Traveling in Africa recently I observed how America is viewed by African leaders and regular people on the street. They are aware of the current struggles between White police and Black youth in America. Article after article has pictures of the tug of war against an American White power structure that has used its police force as a standing army to crush and annihilate budding resistance leaders and assure that young Black people are branded as criminals.
February 2015 marked 200 days since the brutal police murder of Michael Brown, Jr., on a street in the St. Louis, Mo., suburb of Ferguson. The slaughter of the unarmed 18-year-old rocked America and impacted the world.
In reaction young people filled the streets in outrage and rebellion that some erroneously portrayed as rioting. Youth were not looking to “loot” or destroy, they were protesting the continued senseless killings of fellow young people and Black men in particular by White law enforcement.
According to Dorian Johnson, who was accosted with Michael on that fateful day, the events began with police officer Darren Wilson belligerently saying, “Get the f–k on the side walk” and things spiraled from there.
Black Youth: Fearless and intelligent
Black youth have watched case after case of victims being killed and then criminalized afterward. The police make it appear as if murder was justified by dismissing the victim as “just another street thug” who deserved what he got. The corporate media repeats the lie with very little investigation, adding to a narrative that says Black life does not matter within the predominately White world of law enforcement.
The message from young people resisting in the streets is “we are sick and tired” of the oppression and murder of our peers and the police culture of cover-up. Youth created battle slogans like “We’re young and we’re strong and we’re marching all night long” and “Black Life Matters.” They caused “Hands up! Don’t shoot!” coined by veteran St. Louis activist Anthony Shahid, to go global.
They have found solidarity with youth in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe who are also rising against injustice in their countries. We are witnessing what the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has described as “The Intensifying, Universal Cry for Justice,” where the global masses of people are pushing for change.
Youth are intelligent and are being raised to levels of consciousness unprecedented in the history of our struggle in America. They are a fearless generation who want absolute change and are willing to do whatever is necessary to bring it about whether its demonstrations, blocking traffic, shutting down major economic centers–and are clearly declaring to the powers that be “no more business as usual.”
Bridging a Generational Gap in struggle
The struggle is now with the elders. Some are suffering from battle fatigue and showing a type of “Rodney King” approach, “Can’t we all just get along?” Other elders want to be involved–not necessarily out in the streets every night–but offering guidance and the benefit of their experiences in building a movement against an enemy who counters with repression and the elimination of Black leaders and voices of consciousness. The elders, who have lived and walked that road, understand the nuances of struggle and how people are worn out from fighting the oppression of White America day in and day out.
The battle against police brutality is nothing new and leaders who have gone before us always raised it as a core issue.
Answering movement critics in his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in April, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., included the vicious police treatment of Alabama Blacks as a reason to unite and press forward.
He noted “hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity… .”
Earlier in 1961, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad placed the demand for an “immediate end” to police brutality in Point No. 6 of “What the Muslims Want and What the Muslims Believe” on the back page of Muhammad Speaks and it is currently on the last page of The Final Call Newspaper.
“We want an immediate end to the police brutality and mob attacks against the so-called Negro throughout the United States. We believe that the Federal government should intercede to see that black men and women tried in white courts receive justice in accordance with the laws of the land—or allow us to build a new nation for ourselves, dedicated to justice, freedom and liberty,” Mr. Muhammad states.
The Black Panther Party addressed police brutality in Point No. 7 of its 10-Point Platform: “We want an immediate end to police brutality and murder of Black people.”
Solidarity and tricks of the enemy
The struggle continues, but now with modern technology and communication platforms like FaceBook, Twitter and Live Stream the word spreads instantly in real time. As a result, the struggle in Ferguson has taken on different dimensions involving a broader base of people.
But a tragedy of Ferguson was the enemy of our struggle telling young people and local people in St. Louis to reject solidarity and support from “outside” people participating, which is a tactical error. History tells us it was outsiders during the civil rights struggle that brought worldwide attention to the cause. It was outsiders who gave their money, their lives and their time to the struggle. A common complaint lodged at Dr. King, as a national figure supporting local struggles for justice in different cities, was that he was an outsider.
Recently one young brother stepped to Rev. Jesse Jackson at a St. Louis rally and challenged him about his motives and accused him of only being present for a photo-op–which I personally thought was disrespectful. In other cases some long-time leaders were booed by the crowds. However, at the same time elders must move away from being seen as apologists and appeasers, seeking acceptance from the former slave-masters.
No people will move forward disrespecting its elders and those who struggled for justice before them–it’s a universal principle. You should value elders and bring them into the conversation. Counsel with them and take what’s good from their words and use them in the modern context of the struggle you are engaged in.
Never show disregard for those who forged the way. They laid the foundation from a history of groping, searching, studying and working for the right way to bring about change that future generations won’t have to bear what they suffered. The elders may not be on the frontlines, but they must be at the table sharing the lessons of struggle–the mistakes and successes–with the young soldiers. Youth must study the historical legacy of our struggle and the price paid in blood, incarceration and exile of activists and leaders. The elders must encourage the young people demonstrating on the streets to maintain consistency even when the media coverage ends. Don’t play to the media; it is not the friend of those who struggle. If you noticed the media spotlights certain leaders and traditional organizations like the NAACP and the Urban League but carefully omits identifying young grassroots activists who are leading the charge across the country.
Young warriors it is you who will lead into the future and upcoming generations will look at you as their foundation.
We all will eventually taste the evil accident of time, which is death. As elders approach the road toward death and reflect on their contributions and legacy, young people in the movement must never be found posturing as though everything done before now was in vain.
There are serious issues plaguing the Black community that elder/youth collaboration can positively effect. If ever there was a time to fight for unity of purpose and bridging the generation gap in the movement, it is now.
This is why we can’t stop, the elders as well as the youth have a role.
Don’t allow our mutual enemy to divide, destroy and stop us from using all of our power to work together until victory is ours. May Allah (God) bless us to achieve freedom and justice for the struggling masses of our people.
(For questions and comments, A. Akbar Muhammad can be reached at [email protected].)