At 7:45 PM on May 7th, 2020, Greg and Travis McMichael were arrested for their filmed execution of Ahmaud Arbery. It’s important to note the possibility that in the 54 days after Ahmaud’s murder on February 23rd that it was not impassioned celebrities, hashtags, academics, or the so-called "rule-of-law" that was responsible for Ahmaud's killers being taken in to custody, but the events that took place 24 hours earlier, where hundreds of protestors marched, not to the likely well-worn steps of city hall, but directly to the doorstep of those who were responsible.
It was perhaps this development, of a community fed up with the dog-and-pony-show of elected officials for similar lynchings around the country, that gave said officials pause – at the possibility, however faint, of aggrieved communities not just stopping at house calls – that compelled them to no longer delay the gears of justice.
Or perhaps as the saying goes, correlation is not causation. I’m sure it's also a coincidence that the recent discourse in some self-identified leftist circles turned to debates on the legitimacy of Black nationalism, despite such leftists' complete inefficacy in abetting the savagery of White nationalism since Emancipation, in the wake of Malcolm X’s and Uncle Ho’s birthdays no less.
It is in this context that the political theatre of Glynn county authorities, as well as the recent home invasion-style police murder of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, the death of Regis Korchinski Paquet, as well as the recent murders of George Floyd and Tony McDade by police, that cases such as the murders of Botham Jean and Atatiana Jefferson, among many more, echo.
Less than a year ago, Atatiana was given all of two seconds to comply with police commands before Fort Worth police killed her, without the police identifying themselves as such, nor even the courtesy of a knock on the door.
Similarly, the righteous anger of the community boiled over, not only at the pattern of contempt and indifference long shown by bourgeois officials, but also at the double standard with how welfare checks were handled in the primarily-white upper-class neighborhoods of Fort Worth versus the primarily-Black zip code – home to the lowest life expectancy in Texas with 40% of its people in poverty – that Atatiana lived. It was consolation, however little, of the community’s recognition of the need for an institution that was not the police to handle intervention in a potential crisis.
It is, however, probably not a coincidence that this disparity between the two communities mirrors what has been documented in St. Louis county home to Ferguson, where those of the mostly-white western St. Louis County can expect to live well into their eighties, while those in parts of the mostly-black north St. Louis County can only expect to live into their sixties. Rather it speaks to a durability of inequality consistent with racial boundaries dating back to slavery that can be observed in maps of redlining, to maps of disproportionate amputations faced by Blacks in America, which also mirror those of the population of the enslaved.
This is the context in which some leftists have elected to browbeat Black people about Black nationalism, as Black people on the whole find themselves entrapped in systems that, to paraphrase Malcolm X, doesn’t recognize our human rights, much less civil rights. So quick to assume that they are allies at all to even consider what being an ally to Black liberation constitutes.
Here, Malcolm is also instructive in associating Black nationalism with the pursuit of a concept of humanity worth aspiring to, and is part and parcel with self-determination – the ability to determine politically the appropriate course of action towards collective objectives. As Malcolm put it bluntly:
“We need allies who are going to help us achieve victory, not allies who are going to tell us to be nonviolent. If a white man wants to be your ally, what does he think of John Brown? You know what John Brown did? He went to war. He was a white man who went to war against white people to help free the slaves. . . . If we want some white allies, we need the kind John Brown was, or we don’t need any.”
~ Malcolm X, “Speech at the second rally of the Organization for Afro-American Unity,” July 5, 1964
(By Any Means Necessary, Pathfinder Press, 1970, p.81)
Intracommunally, the ancestor implores us, “As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods or tactics or strategy to reach the common objective," armed resistance being one such method.
In contrast to typical ahistorical narratives of Black revolutionaries (particularly of the Civil Rights era), Charles E. Cobb Jr. makes clear in This Non-Violent Stuff Will Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible:
“. . . armed self-defense was a necessary aspect of the civil rights movement . . . wielding weapons, especially firearms, let both participants in nonviolent struggle and their sympathizers protect themselves and others under terrorist attack for their civil rights activities. This willingness to use deadly force ensured the survival not only of countless brave men and women but also the freedom of the struggle itself.”
This contrast can be seen in how local officials dragged their feet in the Botham Jean case, as opposed to how quickly Atatiana Jefferson’s killer was arrested and charged within 24 hours after people occupied the streets armed. Or as Robert F. Williams suggests, “nonviolence is no repellent for a sadist.” Atatiana Jefferson’s death had only been the most recent injustice imposed on the community. Only 8 days earlier, Joshua Brown had been suspiciously murdered after his courageous testimony as the primary witness against ex-Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, when, seemingly, the whole local criminal justice system openly put its fingers on the scale, resulting in Guyger’s paltry sentence for her murder of Botham Jean. Black faces in high places in local bourgeois government, including the initial DA on the case, the chief of police, the sheriff’s office, the Texas Rangers, and the judge, had all failed to be a hoped-for salve on this wound, as the system was also slow to fire or arrest Guyger and even invoked the Castle doctrine for her case, despite the murder not taking place in Guyger’s home.
The narrative of Robert F. Williams’ own life serves as but one example of Black independent political movement of previous generations deploying both nonviolent and legal efforts as well as armed self-defense tactics. It was Ida B. Wells who said, “When the white man knows he runs as great a risk of biting the dust every time his Afro-American victim does, he would have a greater respect for Afro-American life.” W.E.B. Du Bois, often associated with nonviolence, wrote regarding white mobs rampaging through Atlanta, “I bought a Winchester double-barreled shotgun and two dozen rounds of shells filled with buckshot. If a white mob had stepped on the campus where I live I would without hesitation have sprayed their guts over the grass.” We should proudly look to emulate the immense courage of the ancestors who were conscious that, as Williams says, the Black revolutionary doesn’t necessarily “introduce violence into a racist social system – the violence is already there and has always been there. It is precisely this unchallenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetuate itself.”
We should also look to the courage of our martyrs like Atatiana who went to the window to rightfully defend her home, instead of her 8-year old nephew. We should look to the courage of Joshua Brown firmly refuting the police and media’s persistent attempts to make Amber Guyger the victim. We must be weary of cooling mechanisms that seek to contain righteous anger.
We must push back against the dichotomy of “good protesters” and bad looters, as this struggle is more than a fight against police brutality – it is about Black vulnerability. Ultimately as such, it requires that we reject the colonizers' conflation of humanity with (and emulation of) the Western (white) man in every aspect of our communities. However, whatever tactics are deployed in this struggle for Black liberation (whether it be tearing shit up or burning shit down) must be done under the discretion of the Black masses. Though, both liberal and conservative bourgeois politicians and media outlets who are unifying in praise of peaceful protest while broadly attributing looting and property damage to "outside agitators" should at least make clear what they find more accommodating, if not indicating the effectiveness of each.
What semblance of justice we have won in the fight against state-sponsored violence (white nationalism), such as the imprisonment of the likes of officers Roy Oliver, Amber Guyger, and Jason Van Dyke (for the murder of Laquan McDonald in Chicago), has only been accomplished by the impassioned mobilization of the people.
- Robert F. Williams, "Black Power," and the Roots of the African American Freedom Struggle (Timothy B. Tyson)
- The Black Revolution (Malcolm X)
- Who’s Man is This? Black Radical Ecology and the Anthropogenic Question (K.D. Wilson)
- The Black American Amputation Epidemic (Lizzie Presser)