In the past month, members of the Communist League of Richmond and hundreds of other protestors have felt the burning sensation of pepper spray and witnessed demonstrations targeted with tear gas and flash-bangs. The lawlessness of law enforcement has been on full-display and well-documented: vehicular attacks, rubber-coated bullets, foam rounds, physical assaults… to what end? Around the nation, state and local police departments, federal law enforcement agencies, the National Guard, and racist vigilantes have sought to terrorize demonstrators into submission, resulting in more than a few deaths. But these egregious assaults are not the sole threat to the mass protest movement — perhaps even more dangerous is the threat posed by liberal politicians and aligned non-profits which seek to co-opt, disarm, and pacify the movement for their own benefit. While many protestors know to bring umbrellas and gloves, very few are prepared to present an organized front against these politicians and grifters.
Even in Minneapolis, the heart of this movement, we can observe this co-optation. Around the nation, many were positively surprised to read that the Minneapolis City Council voted unanimously to “dismantle” their municipal police department. But once we look past the headlines and tweets, there is little reason to feel optimistic. Not one of the city council members has offered a concrete explanation of what “dismantling” actually means. One starts to get a sense that the protestors have been defrauded when you hear people like Councilman Cunningham say “We have to work alongside our amazing [!] Police Chief Rondo […] to build these new systems.”
In Richmond, ‘progressive’ Democratic politicians have also been quick to launder their public images just in time for local elections. Mayor Levar Stoney, who not only failed to enact but actively opposed even minor ‘reforms’ demanded by the family of Marcus David Peters following his murder by police in May of 2018, installed himself at the head of a march against police brutality for a photo-op in front of the Lee Monument. One would hope that nobody would be naive enough to take this stunt seriously, but hundreds marched beside him down Monument Ave. In addition to actively stonewalling the family of Marcus David Peters, Stoney has spent the past two years working hard to undermine some of his previous commitments by actively pushing the $1.5 billion Navy Hill Project which would have diverted resources from the very school system he pledged to restore.
Stoney briefly convinced some protestors that we had achieved a victory when he fired former RPD Chief Will Smith, but that jubilation quickly evaporated when people learned he appointed William “Jody” Blackwell as interim chief — a reactionary extremist intent on “taking our city back,” a cop who fatally shot a man in the back in 2002. Blackwell resigned within two weeks and as of July 1 the RPD is being run by Gerald Smith from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Police Department. When Stoney officially introduced the new chief Gerald Smith, he described him as a “reform-minded leader” and “a bold leader for a challenging time” however Smith comes from a department that is currently being sued by the ACLU for excessive use of force asserting that the department “orchestrated a premeditated and violent attack on peaceful demonstrators”. Looks like Richmonders should get ready for more of the same.
The most politically conscious demonstrators are wise to Stoney’s ploys, but few seem willing to openly call out the dishonesty of the two members of Richmond City Council who nominally supported the movement with their words and undermined it with their actions. Michael Jones and Stephanie Lynch have both spoken publicly in support of defunding the police and have even tweeted from the frontline of demonstrations about the excessive use of force against protestors. Meanwhile, in reality, both Jones and Lynch voted in favor of the mayor’s 2021 budget in May 2020 — just two months ago. The budget report indicates that the operating budget for RPD will increase to $103,591,468 dollars, an increase of more than $3.5 million dollars in the middle of a global pandemic and recession! Furthermore, Lynch and Jones voted for this increase knowing that the city had made no meaningful changes whatsoever since the murder of Marcus David Peters. When these two members of the City Council wring their hands and whine that they didn’t know that RPD was capable of such violence it is a one-hundred-million dollar lie. Jones has even told CBS6 that his vague scheme for “defunding” the same police whose funding he increased would not entail “taking boots off the ground.” Capitalist politicians lie, and anyone that follows them is in for a rude awakening.
This lie has been amplified by Stoney’s main “progressive” challenger in the 2020 mayoral election, Alexsis Rodgers, whose Twitter feed is filled with retweets of self-serving and mendacious statements from Jones and Lynch. Rodgers, failing to cite Jones’ and Lynch’s full complicity for an increase to RPD’s budget, has gone so far as to claim that “[Jones] and [Lynch] are using their platforms and their privilege to fight for systemic policing reforms.” Jones herself was a policy adviser for Governor (then Lieutenant Governor) Ralph Northam, a conservative Democrat who spent most of his adult life as a Republican. It was Stoney and Northam who set in place Richmond’s draconian curfew in the last days of May and mobilized the Virginia National Guard to repress demonstrations. It was Northam’s National Guard that enabled the Richmond police and state police to rampage through the streets, arresting hundreds and brutalizing protestors and journalists alike. Can Rodgers produce any evidence that she advised Northam to defund, disarm, and disband the Virginia State Police or National Guard? Can she provide any evidence that she won’t simply pursue the same agenda, but with a “progressive” sheen?
These hypocritical Democratic politicians seek to ride this wave of rebellion to advance their own careers and redirect it to largely toothless reforms which do nothing to change the fundamental role of police in society— as enforcers of white supremacy and capitalism. Those who would hijack left-wing, progressive, and anti-racist organizations and demonstrations for personal gain pose a key danger for those who want to see this movement grow into a strong anti-racist workers movement capable of achieving revolutionary social change. Liberal advocates of liquidating the radical movement within the Democratic Party machine will claim that they are merely employing a diversity of tactics. This is like claiming that one is fighting a fire through a diversity of tactics— dousing it with both water and gasoline.
It is now an established fact that Richmonders are courageous enough to stand up to police violence night after night; our task now is to ensure that we are also conscious enough to stand up to those wolves in sheep’s clothing who wish to destroy the movement from within.
WE CALL ON DEMONSTRATORS TO:
- Form solid organizations prepared for a long struggle that continues even if street protests die down. Form local, democratic councils to organize the resistance!
- Continue to push back against state repression. Form local, armed self-defense groups!
- Continue to fight to defund the police, and militantly resist those who seek to co-opt the movement
WE CALL ON LEFT-WING, ANTI-RACIST, AND PROGRESSIVE ORGANIZATIONS TO:
- Publicly decline to endorse or rescind the endorsement of any candidate who has voted to further expand RPD’s budget or who has emerged from the Stoney, Northam, or McAuliffe administrations
- Use their platforms to call out and expose those seeking to co-opt the movement
- Re-orient themselves away from electoralism