The following article was published in Proletarian Revolution No. 63 (Fall 2001).
The social ingredients are all there…. In every major city is economic and social despair, mixed with a militaristic police force that targets Black life and liberty. In every such city are Black politicians who function in the role of keeping the restless natives in check; keep them suffering in silence…. Cincinnati is a harbinger of things to come. Cincinnati is the fire next time. Mumia Abu-Jamal, journalist and political prisoner
The murder of an unarmed 19-year-old Black man, Timothy Thomas, by a white cop in Cincinnati sparked the biggest urban uprising in the U.S. since Los Angeles in 1992. Thousands of Black people, overwhelmingly working-class youth, rejected their self-appointed leaders’ calls for peace and took to the streets to challenge police brutality and decades of racism and poverty.
Indeed, Cincinnati’s rebellion stands out as significant, not just because of the extent to which it targeted the ruling class’s seats of power but also because of its explicit and overwhelming rejection of the established “community” leadership of politicians and preachers. But because there was no alternative leadership, the rebellion degenerated; many senseless acts of misdirected violence occurred, and the uprising was eventually squelched by a massive police crackdown. The radical political lessons taught by the rebellion should be understood by all fighters against racism and for justice, in Cincinnati and across the country.
Thomas was shot April 7 in the largely Black Over-the-Rhine neighborhood while running from officer Steven Roach, who was chasing him because of twelve misdemeanor violations - mostly traffic fines like driving while not wearing a seat belt. He was the fifteenth Black man killed by Cincinnati cops since 1995; the fourth in less than six months. No cop has been convicted for these earlier murders; only one was even indicted.
After each atrocity, the politicians and media united behind the cops to claim that the killing was justified. Black community leaders would appeal for calm and advocate hopeless reforms; soon it would be back to business as usual. But the Black community’s outrage in response to Thomas’s murder changed the scene.
This anger forced the community’s most prominent leader, Rev. Damon Lynch III of the Black United Front, to join Thomas’s mother, Angela Leisure, in a march of hundreds to City Hall the day after the murder. But the masses soon made clear that they wanted a struggle that went far beyond what Lynch was prepared to lead. When Mayor Charles Luken and Police Chief Thomas Streicher denied responsibility and City Council members claimed there was little they could do, the angry crowd took over City Hall, pushing the politicians around, breaking windows, bringing down the American flag and forcing the mayor to escape out the back door.
In an attempt to regain control, Lynch then tried to lead a peaceful protest at police headquarters. But the crowd, which swelled to over a thousand, disregarded him. This time they brought down the cops’ American flag and re-flew it upside down and threw stones and bottles at the headquarters and at the surrounding cops. The windows and main entrance to the headquarters were smashed. Eventually the protesters were forced to retreat when the cops opened fire on them with tear gas and potentially-deadly “bean-bag” bullets (bags packed with metal shot fired from shotguns).
The next day Lynch tried to lead a “peace march.” “His aim,” the Cincinnati Enquirer explained, “was to rein in the violence that had broken out among the young people the night before.” But the protesters who joined him had other ideas, coming with homemade placards bearing slogans like “No Justice, No Peace,” and “Time to Shoot Back.” When a young protester gave the finger to the cops, one cop with a shotgun ran toward him while the rest beat their riot shields with their batons. Lynch intervened and struck an agreement with the cops to lead the march back to his church. But when he tried to lead the protesters away, most refused to follow and instead stayed and fought pitched battles with the police for hours. Once again the protesters rejected their leaders’ calls for peace without justice, breaking windows and setting fires to make their point. The leaders were now powerless to hold them back.
Mayor Luken had agreed to meet Rev. Lynch at his church to join in the calls for peace. But as he was driving there, the protesters spotted him. Shouts of “Get the hell out!” rose up and the crowd chased him away. The rebellion was on. Stores were looted, rocks were thrown at cops. One night protesters even attempted to set fire to a neighborhood police station.
The protesters had rejected Lynch’s pleas for peace two days in a row. But Cincinnati’s rulers still hoped to use Lynch and his fellow misleaders to quell the upheaval. So the next day Mayor Luken met with clergy and church elders to enlist them in his efforts. “We’re begging for your help,” he said.
For about twenty minutes the clergy were able to go along with Luken, but as a Black city official began to speak, a young woman jumped up from her seat. “Why is he standing up for the chief?” she shouted. “He’s here to answer to us.” Her words set off the crowd in attendance, who shouted down the Mayor and the leaders trying to cooperate with him. Some of the clergy left in frustration. Others, knowing they were being exposed as collaborators with the city’s rulers, said they’d campaign for an end to the rioting, but not alongside the police. “We do the work of God,” said one, “not the Cincinnati Police Department.”
That submission to the preachers’ God in heaven means submission to the police here on earth soon became clear. Just hours after the Mayor’s failed meeting with the community leaders, a demonstration of Black youth headed downtown. When a line of cops fully armed in riot gear formed across the street to prevent the marchers from going further, Lynch and other clergy coming from meeting the mayor linked arms in another line some twenty yards ahead to stop the march from reaching the cops, claiming they wanted to prevent protesters from giving the cops an excuse to brutalize them. With a thin line of self-appointed “leaders” standing in their way, many of the marchers denounced the sellouts, pointing their fingers, shaking their fists and shouting. But eventually they gave up trying to get past.
Note that the preachers weren’t saying, “Wait, we’re not organized and prepared to confront the police yet; let’s save ourselves for another day when we’re ready.” Their perspective is that the oppressed should not attempt to defeat their oppressors but should peacefully pressure them for reforms.
The Black working class, particularly the youth, fought for a militant political direction, at a time when the community’s “establishment” proved useless. As a sign at Timothy’s funeral read: “We Salute Our Youth: Thank You for the Revolution.” Had there been in place an organized revolutionary leadership, the negative aspects of rioting could have been minimized and the full force of the masses’ rage unleashed against the seats of capitalist power.
As it was, the rebellion did degenerate into rioting. Buildings were randomly vandalized and set afire. A handful of white people were attacked when they drove through Black neighborhoods, some because they were yuppies frequenting the strip of bars that encroach on Over-the-Rhine; others, including activists who wanted to solidarize with the rebellion, simply because of their skin color.
The most militant street fighters, who had not yet achieved revolutionary class consciousness nor had the experience to see the importance of mass action, could not answer the ruling class’s violent response. When a state of emergency was declared, thousands of police were mobilized to enforce a curfew that denied Black people the elementary right to walk the streets at night. People were sprayed with tear gas, beaten and arrested, and shot at from point-blank range with “bean-bag” guns. Not even Timothy Thomas’s funeral was safe from the police, who fired into the peaceful gathering. During the state of emergency, more than 800 people were arrested, most of them Black.
Turning to police state measures to crush the rebellion, the ruling class still needed a democratic facade to cover up their crackdown. But with the local Black leadership too compromised in the eyes of the protesters to be able to perform their role, national leaders - the NAACP’s Kweisi Mfume and Rev. Al Sharpton - rushed in to do the job. While they sincerely complained about racist police brutality and injustice, their strategy is to peacefully reform the system, and they oppose any struggle that threatens it. So they immediately called on the masses to end the uprising and respect the state of emergency.
But such was the commitment of the most radical of the Black youth that not even these “revered leaders” escaped criticism. Thus on April 16 when Sharpton visited a local church to speak, youth gathered outside with their faces covered by bandanas to protect their identity and criticized Sharpton and the other establishment leaders.
Later that day, at a youth forum on police brutality, these criticisms were given even clearer expression. Hundreds attended and cheered speeches that connected the continued racist police terror with the failure of the established leaders to lead a struggle. “Our Black leaders are not leading us,” explained 14-year-old Derrick Blassingame. “Some of our Black leaders just want their faces on TV. They are in this for four things only: reputation, power, politics and money.” While some older leaders complained that the youth should show more respect for their elders, many others in the audience, particularly the youth, agreed with the criticisms. Another speaker, for example, added, “Some leaders will only go so far in battle and then turn around and go home. So now we’re the soldier-leaders.”
We don’t know much more about the political views of those speakers, but they were right to criticize the establishment leaders. These leaders sell out because they are committed to the system that relies on oppression and exploitation to maintain itself. While most of them no doubt hate racism, their perspective goes no further than using protests to win reforms that give them a bigger slice of political power - at the cost of really fighting that racism. Some just want the slice.
The struggle needs a new leadership that won’t compromise with the system. An authentic revolutionary party, dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism, is the only leadership that won’t end up compromising with the capitalist system and selling out struggles. That new leadership will primarily come from the working-class youth like those who led Cincinnati’s rebellion.
In comparison to other cities, Cincinnati’s ruling class has long felt so secure that it has made little effort to fund bureaucratic programs to strengthen the existing Black leadership’s ability to control the masses. That leadership is tied to the system but has proved too weak to hold back the struggle. Now, with the rebellion over, the discredited Black establishment is seeking to resurrect itself and use the threat of future upheavals as a bargaining chip for concessions from the still very reluctant ruling class.
Democratic Mayor Luken and Republican Ohio Governor Bob Taft, along with the heads of Chiquita Brands and Procter & Gamble, set up a race relations commission “Cincinnati Community Action Now.” Rev. Lynch quickly accepted a position as one of three co-chairs of the Commission (the other two are corporate executives, one Black, one white), to improve economic opportunities for minorities. That the Commission included the racist cop leader Keith Fangman (see below) should have exposed the ruling class’s intention that it be another tool for holding back mass struggle. But that didn’t stop Lynch from praising Luken’s commission, saying that the Mayor still has the confidence of the Black community.
Even the Commission’s promise to create 3000 summer jobs for Black youth has already proven to be a lie. Only 1500 temporary positions were offered, and 1000 of those were “created” by shifting funds from an already operating jobs program so the Commission could take credit for them.
As if to make clear that Cincinnati’s rulers’ promises of reforms were lies, a grand jury indicted officer Roach on nothing more than misdemeanor charges. This travesty of justice was achieved by the state’s prosecutor, Michael Allen, who acted as if he was the cop’s defense lawyer. He explained the pathetic charges with the argument that Thomas may have appeared to be grabbing for a gun. But Thomas had no gun, and Mayor Luken admitted that even top cops didn’t believe Roach’s story. For misdemeanors, Thomas received the death penalty in the streets; for cold-blooded murder, Roach was wrist-slapped with misdemeanor charges. Such is justice in racist America.
Meanwhile Allen has thrown the book at the over 800 people arrested during the state of emergency. Bail was deliberately set so high that few could afford it. Judges have refused to accept plea deals or negotiate punishments, insisting on maximum jail sentences and massive fines.
Fearful of appearing to be nothing more than Luken’s puppet, Lynch has led several small, tightly controlled civil disobedience protests. The mayor was soon forced to criticize Lynch publicly for leading a sit-down action after the grand jury decision. In response, Lynch complained that “the mayor has no idea what the people want.” Despite their tiff, Lynch and Luken agree on preventing rebellion against the system. Given the separate followings they must cater to, their agreement cannot be smooth.
Central to all the establishment leaders’ efforts is their promotion of various reforms of the Cincinnati police. Since the riots of 1967, Cincinnati has seen innumerable investigations, lawsuits and new laws, all of which have done nothing to stop rampant police racism, corruption and brutality. Their only real purpose was to confuse the masses and avoid mass struggles. The current reform proposals are no different.
Some of them are ridiculous. Lynch and others have, for example, called for the City Council to be able to hire a new police chief from out of town. Chief Streicher and every past racist police chief from the city’s West Side are rightly hated, but that fact can’t be allowed to trick people into supporting a fraudulent demand. Racist police brutality is at epidemic proportions in almost every city in the country. Where do they think they can get a “good” police chief from, Mars?
Also insulting are calls by all leaders from Lynch to Mfume and Sharpton for the federal Justice Department to reform the Cincinnati police. The Justice Department has a long record, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, of covering up police brutality. Now that it is headed by John Ashcroft, an admirer of the slave-holding Southern Confederacy, can anyone really believe in it?
Their demand for a Civilian Police Review Board with expanded powers may seem more serious. But the long experience of such review boards in many cities shows that they are at best powerless to prosecute and at worst end up covering up police atrocities. They are never really independent of the system; the only power to punish the cops remains in the hands of the courts, which by their very nature work hand-in-hand with the cops. (Get our pamphlet Fight Police Terror!, which examines the various proposals to reform the police and their record of failure in cities across the country.)
In the Cincinnati events revolutionaries had a perfect opportunity to show how to fundamentally challenge the capitalist system that lies behind racist oppression, and to advance the building of the revolutionary communist party necessary for solving the crisis of leadership. But the socialist groups in Cincinnati, as well as many of those that traveled there in response to the struggle, had no answers to the questions raised by the struggle.
Genuine revolutionaries saw in the rebellion the seeds of a struggle against capitalism by the entire class, with Black youth taking the initiative. What was necessary was to join in the struggle and explain how the rebellion could become more organized and more focused against the ruling class. In this way, we would help develop a struggle of the whole working class against capitalism and the building of the revolutionary party. But the rebellion saw various socialist groups stay on the sidelines, some because of their sectarian attitude toward mass struggles, others because their normal opportunist practice of supporting sellout leaders was useless at a time when the militants were kicking such leaders out of the struggle.
The Progressive Labor Party (PLP) seemed very radical with its calls for communist revolution and denunciation of the liberals’ fake solutions. PLP supported the rebellion and was able to immediately send members to Cincinnati. But they have no idea of how to unite with struggling workers and link propaganda for revolutionary ideas with proposals for how the masses can take the immediate struggle forward. Instead, as is often the case, their only practical suggestion was to urge the rebels on the streets to join PLP’s May Day march in Washington D.C.! (Challenge, April 21. For more on PLP, see our article in PR 57.)
The Spartacist League (SL) correctly pointed to the region’s unionized work force as having a “direct and immediate interest in championing the defense of Cincinnati’s black populace against the police onslaught.” But the Spartacists believe that the unions must now stand “at the head of the ghetto masses” - even as they admit that the unions have not lifted a finger in support of the struggle. (Workers Vanguard, April 27.)
Beneath the SL’s radical rhetoric, their calls for labor leadership at best mean that they want the struggle to be under the control of sellout bureaucrats - and at worst, they really mean that Black people should wait until they are joined by whites before defending themselves against racism. While the Black rebels were denouncing their sellout leaders and exploding in struggle, the SL did not suggest what was really necessary: that Black workers bring the struggle into the unions and fight the union bureaucracy by demanding union support for the struggle and raising anti-racist and class-wide demands for the most united struggle possible. Without a strategy for getting rid of the present leadership that is hostile to the rebellion, the idea of putting the unions “at the head” of the struggle can only be seen by the insurgents as absurd or racist patronization.
The one socialist organization with a real group in Cincinnati is the International Socialist Organization (ISO). But they were poorly prepared to meet the challenge of the rebellion. Given their orientation to college students, they hadn’t attempted to forge strong links with the people of Over-the-Rhine and other oppressed neighborhoods. Their almost hermetic isolation from the most oppressed layers of the working class was only reinforced by the fact that they had spent much of the previous year campaigning for Ralph Nader, whose campaign held no appeal to oppressed and super-exploited Black workers. (See our article on the Nader campaign in PR 62.)
ISO members no doubt solidarized with the rebellion and wanted to help advance it. But that would have meant a complete break with their organization’s politics. For the ISO sent in veteran leader Lee Sustar, whose immediate reaction was to bolster the establishment community leaders. While the rebels were rejecting Rev. Lynch on the streets and in meetings, Socialist Worker (April 27) gave Lynch a box and a photo in the paper’s centerfold spread to put forward his views without a word of criticism - including his dead-end call for hiring a new police chief from out of town.
In this historic struggle, the opportunist leaders of the ISO were found irrelevant and on the sidelines, just like the sectarians they habitually denounce. Their approach, as always, was to literally knock on the doors of the misleaders and offer an unspoken deal: we’ll make you look good if you give us a place in the movement. Of course, having already been thrown out of the movement, Lynch couldn’t deliver. In the end, the ISO did not even pretend to put forward a program for the struggle. One can scour every line of the six different articles in Socialist Worker’s special supplement on Cincinnati without finding a single practical suggestion for continuing the rebellion!
The ISO joined other Cincinnati groups - including the Coalition for a Humane Economy, the Zapatista Coalition, Refuse and Resist!, the Greater Cincinnati Defend Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition, the Solidarity socialist group, and Anti-Racist Action (ARA) - in signing a “statement of support for and solidarity with the African-American community,” which described itself as coming “principally from Cincinnati’s white community.” The statement condemned police brutality and racism but urged hollow reforms. Echoing Lynch & Co., it proposed that the Cincinnati police department be “revamped from the top down. New people and ideas should be brought in from outside.” When phony reforms were being used to demobilize actual struggles, the ISO and others came out in support of the most inane of them all!
The support coalition, led by Dan LaBotz of Solidarity, called for a march against police brutality. Lynch was originally fearful of the idea, given his experience of being repeatedly rejected by the Black masses during the uprising. But he and other establishment leaders eventually agreed to support the march as an opportunity to resurrect themselves and assert their strategy of peacefully begging for reforms. They knew that the police crackdown, and the lack of direction afterward, had already dampened popular militancy. Therefore they expected that the original fighters would join the march only in small numbers, especially given its outsider leadership. What finally convinced the leaders that it was safe for them to support the march was the organizers’ promises to police the march and keep it under control.
There was an uproar at the first organizing meetings for the march, where militant activists from groups like the ISO and ARA were shocked by the bureaucratic domination of the meeting by LaBotz and his new-found liberal friends. LaBotz & Co. made clear their role of policing for the leaders. Their flyer for the march, for example, insisted that it would be “peaceful” - six times in four paragraphs! In the same spirit, the city’s bourgeoisie had bought billboard space on the expressways that surround the city for bright blue signs with one big word in white “Peace.” Thus the ruling class, the establishment Black community leaders and even some “socialists” were all united in their opposition to the rebellion - which from any point of view was hardly peaceful.
Just how reactionary this was became clear when an LRPer spoke out against these plans at an organizing meeting in Over-the-Rhine shortly before the march. LaBotz explained that the organizers’ insistence that the march be peaceful had been criticized by some in the movement; but it had been supported by the overwhelming majority of the organizers. An older white organizer explained that the aim of the march was to attract the white middle class, and that displays of anger at the police or anything else should not be allowed because they would scare away such people. Marchers should remember, he concluded, that to win respect, we have to show respect.
Our comrade stated clearly that he believed the idea of a “peaceful” march was absolutely wrong because he agreed with the slogan “No Justice, No Peace.” At a time when Black people are being shot down in the streets, people should be angry - and any suggestion otherwise is appalling. Respect isn’t won by treating the murderous cops with respect but by showing that you are serious about struggling for your rights.
The LRPer explained that he opposed the idea of a battle with the police under conditions where the protesters faced an overwhelming number of bloodthirsty cops, and that he certainly opposed a physical confrontation with the cops by white direct actionists at the march; that could only provoke a violent counterattack in which the racist cops would inevitably target Black people for the worst abuse. But, he continued, a demonstration doesn’t have to be violent to be loud, angry and threatening to the ruling class. Promises of a peaceful protest reassure the powers-that-be that they won’t be threatened, when that’s exactly what the demonstration should do.
A line had been drawn, he continued: for or against the rebellion. If the march wasn’t clearly a continuation of the rebellion; if it didn’t demand an end to racist police brutality and the ouster of the politicians who cover for it; and if it didn’t promise ever greater and more threatening struggles until those demands are won, it would be a betrayal of the uprising.
Our comrade’s arguments were supported by a surprising number of the activists at the meeting. Later, LaBotz pulled our comrade aside to “talk some sense” into him. The march would be the first time white people had demonstrated against racism in Cincinnati’s history, and nothing should be allowed to scare them away. Unions are being approached to support the march, he continued, and they won’t with the kind of message you want to send. Thus, “the march should be up-beat, positive and optimistic. People should have smiles on their faces.” LaBotz was practically calling for a minstrel show.
To their credit, the “anarchists” and “anti-authoritarians” grouped in and around the ARA opposed the march organizers’ insistence on “peace” from the beginning. They broke from the coalition and came out with a leaflet headlined “People Always Saying Peace,’ We Say First Justice, Then Peace’” that raised a number of fighting demands. This was a lot better than those who either joined the “peace” chorus or sat uncritically through coalition meetings. But as we will see, the ARA’s anarchism and anti-authoritarianism offered no political program or strategy that could reach the rebellious Black youth and show how to take on the entire capitalist system of exploitation and oppression.
The march, which took place June 2, attracted some 2000 participants. But the Black youth who rebelled in April clearly didn’t think it was for them. The majority of the marchers were white, and of the thousands of Black youth who protested and fought in the streets in early April, it looked like no more than a couple of dozen marched. Of the hundreds of Black people who attended, most were older and had not taken any part in the rebellion. As one marcher noted, the Black youth felt doubly “dissed” by the march organizers: disrespected and disinvited.
LaBotz and his partners did their best to resurrect the establishment leaders. But they still only received a lackluster response from the leaders they coveted. Rev. Lynch promised to speak but in the end did not even attend, citing a more important obligation. A lesser Black United Front figure, Jackie Shropshire, co-chaired the march, and Lynch sent his father to speak in his place. The Cincinnati Central Labor Council predictably refused to endorse the march. But the organizers succeeded in winning endorsement from two Services Employees (SEIU/1199) union locals, three federal government workers’ (AFGE) locals, two electrical workers (UE) locals and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, (FLOC-AFL-CIO). Typically, however, these endorsements did not mean that the unions mobilized their membership to attend.
Angela Leisure made a moving speech, and a couple of youth speakers fired up the crowd, but nothing could hide the fact that the rally had little to do with the rebellion. One after another of the discredited reverends spoke, but a shameful low was reached with the speech by former governor of Ohio, John Gilligan. He had the nerve to denounce people for rioting and told the rally to “let the system do its job.” LRPers in the crowd joined others who chanted against Gilligan, “No Justice, No Peace!” We were a minority in the crowd, but we were loud and angry enough that we rattled him - so much so that co-chair LaBotz had to seize the microphone to demand quiet and lecture us on how important it was to keep “the coalition” together.
Having broken from the march organizers’ coalition, the activists grouped around Anti-Racist Action proved nevertheless incapable of offering a strategy for the struggle to go forward. Their “anti-authoritarian bloc” in the march was by far the single biggest contingent, but their only distinguishing tactic was to stop moving at several points in the march, wait for a large gap to grow between them and the marchers ahead, and then run to catch up - showy but politically meaningless.
Many then went to a separate civil disobedience action in a white business area. This drew attention to the hypocrisy of the rulers’ curfew, which targeted Black neighborhoods but allowed well-to-do whites to party late into the night. But it didn’t take the mass struggle forward an inch and got a number of activists arrested in the process. Militant actions of small groups are no substitute for mass actions. The most politically advanced and serious members of ARA hopefully will respond to the obvious failures of this approach and search for a political strategy that can answer the problems of the struggle.
In spite of the organizers’ efforts, at the march chants like “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police!” were still popular. And many were looking for a strategy to take the struggle forward. Comrades of the League for the Revolutionary Party participated in the march and distributed widely a bulletin, whose headline made clear where we stood: Long Live the Rebellion Against Police Terror! Let’s Make the Next Rebellion More Organized and Focused So It Hits the Rulers Harder! We got into many great conversations with revolutionary-minded youth, including several who had been in the uprising. Many of them committed to discussing the issues with us further.
At the time of the uprising, Mayor Luken observed that “There are flash points like ours in every city in America. If there is a mayor in any major city not worried about the coming summer, then he or she is not thinking.” Even capitalist politicians recognized that the same anger exists among working-class and poor people of color across the country.
Bourgeois leaders and upper-class people, Black as well as white, see the masses of people of color as unthinking brutes capable only of tremendous explosions of rage. But in fact the Cincinnati rebellion was the product of serious thought and discussion, in homes, schools, bars and the streets. That is how lessons have been drawn and generalized in many mass working-class struggles.
When Timothy Thomas’s murder showed that the attacks could no longer go unanswered, the rebellion unleashed not just a torrent of anger, but - briefly - an explosion of politically conscious actions. When their self-appointed leaders proved useless in defense against racist attacks, Black youth and other working-class people took the initiative - setting themselves against the ruling class’s seats of political and armed power, formulating political slogans, starting marches, organizing meetings, speaking out. There was clearly a significant advance in political consciousness, not just reactive radical responses. For a few days, the masses’ creativity bloomed.
However, such explosive leaps have severe limitations, as Cincinnati also proved. Had the beginnings of a revolutionary leadership existed before the rebellion and grown further out of it, the rebellion could have been organized and spread into an even more powerful assault on ruling-class power. It could have forced real concessions from the ruling class. And its success could have sparked other rebellions across the country. Its enemies concentrated on the worst aspects of the riot, to hide the inspiring political rebellion that took place. It is the task of revolutionaries to guard the rebellion’s true history from the ruling class’s lies, so that all workers may learn its lessons. That will be the fire next time.
Black people are targeted by capitalism for the most murderous police brutality, the cruelest poverty, and the most relentless exploitation. The Black residents of Over-the-Rhine have been ruthlessly exploited and subjugated by an occupation army of cops. Unless racism is stopped in its tracks, it will only get worse, far worse.
People of color cannot afford to wait for white workers to support them before they defend themselves against racist attacks. That idea would be both absurd and racially elitist. Black workers and poor must fight back now. With organized struggle and fighting leaders, limited but real victories are possible. But to finally crush racism, capitalism itself must be overthrown. Socialist revolution, and the destruction of the system of exploitation and oppression, takes the conscious struggle of the overwhelming majority of the working class and the poor of all races and nationalities.
Socialist revolution does not mean waiting for a utopian spirit of brotherly love to magically transform backward sectors of the working class. It doesn’t mean making any concession to white racists nor to the passivity of the majority of white workers. It means conducting an all-out fight against racism and the super-exploitation it enforces right now. That is the only way to real unity.
In America today, however, the working class is divided by racism, particularly in cities as intensely segregated as Cincinnati. Many white workers are frightened of losing their jobs and income; the system tells them that lower-paid Black, Latino and immigrant workers are the threat. They do not yet see that when workers of color are forced to work for less or to be jobless, their own jobs and wages are undermined by the rules of capitalist competition. Nevertheless, most white workers don’t favor racist brutality and believe in a fair deal for everyone. But they are also largely ignorant of the reality of racist super-exploitation and oppression, and they don’t see the cops as the enforcers. In Cincinnati, while some whites joined the protests, the lack of outrage among white workers at the murder of Timothy Thomas was obvious.
Black liberation cannot wait for any liberal labor leader to ride a white horse to the rescue. History shows that “Negro-Labor Alliances” like those of the 1960’s ended up undermining the struggle of Black people and serving the interests of the bureaucrats who led them. To “unite” behind the present leadership of either the unions or the Black establishment is a guaranteed formula for defeat.
But the past also shows another path to united action. In the early 1970’s, the urban Black rebellions were followed by a wave of industrial strikes, both wildcat and union-recognized. Victories were won. For the first time in American history, white workers followed the leadership of Black workers who took on both the bosses and the bureaucrats who tried to restrain them. Genuine solidarity occurred because white workers realized that these struggles were in their interests as well, interests opposed by their official leaders.
At that time the capitalist system was still relatively prosperous and could afford to make serious concessions. Today, workers can still defend and win some gains, but a more powerful struggle is needed even to achieve that. The ruling class is already on the attack, with cuts to education and health care, the slashing of welfare, the replacement of full-time jobs with part-time, low-paying jobs and mounting layoffs. And as the economic crisis inevitably deepens, to support its profits the bosses will have to intensify exploitation for all workers to the levels faced by people of color today.
Already significant numbers of white workers and poor people suffer harassment and brutality at the hands of cops, though not nearly on the scale and intensity that people of color do. Even now, when white workers organize to struggle in protests and strikes, the cops make clear that they are the armed enemies of all workers. The murder of anti-imperialist protester Carlo Giuliani by police in Genoa, Italy, is only a taste of what is in store for white militants here.
As they turn to struggle, increasing numbers of white workers will realize that they too need a new leadership and strategy to defend themselves. While the capitalists do their best to use racism to set white workers against people of color, the system itself will also generate a far stronger pressure toward interracial working-class unity in response.
For the Black working class to play the leading role that its history of struggle has carved out for it, it must forge a new leadership to replace the capitalist politicians and preachers of today. As the Cincinnati events prove, it is not enough to discard the betrayers in the heat of the rebellion they must be replaced with a new fighting working-class leadership, armed with a clear vision of the path ahead and how to achieve it. Such a vanguard party leadership cannot be created at the last moment; it must be constructed in advance, in the struggles of today. It must come from the masses and gain their confidence by showing its ability to win victories now.
In their neighborhoods, working-class people are spread out and isolated in their homes; they have no inherent cooperative pattern and have no automatic way of getting together. There are class differences within neighborhoods; especially in poor areas, distrust can run high as people scramble to make a living. Cops, the mercenary pawns of the ruling class, are readily visible; but our real enemies, the capitalists, are not overtly present, and most residents don’t see them as the source of their problems. It is not like understanding the role of the bosses at the workplace.
In residential neighborhoods, a sense of powerlessness is the norm, especially in poor Black working-class areas. Political and economic power over the community is exercised by outside forces. Established leaders reflect the power of the state over the community rather than the needs of the neighborhood itself.
The masses’ rejection of the establishment leaders made this condition glaring in Cincinnati. Most of the city’s Black leaders are churchmen. As in many cities, the only existing permanent community organizations are the churches. At certain points in history some churches have led struggles, but even then they have encouraged passive followers rather than creative fighters. Ministers are “shepherds” who refer to their followers as their “flock”: they are supposed to remain submissive, like sheep. And today churches are rarely even momentary flashpoints for battle. They beg for government funding for pacification programs and serve the interests of the capitalists who do not even appear in working-class communities and certainly not poor Black ones.
For launching community-based struggles, at first glance it seems that there are no ready means of mass self-organization to serve as a base for the struggle. That is why so many of the protest eruptions in Cincinnati started spontaneously and randomly. But there is one possibility. As our bulletin explained:
Imagine if the Black community already had organizations it could turn to, in which decisions could be made on how to protest, where and when. Such organizations must be built, and those who took the lead in the rebellion will have to take the lead in this effort. The youth, who were the backbone of the Cincinnati rebellion, do have pre-existing bases upon which they can build. Working-class high schools and colleges, for example, can be used as an important base for organizing. Revolutionaries and other militants can launch and lead school-wide assemblies which could meet daily during upheavals and conduct discussions of what actions should be taken.
Such assemblies could be started by producing a leaflet calling on all students interested in discussing and joining the struggle to meet in a specific place and time. As the struggle grows in power, classes could be suspended for mass meetings, as has often happened in the past. Schools can be taken over. Self-defense units can be formed based on the schools. Schools become collective organizers and a focus for gathering, preparation and decision-making. Coordination and leadership bodies can be elected.
With the youth playing a clear role in Cincinnati and other uprisings, organizing based on high schools can act as a spark for the rest of the struggle. But student action, even when the students are working-class themselves, is no substitute for industrial mobilization. And student leadership cannot substitute for leadership by a party rooted in the working class itself.
The Black ghetto riots, in the 60’s and now, have generally been race conscious but not class conscious. They have most often been ignited by glaring acts of police brutality. The Black workers naturally and correctly see the attacks as assaults upon themselves as Blacks. The fact that the Cincinnati uprising immediately raised demands for economic improvements showed a recognition of a link between enforced poverty and police brutality. Nevertheless, the masses do not yet see the police actions as a defense of capitalist exploitation; nor do they see that Black people are under attack because they are part of the working class. Therefore they haven’t yet pushed the issue in the workplaces nor in the unions.
Revolutionaries have explained the link between race and class but have had only a small impact so far. That does not mean that we abandon the fight within the unions and shops for conscious working-class mobilization in the struggle against police brutality. From our experience in the unions, the LRP knows that fighting against the stream today will aid us enormously when the current changes tomorrow. Nevertheless, in assessing the concrete balance of forces in Cincinnati, we know that the initial upheavals over cop brutality will almost certainly be community-based rather than industrial.
That is why we point to the schools as immediate, interim launching pads for organizing the struggle. At the same time, we stress the importance of fighting in industry and the unions for the big battalions of the working class to participate in the struggle and win the leadership.
Within school-based organized upsurges, revolutionaries would fight for a program which could reach and mobilize the working class as a whole. The struggle could spread from the schools and neighborhoods into shutting down workplaces and entire cities.
Workers have great advantages in mobilizing struggles like strikes and even uprisings that take the workplace as their organizing point. The work process is designed to promote concentrated, organized, disciplined and cooperative activity. The issues are relatively clear. The enemies workers versus bosses are well-defined; class consciousness develops in industrial confrontations. At worksites, all the workers can be together and their action can be planned. Daily life in industry enables leaders to emerge, become known and vie with one another for support. Workplaces are places of power; shutting down production means cutting off profits, the lifeblood of the capitalist system.
That is why workplace-based struggles are more effective than those restricted to communities and even schools. Our bulletin cited the example of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, which was built by young Black workers who came out of the ghetto rebellions of the late 1960’s. Working in auto and other factories, they learned the tremendous advantages that workplace organization provides. As they explained:
In one factory we have 10,000 people who are faced with the same conditions…. When you go out into the community, the interests of the people… are going to be more dispersed…. The kinds of actions which can be taken [by communities] are not as effectively damaging to the ruling class as the kinds of actions which can be taken in the plant…. When you close down Hamtramck assembly plant… for a day you can cost Chrysler corporation 1,000 cars. (Quoted in James Geschwender, Class, Race and Worker Insurgency, p. 138.)
If Black militants in the schools and communities were to couple to the fight for racial equality demands for jobs, decent housing, quality free education, universal health care and a human income for all workers, they could build a far more powerful and sustained struggle. Such an approach would spread the struggle into the workplaces and the unions. The increasingly conscious working class could take the helm of the rebellion.
Far-reaching programmatic demands like those for full employment are vital for the defense of Black workers and youth. The ruling class recognizes that the Black rebellion has economic roots that’s why it sets up its blue-ribbon outfits falsely promising to create jobs and make other improvements. Black workers are still the last to be hired and the first to be fired. History proves that only guaranteed full employment at decent and equal wages can begin to answer the inherent racism embedded in capitalist America.
Such a program could have an enormous impact upon other workers of color and white workers, laying the basis for a united struggle rooted in common class interest. That is how white workers will learn that forcing low wages on Black workers is an attack on their jobs and wages too. That is how true interracialist solidarity can begin to be forged.
This approach demands that a genuinely revolutionary working-class leadership be built now. If such a leadership had been present during the April uprising, those protesters who were in the unions could have been mobilized to challenge the silence of the pro-capitalist bureaucrats. They could have insisted that racist police brutality is the unions’ business and demanded that the unions speak out and take action against it.
The LRP has long advocated that one-day city-wide general strikes be called by the unions, schools and community organizations, immediately in response to any police atrocity. Non-union workers and unemployed could be drawn into such a fight to “Shut the City Down.” Such actions, in contrast to the passive civil disobedience and consumer boycotts perennially favored by liberal leaders and perennially ignored by the ruling class, rely on the power of workers to shut off capitalist profits. The cops can’t be reformed, but they can be frightened into retreating from brutality, if their ruling class masters fear the consequences. “No justice, no peace, no profits!”
In cities like New York and Chicago, where unions organize large numbers of Black and Latino workers, our call has made immediate sense to many. In Cincinnati, where unions are weak and Black workers not yet mobilized as such, strike actions appear to be further off. But the tactics we are advocating could change that. Beginning with union members challenging their leaders to fight racism and the bosses’ attacks, this approach continues by organizing to replace the leaders who undermine the struggle. We point to the need for labor to lead, but it would be suicidal for the Black struggle not to openly attack the labor bureaucrats, expose their role and replace them.
As communist revolutionaries, we do not believe that racism and brutality can be reformed out of the cops. The cops do not exist to protect the masses of people from crime that is just a formal job description that covers up their real purpose, to defend the capitalist class from the masses’ struggles. Police brutality will only be ended for good when the working class rises up in revolution, overthrows the capitalists and smashes their armed state power in the course of establishing its own armed power. A workers’ state would base its power on armed workers’ militias, not on a mercenary band hired by exploiters. Workers’ armed power would protect our class and, in contrast to the capitalist cops, would actually prevent crimes against the people and fight racists.
But we can also force the cops to back off from their terror campaign temporarily, while our struggles build toward an assault on the entire system. According to Cincinnati FOP head Fangman, the cops are now afraid to do much “pro-active policing.” “They’re afraid of being fired or indicted. They’re afraid of incurring financial devastation because of legal bills.” Obviously he’s lying: the cops have no reason to fear the courts. But there is a grain of truth in his statement: the cops were terrified by the rebellion. And mass struggles that strike at the profits of the ruling class the cops serve can, even more, force their bosses to restrain them, for the moment.
Cincinnati’s state of emergency crackdown shows that when pacification occurs in the wake of an uprising, random acts of racist and anti-working class brutality by the police are replaced by systematic and comprehensive repression. Oppressed people should reject the reverends’ and politicians’ pleas for peaceful protest. Peace on the part of the oppressed means war by the oppressors. Rather they should follow the guidance of Malcolm X, and assert their right to self-defense by any means necessary! Malcolm in his day was so enraged that pacifist preachings by so-called civil rights leaders allowed unarmed Black people to be brutalized that he called such leaders “almost agents of the Ku Klux Klan.” (Malcolm X Speaks, p. 209.) In the course of building mass organizations of struggle, the working class will have to learn to arm and defend itself from attack.
The history of Black people’s struggles, like those of the oppressed everywhere, is rich with examples of organizing for self-defense. The clearest examples are from the movements of the 1950’s and 60’s. In spite of opposition from other leaders of his organization, NAACP leader Robert F. Williams in Monroe, North Carolina organized armed self-defense groups to protect the civil rights movement from the Klan and police including shooting up a motorcade of Klansmen and cops that was on its way to attack a Black leader. His actions led to a network of self-defense groups in many cities in the South, the Deacons for Defense. This example was taken forward in the North by Malcolm X, and later by the original Black Panther Party.
Our pamphlet, Armed Self-Defense and the Revolutionary Program, provides a history of these efforts, and discusses their strengths and weaknesses. Key to successful armed self-defense is that it is a part of a widespread struggle and based on the masses themselves, as opposed to elite “protectors.” Typically, self-defense units based on inherently atomized communities are short-lived. Lasting armed self-defense can only succeed when it is based on working-class self-discipline and organization.
Cincinnati’s rebellion shows the potential of mass struggles as well as the desperate need for communist revolutionary leadership. The protesters’ rejection of the current misleadership, and the attempts to move forward in spite of it, raised a key question: where will an alternative leadership come from? The politics expressed in the targets the protestors selected and the slogans they displayed demonstrated the creative potential of the masses and their urge to provide direction. But that potential would have stood a far better chance of being fulfilled if a nucleus of an alternative revolutionary leadership had already been developed beforehand.
Karl Marx pointed out that workers fit themselves for power when they stand up for themselves and engage in struggle. When the revolutionary party is yet too weak to have won the confidence and leadership of the rest of the working class, the masses in struggle begin to carve out their own paths. Marxists are confident that socialist revolution is the inherent and objective need of workers, a goal they discover in the course of confronting their class enemies. Socialism isn’t a private scheme of condescending saviors who bestow it upon workers. As Marx and Engels explained in the Communist Manifesto:
The Communists… have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.
They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement…. The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer.
They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.
This relationship between workers’ ongoing struggles and the ideas promoted by revolutionaries was the basis for Marx and Engels’ emphasis on the role of revolutionaries in leading their class. Revolutionary communists, are, they explained:
…on the one hand practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working class,… that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement.
Communists explain to our fellow workers the direction and lessons of the struggle and seek to prove our ideas on the basis of experience. In this way we expect to win the most politically advanced, class-conscious workers to the task of building the revolutionary party leadership our class needs. The revolutionary party will be built out of mass struggles and workers’ own growing political consciousness. The advanced revolutionary workers will gain the masses’ confidence as rebellions become revolutions.
To this end, layer by layer and over time, workers and youth who have been taught from birth to accept their place on the bottom of society will change their whole idea of who they are and what they are capable of. Many will learn to see themselves not as born followers but as political leaders. The empowering experience of struggle, and the example and encouragement of other revolutionary workers, will help this revolution in consciousness take place.
This experience must also overcome the elitist view of workers held by many self-proclaimed revolutionaries. The great Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin never embraced the cynical views of those who today finesse quotes from him to denigrate the role of workers in leading their struggles. But he did once argue that revolutionary political consciousness could not be developed by workers themselves but would have to be brought to the working class from outside, by intellectuals. The experience of the 1905 revolution in which the vanguard workers left the vast majority of intellectuals in the dust, taught Lenin that he was wrong. (See PR 23.)
The development of revolutionary consciousness is not a spontaneous occurrence an unconscious, silent response to its environment the way grass grows in response to light and water. No, it is a product of much thinking and debate. Over family dinners, workplace lunches and everywhere else, workers voice their opinions, argue issues and develop their ideas. Explosions of struggle like Cincinnati show how the class’s consciousness and struggles develop in the direction of a revolutionary class war against capitalism. It is the task of revolutionaries to consolidate the gains in consciousness made in struggle so that they are not lost but sharpened. They must see to it that the most advanced representatives of that consciousness are organized to lead struggles in the future.
The ideas of revolutionary Marxism are the concentration of the lessons of the entire history of the class struggle. As such, Marxists continue to learn and grow from the experience of every serious struggle. The pre-existing vanguard elements study the direction that the developing struggle is carving out and adjust, not their revolutionary strategy, but their tactics and agitation accordingly.
The far left’s treatment of the upsurge stems from the fact that, in one way or another, most of it is really composed of middle-class intellectuals who arrogantly expect to play the role of teachers to the working class, which they expect one day to assemble before them to learn their prescriptions and lessons.
The LRP’s founders formulated our basic ideas in response to the mass struggles of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s: America’s ghetto uprisings, the mass strikes which swept Western Europe and the anti-imperialist upheavals in the neo-colonial world. Those struggles dispelled the myth prevalent at the time, that the working class was nothing but a battering ram that “enlightened” intellectuals could wield against capitalism. Those struggles showed that the working class was the only revolutionary class in society and that it was trying to produce a revolutionary political leadership from its own ranks.
With the Los Angeles rebellion of 1992, we were presented with an old challenge taking a new form because of changes in the capitalist economy, “race relations,” declining industrial job opportunities and the reduced level of industrially-centered working-class struggle. How could the massive community explosions of people of color both achieve immediate successes and lead to a conscious and united workers’ struggle against capitalism?
We tactically urged advanced militants in Los Angeles and in future similar upheavals to raise demands that would be in the interests of all workers. We stressed the importance of spreading the idea of mass armed self-defense and the need to address the industrial workforce about the need to launch a general strike. Thus, in addition to our basic strategic demands that we raised within industry for implementation by advanced workers, we now saw that anti-police brutality community-based riots could ignite industrially-based working-class actions if revolutionaries were able to lead. (see Los Angeles Racism and Revolution, in PR 44, and Armed Self-Defense and the Revolutionary Program.)
Cincinnati’s rebellion confirmed and advanced our understanding of these past lessons. It has made us even more conscious of the importance of youth in the struggle. Even though by 1992 we had arrived at a community-to-industry tactical approach, the youth’s role in Cincinnati taught the importance of schools as an organizing center for community uprisings. We had long experience in raising economic and political demands during struggles in working-class colleges like the City University of New York; in the 1995 CUNY movement we campaigned for a student strike that would aim to trigger a municipal general strike. Cincinnati taught us to apply the tactic to high schools during urban community rebellions.
Above all, Cincinnati’s rebellion confirms the most urgent teaching of Marxism. As the outstanding revolutionary Leon Trotsky summed up in The Transitional Program:
The chief obstacle in the path of transforming the pre-revolutionary into a revolutionary state is the opportunist character of proletarian leadership…. The masses again and again enter the road of revolution. But each time they are blocked by their own conservative bureaucratic machines….
The turn is now to the proletariat, i.e., chiefly to its revolutionary vanguard. The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.
Today we are by no means in a pre-revolutionary situation, as the world was when Trotsky wrote in the late 1930’s. But the observation that every time the workers and poor attempt to launch struggles against capitalism’s attacks, they are confronted with pro-capitalist leaders who hold back and betray their struggles, is more true than ever. The task, as Trotsky explained, is for the vanguard, the most politically conscious and courageous workers and poor, to organize themselves into the beginnings of a revolutionary leadership that can lead the masses’ struggles to victory. If any of our readers, under the influence of the opportunist socialist groups, doubted Lenin and Trotsky’s strategy of forging a revolutionary leadership through fierce combat against the working class’s misleaders, we hope the Black working-class youth’s courageous denunciation of their sellout leaders in Cincinnati helps convince them of the genuinely revolutionary approach.
Cincinnati’s rebellion also confirms the disproportionate role of Black workers in the revolutionary vanguard, because of their experience gained through a history of struggle against oppression and super-exploitation. The LRP is now moving forward with a richer armory of tactics, and with an even fuller confidence in the role of the most oppressed layers of the proletariat in the future American socialist revolution.
We call on all revolutionary-minded workers and youth to join us in preparing for the fire next time so that it will blaze an even more brilliant trail across the country and serve as a beacon for the workers and oppressed of the world in their struggle against capitalism and its murderous racism.
The anger over Timothy Thomas’s cold-blooded murder was intensified by the conditions of Black life in Cincinnati. Cincinnati is home to some of America’s biggest multinational corporations: Procter & Gamble, Kroger’s Supermarkets, Federated Department Stores and Chiquita Brands. Ford and General Electric have plants there. But while these companies have recorded record profits in recent years, Cincinnati’s working class has been hit hard by mass layoffs and cuts in social services.
The racist rulers save the worst attacks for Black people. Mostly crammed into inner-city neighborhoods like Over-the-Rhine (where Thomas lived and died), West End, Avondale and Bond Hill, Black people in these neighborhoods endure mass unemployment (officially over 30% in Over-the-Rhine versus 4% for whites city-wide). The average annual income of $5,359 in Over-the-Rhine is just 37% of Cincinnati’s as a whole, and 95% of people in these neighborhoods live below the official poverty line.
Black children are forced into underfunded and crumbling schools in an almost totally segregated education system. Budget cuts to health care have spread suffering and death throughout the working classes—indicated, for example, by skyrocketing infant mortality rates, with an increase of 12% in 1998 alone.
As with every poor working-class neighborhood, atop these conditions of grinding exploitation and desperate poverty stands a brutal police force looking to keep the population permanently intimidated so they don’t even think about fighting against injustice. In a city that is 43% Black, the police force is 75% white, and it spares no opportunity to harass Black people. A recent study of “racial profiling” by Cincinnati police found that Black people are ticketed for almost 80% of all traffic citations, for example.
Over-the-Rhine has been particularly hit by such harassment. Located near downtown, it has been opened up to “business development” and gentrification. A strip of bars and restaurants as well as luxury homes on the hill overlooking the neighborhood have been developed. To encourage “business confidence,” a city ordinance declares the neighborhood a “Crime Exclusion Zone,” meaning that anyone brought up on drug or prostitution charges would be immediately exiled from the area and not allowed to return for 90 days, a year if convicted. Thus people wrongly charged were still banished from their neighborhood or jailed for entering it!
Five minutes from Kentucky, Cincinnati combines the worst of Northern big capitalist exploitation with the worst of Southern racist traditions. It is no coincidence that while the bourgeoisie built a playground of riverside development and modern sports and entertainment stadiums, for most of past decade, the Ku Klux Klan—protected by the police—has made a point of erecting a cross every Christmas season in Fountain Square, the heart of the city’s business district.
The openly Nazi-loving Marge Schott was too much of an embarrassment to the bourgeoisie and was forced to give up her ownership of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. But outright racism flourishes in positions of more practical importance. After Police Chief Streicher referred to a Black cop as a “nigger” in a training program, demands for his resignation were ignored.
Most outrageous is Keith Fangman, head Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). Following protests over Thomas’s murder, Fangman took pains to deny that the cops are, in his words, “a band of rogue Nazis roaming around Cincinnati hunting Black men"—a necessary denial, since the Cincinnati police are actually riddled with Klansmen, Nazis and other racist scum. During the rebellion on April 18, Fangman himself received the thanks of Richard Barrett, head of the Mississippi-based neo-Nazi Nationalist Movement, which advocates “Jews to Israel, Puerto Ricans to Puerto Rico, Negroes to Africa, Orientals to the Orient.” Barrett told the press that after a rebellion in Jackson, Mississippi, the cops adopted the slogan “you loot, we shoot.” He met with Fangman and other cops to congratulate them for their similarly hard line “against the looters and terrorists."