But there was a time, not that long ago, when state repression led to a much more forceful response than chanting. For over a decade, from 1970 until the early ’80s, there was an underground black movement that was fighting “war without terms” against a police force that was killing hundreds of African-Americans a year (almost 1,000 just between 1971-73), and against a state that was committing violence on a much larger scale against non-white people abroad.
The Black Liberation Army [BLA] was an “anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, anti-racist and anti-sexist” clandestine organization that grew out of an FBI-encouraged split in the Black Panther Party. Former BPP member Thomas McCreary put it most clearly in a recent interview:
“We took the position that if there was going to be wailing in the black household, there would be some wailing in the white household, or the oppressor’s household,” he said. “There had to be funerals on both sides.”
The BLA’s primary targets at first were police, which they explained in an early statement. They spoke of “the struggle to take over, dismantle, and weaken the oppressors’ police apparatus in our community.”
This approach to battling oppression was not as out-of-nowhere as it might sound today. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, urban guerilla war was a tactic being used all over the globe against repressive regimes. There was even a how-to book, Carlos Marighella’s 1969 tract Minimanual of the Urban Guerilla. The RAND Corporation staidly noted in a 1971 paper on the phenomenon that, “In recent years, guerillas have battled government forces in the cities of Algiers, Amman, Belfast, Calcutta, Caracas, Dacca, Guatemala, Montevideo, Quebec, and São Paulo… Some, like Santo Domingo and Paris, have been the scenes of full-scale urban uprisings.”
Author and professor Dan Berger, who has written about incarceration and radical political movements, connects the BLA’s birth to the worldwide movement against colonialism.
“The emergence of the BLA and some of their tactics and approaches can’t be separated from both what was happening politically, but also what was happening historically,” he explains. “Around the world there were these different anti-colonial guerilla forces that were participating in attacks on soldiers. They were often fighting for independence and socialism. I think that the BLA saw itself in that tradition and really shaped by the kind of non-state guerilla armies in places like Ireland, Palestine, and Vietnam, as well as in Angola, Mozambique, and parts of Africa. For the BLA, the police function as an occupying army—and I think that analysis was not at all unique to the BLA.”
“They solidified the question of state violence and linked home violence to violence abroad,” she says. “This idea of looking at police as an occupying army and military force, and linking that to the kind of violence and mass murder seen in Vietnam, Cambodia, and South East Asia, as well as CIA and anti-communist intervention across the globe.”
This framing of police as an occupying force has been mainstreamed in recent years, especially following the rebellion in Ferguson. The idea has appeared on CNN and in outlets like the Huffington Post and Salon.