In response to the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina by 21-year-old white terrorist Dylann Storm Roof, the Black Student Union at UC Berkeley issued a call to action. “We are reminded that as Black people, we are not safe in this country, and why the Black Panther Party advocated for armed self-defense, because America never has and never will protect us. We must protect each other,” read the statement from the BSU.
A vigil was held on the steps of Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus, where a multi-national grouping of students, activists, and community members amassed to tackle the issues of white supremacy and terrorism in the wake of the racially and politically motivated murders on June 17th.
“This massacre was not a random one. It happened on the anniversary of a planned slave revolt that was organized by the church’s original founder, Denmark Vesey. This would have been one of the largest slave revolts in the history of the entire country,” reflected Gabby Shuman of the Black Student Union.
Clarence Thomas, a trade unionist with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), provided a context for the culture of racist hatred prevalent throughout the United States. “Those of us who understand that race is a social construct…that it is connected inextricably to class…have to understand the fundamental contradiction that the working class, if they are not progressive, can become reactionary. You saw it in Germany, and we don’t like to speak about it too much, but it’s here: the face of white supremacy, the face of neo-fascism,” stated Thomas.
The theory that Roof planned and executed the massacre on his own was then called into question, with suspicions arising that the flags of apartheid South Africa and also that of racist Rhodesia, which were pinned to Roof’s jacket, reflected the views of intensely racist groupings that have historically backed the status quo of white supremacy.
The Need for Self-Defense
A reoccurring theme of the vigil was the necessity of Black self-defense. David Turner of the Black Student Union spoke on the rich history of Black resistance while faced with white supremacist terror: “From slave rebellions and people attacking their capturers on slave ships, to the rebellions in Haiti, down to the civil rights movement, even down to a hashtag right now that fundamentally challenges what we know as anti-blackness…we have always fought back.”
Salih Muhammad of the Afrikan Black Coalition and the Nation of Islam then embraced the revolutionary spirit of Malcolm X and his tactical strategy of using “any means necessary” to say, “As long as Black people in this country do not receive and achieve justice, this country shall know no peace. And if you believe that you can continue to kill Black men, women, and children without there being a consequence, there is a new uprising in America today that is here to let the world know: no more…If this government will not defend us, we will defend ourselves. If this government will not feed us, we will feed ourselves…Those brothers and sisters slain in South Carolina have not died in vain. Their bones will be nails in the coffin of white supremacy.”
Liberation News also spoke with Blake Simons of the Black Student Union on the topic of self-defense. “I think of Eric Garner. What if someone intervened instead of filming? If you see someone being brutalized, are you just going to stand there and watch with your phone? Someone should videotape of course but we have to start protecting our brothers and sisters, because we’re being killed every single day. We have to defend ourselves, and we have to protect ourselves, because I love myself and I love my people. It’s time that we protect ourselves while we’re constantly under attack by racist pigs and white terrorists…the system was built on our pain, our blood, our extortion, and we need a new system that actually will protect our people,” said Simons.
The vigil culminated with the singing of the Black National Anthem and the reciting of the famous words of revolutionary Black Panther Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” A BSU contingent then led a march through the campus and onto Telegraph Avenue to bring the message of resistance out into the community.
While capitalist politicians and their mass media mouthpieces flounder and fail to understand or knowingly dismiss the realities of white supremacy in this country, terrorist attacks like that of the Emmanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston serve as reminders to the Black population that their lives are constantly in jeopardy.
Despite setbacks from the FBI and the COINTELPRO operation that violently repressed the radical Black liberation and self-defense movements of the 60’s and 70’s, it seems that there is growing potential for a new sort of revolutionary struggle among the Black community, their allies, and the conscious youth to combat the very foundations of racism in order to usher in a new era of equality and prosperity for humanity.