The New York shooting and the bid to outlaw opposition to police violence

Andre Damon

On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took the extraordinary step of calling for an end to ongoing mass protests against police violence in the city and across the country.

The move marks a capitulation by de Blasio to demands by police officials and union leaders that he repudiate any criticism of the city’s police. In his run for mayor last year, De Blasio postured as an opponent of the “stop and frisk” police tactics of his predecessors, Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani, which have subjected working class and minority youth to continuous abuse and harassment.

Following Saturday’s fatal shooting of two New York City cops by a psychologically troubled man, police officials seized upon the incident to indict the protests against police violence and de Blasio’s tepid expressions of sympathy as being the direct causes of these killings.

No indictment for Ferguson cop who killed Michael Brown

Andre Damon

St. Louis County prosecuting attorney Robert P. McCulloch’s statement Monday night that no charges will be filed against Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown is a travesty of justice.

The entire process through which the grand jury arrived at its decision is a legal fraud. The outcome is not the result of fair judicial proceedings, but political calculations. The grand jury returned the outcome the state was seeking: no charges for the police murder of an unarmed African American youth.

Despite the fact that the decision was not announced until after 9:00pm eastern time, there were protests Monday night throughout the United States.

In Ferguson and surrounding cities, police responded by deploying SWAT teams in riot gear, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Convoys of armored police vehicles rolled through the streets. The roofs of some of the vehicles were lined with sand bags, with marksmen pointing assault rifles at unarmed demonstrators.

The mayor of Ferguson called for the deployment of the National Guard—previously activated by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, who declared a pre-emptive “state of emergency” last week.

President Barack Obama spoke immediately after McCulloch’s statement, mouthing a few perfunctory and semi-coherent comments, the main aim of which was to solidarize himself with the grand jury ruling.

Second St. Louis area police shooting highlights unrestrained police violence in the US

Andre Damon

On Wednesday, St. Louis police released a video showing the killing of 25-year-old Kajieme Powell a day earlier. The killing of Powell came just ten days after the fatal police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, which sparked mass protests in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.

The video shows Powell behaving erratically after he reportedly took two energy drinks and a pastry from a nearby store. None of the handful of bystanders seem threatened by Powell.

Two police officers arrive on the scene, guns drawn. Within 20 seconds Powell is dead, killed by a barrage of twelve bullets, fired by both officers, over a duration of three seconds.

The final two shots, fired by both officers, take place as Powell is already motionless on the ground. “Put your hands up!” yell the officers, and then handcuff him.

Residents had told the World Socialist Web Site that Powell was mentally handicapped and that his mother had died shortly before he was killed by the police.

“I think officer safety is the number one issue,” said St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson, defending the officers’ actions, saying, “The officers did what I think you or I would do, they protected their life in that situation.” Dotson dismissed questions as to why officers did not use Tasers or other means to diffuse the situation short of deadly violence. The video contradicts Dotson’s claims that Powell rushed the officers with a knife in an “overhand” position, and was three to four feet away when he was shot. The video shows police started shooting when Powell was about nine feet away, based on measurements relative to the officers’ height, and that Powell had his hands down when he was shot. Neither of the officers has been disciplined.

Police violence and the American gulag

Andre Damon

Recent weeks have seen a proliferation of violent and often fatal attacks by police in cities and towns across the United States.

Last week, an Atlanta SWAT team critically wounded a one-year-old toddler by throwing a flash grenade into a house in an early morning no-knock raid to serve an arrest warrant. The toddler remains in a medically induced coma and is fighting for his life. Such no-knock warrants are becoming increasingly common. Police carried out 50,000 such raids in 2005, up from 3,000 in 1981, and the American Civil Liberties Union estimates that between 70,000 and 80,000 no-knock raids occur each year in the US.
Last Thursday, the Albuquerque Medical Investigator’s office released the autopsy report for James Boyd, the 38-year-old homeless man who was killed by police on March 16, confirming that he was shot in the back. Since that incident, Albuquerque police have carried out two further fatal shootings. The Albuquerque police department has been responsible for 25 deadly shootings since 2010, according to the US Justice Department.
On May 20, three police officers in Salinas, California fired more than five shots at close range at migrant farm worker Carlos Mejía, killing him as he was backing away from them.
On May 11, five California Highway Patrol officers in Imperial County, California, beat to death Tommy Yancy, a veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, following a routine traffic stop.
On April 27, Jason Conoscenti, 36 was shot to death in Long Beach, California as he fled from police officers.
Last Friday, a grand jury indicted a Cleveland police officer on charges of manslaughter for the 2012 execution-style killing of two unarmed occupants of a disabled car following a chase. The officer “Fired at least fifteen shots ... downward through the windshield at close range as he stood on the hood” of the unarmed victims’ car, according to a federal prosecutor.

According to official statistics, the police on average commit between one and two “justifiable homicides” every day in the United States. Last week, the Supreme Court provided legal cover for such homicidal attacks.

Police killings in America

Andre Damon & Barry Grey

The “counterinsurgency” methods of mass violence employed in America’s dirty neocolonial wars abroad are being adapted for use at home.

Last month, police in Albuquerque, New Mexico shot and killed James Boyd, a homeless man camping in the foothills outside the city.

A video of the incident, which has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, has sparked a public outcry throughout the city and nationwide. Since 2010, there have been 23 lethal police shootings in Albuquerque alone.

The video shows police, in military battle dress and helmets wielding scoped assault rifles, confronting a lone homeless man. The officers throw a flash grenade at Boyd, sic an attack dog on him, and then fire up to eight lethal rounds into his back before shooting his motionless body with beanbag rounds and siccing the dog on him once again. The release of the video sparked protests by hundreds of people in the city, which were dispersed with tear gas by riot police.

Only days later, Albuquerque police killed another man, 30-year-old Alfred Lionel Redwine, outside an apartment complex. A witness told the Los Angeles Times that Redwine had “his arms down, with his palms out, when officers shot him.” The Albuquerque shootings are only the latest in a series of nationwide police killings this year.

The social chasm in America’s cities

Andre Damon

On Thursday, the Brookings Institution published a report documenting the sharp growth of social inequality in major metropolitan areas throughout the United States. The report’s findings are of vast significance in three respects.

First, the report documents the immense scale of social inequality and the rapidity with which it is growing, even in cities that are supposedly economic success stories.
Secondly, it shows the crushing growth of poverty and economic distress in these cities.
Thirdly, it implies that these conditions are not the result of a passing economic slowdown, but are rather embedded in the economic system and have become permanent facts of life.

According to the study, across the US, a household in the 95th percentile of income earners—that is, at the bottom of the top five percent—in 2012 had an income nine times greater than the a household in the 20th percentile—that is, at the top of the bottom fifth of income earners. But major cities had a much higher level of income inequality. The ratio was 18.8 for Atlanta, 16.6 for San Francisco, 15.7 for Miami, 15.3 for Boston and 13.3 for Washington DC.

The report documents the massive decline in working class incomes that took place between 2007 and 2012. For example, in Indianapolis—hit by a wave of industrial plant closures—the income of a typical household in the 20th percentile fell by $5,800, or more than a quarter, to $16,883. In Jacksonville, Florida the income of a household in this bracket fell by $7,800, or 30 percent, to $17,411.

“A city where the rich are very rich, and the poor very poor, is likely to face many difficulties,” the report states. “It may struggle to maintain mixed-income school environments that produce better outcomes for low-income kids. It may have too narrow a tax base from which to sustainably raise the revenues necessary for essential city services. And it may fail to produce housing and neighborhoods accessible to middle-class workers and families...”

This describes the great majority of American cities and amounts to an admission that the present social order holds no prospect for decent housing, health care or education for the great majority of city dwellers.

Dismal jobs report exposes claims of US recovery

Andre Damon

Poor unemployment report points to troubled US economy.

As Dow hits new record - Dismal jobs report exposes claims of US recovery

The US economy added 162,000 net jobs in July, the Labor Department reported Friday, the worst jobs figure in four months. The jobs total was lower than economists’ projections and well below the number needed to have an impact on mass unemployment.

The report underscored the fact that, five years after the 2008 financial crash, the US remains mired in a deep economic slump. Over the past four months, the US economy averaged only 173,000 new jobs per month, even though the working-age population is growing by a monthly average of 184,000.

The official unemployment rate dropped by 0.2 percent in July to 7.4 percent, mainly because 240,000 people left the labor force.

The US has recovered only about six million of the 8.5 million jobs lost during the 2008-2009 recession. Since the official end of the recession in June of 2009, the working-age population has increased by six million, meaning the gain in jobs relative to population growth has been essentially zero.

The share of the US population that is employed remained at 58.7 percent in July, largely unchanged from what it has been since 2009 and down from 62.7 percent in December 2007. The labor force participation rate, meanwhile, dropped 0.1 percent to 63.4 percent, near its lowest level in decades.

The number of people working part-time for economic reasons last month was 8.2 million, up by 19,000 from June, and the total number of people who are either unemployed or under-employed was 22 million.

Obama nominates Jacob Lew, budget-cutter and ex-banker, to head Treasury

Andre Damon

Obama appointee Jacob Lew (C) and Julius Genachowski (R),
the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission attend
a special lighting ceremony for the National Hanukkah Menorah,
the world’s largest, on the Ellipse, just across from the White
House on the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday. This
annual event is sponsored by American Friends of Lubavitch.

US President Barack Obama announced the nomination of current White House chief of staff Jacob Lew as treasury secretary Thursday, underscoring the administration’s commitment to slashing entitlements and its domination by Wall Street.

Lew, a longtime Washington operative and former Wall Street executive, helped negotiate cuts to Social Security with the Reagan administration in 1983, worked to slash social spending in the Clinton administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and served as the Obama administration’s point-man in budget-cutting negotiations with congressional Republicans.

Prior to joining the Obama administration in 2009, he earned millions of dollars as the chief operating officer of Citigroup’s Alternative Investments unit, which made bets against the housing market as it collapsed.

Nominating one of the Democrats most associated with deep cuts to Social Security and Medicare underscores the administration’s commitment to attacking these programs. “For all the talk out there about deficit reduction, making sure our books are balanced—this is the guy who did it,” Obama said at Lew’s nomination on Thursday afternoon.

SOPA, PIPA and the freedom of the Internet

Andre Damon

The American ruling class sees open communication and the spread of information online as a grave threat, and it is deeply committed to the drive to establish greater control of the Internet.

Millions of people signed online petitions Wednesday against two Internet censorship bills currently under consideration by the US Congress. The petitions were driven by appeals from thousands of websites, some of which, including Wikipedia and Reddit, shut down for the day in protest.

The protests and petitions were aimed against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the US House of Representatives, and its counterpart in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (PIPA).

The immediate target of the measures would be violators of intellectual property laws, and the acts have been heavily backed by movie and music producers. However, the more fundamental driving force behind these laws is the desire by the US ruling class to create a pseudo-legal and technical mechanism for significantly expanding the power of the US government to regulate the Internet.

While their ultimate form, if they are enacted, remains to be determined, both SOPA and PIPA would grant the US attorney general the power to seek a court order that would effectively shut down access to entire domains. Search engines and other websites would be required to eliminate links to the site in question, and firms such as PayPal would cut off finances. Targeted websites would have effectively no basis of appeal, meaning that they would be denied basic free speech rights without any due process.

Wikipedia shuts down to protest censorship bills

Andre Damon

Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, is shutting down for 24 hours today to protest internet censorship bills currently being considered by the US Congress.

The Wikipedia Foundation announced its plan to make the English-language Wikipedia “go dark” in a press release posted on its site Monday. The move will coincide with similar actions by a number of sites, including Reddit, the link sharing site, and BoingBoing, a technology blog.

The protest is aimed against two bills, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), currently under consideration in the US House of Representatives, and its counterpart in the Senate, the Protect IP Act (PIPA). The laws would increase the government’s power over the Internet and its ability to shut down sites in the name of enforcing copyright law. They have strong support from both Democrats and Republicans

“If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States,” the Wikimedia foundation, Wikipedia’s parent organization, said in its statement Monday.

The bills would give the US government and major corporations the power to shut down access to web sites on the basis of court orders sought by the office of the Attorney General, which is subordinate to the White House. The court orders would force other companies, including search engines, to halt financial transactions and disable any links to the relevant sites.

In their current forms, the bills would allow sites to be removed from domain name registrars (which connect Internet addresses such as with particular computer servers) and be blocked by Internet service providers.

The laws would allow the government to prosecute the owners of websites that link to any site providing copyrighted material, including search engines. They would also encourage web hosts and payment providers to extra-judicially blacklist websites they suspect of providing copyrighted content.

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