There is a new context where a mass of white people is also participating in these protests
Interview with James Petras
June 1, 2020
(Translation from Spanish by Michael K. Smith)
Hermán Salina: Profesor, what is different about these protests set off by a single case of police brutality? What differentiates this episode from all the previous ones?
Petras: Well, it has a lot of similarity with the 1960s and 1970s because of the act of violence against African Americans, Latin Americans, but what one has to analyze is the new context where a large mass of whites is participating also in these protests. And second, that the police can't eliminate them, can't diminish the protest, it has no capacity to control them. Notice that there are 40 cities under curfew, the National Guard is active in 15 cities, it's a militarization of the important city centers.
And the other thing we should take into account, at this moment there are more than 25% unemployed, (so) this protest is not occurring just because of racism and the killing of African American George Floyd. That was the detonator, but the important thing is that we have more than 30 million Americans unemployed, they have no economic future, there are millions of young people that have finished high school and university and they can't find work. These economic and social factors together with the problem of racism, is a detonator that didn't exist before with other demonstrations.
I think that the hot summer in the next span of time - June, July, August - is going to have enormous consequences for the country. In addition, we have a very reactionary president who has said that vicious dogs should attack protesters. They had to hide President Trump in a bunker beneath the White House because protesters from the demonstrations occurring across the street tried to enter in order to make demands of Trump. They had to call special security forces to hide and protect him.
So now we have a super-reactionary president, a shattered economy, a widening pandemic, assassination of African Americans, and police out of control of civil authorities. Now there are many voices that are going to try to make the police more palatable, but the police here have a power independent of the (judicial) authorities. Only when there is a case like in Minneapolis where on video a police officer has his knee on the neck of an African American do they have to face a judicial process.
HS: Can a change in the law be expected? That there be heavier sanctions or controls on the police, or is it the case that the only thing the protests do is accelerate the legal process a little bit against this particular officer?
Petras: I think we are in a phase where with so many demonstrations, protests, and outbreaks of violence, that it's difficult to go back to normal and continue without holding the police responsible for the killing of civilians.
I think we're going to pass through a phase now of self-accusation by the police, by government officials. They're going to condemn the abuses that occur and now they are going to call for an investigation committee. They're going to discover that the police need more supervision and control, that a new code of conduct needs to be put forth.
All that is going to happen now in the face of a great confrontation with more than 100 cities in protest, that's a very unusual thing. We could say that this context is going to demand that government take some action.
Besides the extreme right of Trump, who demands more repression, more dogs to attack demonstrators, I think that in this context we are going to have a prolonged process of meetings, of discussions, of forming a commission that can prepare a document of 100 or 1000 pages about what is happening and what has happened in this conflict.
They are going to recruit some African Americans in order to improve the government's image, recruit more black police, plan a form of conduct more in accord with the law, but over time it's going to come to nothing just like in the past. But before, if we study the history, in other years of protest against racism, the same police repression took place, the same commissions were formed, but nothing changed because the structure of power is against African Americans, Latin Americans and others.
So, I think that if there aren't alterations in the economy, politics, and society, nothing will change, we're only going to have a bit of turbulence, but no answer to our needs will be given.
Right now nearly 50% of African Americans under 35 have no work. So first, we have to confront the problem of coronavirus, where African Americans and Latinos are suffering more cases. Next we have the problem of unemployment, which is extremely high among those same groups. There are structural problems, housing, health, education, employment, all that together creates situations of extraordinary urgency.
HS: Are there other items you would like to touch on at the end of the column for this week, (Mr.) Petras?
Petras: Yes, we could go down to Latin America, to Argentina, supposedly it's near an agreement with its creditors, but they still haven't signed. And if they sign an agreement, President Fernandez is apparently going to capitulate on some important points for the Argentinians. That means that they have to transfer millions of dollars to bankers and creditors.
So, seeing that in Argentina problems are multiplying with the coronavirus, with unemployment, and now with the agreement with the creditors, that could also provoke uprisings in that country like those currently in the United States, or like those in 2001 (in Argentina).
And finally we have Hong Kong, where Washington wanted to exaggerate the importance of those opposed to China. And those opponents are losing influence when the bankers and the businessmen, the multinational companies, have to choose between (investment) opportunities with China and Trump's rhetoric: they are going massively in favor of China. In a little while Hong Kong is going to be a Chinese city integral to Beijing's policy.
HS: And what can we say about Brazil, where the political crisis continues and everything points to ever greater isolation of President Bolsonaro? Can this be accelerating the end of his administration, (Mr.) Petras?
Well, the number of deaths is accelerating, yes, the numbers affected by the coronavirus are accelerating, discontent is growing. I think Bolsonaro will stay in the government only until the end of this year, he can't maintain himself, he can't endure longer.
In summary, we could say that this summer is going to be very hot politically in the United States. These days are only the opening towards a year of great violence, many conflicts, and great polarization between Trump and the neo-fascists against a mass of African Americans, unemployed whites, Hispanics and others