assata shakur

We Must Abolish White Supremacy

“Is it racist to be proud of your own heritage? Is it racist to want to keep your own heritage pure? Racist is when you hate somebody so much that you want to destroy them.” Those are the words of Roan Garcia-Quintana, a national board member of the Council of Conservative Citizens, which the Institution for Research & Education on Human Rights describes as a “white nationalist” organization. I think most people would agree that it’s not racist to be proud of your own heritage. When you begin advocating for keeping heritage pure, and your “heritage” has consistently oppressed people for centuries, you begin to seem like a racist.

If we take his questions and their implications at face value, Garcia-Quintana may not want to “destroy” other races, but the Ku Klux Klan explicitly does, and they are recruiting, as documented in “The Fourth Wave of the Ku Klux Klan,” a three-part video series published by Vice. Steven Howard, the Imperial Wizard of the North Mississippi White Knights, who appears also to be active in the National Socialist Movement, describes his White Knights as “Christian extremists” and draws parallels between his group and “Islamic extremists”. “They’re fighting a holy war and so are we,” Howard states in his interview with Vice. The series highlights the violent, explicitly white supremacist ideology of the Mississippi chapter as well as its tactic of recruiting veterans traumatized by war.

As “The Fourth Wave” suggests, writing off the KKK as a ridiculous relic of southern American culture may be foolhardy. On April 14, 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller was arrested in Kansas City after shooting at five and killing three people. Miller, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, was instrumental in two white supremacist organizations, the Carolina KKK and the White Patriot Party.

Miller’s history with the criminal justice system highlights questions of sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system. The Sentencing Project has found “excessive imprisonment and racial disparities throughout the criminal justice system.” The New Jim Crow highlights the racially biased nature of the War on Drugs and how its policies, including mandatory minimum sentences of five or ten years for federal drug convictions, disproportionately target African-Americans. The point to be made here is that the mandatory minimum sentence of five years for first-time non-violent drug offenders contrasts starkly against the six-month sentence that Miller served for founding the White Patriot Party, his second hate group.

This illustrates more than misplaced priorities; seen in the larger context of the American criminal justice system, the disparity between Miller’s sentence and non-violent drug offenders illustrates white supremacy at work. Miller, an avowed white supremacist, later took a plea deal for “plotting to obtain stolen military weapons, and for planning robberies and the assassination of SPLC founder Morris Dees,” and served only three years of a five-year sentence. Contrast this to the systemic injustice of African-Americans being coerced into plea bargains, sometimes for crimes they did not commit. According to Human Rights Watch, “Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain,” and “97 percent of them decide to plead guilty,” since “drug defendants rarely prevail at trial.” Human Rights Watch cites the case of Sandra Avery, one among hundreds reviewed, who refused a plea bargain. At trial, she was found guilty of “possessing 50 grams of crack with intent to deliver” and sentenced to life without parole. Writing about Avery’s case, Jamie Fellner described it as a “misuse of power.” The European court of human rights has ruled that life without parole constitutes “inhuman and degrading treatment“.

Beyond the disparity of white supremacist terror contrasted to non-violent drug offenses, the recent plea deal taken by Marissa Alexander is worth examining. She rejected the offered plea bargain of three years’ imprisonment and maintained her right to defend her life against her estranged husband, invoking Florida’s stand-your-ground law — the same law that Florida police cited as the reason for not initially charging George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin. In consequence of rejecting the plea bargain, State Prosecutor Angela Corey sought a 20 year sentence, “in part due to the state’s mandatory sentencing laws.” The jury deliberated for 12 minutes and convicted Alexander on three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon with no intent to harm. Alexander appealed that conviction and the guilty verdict was overturned. She was then presented with an amplification of the plea deal: she could accept three years of detention, including time served, plus an additional two years of probation while wearing a surveillance monitor, or face charges again, with a mandatory sentence this time of 60 years. As Michelle Alexander has documented in The New Jim Crow, coercive plea deals such as this are routinely used by prosecutors against non-violent drug offenders.

The case of Assata Shakur is also worth review in considering the role of white supremacy in the routine operation of the criminal justice system. Shakur was unsuccessfully prosecuted nine times before she was convicted of a murder charge and six assault charges in the state of New Jersey in 1977. She was sentenced to life in prison.

Angela Davis has written incisively about how the “racist state of America persists“, stating that police killings of African-Americans “represent an unbroken stream of racist violence, both official and extra-legal, from slave patrols and the Ku Klux Klan, to contemporary profiling practices and present-day vigilantes.” Like Davis, Assata Shakur was active in the 1970s in the struggle for black liberation. Like Davis, she was targeted by government agencies and imprisoned. Davis gained her release from prison through the legal system; Shakur escaped to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum.

Some may point to Shakur’s escape, which involved Black Liberation Army members holding prison guards hostage, and cite violence. Those who do are missing the larger context of the violence of America. There was a reason that Malcolm X called for freedom and justice “by any means necessary.” That reason was white supremacy.

Some may point out that in his speech, Malcolm X called for “black nationalism”, and make a fallacious argument that we must condemn black nationalism if we condemn white nationalism. But again, context; oppression is exercised by groups with power over groups without power. When a society’s history, legal system, and culture oppress a group, morality compels us to condemn the oppression; hence, white nationalism needs to be condemned. When an oppressed people struggle against oppression, morality compels us to support the struggle. Black nationalism, like other aspects of black unrest, can perhaps best be viewed as a response against oppression.

The current wave of black unrest bears striking similarities to the mass movement of the 1960s and ’70s. Many white people feel threatened by black unrest. They must realize that black unrest is a product of white supremacy, and the only way to calm black unrest is to abolish white supremacy. This is the task before America.

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There’s Something Happenin Here

Marcus Garvey

The United States of America was founded on racism  and does not practice the values that it preaches. Writers are writing that. Racism infects all of us. Preachers are preaching and confessing that. Bearing witness.

The city of Chicago spent $20 million defending John Burge and his cohort; Burge is the police officer responsible for the torture of over 100 African-Americans between the years of 1972 and 1991. That’s nineteen years. Twenty-three years later, the United Nations Committee Against Torture has “called on the U.S. Government to provide redress to the Burge torture survivors”. The Ordinance seeking Reparations for the Chicago Torture Survivors is gaining the support of more alderpeople today as a result of on-the-ground and social media action publicizing this atrocity. This is one example of a shift in consciousness and intent that is occurring throughout the nation, being led by grassroots organizations. This movement, like the Occupy movement before it, is an incarnation of direct democracy. While direct democracy tactics may have limits on the national stage, we are witnessing a groundswell of activity that intends to challenge those limits.

Speaking of her time with the Black Panther Party, Assata Shakur has said: “Criticism and self-criticism were not encouraged.” Let me note that she left the party for this reason; however, I bring out the quote to apply it to mainstream America, not the Black Panthers. In America, despite our rhetoric of freedom of speech, individualism, and justice, criticism and self-criticism are not cultural values. This needs to change.

In the climate of state-sanctioned torture, the United States government has branded Assata Shakur a terrorist. And in the face of that, black youth are proudly wearing hoodies proclaiming ASSATA TAUGHT ME. There will be various interpretations of this choice of clothing. It appears to me an act of courage against overwhelming forces. Inside a nation where Assata Shakur has noted, “It was obvious I didn’t have one chance in a million of receiving any kind of justice” due to the color of her skin and the history of terror directed at people with that color of skin, and due to the biases of the legal system; in a nation which was founded and endures on white supremacy, these young activists are standing up, proclaiming themselves ready to “get free”, and not backing down. America owes them an immense debt for that.

But we don’t need to be running up any more moral debts in America. We are beyond morally bankrupt, and it is beyond time for those of us with white privilege and moral conscience to act as well. As Deray McKesson has stated, “Everybody has a role to play in the fight for social justice.”