Bernice Ligon, the co-owner of Aquarian Books in Los Angeles, California, U.S., suffered the loss of her store, then the oldest African owned bookstore in Los Angeles, to fire during the 1992 urban rebellion against police terrorism. Arson investigators confirmed later that Aquarian Books wasn’t the target of the fire. Instead, neighboring businesses in the strip mall where the bookstore was housed were set on fire and the blaze spread to destroy the bookstore along with several other businesses. Even before that last bit of information was confirmed, immediately after losing the store, Mrs. Ligon was asked on live television how she felt. She responded that she was heartbroken, but if losing her store was part of the price that had to be paid to bring about justice against police terror, it was a price she was willing to pay. The analysis provided by Brother Malcolm and Mrs. Ligon is all that’s needed to confirm that no one who cares about justice and humanity is paying any attention to the fact the bourgeoisie and petti bourgeoisie are suffering a little financial inconvenience.
That’s an important backdrop because lots of African people, expressing their frustration and anger at this continued oppression are saying if they are murdered by police, they wish to encourage people to burn the system down. Every bit of that anger and frustration is valid, but for me, that wish is nowhere near enough. Every African life, every life period, is worth so much more than any capitalist entity that I cringe at the notion that burning down a building is somehow equivalent to the injustice of systemic murder against our people. Plus, if I’m murdered by police, that isn’t just a personal assault against me. If I’m in a conflict with the police, that’s a reflection of the systemic oppression directed at African people. That oppression is directed at us because the capitalist system is fueled by its exploitation of Africa. The police repression against us exists because police exists to ensure we are kept under thumb to prohibit us from recognizing the reasons for our oppression. Sekou Ture was correct when he said “imperialism will find its grave in Africa!” The ruling classes know that the moment the African masses recognize our connection to Africa we will ask why Africa is so rich, yet we are so poor. The moment that is the primary question on our minds we will start to organize to address that reality. The minute we do that, capitalism’s days are numbered. That is the sole reason they utilize their police to repress us everywhere we live on earth. Since I recognize that, I cannot individualize my death if it comes at the hands of police and/or their wannabes. I want my death to be political like everything else in my life. I want my death to symbolize our work to eradicate police and the capitalist system. So, for me, that translates to asking that if I’m murdered by police, my wish for everyone is that you join an organization. If you wish to honor me, join an organization and by that I mean make a lifelong commitment to struggle with other people for mutual objectives. Make a commitment to work through adversity, challenges, fatigue, etc., to build a vehicle to move us farther along towards revolution. For most of us, making that level of commitment is going to require some serious changes in our lives. In looking at that way, it should be quite clear that with this approach, we are talking about much more than my individual death. That’s exactly how I wish people would respond. And, joining an organization is just the first step. I wish people would do that and then engage serious work to ensure that organization you are a part of has a strong and consistent political education component. That means regular study around things like police terrorism against African people everywhere, the history of capitalism’s ties to our enslavement, the method in which our poverty fuels capitalism’s wealth.
To accompany your organizational membership and your political education program, the last component must be a community defense project. A project that requires you to go into communities and do work to prepare communities to defend themselves against police terror in particular, and generalized white supremacy attacks in general. If you study, you will find that after the Los Angeles police murdered Nation of Islam member Ronald Stokes in 1962, Malcolm X responded by calling for the same types of responses I’m calling for here, even if the Nation of Islam prevented Malcolm from building those types of structures at that time. If you study, you will find that the Black Panther Party, through its chairperson Bobby Seale, called for the same types of responses when the Oakland, California, U.S., police murdered Lil Bobby Hutton in April of 1968. When asked by a reporter if the Panthers intended to “retaliate” Seale cleverly responded that the people need to be organized to retaliate. In other words, Malcolm and Seale didn’t call for people to hit the streets and break windows after the deaths of their comrades at the hands of police. Each organizer called on communities to get organized.
I realize that my wish is a lot more involved than burning a building and that’s the point. Burning a building takes a few minutes. The actions I’m wishing for if I’m murdered by police requires a lifelong commitment. Also, my request, somewhere along the way, probably includes burning things, but not as an individual act, but a part of an organized effort to achieve something larger whereas just stopping with burning a building doesn’t necessarily include anything else to advance us.
Finally, my request is based in my emotional fatigue at seeing us suffer through brutal oppression everyday with no response other than reactions against each individual act against our dignity. I’m way past reacting. I sincerely desire to see us move from reaction to pro-action which means getting to work to build revolutionary institutions that can dismantle police and all institutions of oppression. I’m so to that point that if all you are willing to do is one simple act like burning a stupid car if I’m murdered, and you are not willing to organize for permanent change, I would prefer that you just not do anything. So, consider this my public will. if I’m murdered, please respect my wishes and join an organization. Build a political education program within that organization and a community defense project to accompany your political education work. Don’t shortchange my life and my contributions by just reducing my life, and other people’s lost lives, to just a stupid window being broken. If that’s all you do, you are demonstrating that your true objective is just to feel better at the frustration you feel. This discussion needs to evolve past that. We are not trying to just find ways to co-exist with the capitalist system. We should be trying to work to destroy it and build something better. Avenge my death by contributing to doing something better. I can make that request of you because you are still living and my contribution and respect towards you is already doing all of the things I’m asking you to do once I’m killed. That of course means you don’t really need to wait for me to be killed to do these things now either.