‘We Will Shoot Back': Meet The Black Activists Who Aren’t Ready To Forgive
“There’s a campaign to pacify black people,” Brown, 28, said. “The point of this movement is to educate and let black people know that we too have the right to protect our families and communities by any means necessary.”
That opportunity may be around the corner. Black people across the country will learn about gun laws in their state and attend community trainings where instructors will show them how to use and clean their weapons as part of National Gun Registry Day, tentatively scheduled for early August. In preparation for the daylong event, Brown said he reached out to Akinyele Omowale Umoja, chair of American-American Studies at Georgia State University and author of “We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement.”
“There will be black trained firearms instructors who are able to give our people that education. This message resonates with black youth who have seen that reformism does nothing and generally other black people — especially older black people who remember the violence before, during, and after the Civil Rights movement,” brown said. “That mindset hasn’t died, but folks have tried to erase it from history.”
The growing sentiment around armed self-defense may be unable to be ignored. A survey by the Pew Research Center earlier this year showed that 54 percent of black people view gun ownership positively, describing it as a means of protection — an increase of 29 percentage points from just two years prior. While African Americans living in rural regions may feel neutral about gun ownership, some of their counterparts in urban centers with strict gun laws have found a change of heart in recent years, initially out of fear for their lives in high-crime neighborhoods.
Particularly after the Charleston massacre and other acts of violence against black people, the focus among some African American clergy and civil rights officials has shifted. Numerous threats prompted members of a Minnesota church to tote registered pistols and sit throughout the chapel in preparation for a probable attack. In April, the head of the Georgia chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gave a similar call a week after police officers killed a mentally ill black man, telling protestors at a rally in Atlanta that “we’re going to have to do something in our community to let the rest of America know that we’re not going to be victimized.”
Many black people, perhaps frustrated by the media’s lukewarm treatment of Roof, couldn’t stomach any talk that didn’t involve punitive recourse for last week’s massacre. Not long after family members of the Charleston Nine said they forgave Roof, Stacey Patton of the Chronicle for Higher Education wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece that black people shouldn’t have to be kind in moments of absolute tragedy in order to have their humanity recognized.
Such action and commentary, however, hasn’t come without backlash — with some critics calling to mind the civil rights movements of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, both stalwarts of nonviolent resistance who said “an eye for an eye makes the entire world go blind.”
However, some religious leaders, like Kadir Muhammad, head of the Nation of Islam (NOI)’s Mid-Atlantic region and Mosque No. 4, located in Washington, D.C., lampoon such arguments. Muhammad counted among more than 500 people who filed into Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in the District to hear the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the NOI, officially announce the observance of the Million Man March’s 20th anniversary to be held on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in October during an event aptly themed, “Justice or Else.”
Days earlier at a candlelight vigil, Muhammad told onlookers that too much has happened to young African American men and women in recent years for black people to appeal to the whims of the majority power structure and the white people who benefit from systemic inequality, regardless of whether they want to be allies.
“Throughout the whole country, a lot of black people are upset because we are too quick to forgive. It’s not working,” Muhammad told ThinkProgress. “We have forgiven white people for 400 some odd years and continue to get nothing but disrespect. Black folks aren’t going to keep tolerating this. Someone’s going to have to stand up and change the picture. We have to stop this. The slave master’s children always outnumber us at the rallies because they want us to forgive them. But you can’t trust them. One of them might act crazy and shoot us again.”
Additionally, today’s history books rarely mention events after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, in essence downplaying the suffering of black people decades after the 1960s and writing the Black Panther Party out of the prevailing narrative. In her 2010 blog post, Rhodes Scholar Caroline Mulloy reflected on how her miseducation about the Black Panther Party didn’t allow her to understand the black struggle in a deeper context.