23 February 2018

Drop Charges Against Rakem Balogun!

FBI Targets Black Activists

Capping more than two years of surveillance, heavily armed FBI agents invaded the Dallas, Texas, apartment of Rakem Balogun in the early morning hours of December 12. Separated from his 15-year-old son, Balogun was then forced to stand outside in his underwear while the Feds ransacked his home. An activist against rampant cop terror and a co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club and other groups devoted to black armed self-defense, Balogun (previously known as Christopher Daniels) was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm after a pistol and assault rifle were seized. With prosecutors invoking Micah Johnson’s shooting of five Dallas cops in 2016, the judge denied Balogun bail for being a “threat to the community,” although he had no connection to Johnson, and the FBI conceded at the bail hearing that he had made no threats against the cops.

A statement by the Rakem Balogun Defense Committee described him as “a Marine Corps veteran guided by the spirit of freedom, justice and equality to defend those that have none of those things.” Balogun’s trial is set to begin on March 26, and he faces up to ten years in prison. It is of vital importance for opponents of racist cop terror, advocates of black gun rights and defenders of the right to assemble and protest to defend Balogun. His arrest is the first of a black activist known to be branded a “Black Identity Extremist” (BIE) by the FBI.

Concocted as part of a racist blowback against Black Lives Matter, this designation is a “domestic terrorist” smear that draws a bright neon target on anyone with dark skin who questions the authority of the cops to stop, frisk, taser, choke and shoot black people and Latinos. Activist/attorney Kamau Franklin pointed to the gravity of Balogun’s prosecution: “This is obviously the first of what will be several attempts to begin to criminalize black organizing, militant black organizing in particular, and work their way down to other types of organizing.” Free Rakem Balogun! Drop the charges!

Shortly before his arrest, Balogun posted a video on YouTube warning of the BIE label, “The next time you try to go to a protest or raise awareness, don’t be surprised when Homeland Security pulls up.” His friends have been tracked down by the FBI and questioned about his activities and their own political beliefs. According to the FBI’s definition, a Black Identity Extremist is someone who looks to “unlawful acts of force or violence, in response to perceived racism and injustice in American society.” The FBI has long had black political organizations in its sights. The very fiction of a black conspiracy to kill cops is a page right out of the playbook of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) that targeted “black extremists” in the 1960s-70s.

Initially intended as a weapon against the Communist Party, COINTELPRO’s deadliest fire was directed at the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. The FBI used COINTELPRO to disrupt and destroy the Panthers, the best of a generation of black radicals. FBI director J. Edgar Hoover declared the Panthers to be the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country” and vowed in 1968 that “the Negro youth and moderates must be made to understand that if they succumb to revolutionary teaching, they will be dead revolutionaries.” His agents followed through on that threat. Thirty-eight Panthers were killed and hundreds more imprisoned.

COINTELPRO is commonly identified with the Republican Nixon administration. But it was Robert F. Kennedy who authorized wiretaps on Martin Luther King Jr. and another Democratic attorney general, Ramsey Clark, who initiated the ghetto informant program and issued orders to expand COINTELPRO operations against “Black Nationalist Organizations.”

Likewise, today’s BIE designation is attributed to the brazenly racist Trump White House. But the initial push to designate black protesters a threat to law enforcement came from FBI director James Comey under the Obama administration. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which is known for tracking the KKK, Nazis and other fascist organizations, provided liberal cred to the racist witchhunters last August with its report “Return of the Violent Black Nationalist.”

When the FBI’s BIE report was leaked late last year, Democratic Representative Karen Bass, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, questioned why there was no “White Identity Extremist” designation. The American capitalist order is built on the bedrock of racial oppression—and that order is defended by Democrats and Republicans alike, no matter their skin color or gender. The FBI launched its investigation of Balogun after the right-wing, conspiracy-themed InfoWars website posted a video of him at a March 2015 Texas protest against police brutality. That video featured prominently in his bail hearing. Similarly, California cops collaborated with outright fascists in going after well-known activist Yvette Felarca. Now, she and two others face criminal charges for defending themselves and other protesters against fascist attacks in Sacramento on 26 June 2016 (see “Drop All Charges Against Anti-Fascist Protesters!” WV No. 1116, 25 August 2017).

Citizenship and the Right to Bear Arms

That Balogun faces ten years behind bars for gun possession in Texas of all places is down to one reason: He is a black man. In 2007, after being traumatized in jail, Balogun was coerced by his court-appointed lawyer into pleading guilty to domestic abuse charges, rendering it illegal for him to possess a firearm under Texas law. The many thousands of black men and women thrown behind bars nationwide find themselves deprived of this basic citizenship right, along with the right to vote, upon their release. The reality is that 150 years after the slavocracy was defeated in the Civil War, basic citizenship rights are still withheld from much of the black population. When Philando Castile told a Minnesota cop who pulled him over on 6 July 2016 that he was legally armed, it didn’t stop the cop from blowing him away in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter.

Notably, the G-men who raided Balogun’s apartment carried away a copy of Negroes with Guns, the 1962 book by Robert F. Williams, who had been president of the heavily working-class NAACP chapter in Monroe, North Carolina. The book recounts courageous episodes of armed defense against the KKK and their killer cop allies. Driven out of the NAACP with the assistance of Martin Luther King Jr. and abandoned by the liberal, pro-Democratic Party civil rights leaders to face arrest at the hands of the Feds, Williams fled the country and found refuge in Cuba and later China.

For America’s rulers, there is little more frightening than the specter of black people with guns. In the infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision, the Supreme Court ruled that black people “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” The author of that decision, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, noted with horror that if black people were recognized as citizens, they would be entitled to certain rights, including the right “to keep and carry arms wherever they went.” Any serious reading of the history and social reality of this country makes clear the necessity of black self-defense. As race-terror swept the Jim Crow South in the late 19th century, anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells wrote:

“The only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense.

“The lesson this teaches and which every Afro American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”

As Marxists, we vigorously uphold the Second Amendment right to bear arms. In the struggle to build and defend unions, from the West Virginia and Kentucky coalfields to the docks and trucking hubs, workers armed themselves against scabs and other strikerbreakers. Following World War II and the Korean War, armed black vets formed the foot soldiers for the early struggles against Jim Crow in the South. Both the white reactionaries who oppose gun control and the liberals who promote it share a common program: keep guns out of the hands of black people.

In 1965, the New York City Council passed a bill specifically to prevent Malcolm X from carrying a carbine for his protection; he was assassinated shortly afterward. In 1967, the California legislature banned the carrying of a loaded gun after a demonstration by Black Panthers at the State Capitol in Sacramento. The state ban was followed by gun control laws nationwide, especially after the ghetto upheavals that broke out following MLK’s assassination in 1968. As we have always underlined, gun control kills blacks!

For black people, armed self-defense and other basic rights were won, guns in hand, with the Civil War that smashed slavery. Although that war, the Second American Revolution, smashed slavery, the promise of black equality and integration remains unfulfilled. Its unfinished tasks demand the sweeping away of the capitalist order through proletarian socialist revolution, a third American revolution in which black workers are slated to play a leading role.

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(reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1128, 23 February 2018)

Workers Vanguard is the newspaper of the Spartacist League with which the Partisan Defense Committee is affiliated.