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Home page > 20- ENGLISH - MATERIAL AND REVOLUTION > Racial crime of the police of Ferguson and critical situation of black (...)

Racial crime of the police of Ferguson and critical situation of black people, workers and poor people in USA

Tuesday 19 August 2014, by Robert Paris

An independent autopsy of Michael Brown, performed Sunday, provides graphic evidence that the 18-year-old unarmed youth was shot execution-style by Ferguson policeman Darren Wilson.

The autopsy was conducted at a local funeral home by Dr. Michael Baden, the famed long-time medical examiner of New York City, now retired, with the assistance of forensic pathologist Shawn Parcells. Both experts volunteered their services and acted at the request of the victim’s family.

The two confirmed that Michael Brown had been shot at least six times, possibly more, with the first four bullets striking him in the right arm and shoulder, and the last two in the head. Only the final bullet, fired directly into the top of his head, was “not survivable,” Dr. Baden said.

Given that the victim was six feet five inches tall, he could only have been shot from that angle if he was bending over, practically in a kneeling position, strongly suggesting that after being struck by the initial rounds from Wilson’s gun, Brown was trying to indicate submission. The cop then delivered a coup de grace, execution-style.

The sheer number of shots undermines the claims of the Ferguson police, and Wilson’s defenders in the media, that the killing of Michael Brown was the outcome of a physical altercation initiated by Brown, in the course of which Brown tried to grab Wilson’s gun. There were no powder burns on Brown’s body, suggesting that all the shots, including the first one, were from some distance, not at close range.

Parcells gave special attention to the bullet that hit the front-facing portion of the victim’s right forearm, saying that the direction travelled by that bullet showed that Brown was either walking away from the police officer or had his hands raised in a “don’t shoot” position, as described by several eyewitnesses.

In subsequent television interviews, Parcells and Baden expressed surprise that the Ferguson police had not released preliminary autopsy results, including at least the number of bullets that struck Michael Brown. Baden said, “People have been asking: How many times was he shot? This information could have been released on Day 1.” The police withheld even the name of the shooter for nearly a week, and they continue to withhold all other details of the killing.

In a transparent effort to rebut the devastating evidence from the autopsy, the Ferguson police have tried to explain the trajectory of the final, lethal bullet, claiming that Brown had lowered his head and was charging Officer Wilson (with five bullet wounds in his body, including one to the head!) This story was fed to the media through an unidentified female “friend” of Wilson who called a radio station, after which it was trumpeted as an eyewitness account by CNN and other television networks.

This bogus account is absurd on its face: no 18-year-old African-American man, unarmed, would charge at a policeman pointing a loaded semi-automatic at him, especially one who had already fired a volley of shots. Moreover, the first shot to the head, even though not instantly fatal, would have brought Michael Brown down and made any such “charge” impossible. The second shot to the head, therefore, was delivered by the cop to an incapacitated victim.

In an effort to contain the damage from the exposure of police lies by the independent autopsy, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would arrange for a separate federal autopsy of Michael Brown, “due to the extraordinary circumstances involved in this case and at the request of the Brown family.”

Queen, a retired Verizon worker said, “Police brutality has got to stop. We are under siege. I am afraid for my sons, my nephews. American society is basically built on social injustice. It is not going to be fixed in my lifetime. The schools, the housing, our infrastructure is not safe. Did you hear of a Tale of Two Cities ? We live in two countries. The Pentagon is giving tanks to local police. For what reason? To kill people.”

Joshua Brown said, “I think it is crazy that all this is happening around the same time. Cops have been known to target young Black men. Things may start getting more violent. That is where it is going. People are reacting, the cops increase their violence, and people react to that. It is escalating. The way the system is, like in the courts, you can’t beat the cops. So what else is there to do? What course of action has not been tried yet?”

Another reporting team spoke to workers in Barrio Logan, a primarily Hispanic working class neighborhood of San Diego.

Ramon, age 31, denounced the recent surge in police brutality throughout the country, “I think it’s horrible what happened to that kid [Brown]. I recently saw another video of police brutality, an officer was choking and punching a woman on the side of the street. It made me so angry. I understand why the people are protesting. What would you do if that was your mom or sister?”

Asked why he thinks police react with such brutality towards workers and youth, Ramon responded, “They don’t care about poor people. I believe these days it’s about making life more difficult for people. I think they’re just trying to find a way to make life worse for us.”

Another resident, Joe, said, “I think we all need to let them know what we think about these shootings. There are a lot of things that the government hides from us. There are a lot of demands we need to make of them.

“The United States government is very corrupt just like Mexico; they just cover things up better than any other government.”

Karla, a recent high school graduate, who is working part time in retail and trying to pay her way through college to get a degree in audio production, spoke about the attack by police on protestors in Ferguson. “People can’t express their feelings with a gun to the head. They are trying to create fear in everyone. They are trying to control society. That is what it is about.”

A reporting team in Baltimore spoke to residents Kelly and Brittany, who were incensed at the level of police brutality in Missouri. Brittany said, “I can believe it. It’s happening all over the country, and not just shootings. I am a victim of police brutality. A cop sexually harassed me in front of his friends. It was awful.”

“They act like they’re above the law,” Kelly added.

Margaret expressed her disgust at the police brutality in Ferguson, “These cops are like criminal gangs. They have all the power and they abuse it.”

Walter, an unemployed resident of Baltimore, quoted Martin Luther King when asked about the events in Ferguson: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He continued, “Police abuse their authority and they have the politicians on their side. Society knows who the killers are, but there are two societies—theirs and ours.” Speaking on the senselessness of the police’s claims of self-defense, he said, “How can you feel threatened when the boy’s back is turned? If we start getting the word out, like you are doing, then we can expose them.”

Police launched several rounds of tear gas and what appeared to be crowd-control percussion devices late Monday night to clear the streets of the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri after a tense half-hour confrontation between several hundred protesters and a wall of law enforcement officers 60 wide and five deep.

Police in riot gear had formed a barricade, donning gas masks and some sat with guns pointed atop armored vehicles. As an armored vehicle began moving toward the crowd, and as clergymen and other community leaders locked arms to hold the protesters back, people appeared to retreat at about 10 p.m., local time. But tensions later intensified again, with police ordering protesters over bullhorns to keep moving or face being arrested.

The first contingent of the Missouri National Guard ordered into Ferguson by Governor Jay Nixon arrived Monday afternoon and began taking up positions in a local shopping center. The unit, consisting of military police, was not to be immediately deployed on streets of the city.

Instead, the MPs were to guard the strip mall, which includes a Target store, now being used as the operations center for the multitude of police forces engaged in suppressing protests over the police killing of an eighteen-year-old unarmed black youth, Michael Brown, on August 9.

Police officials claimed that their headquarters had come under “organized attack” on Sunday night—one of the countless lies pumped out by the authorities and rebroadcast by the local and national media.

Governor Nixon repeated these claims of “deliberate, coordinated and intensifying violent acts” in his official statement ordering the National Guard into Ferguson. He declared that peaceful protests were “marred by the violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk.”

The cries against “outside agitators” and a “violent minority” were taken up by virtually every politician and police official in the course of Monday, right up to President Obama, who warned against “carrying guns and attacking police,” although no such incidents have taken place anywhere in Ferguson over the past nine days.

Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Police, brought in last Thursday to put an African American face on the police crackdown, told a press conference in the early hours of Monday morning that the police operations center had come under organized attack by hundreds of people, some of whom threw Molotov cocktails, and that at least eight people were seen carrying guns.

“I had no alternative than to elevate the level of our response,” he said, referring to police charges with truncheons, tear gas and rubber bullets. Since then, not a shred of evidence has been produced to support this dubious claim. On the contrary, local residents described the sudden police mobilization Sunday night as completely unprovoked, a deliberate escalation of violence by the local and state authorities.

The official picture of Ferguson as a city in the throes of an armed uprising aimed at the police and local businesses may give expression to the fears of the US ruling class and its police defenders. More ominously, it may foreshadow an attempt to frame up individuals, particularly those most active in the protests over Michael Brown’s death.

There is no resemblance between this gross fabrication and the actual conditions facing the residents of the city, who are being stripped of their democratic rights.

The main commercial street in the area where Michael Brown was killed, West Florissant Avenue, is effectively closed to vehicle traffic for several miles, clogged with police vehicles and barricades. Other barricades have been set up at major intersections throughout the small city, forcing residents to identify themselves at police checkpoints.

Protests against the police killing of Brown are still permitted, but only in the form of demonstrations on the sidewalk, in which protesters must keep moving continually. If demonstrators stop or gather together, they are warned not to congregate, then dispersed by police or arrested if they resist.

Governor Nixon, a Democrat, announced he was lifting the midnight to 5 a.m. curfew imposed on Saturday and Sunday nights, but he made it clear that this was not a relaxation of the repressive measures. It was more an assertion that a complete ban on movement after midnight was no longer needed because police were in full control of the streets.

There is also the possibility that the lifting of the curfew is aimed at encouraging isolated incidences of vandalism so as to create a pretext for mobilizing the National Guard directly against the protesters.

Throughout Monday, police escalated their clampdown on both protests and any independent media reporting of their actions. Just before noon, local and state police who had removed their badges and name tags so they could not be identified began ordering members of the press, including a World Socialist Web Site reporting team, to disperse or face arrest.

The reporters had gathered at the Quick Time convenience store parking lot adjacent to the scene of Brown’s killing, but were moved out of the area by officers who descended on the parking lot with dozens of police vehicles, advancing in groups on reporters and residents and demanding that they vacate the premises.

When asked by a WSWS reporter why members of the press were being asked to leave, one officer responded that it was “for your own safety.” When asked if the police were planning on making arrests at the scene, the officer said, “I don’t know.”

Officers holding assault rifles were positioned out of sight on the periphery of the parking lot, where dozens had gathered earlier in the day and where multiple media outlets had set up their equipment. WSWS reporters saw officers with assault weapons positioned in the parking lots of nearby apartment complexes.

Later in the afternoon, Scott Olson of Getty Images was arrested without provocation and booked at a local jail.

A researcher in Washington DC posted a report Monday on the social conditions in Ferguson, which she described as “emblematic of growing suburban poverty.” Elizabeth Kneebone of the Brookings Institution is co-author of a study “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America,” which was released last year.

She wrote of Ferguson: “The city’s unemployment rate rose from less than 5 percent in 2000 to over 13 percent in 2010–12. For those residents who were employed, inflation-adjusted average earnings fell by one-third. The number of households using (subsidized federal housing) climbed from roughly 300 in 2000 to more than 800 by the end of the decade.”

Suburban poverty has been growing rapidly throughout the last decade, she noted, with the number of such neighborhoods in the 100 largest US metropolitan areas more than doubling in that period.

The events in Ferguson, Missouri over the past ten days mark a political turning point for the entire country. The immense scale of social inequality, the ruthlessness of the financial aristocracy, the disintegration of American democracy—all have been exposed in the execution-style police killing of unarmed eighteen-year-old Michael Brown and the vicious crackdown on protests that erupted in response.

At the heart of all the social and democratic issues raised in Ferguson is the nature of the capitalist system. No struggle against inequality and the police state apparatus in America can be successful unless it is based on the understanding that what is involved is a struggle against the entire social and economic order.

What has taken place in recent days has revealed the political line-up of all factions of the political establishment against the working class. Last week, millions of people in the US and around the world were shocked by the images of tanks and riot police in military camouflage toting automatic rifles and using tear gas and rubber bullets to suppress protesters in the streets of Ferguson. The Obama administration and Democratic Governor Jay Nixon intervened with a maneuver aimed at buying time and defusing popular opposition.

Nixon placed oversight of policing in the hands of the Missouri Highway Patrol. Democratic Party operatives such as Al Sharpton followed up with a prayer meeting on Sunday calling for “unity” with the police.

These cynical gestures were intended to create the conditions for an even more aggressive crackdown, including the declaration of a “state of emergency” by the governor and the deployment of the National Guard. Cops fired tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protests on Sunday and Monday night in the most sweeping police action thus far.

Checkpoints have been set up throughout the city, with police demanding identification from those passing by. The police have arrested and threatened reporters and arbitrarily detained residents for the supposed crime of “congregating.”

Ferguson has been placed under martial law in all but name.

Under these conditions, President Obama once again stepped in with remarks at a press conference Monday afternoon. He sought to posture as evenhanded and unbiased, while placing principal responsibility for the violence in Ferguson on protesters. Attempting to justify police-state measures, he referred to “those who are using the tragic death as an excuse to engage in criminal behavior” by “looting or carrying guns and even attacking the police.”

These are lies. The principal “criminal behavior” was the murder of Michael Brown and the illegal and unconstitutional police operation that followed. On Monday, an independent autopsy report showed that the fatal shot to Brown struck the top of his head, indicating that the young man was on the ground and attempting to surrender, as claimed by eyewitnesses, when he was killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Despite clear evidence of the murder of an unarmed youth, Wilson remains at large.

Obama then acknowledged, somewhat grudgingly, that the population had certain constitutional rights, including the “right to speak freely, to assemble and to report in the press.” These rights must be “vigilantly safeguarded,” he said. “Ours is a nation of laws, for the citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them.”

What a fraud! With Obama’s support, constitutional rights have been rendered a dead letter in the streets of Ferguson. Shortly before Obama spoke, police began clearing protesters from central locations in the city, following orders from Governor Nixon that no one be permitted to gather in these areas—a violation of the First Amendment right to free assembly.

Obama’s by now ritualistic references, repeated again on Monday, to “one united American family” with a “common humanity” cannot hide the reality of life in the United States. These platitudes are issued by a president who has worked to further enrich the corporate and financial aristocracy through a redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top on a historically unprecedented scale. As for “humanity,” it was Obama who issued the immortal lines at a press conference earlier this month that “we tortured some folks,” while making clear that nothing would be done to hold accountable those who ordered or carried out the torturing.

Regardless of Obama’s demagogy and lies, social and political reality finds expression in popular consciousness. The anger on the streets of Ferguson is an expression of sentiments felt deeply throughout the country. It is an anger over not only police violence, but over unemployment, poverty, inequality and the relentless assault on the social conditions of the entire working class.

There is a growing realization within the working class that the problems working people face are systemic. In video interviews posted on the WSWS, workers and young people in Ferguson speak of the nature of capitalism, pointing to the vast resources that are devoted to the military and police even as the ruling class claims there is no money for education or jobs. They note the hypocrisy of American imperialism waging wars for “democracy” abroad even as it sends tanks against American cities at home.

This developing consciousness in the working class must be anchored to a clear political program on the basis of which a successful struggle can be waged. The central aim of the Socialist Equality Party in the US and its sister parties around the world is to build the revolutionary leadership—in St. Louis, throughout the country and internationally—that is required to arm the working class with such a socialist program.

The SEP calls for the mobilization of the entire working class behind the workers and youth of Ferguson, Missouri. Demonstrations and meetings demanding the arrest and prosecution of the killer of Michael Brown, the withdrawal of the National Guard and demobilization of the police, and the lifting of the state of emergency should be held throughout the country. These democratic demands should be linked to the defense of the social rights of the working class—the allocation of hundreds of billions of dollars to provide decent-paying jobs, education, health care and housing for all.

What is taking place in Ferguson is part of an attack on all workers. The police-state measures employed on the streets of that city, along with the vast intelligence and military apparatus, are directed against all opposition to the policies of the corporate and financial aristocracy.

The SEP insists that the defense of the democratic and social rights of the population in the United States must be connected to the struggle against imperialist war. The National Guard troops being deployed in Ferguson are the same forces that have been sent to brutally suppress the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The interests of the American working class in dismantling the US war machine are inextricably connected to the fight of workers all over the world against the machinations of the US ruling class, which is threatening to plunge the world into a new world war.

Nothing can be accomplished without a direct assault on the domination of society by a capitalist class that has shown it will shrink from nothing to defend its rule.

The basic question posed is: Who will rule? Will the ruling class and its instruments of repression continue to impose ever more savage attacks on the social and democratic rights of the working class, while leading mankind to catastrophe? Or will the working class, the vast majority of the population, take political power and reorganize society on the basis of equality, a radical redistribution of wealth, and democratic control over the giant productive forces of humanity? This alternative is posed with ever-greater immediacy and urgency. WSWS

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  • A policy brief recently issued by the National Poverty Center (NPC) reveals that the number of households in the US living on less than $2 a day per person has increased by 130 percent since 1996, from 636,000 to some 1.46 million today.

    This means that some 4 million people in “the richest country on earth” (according to US capitalism’s apologists) are surviving on less than $60 a month each, i.e., essentially on no income whatsoever.

    The policy brief, authored by H. Luke Shaefer, University of Michigan, School of Social Work, and Kathryn Edin, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, studies the results of the fifteen years since the 1996 “welfare reform” signed into law by President Bill Clinton, which fatally slashed the social safety net.

    “This reform,” the authors comment, “has been followed by a dramatic decline in cash assistance caseloads, from an average of 12.3 million recipients per month in 1996 to 4.4 million in June 2011; only 1.1 million of these beneficiaries are adults.

    “Thus, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, while millions of American parents continue to experience long spells of unemployment, they have little access to means-tested income support programs. Has this produced a new group of American poor: households with children living on virtually no income?”

    The answer is yes.

    In studying the most deprived in the US, the policy brief, whether pointedly or not, explains that the researchers developed “a definition based on one of the World Bank’s main indicators of global poverty, meant to measure poverty in developing nations.” They adopt the World Bank’s standard for determining the poorest of the global poor, subsistence on $2 a day or less.

    The study draws data from the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) collected by the US Census Bureau from sample households every four months. The most recent data comes from the beginning of 2011.

    In passing, the study notes that participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, has increased from an average of 25.5 million recipients per month in 1996 to 45.2 million in June 2011, a 77 percent increase in a decade and a half.

    Children have been especially hard hit. The brief estimates that “about 2.8 million children lived in extreme poverty at the beginning of 2011.… This was roughly 16 percent of all children in poverty.” The number of households with children in extreme poverty has risen sharply since November 2008. The study dismisses the notion that the American safety net “is strong, or even adequate, when one in five poor households with children are living without meaningful cash income.”

    As to the demographics of families living in destitution, the NPC researchers found that 37 percent of the households in extreme poverty in 2011 were headed by a married couple and 51 percent by a single female.

    Some 48 percent of these households were headed by white non-Hispanics, 25 percent by African Americans and 22 percent by Hispanics in 2011. The report comments, “Thus, extreme poverty is not limited to households headed by single mothers or disadvantaged minorities, though the percentage growth in extreme poverty over our study period was greatest among these groups.”

    The report points to impoverished households having access to the meager in-kind benefits still available in the US, such as SNAP, section 8 vouchers or public housing units and public health insurance, but adds this understatement: “Still, the in-kind safety net is leaving many households with children behind. And even families who receive them will arguably have a hard time coping with no cash on hand.”

    The NPC policy brief concludes by reiterating its central conclusion that the prevalence of severe poverty rose sharply between 1996 and 2011, with its growth concentrated “among those groups that were most affected by the 1996 welfare reform.” Both Republicans and Democrats championed the latter as a measure that would put the poor “back on their feet.” Instead, a combination of legislative ruthlessness and a deteriorating economy have produced a significant population living in wretchedness.

    To drive home the point, a new study from Kids Count, “Data Snapshot on High-Poverty Communities,” reports on the high percentage of children in some of America’s largest cities living in concentrated poverty.

    Detroit leads the nation in this category, with 67 percent of children residing in high-poverty neighborhoods. Some 57 percent of Cleveland’s children live in such conditions, along with 49 percent of children in Miami, 48 percent in Milwaukee and 43 percent in both Fresno, California and Atlanta.

    Overall, 22 percent of children in large cities live in communities of concentrated poverty. About 8 million children in the US as a whole reside in such economically deprived areas.

    In Michigan in 2010, 341,000 children lived in high-poverty areas, an increase of 124,000, or 57 percent, over 2000.

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  • The number of people living in poverty in the United States rose last year to 49.7 million, based on a new measure that provides a fuller picture of poverty than that previously reported by U.S. Census Bureau data. The revised poverty rate of 16.1 percent is up more than a percentage point from the 15 percent figure reported by the government in September.

    Coming a little more than a week after the 2012 elections, the news that nearly one in six Americans is living in poverty received little attention in the media or from the Obama administration. Neither big-business party has any policies to alleviate growing poverty, which is exacerbated by entrenched unemployment and a sluggish economy.

    The Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), devised a year ago, factors in expenses for food, clothing, shelter, utilities, health care and other essentials beyond what the previous official formula took into account. It includes in its income measure such government-provided benefits as Social Security, unemployment benefits and nutrition assistance.

    The SPM figures released by the Census Bureau on Thursday show that while some households may have incomes above the poverty line, factors such as medical expenses are pushing increasing numbers into poverty. The new figures also indicate that the tepid job growth in the more than four years since the financial crisis has come mostly in the form of low-wage jobs that in many cases are not able to lift families out of poverty.

    More than 15 percent of working-age adults, aged 18-64, lived in poverty in 2011. Among those with some form of employment, 9.4 percent fell below the poverty line. Those working less than full-time, year-round, saw an 18.5 percent poverty rate. A third of those working less than one week in the course of the year—16.2 million, or 33.5 percent—lived in poverty last year.

    Based on the SPM, the poverty rates were dramatically higher for several segments of the population. The share of people 65 years and older living in poverty was 15.1 percent, nearly double the 8.7 percent figure according to the official measure. The single biggest economic burden on seniors is medical expenses that must be paid out of pocket.

    The poverty rate among Hispanics stood at 28 percent in 2001 using the SPM, significantly higher than the 25.4 percent rate using the older measure. This difference is attributed to limited access by immigrants to government programs, as well as the concentration of Hispanics in regions of the country that have seen big cutbacks to government programs.

    According to the new measurement, more than a quarter of all African-American households were living in poverty in 2011. Poverty in households headed by a single female stood at 30 percent. Among households renting their homes, 29.3 percent were poor.

    Also hard-hit are people living in urban areas where living expenses are higher and assistance from government programs has not kept pace with growing need. Under the newly devised standard, California saw the highest poverty rate of any state. A staggering 8.8 million people—23.5 percent—of Californians are living in poverty, a figure largely driven by the state’s high cost of living and sharp budget cuts to social programs.

    Following closely behind California is the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., where 23.2 percent lived in poverty last year according to the SPM. The next most impoverished state was Florida, at 19.5 percent.

    Use of the new census measurement also showed a significant shift in poverty among the various regions of the country. In the West, 20 percent of households were living in poverty in 2011, compared to 16 percent in the South, the region of the country historically more impoverished. This is undoubtedly largely influenced by factors such as the assault on social programs in California and the collapse of the housing market in Nevada.

    The new Census measurement also reveals that Social Security is by far the most important program contributing to a reduction in poverty. According to the SPM, when calculating the effects of benefits and expenses on overall poverty rates in the American population, poverty was reduced by more than 8 percent due to Social Security benefits, while medical expenses increased poverty by about 3.5 percent.

    The SNAP food stamp program and unemployment insurance benefits also provide significant protection against poverty. But it is precisely these programs—along with Medicare and Medicaid—that are being targeted for cuts as part of the bipartisan assault on social programs being prepared in the wake of the 2012 elections under the cynical pretext of averting a looming “fiscal cliff.”

    Coming just more than a week after the presidential election, the new poverty figures put the lie to claims by the Obama administration that significant gains have been made on the way to recovery. Also on Thursday, the Labor Department released initial claims for state unemployment benefits, which rose 78,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 439,000.

    This was the biggest one-week jump since the spike in claims caused by Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. The number has been significantly impacted by last month’s Hurricane Sandy, which left millions of homes and businesses without power, paralyzed transportation and caused widespread damage in the Northeast US.

    But the rise points to a more general trend of slow job growth. Economists polled by Reuters before Thursday’s jobless claims were released said they expected the pace of job growth to slow to an average 144,000 jobs per month in the fourth quarter, down from 174,000 in the third quarter.

    Long-term unemployment remains entrenched. According to the new Census report, about 16.4 million Americans of working age worked less than one week in all of 2011. Of these, fully a third are living in poverty, according to the new SPM measurement. Federally funded extended unemployment benefits are set to expire in January, threatening to deprive more than 2 million jobless workers of cash assistance and plunging more American households into poverty.

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  • Another police killing in St. Louis, Missouri as assault on protestors continues

    St. Louis, Missouri police officers shot and killed a 23-year-old man Tuesday afternoon. The killing occurred only four miles east of Ferguson, where the police murder of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown has sparked popular protests and an orchestrated state crackdown that has placed parts of the city under effective martial law.

    Police were called to the corner of Riverview Boulevard and McLaren Avenue after an African-American man allegedly took two energy drinks and some pastries from a corner store. Police Chief Sam Dotson claimed that the young man, who was acting erratically and talking to himself, approached two officers with a knife, and that two officers responded by firing multiple times.

    A crowd of several hundred people gathered within an hour of the killing, chanting the slogan of the Ferguson protests, “Hand’s Up, Don’t Shoot.” Residents said that the man was mentally handicapped, and that he had just returned from his mother’s funeral. Witnesses said that as he approached the officers, he was yelling, “Shoot me, kill me now.”

    St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson dismissed questions as to why police did not use non-lethal force, saying simply, “Officers have a reasonable expectation to go home at the end of their shift.”

    The latest killing comes as the police repression against protesters is intensifying in Ferguson. Parts of the city have been placed under police rule. Residents have been arrested for standing still on the side walk or not moving fast enough when crossing the street. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has declared a “state of emergency” and called out the National Guard.

    Despite the nominal lifting of a midnight curfew, anyone who is out past dark will be subject to arrest. Police have set up a designated “approved assembly zone” on the lot of a former Ford dealership, while media have been cordoned off in another area.

    During the day Tuesday, police only allowed people to protest on Florissant Avenue if they did not gather in large groups, did not stand in one place, and remained on the sidewalk. Those without media credentials who stood in one place were threatened with arrest by a large contingent of heavily-armed police in riot gear menacingly stationed at one end of the street.

    Missouri State Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson warned Ferguson residents to stay in their homes Tuesday night, with anyone out past dark and not in approved zones considered a part of the supposed criminal element. “My hope is the peaceful protesters will stay home and protest during the daytime and stay home at night and let us take those that have been out ruining our community and deal with them in a way that brings calm to this community.”

    Under the pretense of protecting the local police force, the Missouri National Guard remained deployed in the parking lot of a local strip mall, which is being used as the police command center and staging area.

    Amidst the intensifying crackdown, President Barack Obama is sending Attorney General Holder today to meet with FBI agents, police and members off the St. Louis political establishment. Holder will be discussing how to quell the popular outrage over the death of Michael Brown. On the eve of his trip, Holder penned at letter, published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, repeating the lies and slanders against the Ferguson protests while cynically promising a full, fair, and independent investigation into Brown’s murder.

    Justifying an intensification of the crackdown on protests, Holder claimed that protests are being derailed by “individuals from outside Ferguson” who have been interrupting “legitimate demonstrators.” He called on the “citizens of Ferguson” to join the police “in condemning the actions of looters, vandals and others seeking to inflame tensions and sow discord.”

    He went on to state, “In order to begin the healing process, however, we must first see an end to the acts of violence in the streets of Ferguson.” These comments were not directed at the violence carried out by the militarized police force that has brutalized the population, but the protestors who have been subjected to tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and rubber bullets.

    Despite the sensational claims made by Holder and Johnson that “outside agitators” are responsible for unrest, an overwhelming majority of the nearly 80 people arrested Monday night and Tuesday morning were residents of Missouri. Statements by Holder and others that protestors were composed of a so-called “criminal element” and “vandals” were refuted by reports that all but three arrested Monday night were arrested for failing to disperse—that is, for being present on the streets.

    Kyle Niere, a resident of Ferguson arrested for supposedly failing to disperse, told NBC News that a group of at least 20 heavily-armed cops pulled him and his friends from their truck as they tried to drive away from the protests early Tuesday morning. “They drug us all out. Face-first to the ground, stepping on the back of our heads. They’re being brutal for no reason. None of us were violent. We were just there.”

    Chozen Botley, a protestor from the St. Louis suburb of Jennings, said, “There is no outside instigator. Mike Brown is in all of us. He’s with all of us. The brutality that we face as black Americans, you can face the same brutality as a white American. I just want to let the world know that all of the stuff that’s going in Jennings, in Ferguson—there is no outsiders because we are all one.”

    As Holder pledged to “defend the right…for the media to cover a story that must be told,” police in St. Louis, with the support of the Obama administration, have been systematically targeting and generally harassing journalists reporting on the protests.

    Getty Images photographer Scott Olson was detained and placed in handcuffs Monday for crossing the street too slowly. Monday night the Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux and De Bild’s Lukas Hermsmeier were both shot in the back with rubber bullets by police officers and then arrested for “refusal to disperse.” They both spent the night in the St. Louis County Jail with a number of detained protestors and were released early Tuesday morning.

    Police also deliberately fired tear gas at an Al-Jazeera America camera crew and then moved in to dismantle their equipment after they fled. In another incident a police officer in the neighboring city of Kinloch grabbed the wrist of Al-Jazeera America reporter Aaron Ernst and threatened to injure him, saying, “Don’t resist. I’ll bust your ass. I’ll bust your head right here.”

    By Niles Williamson

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  • On Monday, a federal judge refused to order a halt to the arbitrary “keep moving” rule imposed by the police on residents and journalists on public sidewalks in Ferguson, Missouri.

    As part of the police-military crackdown on protests in Ferguson over the police murder of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the police have adopted the tactic of patrolling the sidewalks in groups and shouting “keep moving” at those standing in their way. Anyone who does not move quickly enough is tackled and arrested.

    Standing still for as little as five seconds is sufficient to be taken to the ground and handcuffed by a swarm of police. Hundreds of arrests, including of journalists, have been carried out for “failure to disperse.”

    The purpose of this tactic is to menace and intimidate the population and obstruct the exercise of basic constitutional rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. It goes hand-in-hand with a de facto state of martial law that has been imposed on the largely working-class suburb of St. Louis.

    Over the past week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) initiated a number of emergency legal proceedings against municipalities involved in the Ferguson repression as well as their leading personnel, challenging the police activities as unconstitutional.

    The legal challenge to the “keep moving” tactic was initiated on Monday on behalf of Mustafa Abdullah, who was repeatedly told to “keep moving” by police in Ferguson while he was on a public sidewalk. As part of those emergency proceedings, captioned Abdullah v. County of St. Louis et al., the ACLU applied for a temporary restraining order that would have required the police to stop using the tactic while the lawsuit was pending.

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  • “We have the right to protest. We have the right to assemble”

    Anger mounts in Ferguson, Missouri over police repression.

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  • According to a Justice Department report released in July 2003, the U.S. prison population surpassed 2 million for the first time—2,166,260 people were incarcerated in prisons or jails at the end of 2002 (the latest statistics available). Since 1990, the U.S. prison population, already the world’s largest, has almost doubled. About 10.4% of the entire African-American male population in the United States aged 25 to 29 was incarcerated, by far the largest racial or ethnic group—by comparison, 2.4% of Hispanic men and 1.2% of white men in that same age group were incarcerated. According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute in 2002, the number of black men in prison has grown to five times the rate it was twenty years ago. Today, more African-American men are in jail than in college. In 2000 there were 791,600 black men in prison and 603,032 enrolled in college. In 1980, there were 143,000 black men in prison and 463,700 enrolled in college.

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  • There Is Hope When We Stand Up For Ourselves

    In response to the brutal murders of 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, the whole community responded in shock and outrage. The students took the lead, saying that they were going to make sure that such a tragedy never happened in another school. They organized memorials and rallies and spoke out on social media, to the press and on TV. They took their anger and concerns to the Florida state capitol and demanded that the governor and legislature take action.

    They called for a walkout on March 14 to involve others. And students in 3000 high schools across the U.S. participated. They are calling for a national march, A March For Our Lives, in Washington D.C. on March 24 as well as marches across the U.S. to focus attention on the lack of student safety.

    They have been open about their disappointment with the response from politicians both in Florida and in Congress. It took the Florida legislature a month to pass some minimal legislation. And Congress has done nothing. Trump sounded supportive right after the shooting and then backed off under pressure from the NRA. He has proposed arming teachers to solve a societal problem of violence of epic proportions. What a sick joke!

    This has not stopped them. The students who have responded to this situation do not seem discouraged. They have the confidence that they should be able to change the way this society is run. They have the expectation of a different and better future for themselves and others. And they have the determination and energy to stand up for themselves and reach out to others.

    These students are not alone. People across the country are tired of facing uncertain futures and there are signs that more people may be ready to stand up for themselves.

    In February teachers and school staff in West Virginia organized themselves, 37,000 strong, and went on strike for nine days. West Virginia is ranked 48th among the 50 states in spending on teacher and staff salaries. And many working in the schools have to choose between buying food or getting healthcare on their current salaries. Many were forced to work two jobs just to survive. They had no choice but to fight even though the politicians and union officials said there wasn’t money for a raise.

    The union officials didn’t organize this strike – it was the teachers and staff through a Facebook page and grass roots committees. They understood the hardship that the strike would pose for parents and students. They made efforts to organize childcare and tried to provide food for students, many of whom are poor and depend on school lunches as their main food for the day. After nine days they won a 5% raise and pushed to extend the raise to all state workers, not just those working in education.

    Now teachers in Arizona, Kentucky and Oklahoma and other states are looking at the West Virginia example, and beginning to organize to make similar fights.

    The mobilization of high school students and those working in education in West Virginia provide a breath of fresh air in a time of cynicism and despair. Most people feel that they have to just look after themselves or hope that someone in a position of authority will do something for them.

    We can’t wait for the politicians, union officials, or anyone else to solve our problems. In fact, most of the time, they are part of the problem. The high school students in Parkland and the West Virginia teachers and school staff have shown us that. They have shown, as we have seen many times in our history, that when ordinary people are angry, determined and decided, we can do extraordinary things. When we stand up, organize and have confidence in ourselves, suddenly, what didn’t seem possible yesterday is possible today.

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  • Hundreds of thousands of students march against mass violence in America

    Hundreds of thousands of students demonstrated on Saturday in more than 800 March for Our Lives events throughout the United States and internationally. Demonstrations took place in every US state and on every continent except Antarctica.

    An estimated 800,000 people marched in the main protest in Washington, DC, with crowds of people filling out the entire parade route along Pennsylvania Avenue. The second largest demonstration took place in New York City, where an estimated 150,000 people participated. Police estimated crowds of 40,000 and growing in Los Angeles early in the day. A crowd of 30,000 took part in the Chicago march, with thousands more in every other major US city. Demonstrations also took place in major international cities, such as London, Paris, Berlin, Sydney and Tokyo.

    Student-led demonstrations of this size have not been seen in the United States since the mass demonstrations against the Vietnam War nearly fifty years ago. The scale of the demonstrations show that the profound crisis of American and world capitalism is working its way into the consciousness of young people and propelling a new generation into political struggle.

    Young people who took part in the marches were looking for a political perspective that goes far beyond the narrow confines of the official debate over gun control. Students are seeking to make the connection between gun violence and the general social crisis in the United States and the violence of the American ruling class, from police killings at home to imperialist war abroad.

    This was shown by some of the speeches by high school students at the main march in Washington, DC. Edna Chavez, a student from the impoverished southern portion of Los Angeles, called for the “root causes” of gun violence to be addressed, advocating better job opportunities for graduating high school students and “changing the conditions that foster violence.” Edna gave a heartbreaking account of losing her brother, mother and sister to random gun violence, and said that shootings are a fact of life that her “community has become accustomed to” for decades.

    Other students who spoke recounted shootings that have affected themselves and their loved ones. Eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler spoke about witnessing an assault at a convenience store that broke out when the man in front of her in line found he could not afford the food he was attempting to purchase.

    Students spoke with contempt for President Donald Trump’s response to the Parkland shooting, particularly his call to arm teachers. One Parkland student sarcastically compared it to arming priests, rabbis and other community leaders.

    The marches stood as an objective refutation of the identity-politics portrayal of American society as fundamentally divided by race. Young men and women of all races and nationalities, all of which have been impacted by mass school shootings, participated side by side in the protests.

    The determined mood among students stood in marked contrast to the politics of the Democratic Party and the associated organizations that organized and led the demonstrations. The Democrats have no answer to the broader social crisis that manifests itself in outbursts of homicidal violence in schools and workplaces. This is because the Democrats are directly responsible for these conditions, having presided over a massive rise in social inequality and two full terms of war under Barack Obama. Instead, the Democrats are seeking to channel the opposition of students behind the narrower question of gun control and to promote it as an issue for them to run on in the midterm elections in November.

    The Democrats were acutely aware of the gulf between themselves and the motivations of the student protesters and sought to conceal it as much as possible. Protest organizers sought to carefully restrict and vet the speakers lists in advance. While Democratic politicians were conspicuously absent from the speakers list in DC, Democratic officeholders spoke at other rallies throughout the country. This included Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who spoke at the Detroit march only days after voting with Republicans to abolish banking reforms enacted after the 2008 financial crash...

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  • The New York Times nervously pointed to the political radicalization of young people reflected in today’s protests in an article posted on Friday. “As a group,” the Times noted, “they combine liberal social beliefs with an intensely wary view of the existing political and economic order, opinion polls have found.”

    The Times’ oblique remark about hostility to the “economic order” is a reference to polls that show more young Americans would prefer to live in a socialist or communist society than in a capitalist one. Surveys of Americans between the age of 18 and 29 show that only 14 percent think that the country is headed in the right direction, a figure that, if anything, is even lower among high school youth.

    Working-class youth today face conditions far worse than their parents, who are themselves confronting a historic reversal in their conditions of life. The median earnings of young people are 43 percent lower than in 1995. Average student debt has increased to $37,712, from $24,000 in 2008. Nearly one in five children in the US under the age of 18 live in poverty, while more than 40 percent live in low-income households that make less than twice the official federal poverty level.

    The growth of a political movement of young people is coming amidst an expanding wave of working-class struggle throughout the United States and internationally. The strike by West Virginia teachers in February-March has been followed by a one-day strike by New Jersey teachers and calls and plans for walkouts in Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, Tennessee and other states. Internationally, protests of teachers and educators have erupted in Kenya, Nigeria, Argentina, Jamaica, the Netherlands, the UK, Slovenia, Canada and other countries.

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  • Any serious examination of the causes of gun violence, however, points to the catastrophe produced by the capitalist system.

    It is impossible to separate the series of homicidal acts by alienated and brutalized individuals from a broader mood of despair and hopelessness produced by disastrous social conditions and the suppression of any progressive opposition to the capitalist system. According to one recent study, the suicide rate for white children and teens soared by 70 percent between 2006 and 2016, while the suicide rate for black children and teens increased by 77 percent.

    Nor can violence at home be separated from violence abroad. Those involved in the protests today have lived their entire lives under the “war on terror”: the invasion of Afghanistan nearly 17 years ago, in 2001; the invasion of Iraq in 2003; the bombing of Libya in 2011; the ongoing US-backed civil war in Syria. More wars are on the agenda.

    Trillions of dollars are spent on armaments, while resources for public education, health care (including mental health) and other social services are slashed. The Trump administration signed a budget yesterday, backed by Democrats and Republicans, that allocates a record $700 billion to the Pentagon, even as the ruling elites insist that there is no money to ensure that teachers are paid a decent wage and young people who graduate college are not burdened by tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

    The fact is that the greatest purveyor of violence is the American state, abroad and within the country. While 122 people have been killed in school shootings since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, police have killed some 1,000 people a year over the same period, many of them youth and students.

    The bloody violence of American imperialism—and the cheering of this violence by the media—has the most noxious consequences within the United States. It infects the political culture of the entire country, of which the presidency of Donald Trump is only one expression.

    Since the mass protests that erupted following the inauguration of Trump just over a year ago, the Democratic Party has devoted all its efforts to directing mass opposition to his right-wing and fascistic policies behind a campaign for aggression in the Middle East and against Russia. They have hailed CIA torturers and military commanders guilty of war crimes as the champions of democratic rights. If their agenda was to be realized, it would mean that many of those participating in protests would be sent off to war.

    The emergence of protests and demonstrations among workers and student youth resembles the conditions that developed in France in 1968. The ability of the ruling class to contain social unrest, however, has been severely undermined. The parties of the political establishment, in the US and internationally, are deeply discredited. The Stalinist and Social Democratic organizations that fifty years ago worked to contain working-class struggles no longer exist or have moved sharply to the right. The right-wing, anti-working-class trade unions are seeking desperately to suppress a movement that is developing outside of and in opposition to them.

    For young people seeking a way forward, the turn must be to the working class. The struggles of working-class youth must be linked to the fight of all workers for decent jobs, wages, health care, and a secure retirement. The fight against the conditions that produce violence in America must be consciously developed as a movement against war, inequality, and the capitalist system. This requires a complete break with the Democratic and Republican Parties and the state apparatus of the ruling class.

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