Police Shooting in Kenosha and Right-Wing Vigilante Terror

Another police shooting has devastated the lives of an unarmed Black man and his family. This shooting took place in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times while leaning into his car. The police claim they were worried he had a weapon. His three sons, ages 3, 5, and 8, were in the vehicle when he was gunned down.

Blake took a bullet to the arm and his kidneys, liver, and spinal cord were all damaged. The odds are against him ever walking again.

Just as in the cases of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, Blake was shot in a city and state controlled by Democrats. The supposedly progressive Democratic party has failed time and time again to keep Black and Brown people safe from the police. And so the people of Kenosha responded in the only way they felt they had left. They rioted, clashed with the police, and set a Department of Corrections building on fire. On the third night of unrest, a 17-year-old right-wing vigilante shot three protesters, killing two of them.

The morbid alliance of police and the far-right

This shooting, and the murder of protesters by right-wing vigilantes in its aftermath, underscore two things: the need for radical change and the need to build organizations of solidarity to fight against the racist capitalist system.

After three months of protests, often militant and confrontational, the police still feel, and are, powerful enough to terrorize and murder the people they murder with impunity. If anything, the movement in the wake of the George Floyd protests has only further entrenched police departments’ intransigence, as evidenced by the NYC police union’s endorsement Trump of president. 

The far-right has also mobilized to push back against the Black Lives Matter protests. In Pennsylvania, Black Lives Matter protesters were shot at by a white man as they marched from Milwaukee to Washington D.C.. In Portland, right-wing protesters organized a “Back the Blue” protest where far-right protesters such as the Proud Boys showed up armed with automatic weapons and clashed for hours with anti-fascists. The list of such incidents goes on and on. There is no reason to believe these violent vigilante attacks are going to stop anytime soon.  

This right-wing violence has often been given the open or passive support of the police. In Kenosha on the night of the shooting, video captured the police telling armed vigilantes that they appreciated them being there and offered them water from armored police vehicles. One of the men in the video is Kyle Rittenhouse, who hours later killed two protesters. In Portland, during the incident mentioned above, the police stood by and let the right-wing protesters attack the pro-BLM counter-demonstrators. The police department claimed they lacked the sufficient force to call in a riot and intervene, despite the fact that they have done so consistently with Black Lives Matter protests. In NYC, the police thanked a pro-police demonstration in south Brooklyn that violently attacked counter-demonstrators.

Our weapon is solidarity

If we play by the rules of the system, the deck is stacked against us. Rather than work to defund the police and build a society that doesn’t treat Black and brown people as second class citizens, the state, whether controlled by Democrats or Republicans, is willing to team up with the far-right to keep the aspirations of oppressed groups in check. They are willing to turn cities into war zones, to send in the National Guard, Department of Homeland Security, and police with military equipment to stand face-to-face with protestors wishing only to live in a world without racism. 

But we have a weapon, which, if deployed correctly, can make us strong enough to win. That weapon is solidarity. It is the only tool that is powerful enough to counter this reactionary alliance of the state and the far-right. We have seen such solidarity in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country. Moving forwards, it would be helpful, where possible, to pull together groups planning these demonstrations for greater unity and democratic decision-making on the next steps for the movement. We must build broad united fronts that are strong enough to fight back against this racist system and defend ourselves from its violence. That’s why we in Marx21 are active in coalitions like United Against Racism and Fascism in NYC, #Free Them All in San Diego, and the Alliance to Defend Immigrants in LA. United fronts like these can be used to draw in large numbers of people from all sorts of different backgrounds to fight as one against this right-wing backlash. But, to finally eliminate the roots of racism and police violence, we need more than this.

To stop this violence, we need a revolutionary approach

As well as working in such united fronts, it is also the role of socialists to point out the connection of racism, the exploitation of immigrants, and even the use of far-right violence, to the needs of capitalism — and how they are inextricably tied to the existing state. The police cannot be reformed. The shooting of Jacob Blake is just one more piece of evidence among countless others that the role of the police is not to keep us safe but to keep us in line. Their origins lie in the defense of slavery and the oppression of industrial workers. They are the first and last line of defense of the rich against those who would hope to build a better world. The police must be abolished. But capitalism needs its police. Movements can, and should, work to partially defund, demilitarize, and shrink the police today, but the oppressive and violent policing function will not be eliminated without victory over capitalism.

Police killings will continue until we address this reality and build a movement, from the ground up, that is powerful enough to go head-to-head with the capitalist system itself. Athletes on strike across the country took a courageous stand that should be replicated across every workplace until the police are dismantled, and Black and brown people can live safely. It is the role of socialists not just to defend against this right-wing backlash, but help expand this fight to attack the entire capitalist system, which not only depends upon the police but is willing to use the far-right to reinforce its order. 

The experience of the past few months has demonstrated definitively that we can only depend on ourselves to fight against racism and build a world free of police. The far-right reaction is likely to only get worse as time goes on and the contradictions of capitalism deepen. The Republican National Convention last month showed how Trump is stoking his hardened right wing base as we draw closer to the presidential election in November. Let’s build the networks of solidarity and the organizations that can push back against this monster, keep one another safe, and build a better world.

An earlier version of this statement was published on August 28 and updated on September 14.