THE Baltimore protests over the police killing of 25-year-old African-American Freddie Gray have spread all over the USA. Gray died of a spinal cord injury while in police custody.
Thousands gathered in New York’s Union Square, where police arrested at least 60 people. There were also rallies in Washington DC, Boston and Minneapolis, and in Ferguson, St Louis, where teenager Michael Brown was shot dead last summer by police.
Gray’s funeral took place on Monday, and was followed by widespread rioting. Since then, a curfew has been in place on the streets of Baltimore from 22:00 to 05:00, while youth have been put on a 24-hour curfew.
The preliminary results of the police probe into the police killing will not be released on Friday, as was expected, it has emerged. Six police officers have been suspended with pay while this investigation is carried out.
US President Obama put down the line of the US state on the demonstrations when he called the Baltimore protestors ‘thugs and criminals’.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Wednesday, when asked if this was still the President’s position, responded: ‘I do not think that the President would in any way revise the remarks that he shared with all of you in the Rose Garden.’
Obama said in a radio interview on Wednesday that he plans to visit Baltimore only after the unrest calms down, in other words when the National Guard has done its work.
This attitude has set the scene for the Maryland National Guard to intensify their hold on the city, with curfews imposed and the streets patrolled by the National Guard in their armoured vehicles, equipped with enormous firepower.
As in Ferguson, Baltimore is now being compared to Iraq under US occupation, with masses of heavily armed guardsmen spreading fear.
Over the last two days, Baltimore police have arrested hundreds. They are being held without charge. Maryland’s habeas corpus law allows for 24-hour detention but Governor Hogan has suspended that safeguard, ‘to protect the public safety’.
‘The arraigned, have not been charged, and are in fact innocent,’ Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) has insisted.
The state governor plans to retroactively discourage future riots by imposing heavy bail bonds and fines against those who have been arrested. One 19-year-old, for example, was charged with eight offences relating to his participation in demonstrations on Saturday. His bail was set at $500,000, a high price to place on an already disenfranchised population. The 19-year-old was arrested after he was unable to pay.
The current crisis that began in Ferguson, St Louis, spread to New York when protesters took to the streets last December, after a grand jury’s decision not to indict a police officer for killing Eric Garner with a stranglehold. This is why there was an immediate response to the repressions in Baltimore.
There have been large numbers of police killings – from that of a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice who died after being shot by police in the US city of Cleveland on November 22 2014, after carrying what turned out to be a replica gun in a playground – to eighteen-year-old Brandon Jones who died on Thursday 19th March 2015 after a Cleveland Police Department officer shot him dead.
This massive anger against a capitalist police state with a propensity for killing those it is supposed to be protecting, is now interpenetrating with an enormous movement of millions of workers who are fighting low pay, zero-hours contracts and demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour.
The interpenetration of these two movements is transforming them from protests into a developing revolutionary movement of the US working class.
Now is the time for the US trade unions to break with Obama and the Democrats to form a Labour Party to fight for socialism. Now is the time to build a US section of the Fourth International to organise the American Socialist Revolution.