Charles E. Cobb, Jr: Guns kept people in the black freedom movement alive

“I’m very much concerned with how the history of the southern freedom movement or civil rights movement is portrayed. And, I’m very conscious of the gaps in the history, and one important gap in the history, in the portrayal of the movement, is the role of guns in the movement. I worked in the South, I lived with families in the South. There was never a family I stayed with that didn’t have a gun. I know from personal experience and the experiences of others, that guns kept people alive, kept communities safe and all you have to do to understand this is simply think of black people as human beings and they’re gonna respond to terrorism the way anybody else would. …The southern freedom movement has become so defined, the narrative of the movement has become so defined by non-violence that anything presented outside that narrative framework really isn’t paid that much attention to. I like the quip that Julian Bond made…that really the way the public understands the civil rights movement can be boiled down to one sentence: Rosa sat down, Martin stood up, then the white folks saw the light and saved the day.”

–Charles E. Cobb Jr., “This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible”

Antonio Martin: So what if he was armed?

And what if he was armed? Given the history of police violence towards young black men, should it not be considered an act of self-defense for him to pull a weapon when an *armed* cop walks up to him? I’m sick of people centering this on whether he pulled a weapon or not. The fact is, the *armed* cop approached him first. That is, the cop is the one that initiated the armed confrontation.

Antonio Martin's surveillance cam footage clip
Newly Released Videos in Berkeley Antonio Martin Shooting Death are Cropped, Removing Crucial Evidence

 

Malcolm X: Speech to SNCC Civil Rights Workers (January 1, 1965)

“One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn how to do is see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself. Then you can come to an intelligent decision for yourself. But if you form the habit of going by what you hear others say about someone, or going by what others think about someone, instead of going and searching that thing out for yourself and seeing for yourself, you’ll be walking west when you think you’re going east, and you’ll be walking east when you think you’re going west. So this generation, especially of our people, have a burden upon themselves, more so than at any other time in history. The most important thing we can learn how to do today is think for ourselves.

It’s good to keep wide-open ears and listen to what everybody else has to say, but when you come to make a decision, you have to weigh all of what you’ve heard on its own, and place it where it belongs, and then come to a decision for yourself. You’ll never regret it. But if you form the habit of taking what someone else says about a thing without checking it out for yourself, you’ll find that other people will have you hating your own friends and loving your enemies. This is one of the things that our people are beginning to learn today—that it is very important to think out a situation for yourself. If you don’t do it, then you’ll always be maneuvered into actually—You’ll never fight your enemies, but you will find yourself fighting your own self.

I think our people in this country are the best examples of that. Because many of us want to be nonviolent. We talk very loudly, you know, about being nonviolent. Here in Harlem, where there are probably more black people concentrated than any place else in the world, some talk that nonviolent talk too. And when they stop talking about how nonviolent they are, we find that they aren’t nonviolent with each other. At Harlem Hospital, you can go out here on Friday night and find black people who claim they’re nonviolent. But you see them going in there all cut up and shot up and busted up where they got violent with each other.

So my experience has been that in many instances where you find Negroes always talking about being nonviolent, they’re not nonviolent with each other, and they’re not loving with each other, or patient with each other, or forgiving with each other. Usually, when they say they’re nonviolent, they mean they’re nonviolent with somebody else. I think you understand what I mean. They are nonviolent with the enemy. A person can come to your home, and if he’s white and he wants to heap some kind of brutality upon you, you’re nonviolent. Or he can come put a rope around your neck, you’re nonviolent. Or he can come to take your father out and put a rope around his neck, you’re nonviolent. But now if another Negro just stomps his foot, you’ll rumble with him in a minute. Which shows you there’s an inconsistency there.

So I myself would go for nonviolence if it was consistent, if it was intelligent, if everybody was going to be nonviolent, and if we were going to be nonviolent all the time. I’d say, okay, let’s get with it, we’ll all be nonviolent. But I don’t go along—and I’m just telling you how I think—I don’t go along with any kind of nonviolence unless everybody’s going to be nonviolent. If they make the Ku Klux Klan nonviolent, I’ll be nonviolent. If they make the White Citizens’ Council nonviolent, I’ll be nonviolent. But as long as you’ve got somebody else not being nonviolent, I don’t want anybody coming to me talking any kind of nonviolent talk. I don’t think it is fair to tell our people to be nonviolent unless someone is out there making the Klan and the Citizens’ Council and these other groups also be nonviolent.

Now I’m not criticizing those here who are nonviolent. I think everybody should do it the way they feel is best, and I congratulate anybody who can be nonviolent in the face of all that kind of action that I read about in that part of the world. But I don’t think that in 1965 you will find the upcoming generation of our people, especially those who have been doing some thinking, who will go along with any form of nonviolence unless nonviolence is going to be practiced all the way around.”

“In America, Young Black Men Have No Right to Life”

St. Louis County Police tactical officers fire tear gas in downtown Ferguson on Monday as crowds gathered to express their anger at the teenage student's death at the hands of police“There are lots of pictures coming out of Ferguson, Missouri, a two-thirds Black town just outside St. Louis, where a policeman shot down Michael Brown, this past weekend. The 18 year-old’s last words before dying were: “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting.” The cop kept shooting anyway. The pictures show Brown’s body in the middle of the street, where it was left for four hours in the baking sun.

Other pictures show Brown’s grief-stricken mother, and his stepfather carrying a sign that said, “Ferguson police just executed my unarmed son.” There are plenty of images from the two nights of disturbances in the town, where there isn’t really much to loot. However, I think the most poignant picture shows young Blacks blocking the street in front of the Ferguson police department, their upraised arms signaling surrender, just as young Michael did before the cop administered the coup de grace.

How different that picture would have been in 1966, when young Black people in California responded to murderous police violence with armed patrols of their own, under the newly formed Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The Party declared that Black people had just as much right to defend themselves as white people, including the right to defend themselves from the police, who act as an occupying army. Which is, of course, a self-evident truth.

Black Panthers bringing guns to capitol to protest gun control
On May 2, 1967, Black Panthers amassed at the Capitol in Sacramento brandishing guns to protest a bill before an Assembly committee restricting the carrying of arms in public. Self-defense was a key part of the Panthers’ agenda. This was an early action, a year after their founding. (source)

The Black Panther Party’s vigorous assertion of the right to self-defense prompted the U.S. government to double-down on its monopoly on the use of force – first, with a massive campaign of assassination and false imprisonment against Black radical leadership, many of whom still remain behind bars. Then, as the decade of the Seventies began, mass Black incarceration became the universal policy of the United States – north, south, east and west. A new class of Black politicians filled the void that police repression had created. These were men and women who were quite amenable to corporate rule and made comfortable homes in the Democratic Party. Even as the prison population rose to nine times 1970 levels, the Black Misleadership Class blissfully celebrated its own upward mobility.

Meanwhile, the Mass Incarceration State consumed millions of Black lives and consigned most Black communities to Constitution-free zones, where young Blacks could be arrested for nothing, or shot down in the streets with impunity, as was Michael Brown, and as happens to other young Blacks every day of the year.

The people who rule America no longer need Black labor. What they do need is a class that is forcibly anchored at the bottom of U.S. society, who can be scapegoated for whatever is wrong with America, and whose very presence serves as an excuse for massive urban dislocation and the steady erosion of civil liberties. Michael Brown and countless others have died in order to keep America deeply stratified. That’s the only use the United States has for young Black men.”

— Glen Ford (via Black Agenda Report)