U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement departments recently announced that the Black Lives Matter movement was under surveillance for possible “terrorist” activity coinciding with the 14th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
A Sept. 14 BBC article noted, “Conservative American politicians and television pundits have increased their attacks on the Black Lives Matter movement. In the aftermath of the killing of police officers, [it] has been mentioned as a contributing factor.”
However, the BLM movement is not a centralized organization. There is an “official website,” but many groups and demonstrators utilize the name. Many white activists have joined BLM demonstrations, although some actions are restricted to African Americans.
The state is attempting to criminalize the youth-directed efforts aiming at seeking justice for African-American victims of racist police and vigilante violence. The BLM movement is a legitimate and rational response to seemingly intensifying state terror. The history of African Americans and other oppressed nations in North America and worldwide confirms the strategies aimed at gaining national liberation. These movements uphold the right to self-determination and use tactics including civil disobedience and mass rebellion.
Since Trayvon Martin’s 2012 killing by vigilante George Zimmerman, the anti-racist movement has grown. Increasing intolerance of police violence against African Americans has swept throughout the U.S. Right after Zimmerman’s acquittal in July 2013, demonstrations sprang up from New York to California.
The BLM movement, beginning as a hashtag and slogan then, gained even more credence when police killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9, 2014. The people of Ferguson responded swiftly to Brown’s killing by white police officer Darren Wilson. A rebellion erupted, along with continual mass demonstrations demanding Wilson’s arrest and prosecution.
In solidarity with Ferguson protesters, actions were held around the U.S. and Canada, supported by solidarity protests in Britain. Brown’s killing and the countrywide mass protests further exposed the U.S. as a racist state.
Despite the election of an African- American president, the governmental structures of racist capitalism impeded the realization of justice. Even though the Department of Justice investigated Brown’s killing and the activities of St. Louis County police departments and courts — prompting a scathing attack on their actions — no federal civil rights charges were filed against Wilson or key players in the law enforcement, municipal governance and judicial systems.
There is no connection between the burgeoning struggle against racism and police brutality and the targeted groups allegedly responsible for the Sept. 11 attack. This is also true of other domestic and international activities, conveniently labeled “Islamic extremist.”
These false allegations occur while some corporate media accuse the BLM of fueling unrest and prompting the killing of police officers. Reactionary Bill O’Reilly of Fox News threatens to put BLM out of business for these reasons.
Anti-racist and progressive organizations nationwide reject these allegations. These spurious claims are designed to create an atmosphere where anti-racist activists can be criminalized and politically attacked.
Even the Sept. 3 New York Times editorial defended BLM from such egregious accusations: “They are not asserting that black lives are more precious than white lives. They are underlining an indisputable fact — that the lives of black citizens in this country historically have not mattered, and have been discounted and devalued.”
History of struggle and repression
The United States was born in violence — by forcefully removing Indigenous peoples from the land and by the “legalized” enslavement and exploitation of Africans brutally taken from their continent to work in the sugar, tobacco and cotton fields of slave masters from 1619 to 1865.
Even after the Civil War and the ostensible abolition of slavery, Reconstruction’s failure portended the future status of African people. Lynching, Jim Crow racism, forced penal labor, disenfranchisement and social segregation were entrenched into the 1960s.
It took mass demonstrations, urban rebellions and court challenges to overturn U.S. apartheid, now recurring through increased killings by police and the legal system’s failure to hold police officers and racist vigilantes accountable.
During the 1960s, some African- American organizations arose which advocated taking up arms to defend their communities against the capitalist state’s racist violence.
The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party sent shockwaves through the ruling class. The FBI under J. Edgar Hoover spent millions of dollars to disrupt and neutralize African-American liberation organizations and fighters.
A similar scenario is developing today, but under somewhat different circumstances. From the 1950s through the 1970s, when Cointelpro carried out operations against the African-American movement, there was a broad mass movement among youth, workers and farmers. It encompassed elements from educational, religious, industrial, agricultural and prison sectors of the population.
Inspired by the African-American struggle, other nationally oppressed groups developed their own organizations, including the Young Lords, built by Puerto Rican activists; the Brown Berets, made up of Chicanos/as; and the American Indian Movement. They fought against oppression and for self-determination. Additionally, lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer communities, women, environmentalists, people with disabilities, students and seniors mobilized. These organizations formed alliances to fight for common objectives: ending discrimination and demanding full equality.
The Peace and Freedom Party formed an alliance with the Black Panther Party in 1968, running its Minister of Information Eldridge Cleaver for president. In July 1969, a National Conference for a United Front against Fascism was convened in Oakland, Calif., where an anti-repression coalition was advanced.
On May Day 1970, militant actions shut down Yale University in New Haven, Conn., protesting murder trials of BPP leaders Bobby Seale and Erika Huggins who faced possible execution. Yale President Kingman Brewster Jr. said a week earlier, “I am skeptical of the ability of black revolutionaries to achieve a fair trial anywhere in the United States.” (New York Times, April 25, 1970)
Later that year, the BPP initiated the Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention to build a broad front of progressive and anti-capitalist forces to transform the racist system.
However, forces of the capitalist state targeted the movement, criminalizing and disrupting it. Some activists were killed, railroaded into prison or driven into exile or underground.
It is important today for people involved in anti-racist and anti-war activities and for organizations like labor unions to build strategic and tactical alliances to stop the repressive state from isolating and attacking anti-racist activists. The world capitalist system is more unstable now than it was at any other time in the post-World War II period. Therefore a mass movement seeking fundamental change could shake the system at its foundation.
The recent movements for immigrant rights, Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter reflect the developing response to the failure of global capitalism to provide a stable future for the majority of people in the U.S. and internationally. The capitalist class will do whatever it can to retain its capacity to exploit the masses. A united struggle against the system can push that back.