On Looting and Police Murder in a Capitalist State

A Statement from Portland DSA on the Murder of George Floyd and the Uprising in Minneapolis

George Floyd, 46, was murdered by the Minneapolis Police on Monday, May 25. We know he was beloved. He was killed by police under suspicion from a grocery worker that he was writing a bad check. This follows the murder of Breonna Taylor in her sleep by police in Louisville in March, and precedes the murder of Tony McDade by police in Tallahassee yesterday. We mourn their deaths. We will fight like hell for the living.

For the last three days, Minneapolis has erupted as protesters are pushing police out of their communities and retaking the streets. It is no overstatement to call the situation in Minneapolis a riot. Businesses are on fire. Windows have been smashed. Protesters have been reclaiming property from businesses like Target and Autozone. The media calls this looting, and privileged white communities, like ours here in Portland, often decry these actions as “unhelpful” and “the wrong way to protest.”

We in Portland DSA fully support the Minneapolis uprising and the protestors who are taking control of their community. We acknowledge, as Martin Luther King, Jr. did, that a riot is the language of the unheard. We know that the police are capitalism’s first line of defense, agents of a violent colonizer government. Police are used by this exploitative regime to keep Black and brown and poor people in check, to keep them incarcerated, to make them a fully subservient underclass subject to the whims of the largely white ruling class. The reaction of protesters in Minneapolis is not “too much” or “too violent.” It is entirely needed and overdue.

The major corporations targeted by these protesters make their riches by extracting money and labor out of the community. They destroy communities by controlling them economically. During the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen yet another massive wealth transfer to the rich, back to those who have economic control over this country. It is no wonder that protesters rioting against police violence would target these businesses. The police are the protectors of capitalist wealth, and it is capitalists who need a local, militarized army to maintain an impoverished underclass. We implore the white people in Portland, in our chapter and in the city at large, to refrain from criticizing the tactics used by people who experience oppression unlike anything a white person has ever experienced. We also encourage the white people of Portland to remember that they live on stolen land and that their empire is built on a long, terrible tradition of looting other nations and subjugating their people.

The massive outcry in Minneapolis came after the release of the bystander video witnessing George Floyd’s death. This has led to the firing of the four officers involved in the murder, including officers Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao. But firing is not enough. Criminal charges for Derek Chauvin and the responding officers are not enough. Derek Chauvin, who is shown in the video killing George Floyd, will be represented by local criminal defense attorney Tom Kelly, who also successfully represented the police officer who murdered Philando Castile. The justice system that Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey wants to use to prosecute these cops is a system made for white justice, not Black justice. The system is working as intended. The system will never tear itself down. So long as cops continue to exist, they will kill Black people with impunity, while the white supremacist economic system will enable and justify these murders. There is no justice in this system.

We see white supremacy continue in Minneapolis as police use tear gas on people protesting George Floyd’s murder — just as militarized police under the direction of Ted Wheeler turn weapons on civilians protesting white supremacy, fascism, and police violence in the streets of Portland. It is no surprise that when the police fail to maintain capitalist order in the streets of Minneapolis, the supposedly progressive Mayor Frey and the Governor of Minnesota call in the National Guard. We would expect the same in Portland under Ted Wheeler and Kate Brown. The “progressive” leaders of our country serve the ruling elite and they will not hesitate to use force to protect property.

We see the white supremacist economics of capitalism very clearly during COVID-19 as Black and brown people continue to be violently policed even as they die in disproportionate numbers working low-wage “essential” jobs. Capitalist white supremacy is present in exploitative disaster relief, where millions of poor and working families go into debt to keep housing and access basic necessities while billionaires amass even more wealth. Those with wealth and power are rarely held accountable for harm enacted upon others. Policing serves and protects only the interests of white supremacy and capitalism. Policing will never keep us safe.

In light of this, what does it mean to be a police officer in America? A police officer is the first point of contact with our carceral system, a system with 25% of the world’s incarcerated in a country with 5% of the world’s total population, where Black people are incarcerated at five times the rate of white people. These carceral rates make no logical sense until one looks at the systemic reason for incarceration: to remove those not cooperating with capitalism and put them into an exploitative workplace with extremely low-cost labor; in other words, to continue slavery for profit. Police officers are the foot-soldiers of a system designed to recapture the small scraps of freedom conceded by the ruling class.

We reflect on the words of Angela Davis:

“The prison functions ideologically as an abstract site into which undesirables are deposited, relieving us of the responsibility of thinking about the real issues afflicting those communities from which prisoners are drawn in such disproportionate numbers…. it relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.”

Portland DSA stands in solidarity with Black Visions Collective (BVC) and others calling for funding cuts to the Minneapolis Police Department, and echo the same demands for our own police department. As BVC wrote in a recent statement, “Cut [Minneapolis Police Department]’s budget. We need money to keep our communities healthy during the pandemic, not murder them in the streets.” We also encourage you to donate to the Minnesota Freedom Fund in support of all jailed protesters:
Minnesota Freedom Fund

As ever, we call for the abolition of all police and the system that employs them.

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