By CLIFF CONNER
NEW YORK-On April 15, some 20,000 to 25,000 New Yorkers marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to rally at Federal Plaza in Manhattan to express their outrage over the police shooting of Amadou Diallo, a 22-year-old African immigrant.
Diallo, who was unarmed and innocent of any crime, was killed on Feb. 4 by three cops who fired a total of 41 bullets, 19 of which struck him. Perhaps the most frequently heard chant along the line of march was “How Many Bullets?”, with the crowd responding by counting slowly from one to 41.
The massive demonstration was the largest single action to date in a series of protests that included a highly effective civil disobedience campaign in which more than a thousand people-including many prominent politicians and celebrities-were arrested. (See “New York killer cops indicted as protests grow” in the April issue of Socialist Action.)
The demonstrators represented a cross-section of the city’s population, but African Americans-the primary target of police brutality and racial “profiling”-were especially well represented.
Another impressive aspect of the protest was the presence of large trade-union contingents, including hospital workers, teachers, Teamsters, municipal employees, construction workers, and many others.
The primary theme of the march and rally was condemnation of the notorious police brutality that has led to numerous killings of people of color in New York over the past several years. The demonstration’s organizers, headed by the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, put forward a “10-point plan for police reform” as the official demands of the protest action.
The rally was chaired by well-known actor and activist Ossie Davis. Other celebrities spoke and sang, but the primary speakers were Democratic Party leaders, including former New York City Mayor David Dinkins, and labor officials, including the head of the city’s central labor council.
The April 15 march received an unusually large amount of advance publicity, including television and radio ads, leafleting at churches and subway stations, and massive phone-bank and direct mail campaigns-all of which cost an estimated $300,000.
Although the demonstration was originally called and planned by the Rev. Sharpton’s group, it attracted broad support from Democratic Party leaders, who saw it as an opportunity to create a “Dump Giuliani movement aimed at displacing the Republican mayor in the next election. Giuliani, who has generally treated the Black community with arrogance and contempt, is widely-and deservedly-despised by African Americans.
When the Democrats aid in building demonstrations of this sort, their aim is to gain control over the movements for social change and guide them into harmless electoral channels. The pro-capitalist Democratic Party, it has often been said, is “the graveyard of social protest movements.”
The mobilization of tens of thousands of Black activists and rank-and-file trade unionists, however, has a powerful logic of its own. This is a movement that can grow and eventually win a lasting victory over the forces of police repression, but only if it gains independence from the Democratic Party.