In his autobiography, Malcolm X called the 1963 March on Washington “the Farce in Washington”. On Sunday, June 17th, 2012, many people saw history repeated–the farce in Harlem. For four hours, the NAACP led thousands of people in a silent march to protest the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy. It was a bid for respect, directed at a mayor and police force that will never view us as anything but a problem to be beaten into submission.
Not everybody was silent at the silent march. Elected officials, so-called Black leaders, and all sorts of aspiring politicians had a chance to speak to the media before and after. They said Black people were demonstrating their dignity, self-control and respectability by marching with their mouths closed. But those who were silenced by the march were the masses: people who are dignified, yes, but also angry. People who don’t give a damn about being respectable to the cops who murder their friends and kids. People whose visions are far more radical than the NAACP or SEIU Local 1199.
The Black leaders silenced people in Harlem because they’re scrambling to contain growing anger on the streets. The Oscar Grant rebellions that shook Oakland a few years ago is the specter that haunts the entire Black establishment. Especially with the concentration of poor and working class Black and Latino people in New York City, one spark can ignite a powder keg which will blow apart the pretensions of the NAACP, who believe the ruling class and the NYPD can be reasoned with and reformed. It is only a matter of time.
Today four million Black and Latino people in New York City know what the NAACP, National Action Network and the like do not: it doesn’t matter how much dignity and self-respect you display by controlling your own conduct, the cops will kill you anyway. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to get a job, go to school, stay off the corners, and reject friends and family who are living differently. The people who control the jobs and funds we need are making super profits exploiting other parts of the globe, and to them, all we are is a problem that must be contained.
What is shocking is that there hasn’t yet appeared a radical Black organization with the courage to challenge the leadership of the NAACP. What is shocking is that there no working class organization more radical than SEIU 1199. These so-called leaders have watched the destruction of our society for decades now. They have watched millions be condemned to poverty, drugs and desperation, and whole generations be swallowed by the prisons. They have no response to the Black youth throwing rocks and bleach at the cops in Bed-Stuy, or to the small anti-cop riots breaking out every week in the Bronx–in fact, they fear such working class struggle. What occurred on Saturday is the best they’ve got: a plea for respect from the very forces that have their boot on our neck.
Until new organizations and movements are built, we can expect more farces, which fail to acknowledge the anger of the streets and present a real solution to our problems. Stop and frisk is just one small part of the problem facing Black and Latino working class, and liberal politicians may be willing to de-fang it to keep the peace. But they will do nothing about the soaring unemployment, the inept social services, the closing of community centers, the college loans drying up, and the vicious police occupation that plagues our neighborhoods. And they will be forced to maintain police repression in some other way, in order to keep the lid on this pressure cooker.
What dialogue can we possibly have with a government that knowingly puts so many in prison, fails so many in schools, and leaves so many unemployed? As long as the NAACP believes such dialogue is possible, it will never reach the logical conclusion that a more fundamental change is needed. We need a revolutionary transformation of our society. We need revolutionary movements and organizations that can build upon, and speak to, the feelings of millions across the city and the country. We need to seize the time.