The Killing of Harith Augustus Shows How Police Violence and Capitalism Are Inextricably Linked

On Chicago police, economic violence and the Black resistance movement.

Aislinn Pulley July 24, 2018

Demonstrators march through the South Shore neighborhood protesting the shooting death of 37-year-old Harith Augustus on July 16, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Despite nation­al and local reforms,” the endem­ic issue of police killings per­sists across the Unit­ed States. In Chica­go, the lat­est wave of police mur­ders result­ed in three deaths with­in the span of weeks. The Chica­go Police Depart­ment (CPD) mur­dered Mau­rice Granton Jr. on June 6. On July 3, Chica­go Police mur­dered Ter­rell Eason. And then on July 14, Chica­go Police mur­dered a 37-year-old father and beloved com­mu­ni­ty bar­ber, Harith Snoop” Augustus.

Policing in the United States directly grew from slave patrols in the South and rich people’s guards in the North.

It is impos­si­ble to under­stand police killings with­out look­ing at insti­tu­tion­al racism. In Chica­go, four out five peo­ple shot by police are Black. Black unem­ploy­ment in the state of Illi­nois is the high­est in the nation, and in some neigh­bor­hoods in Chica­go, unem­ploy­ment is as high as 50 per­cent. Between 1999 and 2012, white Chicagoans saw their incomes increase 33 per­cent to an aver­age income of over $100,000. How­ev­er, Black Chicagoans have seen our incomes decrease by 4 per­cent to an aver­age house­hold income of $44,000. With­in this envi­ron­ment, May­or Rahm Emanuel has over­seen the largest pub­lic school clos­ing in U.S. his­to­ry, as well as the clos­ing of half of the City’s men­tal health cen­ters — both of which over­whelm­ing­ly impact­ed Black neigh­bor­hoods. These neolib­er­al poli­cies have dec­i­mat­ed the city’s already frag­ile men­tal health­care sys­tem and pro­duced dis­as­trous aca­d­e­m­ic results for stu­dents. These fac­tors are part of the rea­son why Chica­go is the most seg­re­gat­ed city in the Unit­ed States.

Despite warn­ings from com­mu­ni­ty groups and teach­ers that fore­told the dire out­come of gut­ting com­mu­ni­ty resources and insti­tu­tions, the pre­vail­ing neolib­er­al ide­ol­o­gy held that pub­lic insti­tu­tions must be run as busi­ness­es, with prof­it mar­gins set as the barom­e­ter of suc­cess. This log­ic is a con­se­quence of neolib­er­al cap­i­tal­ist belief sys­tem that has divest­ed from the pub­lic com­mons nation­wide, in order to pri­va­tize edu­ca­tion and health­care — and destroy unions. This politic pro­duces dev­as­tat­ing results for the major­i­ty who do not ben­e­fit from the immense prof­it that is pro­duced for the tiny few.

With­in this con­text, we sit­u­ate the fact that Chicago’s largest bud­get item is polic­ing, at over $4 mil­lion a day and over $1.5 bil­lion a year. Chica­go has the most police per 1,000 peo­ple in the coun­try. Polic­ing is capitalism’s answer to the eco­nom­ic and social cri­sis cre­at­ed by extreme divest­ment and gut­ting of ser­vices imposed by the pre­vail­ing neolib­er­al polit­i­cal order.

Polic­ing in the Unit­ed States grew from slave patrols in the South and rich people’s guards in the North. Their func­tion remains the same: to adhere to the dic­tates of the rul­ing class and pro­tect their wealth. Dur­ing slav­ery, wealth was pro­duced by human bondage in the South, and prop­er­ty in the North. This sys­tem of armed wealth pro­tec­tion aimed to pre­vent upris­ings. Today, law enforce­ment is used to per­pe­trate union bust­ing, harass­ment, sur­veil­lance and the ter­ror­iz­ing of pop­u­la­tions con­sid­ered hos­tile to the rul­ing forces. This means that laws are nev­er equi­tably applied to those of us who are con­sid­ered a threat.

We must reject the notion that mere­ly hav­ing a gun makes Harith — or any­one — a crim­i­nal.” Illi­nois is a con­cealed-car­ry state, and Harith had a Firearm Own­ers Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (FOID) card in his wal­let, which the police ini­tial­ly denied. As of this writ­ing, the police state they did not find a con­cealed car­ry per­mit, which is dif­fer­ent from a FOID card. How­ev­er this does not mean that Harith did not have one, nor does it mean that he deserved to die. Harith had a right to walk down the street and not be harassed and stopped by Chica­go Police. But because Harith was a Black man in Chicago’s South Side, his mere exis­tence was deemed crim­i­nal and sub­ject to state repres­sion. His Sec­ond Amend­ment rights are ignored by main­stream cov­er­age of his mur­der — and are absent from any pro­pa­gan­da by the Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion. To the pre­vail­ing social and polit­i­cal order, Harith did not have a right to have a gun and there­fore deserved to be shot and killed.

This log­ic, how­ev­er, was not applied to Dylann Roof, a white suprema­cist who com­mit­ted a mass shoot­ing in a Black church and was dri­ven to Burg­er King by the police once they had him in cus­tody. Nor was it applied to the white suprema­cist mili­tia in Ore­gon that held a stand­off with local law enforce­ment. Harith’s work­ing-class Black per­son­hood rel­e­gat­ed him non-human and non-cit­i­zen under the pre­vail­ing white suprema­cist log­ic of neolib­er­al capitalism. 

Pro­test­ers who imme­di­ate­ly descend­ed on the scene after Harith was mur­dered were met with police vio­lence, under­scor­ing the hos­til­i­ty with which law enforce­ment is taught to view this demo­graph­ic. This treat­ment stands in stark con­trast to the nation­al warm wel­come afford­ed to the Park­land stu­dents who have orga­nized against the mass shoot­ing they expe­ri­enced in Flori­da, as well as the police-escort­ed protest” in Chica­go against gun vio­lence,” which occurred exact­ly one week pri­or to Harith’s mur­der by the CPD. The Park­land stu­dents are over­all whiter and rich­er and there­fore legit­imized humans and cit­i­zens — an iden­ti­ty nev­er afford­ed to poor Black people.

Over the past sev­er­al days, protests have per­sist­ed, con­demn­ing Rahm Emanuel’s com­plic­i­ty in the deaths of Harith, Mau­rice, Ter­rell and the count­less oth­ers mur­dered by Chica­go Police. Con­nec­tions have also been made tying the destruc­tion of pub­lic insti­tu­tions in our com­mu­ni­ties to the pre­pon­der­ance of police. Peo­ple have called for Rahm’s res­ig­na­tion, charges against the offi­cers who bru­tal­ized pro­test­ers, charges against the offer(s) who killed Harith and a release of all of the audio and video footage. As an orga­niz­er with Black Lives Mat­ter — Chica­go, I echo and sup­port these demands. Our orga­ni­za­tion is also call­ing for a rig­or­ous con­dem­na­tion of polic­ing, as well the entire sys­tem of cap­i­tal­ism which neces­si­tates the inequal­i­ty and pover­ty imposed on our com­mu­ni­ties in order to pro­duce immense wealth at our expense for the very few. Last year, bil­lion­aires earned enough to end pover­ty sev­en times over.

Chica­go, a Demo­c­ra­t­ic strong­hold, should cor­rect any illu­sion that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, as one half of the bi-par­ty rul­ing sys­tem, will pro­duce any sig­nif­i­cant liv­able alter­na­tives for Black peo­ple. In fact, the oppo­site is true. Under Demo­c­ra­t­ic may­or after may­or, for­mer police com­man­der Jon Burge over­saw the tor­ture of more than 110 Black men and boys; Chair­man Fred Hamp­ton and Deputy Mark Clark were mur­dered through a con­spir­a­cy between the FBI, CPD and state’s attor­ney; and Emanuel hid the video evi­dence of the mur­der of Laquan McDon­ald in order to win may­oral re-election. 

Faced with increas­ing­ly unliv­able con­di­tions, our movement’s pol­i­tics must reflect the accu­rate real­i­ty that we are liv­ing under. We must be bold­er in our analy­sis and fiercer in our demands. To end police killings, we must end polic­ing as we know it, which neces­si­tates the upend­ing of capitalism.

Ais­linn Pul­ley is an orga­niz­er with Black Lives Mat­ter Chica­go. She was an orga­niz­er with We Charge Geno­cide, a found­ing mem­ber of Insight Arts, a cul­tur­al non-prof­it that used art for social change, and a mem­ber of the per­for­mance ensem­ble, End of the Lad­der. She is a founder of the young women’s per­for­mance ensem­ble ded­i­cat­ed to end­ing sex­u­al assault, Vis­i­bil­i­ty Now, as well as the founder and cre­ator of urban youth mag­a­zine, Under­ground Philosophy.
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