Justice for Victims of Police Violence! Hold the Cops Accountable!

The following statement was adopted by the Local Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Southern Maine on February 22, 2017.

Justice for Victims of Police Violence! Hold the Cops Accountable!

The Socialist Party of Southern Maine stands with the family and friends of Chance David Baker, and all fighters for racial justice and human rights, in mourning his senseless killing by an officer of the Portland Police Department on Saturday, February 18th. Earlier in the month, two young people, Kadhar Bailey and Ambroshia Fagre, were killed by a cop in Kennebec County. These killings in Maine share several features of the epidemic of police violence that plagues the United States as a whole.

IT’S THE SYSTEM: MAINE NOT IMMUNE

In July of last year, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling scolded Black Lives Matter protestors, saying, “We don’t have police brutality in Portland, and that’s a good thing….” It was a falsehood when he uttered it, and the lie is now exposed. Police brutality against working-class people, especially people of color, immigrants, the homeless, and the disabled, is nationwide and systemic. Maine is not immune, nor is Portland.

From 2000-2016, 63 people were killed by police in the State of Maine. This is a high number, considering our state’s low population. For example, in the same time period, police killed the same number of citizens in West Virginia, a state whose population is about 40% larger than ours. In most states, a disproportionate number of those killed are Black, Hispanic, or Native American. In Maine, of 63 killed, one each were Hispanic, Native American, and Black. (Source: FatalEncounters.org) Chance’s killing brings the last number up to two, out of a total, now, of 66. The overwhelmingly white composition of Maine’s population renders even these figures suspiciously high. The institutional racist bias of policing makes itself felt even with few people of color.

A map of police killings in Maine overlaid on poverty data shows that most killings take place in the cities, towns and townships with the highest poverty rates. Homeless people and people with insecure housing—like Chance—are far more likely to become victims of police violence. And while the possible role of mental illness in Chance’s killing has been disputed by those who knew him best, what is indisputable is that people with mental illness or other disabilities (such as hearing impairment, asthma, autism) are more likely to be victimized than the general population.

Police violence brings together intersecting forms of oppression into a lethal net: The marginalization of the ill, the disposability of the poor, the fear and hatred our power structures direct against people of color. When Sgt. Nicholas Goodman aimed his weapon, he targeted the body of one young man with the concentrated force of these deadly injustices. Sgt. Goodman pulled the trigger, but the capitalist system loaded his gun.

COP APOLOGISTS: “COMPLY OR DIE”

For some, it seems there is no act of violence that a police officer can commit for which they will not find an excuse, or at least “the benefit of the doubt.” This is written into law and is an attitude rampant among judges and prosecutors, with the result that of the few cops who are even indicted for brutalities, almost none are ever convicted. Mainstream media echo it, and elected officials propagandize in the name of “law and order.” Thus the excuses already given for Chance’s killing. “He was carrying a gun.” But Maine is an “open carry” state, where citizens have the right to hold weapons in public, and besides, it was pellet gun. “The cop couldn’t have known it was a pellet gun.” Isn’t he trained in firearms recognition? Did he take the time to find out? And again, what happened to “open carry?” “Chance was acting erratically.” That’s what the cop has said. Was there no de-escalation available to him, short of shooting him in the head?

It seems clear based on what we do know that Sgt. Goodman made a snap judgment, in which at least some of the factors likely to prejudice cops played a part—Chance’s skin color or appearance, the fact that the encounter took place in a relatively low-income part of Portland. Note also that he had gotten away with a previous killing in 2008, with no apparent damage to his career. He placed all the risk of the encounter on Chance, taking none on himself.

The excuses which cops and their apologists make add up to a “comply or die” mentality that is incompatible with democratic rights, including not only the right to bear arms, but also the rights of free speech and assembly. The last excuse to which they resort—“It’s a dangerous job and someone’s got to do it”—is the biggest lie of all. Police officer is not even one of the 10 deadliest jobs in America: loggers, fishermen, farmworkers, airline pilots, truck drivers, garbage collectors, and various types of construction workers are made by their bosses to take bigger risks with their lives than any cop. So much for the supposed danger—we’ll get to “someone’s got to do it.”

OUR IMMEDIATE DEMANDS

Systemic problems require systemic solutions, but people in communities subjected to police violence want measures taken to protect their lives now. The following immediate demands are supported by the Socialist Party of Southern Maine:

  • Revamp the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee (PCRS): The national platform of the Socialist Party USA calls for “the immediate establishment of completely independent and democratically elected police control and oversight councils, with full power to fire police and to arrest, detain, and indict police officers who brutalize or abuse people or who commit any violation of laws or civil rights and liberties.” In Portland, this would mean changing the PCRS to provide for election of Subcommittee members; inclusion of appointed members with full voting rights from populations most harmed by police violence (homeless people, people of color, immigrants); and giving PCRS full subpoena powers, the right to hire and fire cops, and the right to appoint special prosecutors with the power to indict police officers and issue warrants for their arrest.
  • Immediate purchase and implementation of body cameras: From their implementation in other cities, though, that the police cannot be trusted to handle this. Body cameras should be “always on” whenever an officer is on duty, with footage held on servers controlled by the PCRS.
  • De-escalation training for entire Portland Police Department, with emphasis on non-lethal force.
  • Integration of mental health support professionals with police.

The ACLU of Maine has also called for fast-tracking body cameras by PPD, and for de-escalation training. We join in these demands. We encourage all community organizations concerned about police violence to campaign for a revamped PCRS.

IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT POLICE

The police as an institution came into being fairly recently, as part of the rise of the capitalist system. The first city police departments in the United States were founded in the early 19th century. They had the roles of capturing fugitive slaves and returning them to their owners, and dispersing “disorders” (including strikes and demonstrations) by the poor. Racism and class discrimination reach back to the earliest roots of the police.

Police will outlive their usefulness when humans find a better way than capitalism to organize our lives. Socialism is not just “the government doing stuff for you.” The democratic socialism for which the Socialist Party stands means that we, the people, do for ourselves, by taking power in our workplaces and our communities.

“But what about crime?” First of all, the police don’t fight crime. Many of the worst crimes are never treated as crimes. The best way to get away with stealing is to own a bank; the best way to get away with murder is to be a cop or a general. Even among crimes that the law regards as such, the cops’ own statistics (Maine Department of Public Safety) show the total “clearance rate” in 2014, statewide, was only 34.8%. Because people in our communities do not trust the cops—nor should we—police are ineffective at their supposed job.

Many crimes come from the injustices of capitalism itself. Theft only makes sense if people are deprived of access to the goods they need. A sexist society breeds the misogynistic attitudes that make violence against women as rampant as it is. We do not pretend that socialism, in reducing the causes of crime, will totally eliminate it, though. That is why the national program of the Socialist Party USA includes the following demand: “We call for the ultimate replacement of the police with community residents trained in conflict resolution who live in and serve the community under community control.”

By fighting for justice for Chance David Baker and other victims today, we can build the confidence, organization, and trust in one another we need to make possible a world without police.

 

MacMillan, Baker leave Green Party and Join Socialists

The following press release was issued earlier today by Tom MacMillan and Seth Baker. MacMillan was the 2015 Maine Green Independent Party candidate for Mayor of Portland, and is now a graduate student at the University of Maine and the Eastern Maine organizer for the Socialist Party USA. Baker was the 2016 Maine Green Independent Party candidate for State Senate District 27, and is now the chair of the Socialist Party of Southern Maine. We encourage anyone considering following their example to review the principles of the Socialist Party USA.

Contact: Tom MacMillan (207-272-5833) or Seth Baker (207-313-4073)

MacMillan, Baker leave Green Party and Join Socialists Over Lack of Accountability

On Tuesday, January 17, prominent former Green Party candidates Tom MacMillan and Seth Baker announced their resignation as a members of the Maine Green Independent Party and their intent to change their voter registration political party to Socialist Party USA. MacMillan ran for mayor of Portland in 2015 as well as serving as three-time chair of the Portland Green Independent Committee and Baker was the sole candidate for the Maine Legislature of the Greens in 2016 when he ran for District 27 of the State Senate.

“The Maine Greens political support for local Democrats over the past several years has drastically reduced our confidence in that party. However, what has moved us to leave the Green Party is their lack of accountability for MGIP Secretary Ben Meiklejohn’s support for the inauguration of Donald Trump as President. Secretary Meiklejohn has proven to be a reactionary and unprincipled leader in the MGIP and their leadership is unwilling to address the situation. Therefore, in order to stay true to our beliefs in justice and equality as well to be in solidarity with the millions of people rightfully worried about the incoming Trump administration, we are leaving the Green Party and plan to build the Socialist Party in Maine as a counterweight to the corrupt economic and political system. Working people need their own political party and from now on, our time, energy and activism will be committed to the Socialist Party as the best way to move forward for Maine workers.”

Socialist Party USA is a democratic socialist party which has roots dating back to 1901.

Reference links

http://socialistparty-usa.net/

https://mainesocialists.org/

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Why a $15/Hour Minimum Wage?

It’s not enough. It’s nowhere near enough. Labor creates everything of value in the world. We who work should be able to dispose of our full product. Until we are in a position to eliminate capitalism entirely, the working class builds its strength by fighting the bosses for whatever we can get, whether it’s a strike against one employer leading to a collective bargaining agreement, or a demand for legislation to improve wages or conditions for all workers in a locality, state, or country.

If you agree with that already, you are a socialist, and should join us. But read on, because the capitalists have such efficient means of making their interests seem like “common sense” that most working people are not yet socialists. Some have even bought into the notion that a simple reform demand like $15/hour is “too much,” “too fast,” or “not right for here” in Maine. If you have people like that as friends, family, or co-workers—most of us do, so we bet you do, too—here are some facts and figures you can use to show why this is really the least we can demand.

Why $15 Instead of $12?

A coalition of labor unions and liberal lobbying groups put a citizen’s initiative on the ballot this November that will raise the minimum wage to $12/hour by 2020. We’ll vote for it, but it’s not enough. If you believe government inflation data, then the peak of the Federal minimum wage came in 1968, when it reached $1.60/hour, equivalent to $10.78 at today’s prices. If inflation is around 2.7% for the next four years, then $12 in 2020 would be equivalent of $1.60 in 1968. This is typical liberalism: taking pains to appear “reasonable,” very trusting in the government, and thinking working people should be grateful to have things as bad as their grandparents did.

There are several statistical tricks that the government uses to make the official measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index, appear lower than the prices that take a bite out of workers’ paychecks. The first is the “weighting” of housing costs, which determines how heavily actual rents are counted, versus a fictional concept of “owner’s equivalent rent.” If young people are living stacked on top of each other in small apartments or moving back in with their parents, that supposedly counteracts the double-digit rent increases and the way that purchasing costs for houses have skyrocketed. A wage that could buy a house in 1968 might get you a room of your own on Craigslist today.

The other trick is called “hedonic indexing.” Improvements in the quality of consumer goods are factored in as reductions in prices, even when no such reduction has taken place in the real world. We can console ourselves that we have smartphones with which to browse through the listings of the apartments we cannot afford rather than having to make do with newspaper classified ads to shop for a house.

The demand for $15/hour wasn’t concocted by well-meaning professionals fiddling with government data. It was raised by workers, especially fast food workers, who have been struggling day to day and know what things really cost. But in case you are talking to someone who has fallen into the elitist habit of trusting people with advanced degrees more, there’s a website out of MIT called the Living Wage Calculator. According to their calculations, in a family with two adults and two children, with both adults working full-time and year-round, a living wage in the Portland metropolitan area would be $15.17/hour. If you believe the minimum wage should be a living wage, then $15/hour is not too much, but a little too little, a good start.

Socialize Medicine, Child Care, Elder Care

Why are we using figures for families with children? Not everyone has children. But the wages the capitalists pay us are payment for the commodity we provide them called our labor-power, our ability to work. They are paying us not just to come in today, but to be able to come in tomorrow, and for them to be able to replace us with a younger worker when we’re too worn out to keep coming in. If working-class people can’t raise our kids in decent conditions, who will keep working for the capitalists? Individual, short-sighted bosses—and that describes most of them—may say that’s “not my problem.” But it’s a problem for the working class as a whole.

The United States, unlike most affluent countries (and even some not-so-affluent ones), leaves paying for the care of children, elders, and the sick mostly to individual families. Looking at the Living Wage Calculator again, we see that the living wage for a single adult working full-time is $11.11/hour. But if that same person is a single parent, it more than doubles, to $23.23. Someone has to watch that kid while the parent is working full time, and that’s not cheap. Nor should it be, because if we can’t do it ourselves, people who are responsible for the care of another want it to be done by someone is well-trained and not struggling to survive themselves. If we shared these costs, with socialized medicine, child care facilities, and elder care resources, they would not be so burdensome for individual families, and there wouldn’t be such big differences in living wages between different types of families. We can and should fight for those resources from the capitalists, and we will be able to make them a reality in a socialist society. Until then, we continue the fight for living wages for all.

Training Wage, Tip Credit, Other Boss Shit

We can already hear the bosses’ whines:

Why should I pay so much for someone who’s just starting out? Can’t we have a lower training wage? No. Society already invested plenty of resources in educating people. You can’t expect someone fresh off the street to already know all the details of your business. That person still has bills to pay while they learn the ropes. Maybe if you treated workers better, you wouldn’t have such high turnover.

Then how about a lower wage for young people? They don’t have responsibilities. Bull. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, using the Federal government’s notoriously low-bar definition of poverty, 180,000 people in Maine are poor, 14% of the population. Half of those poor people are between the ages of 25 and 64, and 27% are children. Low wages are not just for teenagers working for spending money. And many working-class young people are working for more than just spending money: They are helping to support their families, or have kids of their own, or are trying to save up money for higher education and its spiraling costs.

The restaurant industry needs a tip credit to survive! The restaurant industry has taken advantage of Americans’ individual generosity to get away with paying practically nothing to its employees. The Federal minimum wage for tipped employees is still a mere $2.13/hour, the same as 20 years ago! In Maine, it’s only slightly better, at $3.75. Working for tips opens workers up to all sorts of abuses: demands that waitstaff “tip out” to managers and kitchen staff, putting up with harassment from customers in fear of not getting tips, or tolerating managerial harassment in order to not get stuck with a bad station. Restaurants in countries where tipping is not customary, like Germany, have found ways to survive and deliver respectful service while paying living wages to their waitstaff. During the Spanish Civil War, when workers in Barcelona took over the restaurants, they banned tipping and all the toadying behavior that went with it. If an industry requires its workers to bow and scrape to survive, maybe it deserves to die.

June 2016

New Name, Same Struggle

The following motion has been passed by the members of the Socialist Caucus of Maine:

“To dissolve the Socialist Caucus of Maine through the following steps:
“1. The Treasurer shall offer individual refunds of dues already paid, making clear to any member who elects not to accept the refund that the funds shall be retained as a Local Organizing Fund by the Socialist Party of Southern Maine (local of the SPUSA in formation);
“2. The website mainesocialists.org, e-mail address mainesocialists@gmail.com, and the Twitter account @mainesocialists shall pass to the custody of the Socialist Party of Southern Maine;
“3. The name ‘Socialist Caucus,’ along with the Facebook page under that name, shall be offered for the use of those former members of the Socialist Caucus who wish to continue attempting to reform the Maine Green Independent Party and the Green Party of the United States;
“4. Each socialist organization represented in the Socialist Caucus of Maine (SPUSA, Socialist Alternative, ISO, and organized socialists in the MGIP adopting the name ‘Socialist Caucus’) shall be invited to select one representative to serve on an ongoing ‘Socialist Coordinating Committee’ with the purpose of organizing joint action in areas of principled agreement.
“5. The text of this motion shall be posted in full on the website mainesocialists.org.”

The Socialist Party of Southern Maine will soon be applying to the SPUSA for official recognition as a local. Please watch this site for further details.

Fight for $15

The Struggle for Jobs for All at a Living Wage

Join Seth Baker, candidate for Maine State Senate District 27, for a discussion of how and why working people across the nation have been fighting for real living wages, and strategies to take that struggle forward in our state.

USM, Glickman Library, Room 520

314 Forest Avenue, Portland

Sunday, June 26th, 2:30 p.m.

Sponsored by:

The Committee to Elect Seth Baker

The Socialist Party of Southern Maine

The Socialist Caucus of Maine