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New York City

Black self-determination under attack

Published Jul 12, 2007 11:21 PM

The struggle of Black communities against oppression continues in New York City, following the Bedford Stuyvesant community’s renaming of a Brooklyn neighborhood street for Sonny Abubadika Carson, a staunch activist against racism and police brutality.

Carson was a founding member of the December 12th Movement, a Brooklyn-based Black organization whose central purpose is self-determination for Black and other nationally oppressed people.

Carson, who died at age 66 in December 2002, was internationally known for his organizing, from fighting for community control of schools in the 1960s to founding Black Men against Crack in the 1980s. His life was profiled in the 1974 movie, “The Education of Sonny Carson.”

The most recent struggle is against New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s political attacks on Viola Plummer. Plummer is a leader of the December 12th Movement and chief of staff for City Councilmember Charles Barron, a former Black Panther who has remained a freedom fighter.

Plummer and December 12th led the community effort to honor Carson through a street name campaign. Thousands of residents endorsed the effort through signing petitions. The local Community Board voted 39 to one in favor of this effort. The board forwarded the petitions to their City Councilmember Albert Vann, who approved the motion and submitted it to the full New York City Council.

But in an unprecedented action, Quinn removed Carson’s name from a group of 50 submitted for street changes. Quinn accused Carson of being “divisive” and “anti-white.”

This argument, also known as “reverse discrimination,” was popularized by white reactionaries such as Allan Bakke in his 1978 Supreme Court case, and is frequently used to attack Black people’s demands for self-determination and against ongoing racism.

Quinn, who is the first woman and first openly gay person to be elected speaker of the Council, is rumored to be jockeying to run for mayor of New York City.

On May 30, Vann put forward a resolution on behalf of the thousands in Bedford-Stuyvesant who wanted Carson honored as one of their great heroes.

But the resolution was defeated—with 24 of the 25 white council members, including Quinn, voting “no” to Black self-determination. A majority of members of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus voted in favor, with some abstaining or absent.

Plummer, Barron, and other members of the African American community called the vote undeniably racist.

In a strong act of will the Bedford-Stuyvesant community persisted, and renamed Gates Avenue for Carson in a vibrant street action attended by hundreds of people on June 16 in the midst of torrential rain.

Since that action the New York Post and the New York Daily News have targeted Plummer and Barron with racist attacks. A web site “frequented by police officers,” according to NY1 News, has posted death threats especially against Barron.

And Quinn has ratcheted up her campaign against Black self-determination. During the last week in June, Quinn sent Plummer a letter threatening to fire her from her position as Barron’s chief of staff, unless Plummer agreed to her own suspension. According to a July 10 report from NY1, Quinn actually sent that letter to Plummer.

Plummer has replied by filing a lawsuit against Quinn in U.S. District Court. Plummer’s lawyer, Roger Wareham, also a December 12th Movement member, charged Quinn with abuse of power, racial discrimination, violation of the First Amendment and violation of due process.

Imani Henry, International Action Center organizer and long-time Brooklyn resident, emphasized the importance of the street renaming for the entire Bedford-Stuyvesant community: “The street naming is an important step forward in recognizing not only the leadership of Sonny Carson, but also the importance of Bed-Stuy as the Black cultural and political hub that it has been historically. The community has been an activist and anti-war center for generations.

“And it is also known for having a strong lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community of longtime residents, Caribbean, African, and African-American families who have lived there and called it home. The denial of the street naming for Carson is an act of divide and conquer. The New York City Council, and in particular Christine Quinn, should be aware of this.”

Fighting division and racism

In an April 23 press statement at the beginning of the street-naming campaign, the December 12th Movement said the council “cannot hide that there continue to be two New Yorks—one Black, one white: A Black community without rights; a community where over 50 percent of Black men are unemployed, over 50 percent of young Blacks drop out of high school and a young unarmed Black man can get shot 50 times the night before his wedding.”

The shooting death of Sean Bell, an unarmed 23-year-old African American, last Nov. 25, was a flagrant example of police racism in New York City. Multiple protests against this outrage brought tens of thousands of people, mostly African American, into the streets during the early months of 2007. The December 12th Movement was key to organizing these protests and others against other police killings, such as that of 19-year-old Timur Person last Dec. 12.

Along with Quinn’s legal and political attack on Plummer, there have been other recent racist attacks by police against activists in the city. On June 21 civil rights attorney Michael Tarif Warren and his partner, attorney Evelyn Warren, were brutally beaten by police and arrested for verbally protesting a police assault on a handcuffed Latino teenager.

Tarif Warren has handled many cases of police brutality and misconduct against the Black community. He was the lawyer who defended the five young Black teenagers who were falsely convicted, and ultimately exonerated, of raping the white woman known as the “Central Park Jogger.” He also supports the freedom of death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal.

The beating and arrests of the Warrens came as activists were also protesting that New York police used racist profiling to arrest hundreds of young Latin@s during the Puerto Rican Day parade earlier in June.

In an interview with Workers World, Larry Holmes, a national leader of Workers World Party, emphasized the importance of seeing the New York City struggle as part of a larger broader fight:

“The racist witch hunt aimed at Viola Plummer, along with the recent arrests of Michael Tarif Warren and Evelyn Warren, has national implications in the larger context of the struggle against national oppression and for self-determination. Outrages continue against Black activists and the Black community as a whole, as in the case of the police shootings of Sean Bell and the wholesale war on Black youth and youth of color, not only in New York City, but around the country.

“We must fight state terrorism against oppressed people. We must fight at home for Black people and all oppressed nationalities, for immigrant workers, prisoners, the youth being beaten in the streets and in their schools, for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, for women. We must fight against the war at home, and against the U.S. war abroad, the war on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine. We must fight for the liberation movements throughout the world and in the U.S. We must fight the division and racism that will hurt us all if we do not do battle.”

Minnie Bruce Pratt is a white Southern anti-racist lesbian activist. She attended the Sonny Abubadika Carson street naming on June 16.