Workers Vanguard No. 1137

27 July 2018


Cops Gun Down Black Barber

Chicago Protests

This is America, where a cop’s badge is a license to kill, and to kill black people in particular. On July 14, in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, police shot dead 37-year-old Harith “Snoop” Augustus near the shop where he worked. Police claimed that Augustus, a quiet and popular barber, was “exhibiting characteristics of an armed person,” the same racist pretext for blowing away twelve-year-old Tamir Rice with his toy gun in 2014. The Chicago Police Department quickly released edited body-cam video, without audio, to bolster its case. The video captured Augustus trying to show the cops an ID that appears to be his Firearm Owners Identification card, then being grabbed at from behind by officers and, seconds later, falling dead in the street. According to witnesses, Augustus was shot in the back at least five times. The evidence produced by the thugs-in-blue proves one thing: this father of a five-year-old was executed for no other reason than being black and exercising his right to own and carry a gun.

In a July 21 statement, the distraught family of Augustus wrote: “The manner of Harith’s tragic death is all too familiar and seems so unnecessary.” Such atrocities are commonplace in the U.S., and certainly S.O.P. in “Segregation City,” where cops have terrorized black neighborhoods under Democratic Party administrations for nearly ninety years. Former Chicago police detective Jon Burge and his cohorts were notorious for torturing black “suspects” from the 1970s to the 1990s, with the complicity of city officials. In 2017, after a Justice Department investigation found the Chicago police to have treated blacks and other minorities “as animals or subhuman,” that same force began flooding the streets under a federal “law and order” push.

On the night Augustus was killed, some 100 outraged protesters from the neighborhood gathered in the streets and were confronted by a force of roughly the same number of police, who waded into the crowd swinging batons. One protester told the Chicago Sun-Times: “They beat women up, they beat men up, they slammed them on the ground.” Anger against police was palpable as demonstrators chanted, “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” Protests of up to 200 people took place in South Shore the following two evenings. Four protesters were detained on July 14 and at least one, Melvin Johnson, was charged with misdemeanor counts of “resisting a peace officer” and battery. Drop all the charges!

Augustus was carrying a legal, holstered handgun. In a Chicago Reader article (20 July) titled, “Does the Second Amendment Apply to Black People?” one columnist pointed out, “It’s not hard to understand why he would own a gun. He’s a barber—a cash-heavy business—in a relatively high-crime area.” More than 150 years after slavery was defeated in the Civil War, in significant measure through the skill and courage of armed black Union soldiers, black people are still denied the full rights of U.S. citizens. When it comes to the Second Amendment right to bear arms, the cops don’t even pretend that a black man might have the same rights as a white man. In 2016, Philando Castile was shot dead in his car by a Minnesota cop seconds after politely informing the cop that he had a gun and a license to carry it.

In Chicago, the Democratic Party has demonstrated time and again its skill in administering racist American capitalism and wielding the machinery of repression against black people and the poor. It was the cop-loving Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel—Barack Obama’s former henchman—who covered up the video of the police killing of Laquan McDonald, sparking mass protests nearly three years ago. Now Emanuel and other Democratic Party functionaries are worried that the September murder trial of the cop who shot McDonald will unleash more protests.

Reflecting widespread hatred of Emanuel, one of the chants at the July 16 protest was “No More Democrats!” Such rage is more than justified. But it must be given an organized political expression. We fight to break workers and minorities from the Democratic Party and all capitalist parties. A multiracial revolutionary workers party would provide the necessary leadership for struggle against oppression and exploitation.

Hostile to this view are the so-called “progressive” Democrats and black front men, backed by the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy and an array of reformist lackeys who call themselves “socialist.” They are practiced in subverting righteous anger against cop terror back into Democratic Party channels—whether through bogus “community policing” or cop “accountability” councils. In 2016, the outpouring of protests over the killing of McDonald was converted into a campaign to oust Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez for her role in the cover-up. The result was her replacement by a black Democrat, Kim Foxx, who has since overseen the same daily police violence and murder. Decades of black faces in high places and community policing schemes have offered no solution.

This is America, a country founded on chattel slavery, where black lives don’t matter to the ruling class. The job of the cops is to “serve and protect” the capitalist masters who lord it over a society rooted in the exploitation of the working class and the forcible segregation of blacks at the bottom.

The workplace and factory floor remain rare pockets of integration in this deeply segregated city. Chicago has a significant multiracial labor movement with tremendous potential social power. Class struggle for the common class interests of black, white, Latino and immigrant workers, championing the cause of the poor and all the oppressed, can help break down racial divisions and advance the fight to overturn the capitalist order through socialist revolution. To make the workers conscious of this task requires a revolutionary party that fuses the power of labor to the anger of the ghettos and barrios. We are dedicated to the fight to forge such a party.