As Palestinians tweeted advice on how to safely deal with tear gas to Black Ferguson residents, President Barack Obama spewed garbage rhetoric typical of his Administration. Obama dismissed Black existence by confirming that it is never acceptable to exact violence on the police. This anti-Black comment came after Michael Brown, an 18 year-old Black male, was murdered by a local police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot multiples times (at least six) despite having his hands up. He only ran for his survival after being shot once at point blank range. In a matter of minutes, “Big Mike” was added to the list of Black Americans murdered every 28 hours by law enforcement in the United States.
The Black community of Ferguson has responded to the state-sanctioned murder of “Big Mike” with a weeks-long resistance. In defiance of corporate media clamor for peace and Black respectability (subservience), Black Ferguson’s presence in the streets has displayed for everyone to see the true character of 21st century US imperialism. Sights of militarized SWAT teams and Pentagon weaponry surrounding Black Ferguson have placed the US imperial police state under serious critique. The ruling class complimented its military siege with “soft power,” sending a Black state police officer, Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton, and CNN’s Don Lemon to diffuse the peaceful rebellion. But, despite the disturbance of the Black misleadership class, the rebellion shows no signs of dissipating any time soon and deserves serious attention from organizers and activists wherever they are.
Lasting solidarity with Black Ferguson needs to develop from the organization of the oppressed. One of the most important tasks of left organizers and activists is to build an anti-imperialist spirit that unites oppressed people in the US to the struggles of people fighting Obama’s imperialist ventures abroad. This will take a concerted effort to strip Emperor Obama of his left-flank veneer generously awarded to him by the ruling class. Luckily, history is the perfect guide to unmasking US imperialism’s agenda that lies at the root of the Ferguson rebellion.
Black Americans in Ferguson are coming into direct confrontation with police officers and national guardsmen armed to the teeth with military weaponry and technology. The root of police militarization stems from the relationship between US imperialism’s domestic anti-Black policy and its international policy of plunder. In 1969, President Richard Nixon began his administration by deploying the first SWAT team operation to annihilate the Los Angeles branch of the Black Panther Party, headquartered on 41st and Central. The LAPD’s SWAT team engaged in a five-hour shootout, injuring three Panthers. 41st and Central’s shoot-out indicated a new precedent, one where police departments could tap into Washington for helicopter rifles, grenades, and armaments typically used by the military. After the raid, SWAT teams arose all over the nation and sported the insignia “41st” as a symbol of white racial solidarity for the true role of the police as an army of occupation in the Black community.
1969 was the year the US ruling class planned to completely annihilate the Black Panther Party. The Panthers’ Black liberation politics included a principled commitment to internationalist solidarity. Black Panther opposition to the Vietnam War infuriated the US establishment. Panther ideology related the Black struggle in the US to anti-imperialist struggles abroad, making them a direct threat to the American ruling order. This forced the US ruling class to declare a domestic war on the Panthers. The head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, labeled the Black Panther Party the greatest threat to the internal security of the country in ’68. In 1969, the murders of John “Bunchy” Carter, Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, and scores of other Panthers made the FBI’s joint efforts with local police to destroy the revolutionary organization painstakingly clear.
The US imperialist siege on Black resistance continued with the Reagan Administration’s “War on Drugs.” By this time, Black Panther leadership had dissipated, weakened by domestic reform and repression. The US ruling class sought to use the opportunity to criminalize the Black community as a mechanism of social control. Millions of dollars of federal aid and military equipment was transferred to local police departments to conduct military-style “raids” and “drug busts.” The purpose of the “War on Drugs” was to control Black resistance and warehouse surplus Black labor further displaced by deindustrialization. Nation-wide criminalization of Black America has transformed the US into a prison state, holding nearly three million mostly Black prisoners behind bars.
As the US occupation army (police) terrorized the Black working class, the ruling class has used the same “War on Drugs” policy to exert its interests in Latin America and the Middle East. The Central Intelligence Agency and Washington sponsored the Contras in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. The Contras were a US imperial project, a US-sponsored group of bandits whose mission was to destabilize Central America. CIA intelligence also created a jihad terror network to overthrow the secular Afghan government in 1979. This exported chaos all over the world to make way for US geopolitical and corporate domination.
Journalist Gary Webb unearthed the CIA’s dual imperial role in the “War on Drugs.” In his 1996 investigation, Webb found that cocaine was being smuggled into the US and sold in Los Angeles by Contra terrorists fighting a US proxy war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista movement. The smuggled cocaine was sold in its crack form and intentionally distributed in the Black community to provide justification for rampant policing and imprisonment, including the mandatory 100 to 1 difference between crack powder cocaine prison sentences. Profits from the US sponsored drug trade were funneled back to the Contras to help pay for arms from US coffers. Both on the domestic and international front, Webb’s findings revealed that the US imperial “War on Drugs” was a dual war on the Black community and the oppressed peoples of the world.
No relief from US imperialism’s dual assault has come during the last three Presidential Administrations despite two of the three being led by the Democratic Party. Clinton, Bush, and Obama all have played a role in accelerating the war on the Black community at home and the war on anti-imperialist forces abroad. Clinton continued the unpopular militarized “drug raids” and supplied police forces with 1.2 million in military items under his administration. This included 3,800 M-16s, 185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers and 112 armored personnel carriers. Clinton’s Administration also expanded the use of NATO to achieve US imperial objectives, unleashing the Jihad terrorist network to dismember Yugoslavia. A similar model was employed on the African continent, where the Clinton Administration supported genocidal proxies in Rwanda and Uganda to loot the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Clinton Administration set the tone for the Bush Administration’s “War on Terror,” a US imperial strategy that sprung into creation after the 9-11 debacle in 2001. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was formed with billions in US-tax dollars used to accelerate the erosion of domestic civil liberties. Since 2001, the federal government has distributed 34 billion dollars in grants to police departments, many of which have come directly from DHS. These grants have been used to purchase military armaments, especially those that have gone unused in US imperialist ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. DHS opened the door for the creation of a lobby of police departments, military contractors, and federal administrators whose very careers are tied to the profits accrued from police militarization.
Ferguson protesters have rightfully scorned President Obama and Al Sharpton, saying “You haven’t changed shit, f*ck y’all.” Since Obama was first elected in 2008, the “hope and change” President has overseen the largest number of Pentagon arms and intelligence giveaways to local police in US history. Obama’s Administration re-booted the Byrnes program with 2 billion dollars, an initiative largely responsible for warrantless SWAT team raids of US citizens. Anti-Terror grants from DHS have increased and so have raids of marijuana growers. Black prisoners continue to grow into the largest imprisoned population in the word and pitiful attempts at amnesty and ratio reduction between crack and cocaine are inconsequential at best. The exacerbation of US imperialist policy has been the only change wrought in the Obama era, this time from the left-flank of the US ruling class.
The left’s criticism of the Obama Administration has been infrequent and inconsistent, so Ferguson’s Black rebellion is leading the way on an important task. Much of the left became caught in the corporate media’s obsession with symbolism when Obama rose to the Presidential scene in 2008. In quick time, the successor to Bush Jr. represented a “lesser evil,” “progress” or some other liberal, delusional catchphrase that gave Obama’s imperialism impunity. Movement forces sat dormant, even as the Obama Administration capitulated to finance capital, clamped down on dissent through police militarization and Black mass incarceration, and wreaked havoc on the planet with its “humanitarian” interventionist impulse.
Ferguson’s rebellion, however, continues to build strength and has already taught an important lesson to the anti-imperialist struggle. The courage being displayed by the rebellion is a testament to Huey Newton’s conclusion that “the walls, the bars, the guns and the guards can never encircle or hold down the idea of the people.” Ferguson’s Black community is standing up to the National Guard and militarized police forces sent out to lynch dissent. Ferguson is demanding justice for Mike Brown and the Black community he represents. A sound, long-term strategy for the anti-imperialist movement can build upon Ferguson’s resistance by dropping Obama-mania for good and taking the streets in solidarity with Ferguson, everywhere oppression exists.
Danny Haiphong is an activist and case manager in the Greater Boston Area. Danny can be reached at [email protected]