Killing of Andrew Brown Jr. Shows Justice Can only be Won by Mass Action
by Tom Burns
On April 21 police in Elizabeth City, North Carolina shot Andrew Brown Jr in the back of the head. Brown family attorney Wayne Kendall told CNN, “This was, in fact, an extrajudicial killing, an execution if you will.” Coming one day after the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, it indicates that welcome as this was, and despite President Joe Biden’s promises on police reform, US cops still feel free to use lethal force on “suspects” at the slightest excuse, especially if they are African Americans. The event comes only ten days after the murder by police officers of Daunte Wright at a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis.
According to the family and the twenty-seconds of video footage that they had been allowed to see, Andrew had his hands on his steering when officers approached guns blazing. The police blocked him in with a police vehicle. As officers continued to shoot, Brown attempted to get away from the gunfire. He suffered two grazing shots and two wounds in his arm until he suffered a fatal gunshot wound in the back of his head. As Brown crashed into a tree, the police still ran towards him shooting. So many bullets were fired that a neighbor’s house was riddled with them. The four second footage of officers en route to Brown’s house prior to the shooting released to CNN depicts numerous deputies in the back of a police truck, an image which has elicited comparisons to white lynch gangs that terrorized black communities in the South during segregation.
District Attorney Andrew Womble has tried to suggest a justification for the killing by stating that Brown had drug related warrants out for his arrest. Yet authorities have reportedly told the family that no drugs were found on Brown’s person or his property. Womble stands side by side and hand in hand with the murderers. Thanks to the spotlight thrown on police murders by the mass protests by Black Lives Matter demonstrators over recent months an official FBI probe is being launched and the governor is calling for a special prosecutor to “keep public faith” in the system. Seven officers have been sent on administrative leave Superior Court Judge Jeff Foster rejected protesters’ demands for the release of body camera footage to the public on the 28th. According to the judge, “The release at this time would create a serious threat to the fair, impartial and orderly administration of justice.” A story we have heard far too often. The judge stated that thirty to forty-five days would have to elapse before the video could be released if certain conditions were met. The family has had an independent autopsy performed on Brown’s body and has been the sole source of news about the incident
A state of emergency and an 8 pm curfew have been declared prior to the family being shown only twenty seconds of police body camera footage, despite protests in Elizabeth City being entirely peaceful. Calls for support have been boosted by anti-racist and BLM organizers within the state. Protesters responded with the chant heard so often “No Justice No Peace!”
Protests have continued for a week with no sign of abating. On the 27th, authorities mobilised riot cops against protesters that stayed past curfew and an undisclosed number were arrested. Local news sources have indicated that police repression has escalated since the curfew order.
Unfortunately solidarity protests held in other cities have not yet attracted large crowds. A small group of anti-racist protesters stood in solidarity in Moore Square in the state capital of Raleigh, outnumbered by a heavy police presence. The Square had previously been the home of Confederate statues that were pulled down during the George Floyd Uprising. Likewise, in the town of Graham, 47 miles away from Raleigh, two arrests were made after police called the gathering of forty unlawful. Graham, which lies in Alamance County, is a hotbed of far-right organizing. Several members of the towns far-right were involved in the putsch on the nation’s Capital earlier this year. Evidence from local anti-racists points to police involvement with these hate groups.
Two other police killings have also gained traction. Mario Gonzalez was killed by Alameda County, California police after being pinned to the ground. A manner of death that recalls the 9 minutes and 30 seconds that Chauvin’s knee was pressed on the back of George Floyd’s neck. And Isaiah Brown was shot ten times by an officer in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. Brown had previously asked the same officer to drive him home. He was killed after placing a call to the police concerning a fight with his brother.
The constant stream of these killings demonstrates, if this were needed, the unreformable nature of policing, an institution founded on violence and whose mission is violence. We cannot buy into the reform message from Joe Biden and the Democrats. In doing so, we must remember the role Biden himself took during investigations into the Waco Massacre. His role in the attempted cover-up must be shouted out for all to hear.
No amount of reform or training will stop this violence. Additional training will not bring back the lives of so many people of color gunned down by police. Additional training could not stop police from executing Andrew Brown Jr. Our demands must echo those demands from organizers in Elizabeth City. Demand transparency. Demand the release of the body camera footage. Demand the release of the autopsy from the state. Demand full accountability.
But beyond these immediate issues we must deploy those tactics that led to victory in the George Floyd Trial – mass action , coming out of our workplaces and places of education and onto the streets. But also in the communities that cops regularly terrorize, alongside mass mobilization, we need to organise self-defence including exercise of the constitutional right to bear arms. Nor should this be only left to people of colour. As in the BLM demonstrations white antiracists and trade unionists need to actively join in self-defence. Without that, we will not get justice for Andrew Brown JR. Socialists must stand in solidarity with protesters across the country, whether it be Columbus, Minnesota, Chicago, Elizabeth City, or Spotsylvania County in Virginia. Those organizations that wish to lead the working class, whether it be trade unions or the Democratic Socialists (DSA), must take an active role in mobilizing our response.