The System Is Not Broken, It Is Working As Designed

A statement of the National Political Committee of Democratic Socialists of America

Democratic Socialists of America mourns with the family, friends, Teamsters local 320, and community of Philando Castile, or ‘Mr. Phil” as he was known at the school where he worked. He was beloved by the children that he served with care, thoughtfulness, and decency.

We mourn also with the family of Charleena Lyles, who was murdered in front of her children by the police in Seattle after she called them to report a burglary.

We mourn also with the family and community of Nabra Hosanen, a 17-year-old girl, who was brutally murdered in the last 10 days of Ramadan, outside a mosque in Northern Virginia, in what appears to be an act of Islamophobic vigilante violence. An injury to one is an injury to all, and we are heartbroken.

Democratic Socialists of America condemns the continued failure of the criminal justice system to value the lives of African Americans and other marginalized communities targeted for repression. Yet given the origins of the institutions of the police and our legal system as vehicles of labor control, the enforcement of enslavement and repression and exploitation of working class communities, the criminal justice system cannot truly be characterized as failing in its function. While it falls short of our expectations and our vision of justice, it is working as intended and as originally designed.

For justice to flourish and healing to begin, there must be true, democratic, community control of the police and of the justice system. There must also be democratic control of the economy, and deep solidarity among working class communities across difference and divisions. DSA has endorsed the Movement for Black Lives’ policy platform, the Vision for Black Lives. Concrete policy solutions abound to be raised by those who are galvanized in this moment to join together and fight.

While the acquittal of Mr. Castile’s murderer occurred under Donald Trump’s America, and will be reinforced by Jeff Session’s Justice Department, it also took place in a state governed predominantly by Democrats, in a metropolitan area widely considered to be a progressive hotbed. Charleena Lyles was murdered in Seattle, another supposedly progressive stronghold.

This state of affairs only serves to reinforce that justice will not be won solely through the election of members of any dominant party. Republicans and Democrats alike have failed African American communities. Minor adjustments to the current arrangement of power are insufficient — fundamental transformation of the relations of power will be required.

DSA remains committed to working as allies of the Movement for Black Lives and others fighting for Black liberation and racial justice, in part because a divided working class is an already defeated working class, and self-determination is a prerequisite for solidarity.

We believe that people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds must understand their role in a white supremacist, capitalist system and build solidarity across their differences. But white progressives have a particular responsibility to organize within their social networks, communities and existing relationships and to combat nativist and racist political movements that justify current police practices as necessary to protect “blue lives.”

A truly democratic, community-controlled justice system should promote peace and healing, not arbitrary, self-perpetuating violence. While the problems of crime and public safety that face working-class communities must be seriously addressed, more of the same in terms of repressive policing is not the answer.

A truly democratic, community-controlled justice system would be accountable to marginalized and working-class communities, and it would be life-affirming rather than punitive and criminalizing. There can be no economic justice and worker power without true democratic community control of the public institutions entrusted to uphold justice.

The United States can only achieve democratic forms of peacekeeping and dispute resolution if we comprehend the historic role of the police in reinforcing forms of racial and class domination. Armed and professional police forces arose in the United States to capture fugitive slaves and to repress striking workers. Thus, the struggle for a democratic justice system is integrally tied to the fight for racial, gender and class equality. Mass incarceration and repressive policing cannot redress the absence of economic and educational opportunities that beset working-class communities across the country.

For black communities in particular, it is crucial to set up a program of reparations for slavery. Nothing short of radical democratic change can alter a justice system that works to perpetuate American apartheid, a racial caste system and the control of labor by corporate America.