contributed much to this state of affairs.

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