The necessity of self-defense is not a theoretical principle
September 24, 2020 2:07 PM   Subscribe

The Case for Black American Self-Defense. "Pacifist injunctions obliterate the history of, and need for, armed protection. The Black tradition of organized, armed self-defense should be regarded as one of the many tools in the repertoire of modern protest movements."

By teacher and author Rob Cameron.
posted by showbiz_liz (25 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I rtfa. This would be immediate slaughter in the streets, with blacks vs. cops and militias. There was that youtube clip ages ago where a black man was filmed walking down the sidewalk with a legal long gun. The first LEO on scene had his pistol out and pointed in 0.4 seconds.

Do I maybe 'thought experiment' agree. Maybe. But a lot of those racist shits are raised to think an armed black man is the most dangerous creature on the planet.

So, nope. But, no reason not to talk about it. I never knew that full history of armed self-defense, only stories of Black Panthers and SNCC. So thanks. (cis/het/white/m)
posted by j_curiouser at 3:05 PM on September 24, 2020 [2 favorites]

For a longer discussion, the books "Negroes With Guns" by Robert Williams and "This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed" by Charles Cobb are both excellent.
posted by switchbladenaif at 3:36 PM on September 24, 2020 [11 favorites]

The 2nd Amendment applies to some more than others, as we have found out. Dog help us if it gets to the point where non-whites find that there is no alternative than armed self defense. Local governments have had 50 years of militarizing their police forces and have little sympathy for armed non-whites.
posted by 2N2222 at 4:14 PM on September 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

As a white person with the privilege to claim that non-violence can accomplish anything (because I am not a target of systematic violence (yet), and my voice is regularly heard), I sometimes feel as if the only thing I can or should contribute here is my silent discomfort. Ultimately it's not for me to say how the victims of systematic violence respond to that violence or where their tipping point should be.

There is no risk that a race war will begin because it began over 300 years ago and continues today. If the victims of that one-sided war resolve to fight back, they can't be blamed for the violence any more than the Jews of Warsaw can.

But still... In my heart I do not want this.
posted by klanawa at 5:01 PM on September 24, 2020 [7 favorites]

The fact that white people of conscience would never join in the described community self-defense with their Black and brown neighbors is why 45 counts on nothing happening if he refuses to cede power if he loses.

Read about John Brown sometime... W.E.B Du Bois wrote a great history/biography.

Aw, who am I kidding.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:47 PM on September 24, 2020 [21 favorites]

Boy this is tough to read. The author is 100% correct: civil rights will not progress in America until law enforcement is actually afraid that the next extrajudicial murder they commit will result in real, tangible losses to their own people. Bluntly, the anti-police protests aren't going to amount to much so long as the protesters are all nonviolent. But this cannot be yet another responsibility that we pile onto people of color, because we also know how that story ends: even if the Black Panthers are well-organized and heavily-armed and march on the state house, all it does is get Ronnie goddamn Reagan to call for gun control in California, with the NRA backing him.

We're living in the midst of a death cult, so let's steer into the skid. Nothing will change until we have a credible leftist gun culture. As of today, that means a better-organized Socialist Rifle Association, which can flex its muscle in a handful of deep-red places. But see above: this cannot be a movement that is centered around Black people arming themselves, or the feds will simply kill everyone involved. That means it's incumbent on us white folk to join up, organize, and signal-boost, so that second-amendment absolutism (which the Supreme Court will clearly never stop, and the GOP will treat as sacrosanct) becomes a double-edged sword.
posted by Mayor West at 6:50 PM on September 24, 2020 [30 favorites]

it's incumbent on us white folk to join up, organize, and signal-boost


If you are interested in buying a gun in California, mefimail or email me and I will explain the process. It's kind of a pain in the ass, and will realistically take 3 weeks or so, but it's not actually difficult to do. Shotguns, rifles, pistols, AR-15s, they're all legal and available, with varying levels of hassle/modifications. It's actually ammo that's hardest to get right now.

And if you already own a gun but are new to shooting, I'd be happy to go to the range with you. The Richmond Rod and Gun Club is open and is pretty strict wrt masks. Santa Clara Municipal Range is also open by appointment and is staffed by county park & rec employees, not stereotypical gun fans. Going to a shooting range can be intimidating if you've never been, but I'll be happy to show you around. It's fun!
posted by ryanrs at 7:35 PM on September 24, 2020 [14 favorites]

Okay, sure. Insofar as everyone has a right to bear arms, black people absolutely are on sure legal footing in theory. But if you aren’t bearing those arms in defense of white supremacy, you will be violently dealt with.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 9:54 PM on September 24, 2020 [6 favorites]

Related to second-amendment concerns, AbsurdistWords recast the US Declaration of Independence in common current words (Medium blog post) with minor edits to call out present-day tyrannical acts. Tweet Intro reads:
"So I translated the Declaration of Independence into plain English. Ironically, Most people don't recognize it. But many feel it 'speaks to them'.
"A number of people have remarked that it's really staggering to see all of Trump's bad acts itemized and listed together. What's amazing is that I just copied all the original charges against the King. Barely had to adjust anything."

In a time of foreign meddling, I'm outside the USA and not a USA citizen. I have a stupid question: does being an ally to people disenfranchised for the entire history of the USA mean picking up a gun, enlisting in a 'well regulated militia' (supposing that to be necessary to the security of a free state*) and going toe-to-toe with people who would bully you out of life and liberty?

*: whatever it used to mean there's something recognisable and relevant to today in those words.
posted by k3ninho at 11:32 PM on September 24, 2020 [11 favorites]

Nothing will change until we have a credible leftist gun culture.

This made me near tears this morning. More guns in America only means more deaths. More accidents. More suicides. Do not want.
posted by tiny frying pan at 5:39 AM on September 25, 2020 [14 favorites]

I'm torn. On the one hand I am with tiny frying pan and I am absolutely certain we need stricter gun control in America. I'm not in favor of entirely banning civilian gun ownership but I am in favor of banning almost all civilian gun carrying, and much stricter controls on who gets to own a gun and the types permitted.

But as of yesterday my partner, who is Black, had us sign up for a course in basic handgun use and bought a gun safe. She said that if the MAGA crowd was a armed she wanted us to be too.

And I can't say she's wrong. More gun ownership sucks. But if only the right wing is armed then only they are taken seriously.

Because sadly I think Mayor West is entirely correct. Unless and until the police fear violent reprisal they will continue murdering without a care in the world.

Look at the world of difference between the way the police treated the Bundys and the way they treated Breonna Taylor. I'm sure a huge part of the difference was that the Bundys were white, but another huge part is that they were armed and all the "militias" were also armed.

Basically you can either be a threat, in which case they take you seriously and treat you like a person, or you can be harmless in which case they feel free to abuse and murder you.

The cops don't kill Black men because they see them as a threat. Quite the opposite. They kill Black men because they want to kill and know Black men ARE NOT at threat so they can be killed with impunity.

What's the worst that happens? A few protests where they get to indulge their sadism while racking up overtime pay? That's not a downside. They see our protests as a combination payday and sick sadistic thrill, they certainly don't see the protests as a threat or a dangerous thing.

Look at the way the heavily armed anti-mask crowd got to literally brandish wrappings at and scream in the faces of the police. Again, sure white privilege was part of it. But another part was that the cops had to take them seriously because they see them as a threat and knew using the tactics they use against BLM might get some cops shot.

There are only two kinds of people as far as the pigs are concerned: armed people who are treated with respect, and victims.

The problem, beyond just the problem with more guns in general, is that without being in the white supremacist pro cop side the cops won't respond well to armament among the protesters. I do fear that the sudden arrival of guns among the protesters will inspire a surge of violence from the police, and and violence in response willbe used as an excuse for a real crackdown.

So I don't know and I'm torn and sad and see nothing ahead but darkness and violence.
posted by sotonohito at 6:30 AM on September 25, 2020 [7 favorites]

I do know this. White privilege is very real and if there are too be guns carried at the protests then it is incumbent on the white allies to do the gun carrying and to stay away from the main group and far away from Black protesters.

I'm not sure howthat would work in specific. Maybe a vanguard of armed white allies?

Because guns among the Black protesters are guaranteed to result in shots fired by the police.
posted by sotonohito at 6:34 AM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

I used to be strongly in support of gun control. But I increasingly think it would only be used to disarm the poor and minorities in practice. And we might need them in the near future.
posted by The Manwich Horror at 8:18 AM on September 25, 2020 [3 favorites]

As some know, I am a strong supporter of the SRA. Our membership has ballooned over the last six months for good reason. I used to believe in gun control too, but America doesn't allow for that. The cops can't wield violence in our names as they wield violence against us. I want nothing less than the total disarmament and disbandment of the police system. That means I have to believe when worse comes to worse, we protect ourselves.

That means that white folks have to join their black and brown siblings in keeping everyone safe. That means straight folks have to join their LGBTQ+ siblings in keeping everyone safe. That means that gentiles join with Jews, that citizens join with non-citizens, that we all have to throw in on us else we shall all shall be crushed separately.

I'm not advocating civil war, but there's been an open war for some time now: against Black folk, against queer folk, against poor folk. We can't tell them not to protect themselves and leave it to the cops when the cops are the enemies.

Maybe, someday, after the revolution, we can all check our guns into the community armory where they'll gather dust unless pulled for training or target shooting. Until then, we cannot unilaterally disarm when there are militias, cops, and fascists that seek our destruction. I'm sorry if that put liberals in a tough position, but we surely need you. You know that no matter what happens after November, we're going to see an increase in violence against marginalized people. Let's do whatever we can to make sure that those we can protect we do.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:52 AM on September 25, 2020 [15 favorites]

They’re killing us over holding cell phones. A fake gun. A hairbrush. A wallet. A sandwich. I’m sure actual guns will go great. Like Phillandro Castile.
posted by Pretty Good Talker at 9:13 AM on September 25, 2020 [6 favorites]

Despite my own reluctant decision to go along with my partner's about face on guns, I find the SRA to be creepy. Maybe that's just my own residual liberal whatever poisoning my mind but I find the enthusiastic embrace of gun culture to be dispiriting and depressing.

I guess in this case I do want people to feel bad. Owning guns isn't a something to be proud of or even to feel neutral about. It's an admission that as a society we have failed on the most fundamental level, that's shameful and bad even if we agree it's necessary.

It's an admission that our nation is so broken we feel it is necessary to have the means of forcing a mob to pay a price before they kill us, or that we think the risk of lynching sufficiently great that we want the means to end our own lives cleanly before a lynch mob can torture us to death.

I'm going to get a gun, and I feel nothing but sick horror and disgust at the prospect. It means I have failed, personally, to do the work to fix things. I don't know what I could have done, maybe nothing, but it's still a failure.
posted by sotonohito at 10:24 AM on September 25, 2020 [8 favorites]

How great would it be if gun ownership, in cultural terms, went the way of smoking. Once ubiquitous, now limited to few fewer who are, let's be honest, marginalized and even looked down on.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:51 AM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Are there any studies on how often gun possession has actually resulted in personal defense? I've looked before but I've never found any systemic reviews and as a result I, a non-human owner, have this impression that the idea that guns are helpful is a sort of myth fueled by lobbyists and paranoia.
posted by Theiform at 11:47 AM on September 25, 2020

A gun in the home is much more likely to be used in homicide or suicide than in self defense. 1, 2
posted by sotonohito at 12:14 PM on September 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

So it was roughly last year that I learned about the Black Panthers and what they are beside a media trope for "comic relief Black (I have recently learned that is to be capitalized and that's fine, it's a shift key press, I can do that) people who want to kill whitey". I was impressed. I wondered why that stopped. It would seem logical that yes, you carry the guns the cops carry and community patrol and you follow (and in 2019, film) the cops to make sure they aren't pulling some shady shit. It was in 2020 that I learned why yeah, Black people don't carry long guns anymore. Jfc. BLM, point taken, keep it up, sounds like with y'know all the cop-murdered Black people, you have kind of a point.

I am a privileged-ass white man who can sit it out if shit goes down. Yeehaw, expat-land. But I'm also someone who quit basic training for tEh 4rMy in 2002 because the lies about Iraq having chemical weapons were pretty f**kin blatant and I'm not gonna say I saw it coming but I caught bad vibes cause thems was damn dirty lies and I outed myself with a medical condition. When I signed up, I thought, I'll fight me a just war all day, but it was 2002. I signed up to be a truck driver an hour from college, so I could pay for college. Cool, free fitness training and a job near home while I get college paid for, I thought.

But I'm gettin' them "just war" feels again. I would DEFINITELY have fought for America then. I still believe in America. I mean the version of America that we hoped we could be in 2002, just a few years after The End of History. It was Bill Clinton's America, I was white and a teenager, I know that's problematic now but I didn't know then. I came to terms with something I would die for before I ever signed that paper. I would still fight for a world in which justice is done, in which democracy thrives, and in which we work to save the planet while preserving everyone's right to not be unnecessarily crapped on by the government.

Things are different now. A lot is different, including my understanding of power and history. But my sense of what I'd pick up a gun and fight for never changed. There IS an army I'd fly home to join. It's not the army anyone wants to ever have to exist. But I'd fuckin' give up expat-land and do it, because I never stopped believing in the world I was promised I would be defending.

I never thought I'd say this, but when Mayor West says, "civil rights will not progress in America until law enforcement is actually afraid that the next extrajudicial murder they commit will result in real, tangible losses to their own people," I regretfully agree in my gut. I don't want to support making that happen, but if it happens, I don't know what to do except follow my gut and support it.

We're Americans and fuck American exceptionalism, yes, but we're Americans, and we deserve better. We are meant to be better. If we aren't better, what's the point of America? Let the dogs take it if we don't fight for it.
posted by saysthis at 1:59 AM on September 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

True community defense (as opposed to defense of property and fantasizing the killing of strangers) looks a lot more like the Battle of Hayes Pond, when the KKK tried to terrorize the Lumbee people are were met with five hundred Lumbee with guns ready to defend their community from White supremacy.

Having a gun right now isn't heroic, and what others have said about a gun in the home greatly increases the chance of death of the owners is true. But it isn't paranoid fantasy to imagine that there are groups that want to massacre Blacks, Jews, Latines, women, queerfolk, and leftists. And it is fantasy to believe that any state organ like the cops is going to stop them.

Having a defense culture that isn't predicated on toxic masculinity is paramount, and part of that defense is not just stockpiling ammo and beans. It's building mutual aid networks and dual power structures to take care of your community. Remember that the greatest weapon of the Black Panthers wasn't their armed patrols but the Free Breakfast Program (that cause the Chicago cops to literally piss on food for kids). Guns are a last resort. Safety is more than a gun; it's a mutual defense of life and freedom, a desire to create a lasting peace. We don't want to hurt anyone. Which is why the more people that become part of these networks that resist capitalism and fascism the better and safer for everyone involved. Please join us where you can.

Also, any European smugness about absence of guns should be tempered by the fact that your police also kill homeless and marginalized people all the time and that there's a rise of right-wing governments as neoliberalism fails overseas. ACAB doesn't give an exception for Europe.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:34 PM on September 26, 2020 [5 favorites]

After many years away, I reactivated my account to comment on this post.

To me it really is a signpost of where we are as a nation, that an establishment publication like Foreign Policy published an article advocating for organized, armed self defense as a tool of modern protest movements. For the past few months I've felt increasing despair at the seemingly intractable problem of police brutality towards Black people. With the increasingly hyperbolic rhetoric out of the White House and the right generally, I've had bad dreams (and I suspect I'm not alone) of the United States descending into some kind of Mad Max scenario. More than once I've found myself wondering if I'm going to be wandering the earth on foot, dodging warlord gangs and trying to find potable water.

And yet, when I started to reflect on the long history of popular struggles in the United States, from the dawn of universal (white male) suffrage to the 40 hour work week, to the struggle of Black people for liberation, it seems clear that in the 19th century the United States experienced tremendous, violent political upheaval without a complete collapse of civilization. Instead, what we had was an sometimes violent political culture. Politics wasn't bipartisan agreement with very loud arguments over very minor details, but an extremely partisan conflict occasionally punctuated by episodic gun battles. So while we're in a bad spot as a nation, this may not all end in Mad Max. It might just look more like Lebanon in the 1980s, which, although not a great situation is a whole lot better than searching the wastelands looking for gasoline, in my opinion. Still, for folks who are POC/LGBTQ/involved in lefty politics, arming and training oneself seems increasingly prudent.

For folks who have decided to buy a firearm recently, I really encourage you to find a way to participate in a formal shooting sport, some kind of organized shooting competition. The whole "tactical" focus can be really toxic in my experience. When I was growing up I thought that kind of stuff was cool, and I was confused by the fact that the guy who coached my Boy Scout rifle classes was extremely dismissive of that kind of fixation on tactical training and equipment. As I've gotten older, I get it now. It's a lot like martial arts -- the folks who are focused strictly on self defense, in my experience, often develop a kind of warped personality where they are looking for an excuse to deploy their "skills," because they have no other way to know if what they are doing works. Far better to participate in a martial art with a sports/competitive component, where there is some organized external pressure and a measured test of skills.

I have enjoyed shooting sports since I was a child, and I still do, though I am aware of the risks. The presence of a firearm does seem to be linked to increased risk of a successful suicide attempt. Yes, there are other effective methods, but it requires planning and research, whereas a firearm allows an impulsive act. Yet how are we to balance this increased risk with the demonstrated utility to resist oppression? As the linked article argues, firearms allow us to have political agency when the very institutions that are supposed to "keep us safe" may be indifferent at best or hostile at worst?

I don't have answers to this question. I do know that I have counseled several friends and acquaintances not to purchase firearms, when I knew that they had emotional/relationship situations where I thought a firearm might exacerbate the problem(s). I have on occasion offered to disable a friend's firearm and remove to my home a part necessary for the firearm to discharge. But beyond immediate mental health crises, there is also the dark side of gun ownership in liberation struggles. The Black Panther Party struggled with this, with male members inflicting misogynistic violence on women Panthers, often at gunpoint. The internal violence wasn't just aimed at women either, but also at other men who somehow fell afoul of the party hierarchy. Donald Cox discusses this in his autobiography. I don't think it's just limited to the Black Panther Party either -- there are many accounts of similar things happening in various other armed movements throughout history.

And yet, I think that these problems don't invalidate armed organized self-defense within protest movements. I keep thinking about the late David Graeber's essay Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology. In it, he wrote of ancient Athens that
It is of obvious relevance that Ancient Greece was one of the most competitive societies known to history. It was a society that tended to make everything into a public contest, from athletics to philosophy or tragic drama or just about anything else. So it might not seem entirely surprising that they made political decision-making into a public contest as well.

Even more crucial though was the fact that decisions were made by a populace in arms. Aristotle, in his Politics, remarks that the constitution of a Greek city-state will normally depend on the chief arm of its military: if this is cavalry, it will be an aristocracy, since horses are expensive. If hoplite infantry, it will have an oligarchy, as all could not afford the armor and training. If its power was based in the navy or light infantry, one could expect a democracy, as anyone can row, or use a sling. In other words if a man is armed, then one pretty much has to take his opinions into account. One can see how this worked at its starkest in Xenophon’s Anabasis, which tells the story of an army of Greek mercenaries who suddenly find themselves leaderless and lost in the middle of Persia. They elect new officers, and then hold a collective vote to decide what to do next. In a case like this, even if the vote was 60/40, everyone could see the balance of forces and what would happen if things actually came to blows. Every vote was, in a real sense, a conquest.

In modern terms, the sling is an AR-15 -- so easy to handle that anyone can use it, even a child; powerful enough to stop a grown adult, but not so powerful that the recoil will disturb even a lightly built teen. And that's the danger of it too, that a teenage fascist could pick one up and hurt a lot of people in a very short amount of time. But even Graeber says "if a man is armed" -- what of women and nonbinary people?

How we are to reconcile the power of modern firearms with participatory democratic politics is something with which I really wrestle. One thing I do know, is that the right wing gun culture in the United States is not going to be the ones figuring that out, given their commitments to hierarchy and domination. If anyone is going to figure it out, it will be folks on the left, in threads and discussions like the one we're having right now. I believe that it is urgent that we learn from past mistakes and look to see how other cultures in Latin America and Southwest Asia have addressed these issues. Stay sharp out there, folks.
posted by wuwei at 10:39 PM on September 26, 2020 [10 favorites]

How we are to reconcile the power of modern firearms with participatory democratic politics is something with which I really wrestle.

Well, as a gun owner that has taken it upon myself to help arm other leftists, I don't think firearms should be part of participatory democratic politics at all! Fucking hell, we're supposed to have a civilized society here.

It's taken a whole lot of fucking bullshit from the right to bring things to where they are now. We have a president saying he will ignore an electoral defeat, widespread disenfranchisement, right-wing paramilitary militias terrorizing cities with the implicit support of the police, and concentration camps for children. It would take relatively few concessions from the right to bring some stability, to give people enough room to live their lives so that they wouldn't contemplate violence. But they haven't, so here we are!
posted by ryanrs at 3:05 AM on September 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

As I mentioned upthread, if you live in California, and especially if you are in the SF Bay Area, and you want to learn about firearms, mefimail me. I got started in this hobby through hunting. I wanted to hunt my own food so I could eat exotic meats that I couldn't buy at the grocery store. Jackrabbit, squirrel, raccoon, a dozen species of ducks. If that's something that interests you, I will show you how to get started. Want to try squirrel or duck? I will give you one from my freezer! I will take you hunting.

That's my background. I never wanted to own a gun for defense. But here we are. So if you want to learn about about firearms for defense, well I will teach you that, too. Want to try shooting a 9mm pistol or an AR-15? Email me. I would very much prefer you bring your own gun to the range, for various reasons. But if you don't have a gun, but have a good posting history on mefi, we can chat and work something out. I know lot of you out there have questions—let me try to answer them.
posted by ryanrs at 3:07 AM on September 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

There is a thesis that gun control is the response to POC having guns. The man who created Jews for the Preservation of Firearms is dead but his site has started to have updates and the video named by a very old man who is a product of his times called No Guns for Negros is at that link. If you don't want to spend 20 mins on the video
The Racist Roots of Gun Control
is a short read with footnotes.

Owning guns isn't a something to be proud of or even to feel neutral about. It's an admission that as a society we have failed on the most fundamental level, that's shameful and bad even if we agree it's necessary.

With such a worldview - I need agreement from society on how I opt to remove rabbits, woodchucks, possums, chipmunks and other things from my property? The gun works better from getting the woodchuck out of the tree where he dog chased it than taking a chainsaw to the tree.

How great would it be if gun ownership, in cultural terms, went the way of smoking. Once ubiquitous, now limited to few fewer who are, let's be honest, marginalized and even looked down on.

When such comments are made, where are the followups on reduction efforts for the military and its culture around training violence? The extra-national violence of the US has stats like The U.S. Has Been At War 222 Out of 239 Years or the shocking point backing Trump getting a peace prize that he's not started a new conflict unlike the last 29 years.

There would be a disconnect if the military gets guns and no one else just like the citizens won't be happy when the military is allowed all the liquid hydrocarbons for mobility and citizens are "stuck" on batteries. Having parts of culture that have a demand for weapons and hydrocarbon fuels allow the military to also have such.

The idea of "looking down on" someone who owns a gun is going to get called out as entitled bullshit and only have sides dig in their heels.
posted by rough ashlar at 11:14 AM on September 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

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