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
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
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
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
“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
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.
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.
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