Memorializing War: Is Black America at War?

gunsI have been reflecting on the basis of war recently. This weekend I watched as many remembered the fallen soldiers of America’s wars, and wondered if in doing so were we memorializing war.

I believe that war is a necessity in today’s global market. That’s correct, global market. War is often a need for economic or geographic control, and as much as we hope and reassure ourselves otherwise the underlining goal is usually economic gain.

I recently watched the film Crips and Bloods: Made in America, and wondered is Black America at war? The short answer, I believe, is yes. This is more of a personal assessment then an analytical governmental assessment. I know that Chicago’s Black community is at war as is the Chicago Latino community. We recently memorialized the death of the thirty sixth Chicago Public Schools student May 1st, when Alex Arellano was chased, beaten with baseball bats, run over by a car, shot and burned. The irony of these deaths is that they are often caused by those of the same economic and ethnic group.

Crips and Bloods: Made in America, is the brainchild of NBA star Baron Davis who overcame his own challenges at the center of south LA to become a prominent basketball player. It also brings to light the internal struggles of Blacks in America.

Watching this film reminded me of Africa’s own struggles and further illustrated the need for gun control. However, I have had various discussions with other African and African American activists that consider the right to bear arms a part of their own struggle. This reminded me of the Martin Luther King Jr. verses Malcom X debate. Should black people own guns?

I have found that often one makes the decision to own a gun under very emotional and unstable conditions. Often it is the affect of having been assaulted or humiliated, or worse having been absent as a loved one was battered or murdered. If there was ever a reference to hate, would this not be one?

I have had my own incentives for owning a gun and they were always based on getting revenge. It is possible as many in the black community have said that Black America is at war. However, there is a grey line in defining our enemies and our allies. War, much like death, is ruthless and bitter, and often leaves the innocent to bear the burden of reconciliation and forgiveness.

The interesting thing about the Black War between the Crips and Bloods is that it is strikingly reflective of the internal wars in Africa. Whereas our African wars delve into tribal and political disputes, Crips and Bloods fight for power and economic benefits by selling crack and controlling neighborhoods. Both of these wars have the underlying necessity of maintaining and expanding geographic control, much like other wars around the world, and often recruit young soldiers to sustain such power.

To be fair Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. came from very different backgrounds. While they both experienced racism first hand, Malcom X came from a broken household. His father was constantly threatened for his work with the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and when he died Malcolm’s mother suffered a nervous breakdown that caused Malcolm and his siblings to enter the foster care system. Malcolm also had an internal struggle with the complexion of his skin, and would note that his parents treated him differently for being the lightest of their children.

Martin Luther King Jr. came from a middle class family, where his parents struggled to provide the best education for their kids. Much like Malcolm X his family dealt with the bigotry of daily racism. However, it was his admiration for Gandhi’s non-violent activism that caused him to advocate for non-violent solutions.

Often Black American activists argue that we are fighting against “the man”, or government. Government or “the man” often delves into police violence, economic and political clout, and lack of basic necessities. Is this not what the Black Panthers were fighting for? The difference between the Black Panthers and other activists of their time was the principle of self defense. This was the justification of bearing arms.

The irony of this revelation is that 1) this is the argument gangs like the Crips and Bloods use for justifying their violent reign over neighborhoods, and 2) government used  as justification for disbanding the Black Panthers. While many may argue otherwise, recent investigations suggest that government directly influenced the collapse of the Black Panthers; with speculations leading up to assassinations.

The self defense argument is perhaps the greatest justification most gun owners use against gun control. However, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence noted in a report this month that in 2006 there were only 154 so called “justifiable homicides”, which is the killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty or the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen. The US Department of Justice noted Law enforcement reported 617 justifiable homicides in 2006.  Of those, law enforcement officers justifiably killed 376 individuals, and private citizens justifiably killed 241 individuals. The discrepancies in the reports are remarkable; however it’s even more baffling that an estimated 17,034 persons were murdered nationwide in 2006.

In terms of race the US Department of Justice data from single victim/single offender incidents showed that 93.2 percent of black victims were murdered by black offenders, and 82.9 percent of white victims were murdered by white offenders.

Paradoxically, most Black activists spend years analyzing data and social economic trends within the black community. Many of them are often highly educated and have an understanding for the complexity of Black struggle, but I believe that when it comes to bearing arms they have not done enough to counter the ideology of using guns as a means of fighting against government.

I believe that it was Malcom X’s struggles that led him to profess such violent rhetoric, much like I believe it is most gang members’ struggles that lead them to bear arms. This is not to invalidate the magnitude of Malcolm X’s other messages. I would note that during his time the Black community was perhaps able to achieve the solidity and discipline necessary to prevail a self defensible type war.

However, the Black War of today is one that begins with the understanding of freedom. Today’s black community is often held back by the mental and physical incomprehension of freewill. It is an endless cycle that could possibly be traced back to the Emancipation Proclamation.

Can one understand freedom if they have never been free? I often ask Blacks this question and most are quick to say everyone knows what freedom feels like and what it is. Is living on welfare freedom? I recently met a woman who has lived on welfare her entire life; in fact both her mother and grandmother were on welfare. I wondered if I could honestly blame her for staying in what I believe is a form of slavery for the black community. Did she even understand the context in which I would question such freedom, or was she simply content with the system she had been placed into?

There are various circumstances in which people enter the welfare system, others become drug addicts, and some commit crimes. Often these lives are tangled into cyclic and often similar consequences, beginning with the lack of support and stability in the household and ending with economic struggles.

I believe it is this misunderstanding of freedom that leads us to turn against each other, often trampling past each other in hopes of gathering menial and often materialistic objects. However, it is such wars, as the Black War, which constantly leads to such recurring behavior as the one Alex Arellano’s family is now coping to understand. The belief that one’s freedom has been shattered so that another cycle can begin, that another household can be broken, that another soldier can bear arms.


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