Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action
Los Angeles/People Against Racist Terror
Also in the current issue of Turning the Tide: A Journal of Inter-Communal Solidarity, Volume 27, Number 2 (April-June 2014)
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is a Southern-based non-profit research and advocacy organization that targets “hate groups” and works closely with law enforcement across the US. It’s best-known for winning civil damages cases against the KKK and Tom Metzger’s “White Aryan Resistance,” but behind the scenes, it maintains intelligence files on more radical anti-Klan and antifa groups and various Black militants, and shares them with police and intelligence agencies. Recently, without providing a shred of evidence or documentation, or any verbal explanation, the SPLC categorized the Black Riders Liberation Party in Los Angeles and Oakland CA as a “Black separatist hate group.” This can only be seen as part of a concerted state attack against the BRLP, a new, repressive COINTELPRO operation aimed at discrediting them, perhaps even setting them up for assassinations, as were the Black Panthers by similar propaganda.
If you read Turning the Tide, the SF Bay View, or the Black Riders’ own African Intercommunal News Service paper, you know the SPLC is lying. Far from being a hate group, the BRLP are class-conscious anti-capitalist revolutionaries who preach and practice solidarity. But the SPLC doesn’t dare to admit that, or to express the true reasons for their opposition to the BRLP, since that would expose the non-profit as a counter-insurgency force in its own right. The Black Riders consider themselves to be the new generation Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. They’ve been in existence longer than the original Black Panthers sustained themselves as a viable organization. They continue to be the target of vicious government repression and new COINTELPRO-style attacks, and commonly appear publicly in paramilitary uniforms and formations, with black or camouflage clothing, combat boots and black berets. But they have never been either the beneficiaries of the kind of romanticism, media glare or movement focus that the Panthers were back in the 1960s.
This has been the case for several reasons. First of all, the Black Riders and their leadership learned lessons from the arc of development and decay of the original BPP. They wanted to avoid the uncontrolled growth and notoriety that allowed the state to infiltrate and stigmatize the Party , by admitting anyone off the streets without security measures.. The BRLP chose instead to build at the base, under the harsher and more militarized conditions of today’s “total surveillance state.” They built locally in southern California and have been expanding steadily into other areas, especially Oakland, with trusted cadre, and are building a prison chapter, 1000 strong, nationally as a key priority of re-establishing a radical Black communal base.
Second, corporate media are far more monopolized and tamed today than they were in the 1960s. Coverage of the Panthers was mostly sensationalistic pro-government propaganda aimed at portraying the BPP as thugs and criminals. But the necessity to cover the Panthers’ activities, and the possibility of airing alternative views, occurred in the context of a large, militant, and dynamic popular movement, that grew from a non-violent civil rights struggle to armed self-defense and Black Power. Those conditions no longer prevail. Corporate media today defuse opposition to the system through the pretense that it’s non-existent. When forced to abandon that strategy, they turn to ridicule and calumny as Plan B. The SPLC disinformation campaign can be seen in that context, of open attempts to disrupt and smear the Riders.
The fact that the Black Riders Liberation Party has been building up its forces from a base in southern California and on the West Coast also partially accounts for the tame left’s lack of awareness of their significance and progress, particularly in the era of a “non-profit industrial complex” as a substitute for a real revolutionary left movement. Many of the most significant political and cultural developments of the past decades have come out of California and specifically southern CA. Think about the 1965 Watts “riot” that launched the era of Black urban rebellions. Look at the original Black Panthers themselves. After their destruction, LA was the origin point for the Crips and the Bloods and for the CIA crack cocaine epidemic, as well as being a major progenitor of hip-hop and rap. LA was home to the first gang truce and peace accord, and the site of the 1992 “inter-communal” Black, Brown, white and Asian uprising after the acquittal of the cops who brutalized Rodney King. Yet the reformist left in the US continues to think in terms of “influencing policy decisions” in Washington, DC, or getting Obama and the Democrats to demonstrate “backbone.” Revolutionaries arising from grassroots ghettos in Watts, Compton or Oakland, who stand for the right to armed self-defense, make such reformist forces very uncomfortable.
But if you’re revolutionary-minded, if you’re fired up with a sense of urgency to resist genocide, ecocide, oppression and exploitation, you’d better pay close attention to the Black Riders Liberation Party. Their writings and practice are a weapon in the hands of those who choose to resist and fight for a new way of life, regardless of “race” or nationality. If you don’t shrink from the understanding that we will need more than words as weapons, the BRLP is for you. The Black Riders have important lessons to teach of how to withstand repression and build revolutionary unity and principled alliances across national, religious, racial, gender and other divisions. The Black Riders have directly challenged police terror on the streets. They have withstood political arrests and trials, incarceration and even assassination.
They’ve confronted organized white supremacists including the Minutemen and the National Socialist Movement, stood up for Black-Brown unity and opposed anti-immigrant forces. They have built alliances with Occupiers, sex workers, and LGBTQ people, developed AIDS awareness and prevention programs in their community, started the George Jackson Freedom School for Black youth, built gang truces, and committed themselves to serious ongoing political study and struggle.
There’s no other current formation in the U.S. that has been targeted for more consistent and protracted repression than the Black Riders, including frame up arrests, massive police/FBI raids with tanks, helicopters and armored personnel carriers, constant surveillance and harassment by local police. Yet they persevere and grow. Some years ago, I was out for the Martin Luther King Day parade in Los Angeles, passing out copies of Turning the Tide. I turned a corner and there were 30 or so Black Riders in uniform, marching along, trailed by a phalanx of cops, numerous patrol cars and a helicopter overhead. The state clearly understands and fears the threat that the Black Riders Liberation Party represents to the system of oppression and exploitation that police
departments, espionage and counter-insurgency agencies are designed to serve and protect.
That the SPLC attack took place in the midst of a series of arrests and police raids directed against Black
Rider leaders, members, and their families in L. A. and Oakland, is no coincidence. There is clearly high level coordination of attacks on the Riders. When Gardena police made a recent unjustified arrest of General T.A.C.O. (Taking All Capitalists Out) of the Black Riders, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was called almost immediately to “consult.” When Shango Abiola, Field Commander of the Black Riders Oakland chapter, returned from a visit on behalf of the party to the Movimento Sem Terra (landless peasants) in Brazil, he was held for fruitless questioning by the Feds for hours at the airport. Etana and Mecca Shakur, two women leaders of the Party, are currently facing trial for defending themselves against a racist, sexist assault by an Inglewood cop.
The Riders combine youth and experience, militance and long-range strategic thinking, anti-capitalism and serve-the-people survival programs. They include people formerly in street ‘tribes’ or organizations, and others who were collegians. Many of their leading members are young mothers, confounding multiple stereotypes. They work primarily among the poor, the incarcerated, the youth, victims of police abuse, and the growing ranks of the marginalized masses of their people. This also helps explain their low media profile, because they operate without the resources enjoyed by those who have made their peace with state subsidies or grant-writing foundations. Despite setbacks, they continue to push hard for a Black united front, Black-Brown unity,
and inter-communal solidarity across racial, national, gender and ideological lines.
The Black Riders led the only militant mass action that shut down a CDCR office in solidarity with the prisoner hunger strikers. They led the outrage of the Black community and others on the streets of LA after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer, which led to people closing the freeway. Black Riders defended themselves against an assault by law enforcement outside the trial of the cop who killed Oscar Grant, and their leader General T.A.C.O.’s home was raided by law enforcement the night before the slap-on-the-wrist verdict on killer cop Mehserle was announced. The BRLP led protests that kicked Nazis off the lawn of L.A. City Hall, and kept racist Minutemen out of Leimert Park in L.A.’s Crenshaw District. The Black Riders helped build the “Four Winds” May 1 General Strike convergence by Occupy L.A., connecting the occupiers to grassroots forces in South and East L.A. The Black Riders led the Los Angeles effort to free the SF Eight former Black Panther members and associates, and rebuilt the L.A. chapter of the Jericho Movement to free all political prisoners. The Riders launched the Intercommunal Solidarity Committee, working with radical elements from other communities. The Black Riders have risked their lives for 18 years for peace among the Bloods and Crips street ‘tribes,’ against set trippin’ and for revolutionary consciousness. They’re standing up for the need to ‘cease hostilities’ on the streets as the hunger strikers did behind bars, and opposing imperialist intervention in Africa and around the globe. The Black Riders have connected militant revolutionary Black liberation struggle in the US with forces in Africa and elsewhere in the Black Diaspora such as Brazil, for the first time in decades.
There’s simply no other formation that can lay claim to this record of commitment and resilience in the face of non-stop political repression. Get to know the Black Riders yourself, and support them. If you appreciate the contribution they’re making towards bringing down the Empire and freeing us all, stand with them against repression and fascism! They’re facing numerous political trials. Look out for more info and pack the courtrooms in solidarity!
This commentary appears in the current issue of “Turning the Tide: A Journal of Inter-Communal Solidarity,” Volume 27, Number 2 (April-June 2014), available from Anti-Racist Action, PO Box 1055, Culver City CA 90232. Subscriptions, which help subsidize sending almost 2000 copies free to prisoners, are $20 a year payable to Anti-Racist Action at the above address.