29 June 2018

LAPD Targets Grieving Aunt, BLM Activist

Hands Off Sheila Hines-Brim and Melina Abdullah!

LOS ANGELES—“That’s Wakiesha!” With these words, Sheila Hines-Brim threw the ashes of her niece, Wakiesha Wilson, who died in police custody, at LAPD chief Charlie Beck at a Police Commission meeting on May 8. In response to Hines-Brim’s defiant act, Beck ordered her forcibly removed from the meeting and arrested. As she was being hauled out by police, Melina Abdullah, professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at Cal State University L.A. and a well-known organizer of Black Lives Matter (BLM) Los Angeles, arrived at the meeting. Abdullah asked other attendees to film the police’s brutal manhandling of Wakiesha’s aunt, after which a cop yelled out “Arrest Melina!”

Both Hines-Brim and Abdullah were charged with suspicion of misdemeanor battery on a police officer and ordered to post $20,000 bail each. Outrageously, Beck obtained a temporary restraining order against Hines-Brim on May 17, branding her a dangerous criminal. Although the charges were not pursued against the two women at their June 1 court hearing, the prosecutor’s office can still do so anytime within a year. We demand: Drop the charges now!

Wakiesha Wilson, a 36-year-old black mother, was arrested in the early morning hours of 26 March 2016 on suspicion of felony battery and booked into the Metropolitan Correction Center. Some 24 hours later, she was dead. Demonstrating the cops’ contempt for black lives, Wilson’s family was not even informed. When they arrived in court for Wilson’s arraignment on March 29, all they learned was that she would not be appearing. It was only the next day that an LAPD supervisor told Wilson’s mother, Lisa Hines, to contact the coroner, who stated that Wilson had hanged herself three days before.

Although the cops claim that Wakiesha committed suicide, the family has been adamant that she was upbeat when they talked to her only 90 minutes before her death and that they had made plans to call again later that day during the family Easter celebration. Wilson was moved to an isolation cell, itself a violation of jail policy. An LAPD report states that 21 crucial minutes were missing from the jail surveillance videotape. In addition, several minutes elapsed between the time Wilson was observed by two guards slumped on the floor of her cell and when CPR was administered. Late last year, LAPD jailer Reaunna Bratton was fired for failing to render immediate medical aid to Wilson—a fact that the cops tried to cover up. Wilson’s mother filed a $35 million suit against the city, which eventually agreed to pay $298,000 to make the claim go away.

Whatever the exact circumstances of Wilson’s death, one thing is clear: the LAPD’s story stinks. State officials in Texas similarly claimed that black activist Sandra Bland, who in 2015 was found hanging in a county jail cell after being assaulted and arrested by a state trooper, had committed suicide. These are far from the only examples.

According to a 2014 article in Mother Jones, based on a rough calculation of Justice Department statistics, “black people were four times as likely to die in custody or while being arrested than whites.” More recently, a study of “Fatal Interactions with Police” conducted at Washington University in St. Louis found that 60 percent of black women killed by the cops were unarmed. As we wrote in “The Police Are Guilty” (WV No. 1072, 7 August 2015) following Sandra Bland’s death, cop terror against black people “is not an ‘excess’; it’s a calculated program. It is the way U.S. capitalism, which is built on the bedrock of black oppression, resolves the contradiction between the assertion of some formal equal rights and the forcible segregation of the bulk of the black population at the bottom of society.”

LAPD: Deadly Enemy of Black People, Latinos

For decades the LAPD was synonymous with an all-out police war against black people, Latinos and the poor. Today, police chief Charlie Beck is lionized in the media and by local politicians as having ushered in a new era of enlightened policing. In fact, Beck won his spurs in the 1980s and ’90s under LAPD chief Daryl “Choke Hold” Gates as part of the Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) unit. This “war on gangs” (read: black and Latino youth) unleashed the notoriously brutal and corrupt Ramparts division. Scores of cops from Beck’s own unit were implicated in shootings, beatings, frame-ups and more.

Now Beck, who was appointed in 2009 by Democratic Party mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to “clean up” the LAPD, is heralded for building “trusting relationships” with communities. That’s not the story out on the streets, where the LAPD has killed more people than any other police department for several years running. To name but a few: Manuel Jamines, a 37-year-old Mayan day laborer from Guatemala, executed by a cop in 2010, his killing saluted by Villaraigosa as an act of bravery; Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old black man with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, shot down in 2014; a few months later Charly “Africa” Keunang, an unarmed homeless black immigrant, savagely beaten and then fatally shot on a crowded Skid Row sidewalk. In 2017, police snipers killed a man in Sunland from a helicopter, a first for this gang of violent marauders.

For the last two years, BLM activists in Los Angeles have protested at weekly Police Commission meetings together with Wakiesha Wilson’s family. Across the country hundreds of BLM protesters have been arrested and targeted for police surveillance and repression for their opposition to cop terror. Yet for all their courage and dedication, the demands of BLM do not challenge the system of racist American capitalism, which is the root cause of cop terror. Instead, their demands are based on the liberal strategy of pressuring the capitalist rulers to either reform or abolish their police thugs.

In L.A., where BLM had been demanding that Beck be fired as top cop, Melina Abdullah cheered his announcement of early retirement (scheduled for June 27) by tweeting, “Thank you to our partners who stood with us to make this happen.” The whole history of the LAPD demonstrates that it doesn’t matter who’s the police chief, nor if the cops are black, white or Latino. The police are accountable only to their capitalist masters. Nor is the bourgeoisie going to divert funds from the LAPD to “things that actually make communities safe,” such as housing for the homeless, mental health resources and after-school programs, as Abdullah called for on May 9 on Good Day LA. The very conditions of destitution faced by millions in America—homelessness, poverty, starvation, disease—are the product of a system based on production for profit and maintained by the police as well as the military, courts and prisons.

In the U.S., these armed shock troops defend a capitalist system rooted in the oppression of black people stemming from the days of chattel slavery. Los Angeles has always been a viciously segregated city. According to the 2010 census, 60 percent of black Angelenos lived in areas with few whites, the legacy of segregationist covenants and racist housing policy from the local to the federal level. At the same time, black people, roughly 10 percent of the city’s population, made up 35 percent of the homeless. Next to black people—in terms of per capita and household income, education and unemployment—is the vast Latino populations in Southern California. In 2017, nearly 20 percent of all Latino families in L.A. County lived in poverty.

To reap the trillions they amass through the exploitation of labor, the capitalist rulers set workers against each other—white against black and Latino, native-born against foreign-born. That they get away with it is in large part thanks to the trade-union misleaders, who preach the lie that the interests of the workers are tied to the profitability of U.S. capitalism. To this end, they chain the workers to their class enemy, centrally through the Democratic Party, and embrace the killer cops as union brothers and sisters. The LAPD jailer implicated in Wakiesha Wilson’s death was a member of the Service Employees International Union Local 721, whose leadership defended her against being fired. All cops, prison and security guards—the sworn enemies of workers and the oppressed—should be kicked out of the unions!

The working class, whose labor keeps the wheels of profit turning, is the only force with the social power and objective interest to wage a struggle against the exploitation, racial oppression and all-sided misery of capitalist class rule. Black and Latino workers are a crucial part of the L.A. union movement and represent a bridge between labor and the ghettos and barrios. Many of these unionists, their families, friends and co-workers have had their own experience with the LAPD and can help inculcate into the working class the understanding that the cops are not allies but enemies of labor.

Marxists seek to advance this consciousness as part of the fight to educate the working class that it needs its own party organized independently of the capitalists, their state and their political parties. We struggle to break the working class from all political representatives of the capitalist class—Democratic, Republican and Green—as a vital component of the struggle to build a revolutionary workers party. Such a party will fight to lead a proletarian revolution that will smash the capitalist state and rip the productive forces away from the bourgeoisie, a step toward establishing a centrally planned economy that serves the interests of the working class and oppressed.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1136, 29 June 2018)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.