By Freedom Road Socialist Organization
On the night of June 17, at the Emanuel AME church, a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Storm Roof shot up a prayer meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. This act of racist violence resulted in the deaths of nine African American people, including a South Carolina State Senator who was the pastor of the church.
This church has significant meaning to the Black community in Charleston.
In 1822, Denmark Vesey, one of the Emanuel AME church’s founders, was captured by slave authorities for his planned slave revolt. Vesey and 36 Black slaves were subsequently hanged. The church was burned to the ground by local authorities and racist vigilantes. Laws were enacted to restrict all forms of slave assembly. Slave patrols where formed, which became the first organized source of policing of Black people. Terror attacks like this are what the Black community has historically had to suffer in the U.S.
This violent oppression has been most severe in the African American nation in the Black Belt South, which stretches from Maryland to eastern Texas. This area of the South had the highest concentration of slave laborers on plantations, who made up a majority of the population. The Black Belt South was where African slaves were forged into a distinct nation with a common language, economy and culture. It includes the area around Charleston, as well as the majority Black cities of Atlanta, Georgia and Birmingham, Alabama.
One can only remember the 16th Street Church bombing, which was an act of white supremacist terror occurring at an African American church in Birmingham, Alabama on Sept. 15, 1963. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted a minimum of 15 sticks of dynamite attached to a timing device beneath the front steps of the church. That attack killed four Black girls, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair.
The government has shown very little interest in suppressing the rise of many of these white supremacist groups and individuals. It’s a fact that many police departments in and near the Black Belt South are infected with members of racist terror groups like the KKK – a fact evident by a Fruitland Park cop near Orlando, Florida being forced to resign after it was uncovered that he was a member of the KKK. Let’s also not forget the three prison guards in Florida, who earlier this year were charged with a plot to murder a Black inmate. Those three former correctional officers were also members of the KKK. Police departments in the Black Belt South are modern day slave patrols for repressing African Americans.
In South Carolina, the Confederate flag still reigns over the capitol, a symbol of centuries of brutal oppression where African Americans have been and are now subjected to the harshest of conditions and state-sanctioned terror.
The oppression of the African American nation manifests itself in part as state violence in which police brutality represses Black people. White supremacist violence is part and parcel of national oppression, in which racists carry out the interests of the ruling class, in an attempt to terrorize the African American nation for the sake of maintaining the status quo. Racist vigilantes are supported by the most reactionary sector of the ruling class that wishes to halt the advances of the Black liberation movement, while the police act in the interests of the 1% who profit from the oppression of Black people. This is why police terror and racist violence are so intertwined.
A recent study showed that a Black man is killed by police or a racist vigilante every 26 hours in the U.S. Another recent study showed that Black women account for nearly 20% of of those unarmed African Americans killed by police officers in the past 15 years as well. The survival of the African American people lies in our ability to build a movement to fight back against this tyranny.
Just months ago, the masses of African Americans in Baltimore rebelled, demanding “Justice for Freddie Gray,” a young African American man murdered by Baltimore police. It was the masses of people hitting the streets, facing even the National Guard and riot police that got the six killer cops indicted for murder. The people of Ferguson rebelled last August against the police terror which claimed the life of young 18-year-old African American Mike Brown. Let’s not forget just a few years ago the murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of racist vigilante George Zimmerman, where mass outrage including activists shutting down the Sanford Police Department forced the state to press charges against Zimmerman. In early June, outrage in McKinney, Texas occurred when a cop was seen on video violently arresting a 14-year-old Black teen girl at a local swimming pool party. That video inspired thousands to hit the streets, forcing that officer to resign.
It was the famous Black leader Robert F. Williams who said, “We know that the racist is basically a coward, because he depends upon the supremacy of his violence, the supremacy of his numbers. He depends on the supremacy of his law to back him up in the evil he does. The only way to counteract this effectively is by maintaining our power to resist, and by creating our own deterrent. This may lead to some political repercussions, but we are not now concerned with politics. We are concerned with survival and where this leads is not our fault. Our need for defense grows out of the failure of constitutional law to protect our rights.”
Our best defense as a movement against national oppression is a great offense; a movement led by the African American working class to defeat national oppression of the African American nation. We need to build a movement and build organization to defeat national oppression and racist violence to win our liberation. It is clear with the rise of racist vigilantism and police repression that our movement against national oppression is growing. The enemy knows this and is pulling out all the stops to defeat our advances. But as Mao said, “Reactionaries are paper tigers.” Their days are numbered and they know it.