While this newest incarnation of the black liberation movement grapples with the role of armed self-defense, Rakem Balogun is fighting against being targeted for simply talking about it. His defense committee is fighting on several different fronts: trying to raise money to pay a noted lawyer who wants to take on the case; lobbying Congress to investigate the use of the Black Identity Extremist designation; and even, in a move that hearkens back to Malcolm X, looking into getting the case in front of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The latter two efforts are being led by Dallas-area organizer Stephen Benavides.
The Black Liberation Army is not an easy organization to talk about. It leaves behind a legacy of resistance to oppression, and of attempting to, as today’s activists might put it might put it, stand up and fight back in a way that, at the time, was gaining traction across the globe. And its vision of viewing police as an occupying army in oppressed communities has only become more prominent in the decades since the organization’s demise. But the group’s ultimate failure shows the danger of engaging in violent, clandestine work without popular support.
Perhaps most crucially, though, the BLA shows us a vision of what might happen if police departments continue to grow more violent. The group serves as a warning about what may occur if cops continue to have access to more weapons (conversations about gun control in this #NeverAgain era rarely include any talk of limitations for the police, occasional Chance the Rapper tweets aside); and if they find themselves increasingly unshackled from even the little bit of public oversight they’ve had forced on them in the post-Ferguson landscape. To use one of the Black Panthers’ favorite aphorisms, repression breeds resistance—and not always in organized, predictable ways. Unless there is a drastic change, the days of funerals on both sides may return, whether we want them to or not.