Members of the BLA may have inspired today’s activists in Ferguson and beyond, but their tactics by and large have not. Donna Murch attributes that to the very different—and even scarier, in many ways—political climate. She notes the existence of the Patriot Act, indefinite detention laws, and a seemingly never-ending War on Terror.
“The country is infinity more repressive than it was in the 1960s,” she says. “The kind of activism that not only the BLA but the Black Panther party engaged in—which is armed self-defense, police patrol, the legal use of unconcealed weapons, and carrying them as a symbol of their right to prevent state violence—that’s unimaginable today. Armed rebellion and armed struggle given the whole modification of laws over the last 60 years is very dangerous for black people.”
Tef Poe, who tells me he’s constantly wrestling with the question, “At what point do we actually fight back?”, saw the beginnings of armed resistance in Ferguson.
“I saw what that looks like,” he explains. “I saw what happens when the gang bangers meet and formulate a truce and decide that tonight, when the police try to enforce the curfew, what happens if we don’t go in? What happens if, when they bring out their guns, we bring out our guns? And what happens if, when the helicopter comes across Canfield [Drive], what happens if we shoot at the helicopter? Many people would suggest that that’s insane, but seeing the militarized police force five minutes away from my mother’s house, seeing buildings and schools that I grew up in inhabited as safe houses for people in the community that were protesting, and seeing teenagers walking around two summers with gas masks on, I would suggest that it’s not insane. I would suggest that it is very logical at that point.”
“The BLA produced Pac and then Pac produced the Ferguson generation. It’s a continuation of the same resistance that has been going on since the days of the slave ships.”
Page May makes sure to teach the young people in Assata’s Daughters about the BLA so that they can be aware of the complete history of black resistance.
“We are concerned with our young people understanding the history of what has come before them, both in terms of how did we get here, and also what have our people done and what worked and what didn’t,” she explains. “We’re not trying to say this is how we’re going to get free—because we don’t know—but we want to make sure young folks understand all the different ways that people have fought back, because that’s not what you learn. You don’t learn about the ways that black people actually ended slavery, and you don’t learn that the non-violence of the civil rights movement was a strategy. For some people it was also a morality, but we study it as a strategy and we can compare that strategy to the strategies of groups like the BLA without making moral judgments about it. We can talk about why the strategy shifted, did it need to shift—we can have those debates and young people can decide for themselves what they make of it. We have a conversation about the tactics of the BLA as a part of a conversation about power and how we’ve challenged power.”