The Immovable Black Lumpenproletariat

Though I cannot condone it, much of the violence inflicted on my gang rivals and other blacks was an unconscious display of my frustration with poverty, racism, police brutality and other systemic injustices routinely visited upon residents of urban black colonies such as south central Los Angeles. I was frustrated because I felt trapped. I internalized the defeatist rhetoric propagated as street wisdom in my hood that there were only 3 ways out of south central, migration death or incarceration. I located a fourth option: incarcerated death.

Stanley Tookie Williams, Blue Rage, Black Redemption: A Memoir.

It should be made clear, if in any case there was no critical observation of the phenomena, that in our, to use ancestor bell hooks’ phrase, ‘imperialist, colonial settler, white supremacist, capitalist, cis hetero patriarchal society,’ Black people (of all ages and gender identities) are under ceaseless exploitation and violence via surveillance, harassment, instigations and so on. With attention to Black-led organizations, factions, collectives, and in this case particularly, Black gangs, there is unquestionably a white supremacist outroar from racists (media or otherwise), who deem these communities (the Black lumpenproletariat) a threat to the status quo.

Fuck respectability politics; and this is to say that regardless of the objective of a Black collective, be it as revolutionary as the Black Guerilla Family (BGF), a Marxist-Leninist group that originated in San Quentin State Prison and was founded by ancestor George Jackson in 1966 or the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded by ancestor Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Du Bois and several other members in 1909, we’re niggas at the end of the day.

While we can present arguments for what this statement means is not the point, but rather, the sociohistorical result of change that is assuredly established when Black people have long struggled for: Black Liberation. Black history is every day. Black history in itself chronicles resistance, togetherness, solidarity, commonality, righteous insurgence, mutuality, love—humanism, notably the urgency for Black self-defense against the white supremacist police state.

Let us also highlight that in spite of these elements, we recognize the settler-fascistic entities that have been responsible for the many deaths, infightings, conspiracies, and consistent destabilizations of Black-led movements, organizations, and to this day, Black gangs. Prior to the Black Panthers — and what many of us know in modern day as Crips, and Bloods, were their historical predecessors, The Slausons, The Businessmen, and The Gladiators, Black-led gangs that originated in Los Angeles during the 1940s. The sociopolitical function of these gangs were a direct response against white supremacist gangs like the Spook Hunters who regularly terrorized Black people because of the growing Black population at the time— white flight.

In the 1960s and 70s, an example of this is Kwanzaa’s founder, Ron Karenga, who was not only a violent, self-hating, misogynist responsible for kidnapping and torturing Black women, but also, an agent of fascist J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO, who exacerbated the infighting between the Black Panthers and the US Organization. Subsequently, this led to the murders of four members of the Black Panthers, whose names went by John Huggins, Sylvester Bell, Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter and John Savage.

Around the same time the Black Power movement was building momentum, the Gangster Disciples, founded by Larry Hoover, were a Black-led faction based in Chicago in the 1970s and 80s. In the same way, the Black Disciples, founded by David Barksdale, were another Black faction based in Chicago that was created at the grassroots, organizing projects such as the free breakfast program for the community and marching together with Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1966. On Aug. 5, 1966, in Marquette Park, where King was planning to lead a march to a realtor’s office to demand properties be sold to everyone regardless of their race, he got swarmed by about 700 white protestors hurling bricks, bottles and rocks. One of those rocks hit King, and his aides rushed to shield him.

Stanley Tookie Williams, who co-founded the Crips alongside Raymond Washington in 1971, established a groundwork in which Black folk would defend themselves and their communities from neighboring adversaries in Los Angeles. Similarly, the Bloods, created by Sylvester Scott, were later created as a direct response in opposition to the Crips. Contrary to this occurrence, the remarkable moments in Black history where Bloods and Crips, despite their incendiary rivalries against each other, have come together in solidarity to protest state-sanctioned police violence against Black people. To echo the sentiment of George Jackson in his book, Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters of George Jackson:

Settle your quarrels, come together, understand the reality of our situation, understand that fascism is already here, that people are already dying who could be saved, that generations more will live poor butchered half-lives if you fail to act. Do what must be done, discover your humanity and your love in revolution.

We highlight instances of collective protest in Atlanta, the unity of rival Bloods and Crips gangs taking place after the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992, unity between Bloods, Crips, and the Nation of Islam in Baltimore, who banned together in honor and righteous vengeance against the state-sanctioned murder of Freddie Gray, Newark, New Jersey and a March For Peace in The Bronx that was led by rival gangs inspired by the wrongful murder of Nipsey Hussle.

Bringing further attention to the history of white supremacist, State-sanctioned violence toward Black people in the US and across the world, we understand that surveillance and more specifically, indictment, an arbitrary charge or accusation of a crime, is no new concept to us. To be Black itself is a crime in the world. In the article, Black is Crime: Notes on Blaqillegalism, writer Dubian Ade states,

What a crime it is to be Black. To have the police be called on you for sitting in a restaurant, for grilling at a cookout, selling water, going to the pool, taking a nap, standing on the corner; to be Black and to have the presence of one’s very own body break the law and to know at any given moment a police officer can slam you to the ground and cuff you for resisting arrest, which is to say, arrest you for absolutely no reason at all. Blackness carries this implication that a law is or has been broken and is about to be broken in the future. It is the color and sign of criminal activity under white supremacist capitalism used to justify the mass incarceration and extra-judicial murder of Black people by and large.

But what are the origins of this strenuous relationship between Blackness and the law? In what ways is Black criminalization constituted under the state? And if Blackness is already criminalized in the eyes of the law, what are the features of already existing Black illegal forms and what might the theoretical contours of Black illegalism (Blaqillegalism) that is principled and above all revolutionary look like?

Ancestor Huey P. Newton has already answered this question of Black criminality:

…existence is violent; I exist, therefore I am violent in that way.

To emphasize, the carceral State spares no Black human being. To name a few, learn about Mutulu Shakur, stepfather of Tupac Amaru Shakur and a member of the Black Liberation Army, who was just released from prison in December of last year after serving 60 years in prison; he was informed he only has a few months to live due to terminal cancer in April. Another is Marshall “Eddie” Conway, an elder of the Black Panther Party, who was sentenced to serving 43 years to life in prison for self-defense. Look to the instance of Tay-K, who was 19 at the time he was indicted and sentenced to 55 years in prison. 23-year old YNW Melly, who was indicted and is facing the death penalty. Look at the indictment of YSL and Young Thug and Gunna—the Woos and the Choos, the YGz and Drilly indictment and now 19-year old Kay Flock, who was just indicted with the death penalty being listed as a possible charge.

I repeat, the death penalty.

Where else have we heard the inhumane sentencing of young Black and Brown children and teenagers across AmeriKKKa?

Recall the wrongful conviction of 14-year old George Stinney in 1944, who the carceral State put to death by electric chair for allegedly murdering two white girls. The antiBlack State ritualistically likens itself to heroism and yet, their actions remain wickedly ironic because it has always been the State that has not been held accountable for its innumerable human rights violations against Black people. As long as the antiBlack State exists, there is no transformative recourse for Black and Brown lives (especially Black children and Black teenagers).

By the same token, it is far too reductive (and victim-blaming) to present cases that serve as counterarguments to the material reality in which Black children and adults are continuously subjected to. With Malcolm X’s truism, by any means necessary in mind, often many Black folk are left with no choice to navigate this colonial settler, white supremacist world in the best ways we can as a means of not only defending ourselves and our communities against the white supremacist power structure, but also surviving under it. Black feminist and scholar, bell hooks, highlights the two-sidededness of this racial, socio-existential dilemma in her text, We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity:

In today’s world, most upwardly mobile educated black males from privileged class backgrounds share with their poor and underclass counterparts an obsession with money as the marker of successful manhood. They are as easily corrupted as their disenfranchised brothers, if not more so because the monetary stakes, as well as the rewards in their mainstream work world, are higher…assimilated black males who are “white identified” find it easier to submit to fickle arrogant white males (and white female bosses) in the workplace. However, most black males suffer psychologically in the world of work whether they make loads of money or low wages from overt and covert racially based psychological terrorism.

hooks continues:

Young beautiful brilliant black power male militants were the first black leftists to loudly call out the evils of capitalism. And during that call they unmasked wage slavery, naming it for what it was. Yet at the end of the day a black man needed money to live. If he was not going to get it working for the man, it could come from hustling his own people. Black power militants, having learned from Dr. King and Malcolm X how to call out the truth of capitalist-based materialism, identified it as gangsta culture. Patriarchal manhood was the theory and gangsta culture was its ultimate practice. No wonder then that black males of all ages living the protestant work ethic, submitting in the racist white world, envy the lowdown hustlers in the black communities who are not slaves to white power.

I have strong abolitionist sympathies and feel as though a potential alternative to the futility—the inherent uselessness of incarceration—of imprisoning Black children—Black people, is divesting money from state to state and putting the funds toward building transformative rehabilitation centers across the country similarly to the Success Stories Program. As stated in their mission and values statement, the primary focus of the Success Stories program is this:

Our mission is to provide an alternative to prisons that builds safer communities by delivering feminist programming to people who have caused harm.​ We envision a world free of prisons and patriarchy as the dominant culture. We build a world where harmful behavior is seen as a symptom of patriarchy to be transformed, in the community, by our program and others like it.

What happens when the State persistently (and wrongfully) indicts Black women, men, queer folk, and children for so-called “crimes” will never resolve anything — it will never curtail anything. We are looking at a generational passing down of Black factions (of the newer generation) that will continue to repeat itself. These factions, which are defined as a group or clique within a larger group, party, government, organization, or the like, typically having different opinions and interests than the larger group, are often born out of an aversion to episodic, economic violence, impoverishment, governmental negligence, fascist police violence, —the white establishment and a yearning—a desperation to belong (commonly by homosocial bonding) to establish camaraderie between one another. In other words, regardless of many indictments the State puts on Black people, the lumpenproletariat collectives that the State has destabilized will naturally be reborn out of generational factions in our continued struggle against the deathly whims of the US Empire.

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Patrick Jonathan Derilus is an American-born Haitian independent writer and Goodreads author who resides in Brooklyn, New York. Their pronouns are he, him, his, or they, them, theirs. They write poetry, short stories, and essays. They are published in RaceBaitR, Rabble Literature Magazine, Cutlines Press Magazine, Linden Avenue Literature Magazine, and elsewhere. They are the author of their 2016 anthological work, Thriving Fire: Musings of A Poet’s Odyssey and newest ebook, Perennial: a collection of letters.