First Published: Progressive Labor Vol. 3, Nos. 8-9, July-August 1964
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The recent police riots in Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Rochester have thrown the fear of God into the money magnets that rule the country. The power structure has now seen black people rebel against the brutality of the police. The precepts of non-violence have been thrown out and violence has swept the black ghettos of two major New York cities. Black people in New York have been forced into the streets to defend themselves against the police and slum conditions.
James Baldwin summed up the tactic of non-violence in his book The Fire Next Time as follows: “The real reason that non-violence is considered to be a virtue in Negroes... is that white men do not want their lives, their self-images or their property threatened.” Well, their lives, their self-images and their property have now been threatened. Thousands of black people filled the streets of Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Rochester dramatically showing that they have had enough of the lies and false-promises of the Uncle Toms and the white liberals. The bankrupt policies of Wagner, Rockefeller and their political chums have been voted down by black people in the streets. The police brutality sponsored and endorsed by Murphy and Wagner, has not been able to suppress the people from demanding an end to the reign of Tsar Murphy.
New York erupted because the black people have had enough–more than enough–of the slums, the rats, the roaches, the unemployment and the police brutality that plagues them daily and has systematically grown worse since Wagner assumed power.
The spark that ignited Harlem was the wanton murder of James Powell, 15 years old at the time of his death, by an off-duty white cop named Gilligan. This slaughter is part and parcel of the strategy of Murphy and his police to terrorize the black ghettos in New York. This action on the part of the police, designed to keep the people “in their place,” became the rallying point for all of the frustrations and hatred that had welled up within the black community for years. The people went into the streets to protest. The people of Harlem began to talk of “revolution” and “guerilla warfare.”
The rebellions that swept the state of New York were based within the black community because this community, along with the Puerto Rican, is among the most exploited and the most brutalized in the nation. How long did the liberal administration of Wagner, Rockefeller and Johnson expect them to simply “turn the other cheek?” How long did the police and the judges expect the black community to “suffer silently” while they ran roughshod over them, denying them even those rights supposedly guaranteed all under the Constitution?
The police brutality in New York City equals anything that happens in Birmingham or Greenwood. The police terror in New York is comparable with anything in Mississippi. The murders of Maximino Solero, Victor Rodriguez, William Westbrook, Mrs. Sierra Montero and Ralph Brazier were as brutal as murder anywhere; as murder is always brutal. The monstrous murder of James Powell is simply the latest in a long long string of murders by the New York City police. But where were the outraged shouts then of the liberals and what of the role of the New York mass media which supported the police terror? Murder in New York should certainly merit the same spleen as murder in Mississippi, but the “liberals” would rather worry about Mississippi because it is 800 miles away and not in their own backyard. They fooled themselves but not the black people of this state, who once they had had enough of police terror took to the streets to fight back when attacked and murdered by the men in blue. Terror engenders physical resistance but let no one ever forget who began the terror–the police and the government.
The people went into the streets and the power structure panicked and showed how ruthless it can be when challenged. The power structure lied, it distorted, it bought-off, it shot, it killed, it maimed but it could not save the day. The liberals appealed for “calm” but it was too late to buy-off the people with phony phrases. The preachers and perverts looked to God but there was no God.
The Right Honorable Mayor Wagner was finally forced to give up his chummy vacation with Franco (Hitler’s old buddy) and fly home to save the ship of state. Deputy Mayor Screvane began to noticeably wilt under the stress and finally came up with a bit of that “old black magic”–the “reds” were obviously to blame. The power structure took it on the chin, the people were not about to listen to their old line. Their policies of “let them eat cake” had backfired, their urban renewal projects were in ruin, HARYOU-ACT had had it the so-called “Negro leaders” lead no one, and so the ruling class reverted to the oldest and crudest of its tactics–the reds, the reds, the reds.
If you read the papers, or looked at TV, or listened to the radio you might have thought that the revolution was upon us. The blood that the cops had spilled in the streets was covered up, the outrageous shootings in Harlem–by the boys from Murphy’s squad–went unreported, the bestiality of the police made no headlines (except Challenge and a few other “left-wing” newspapers). The New York Daily News blared out with headlines that could only have been written by a power structure terror-stricken into frenzy: “Riot Leftists Urged Murders.” The mass media over the country responded in kind, and soon the illusion was everywhere–those nice, kind, benevolent, jazz loving rhythm stomping, “darkies” in “good old Harlem” had been misled by a group of commies.
Perhaps you can fool the John Birch Society and J. Edgar Hoover with such headlines but you can’t fool the people of Harlem or Bedford-Stuyvesant. You can’t fool the people in the streets anymore with a “red scare” and you cannot try to frighten them out of rioting or demonstrating by telling them that a “white backlash” will hurt their cause. Challenge editorialized that this gimmick says: “don’t complain when your son is murdered by Wagner’s cops because if you do, next time he might be murdered by Goldwater’s cops.”
The Uncle Toms in the NAACP tried the same gimmick. They sent out leaflets telling the people to “cool it”. The leaflet went on to cry and beg. “Now its time to cool it and let the message sink in. Folks like Goldwater, Wallace and the John Birchers are fixing to do us up, and if we don’t play it smart, we’ll give them the excuse they’ve been looking for...so get out and vote...” When an NAACP officer tried to get this message across to a group of young militants in Brooklyn they tried to beat him up and forced him to jump into his car and flee–along with a group of cops.
Then Wagner brought in Martin Luther King to try to fool the people in Harlem. King spent three days with Wagner, kept clear of Harlem, and conjured up a group of “Negro leaders” who declared that they should stop having demonstrations until after the election. These “leaders” lead no one in Harlem and their pronouncements carry no more weight than those of Wagner. The Rev. King’s endorsement of the campaign of Johnson might gain him the Chaplainship of Congress but carries no weight in Harlem.
Goldwater doesn’t frighten the people of Harlem. They know that the riots were created and forced upon them by the police. The people of Harlem know that the communists in Progressive Labor were the ones that gave them support in their battle against police brutality when the so-called “Negro leaders” were busy talking with “Ole” Bob Wagner and Nelson Rockefeller. The people of Harlem know that the Progressive Labor Movement and Bill Epton and the Harlem PLM are communists but they aren’t about to be frightened by scare headlines or a flood of FBI agents sent up by Johnson to get the goods on the “reds.” The people of Harlem know that when the chips were down the “Negro leaders” scurried to their liberal chums and only made “sound and reasoned” statements in the sanctity of TV studios. The people of Harlem, who were in the streets fighting the police, know the role of Progressive Labor, the Harlem Defense Council and Bill Epton and they are not about to be dissuaded from their knowledge by the mass media, the power structure of J. Edgar Hoover and the Hearst syndicate.
Let no one doubt it–there are communists in Harlem-black communists. As Challenge editorialized: “Bill Epton and the PLM have never made a secret of their revolutionary position, neither has Challenge. We advocate and work for a people’s, revolution to establish socialism, with all power in the hands of the working people.” The power structure is afraid of the truth. The power structure is terrified that black people are fed up with their lot and will take no more “gobbledygook” from die ruling class in this country. The people of Harlem and Rochester know however, that the killer cops are their enemy–not the communists–and no amount of government inspired “red hunting” can make them forget the truth.
The rebellions have receded for the moment but the witchhunt is now on in full force. The cops, the FBI and the city administration are out for a scapegoat. They have chosen PLM for what they hoped would be an easy victory. The ruling class and its lackeys however, have yet a hell of a lot to learn. Lies, slanders, legal action and violence will not destroy our movement nor will they limit our activity. The arrest on Saturday, July 25th, of Bill Epton and Conrad Lynn, because they attempted to publically protest the actions of the cops, has backfired on all of the dupes of Wagner and Company. The people of Harlem were ready to march with them on that Saturday but the police and the “Negro leaders” knew that this would catapult the Harlem Defense Council and PLM into the vacuum created by the failure of these “leaders” to gain any following in Harlem. The police arrested Bill Epton and Conrad Lynn but the people of Harlem know that they were fighting for the black people of Harlem and not for the droppings of City Hall.
The attempt by the police and the mayor to keep Bill Epton, PLM and the Harlem Defense Council from “assembling, gathering together, convening, parading, marching, demonstrating or acting in concert, in the public streets, squares, sidewalks and other public areas” of Harlem is scurrilous and shows their fear of socialist ideas and their fear of the people. The city has gained an injunction, on the basis of testimony of stool pigeons and a purported taped recording of a speech by Bill Epton, that even The New York Times admitted was “unintelligable,” to keep PLM from operating in Harlem, but this legal maneuver on their part is hogwash, pure and simple.
We herewith serve notice on the city fathers that we will not accept their attempted fiat. We intend to fight for our rights to assemble and speak. If they can limit our activities in Harlem today then who knows what tomorrow will bring. Progressive Labor will not be thwarted by the slanderous attacks from the ruling class and its tools. We believe in the concepts of Marxism-Leninism and intend to teach and practice these concepts. We are not fair-weather communists and we are determined to fight the power structure and to show the people an alternative to the capitalist state.
The ruling power structure may as well burn its injunctions, fire its FBI, disarm its police and leave us well enough alone because we are not about to be frightened or coerced into giving up the battle for socialism in this country. No amount of hamstringing or club swinging is going to hinder our fight.
We take as out words the words of Henry David Thoreau when he said: “How should a man behave toward this government today? I answer, that he cannot without disgrace associate himself with it.”