The rebellion contained: the empire strikes back

East Flatbush, BK
East Flatbush, BK

Will from the east coast revolutionary collective, the Fire Next Time, analyzes the ongoing events in East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Submitted by automattick on March 16, 2013

Last night the Empire struck back. It is too simple to say that the NYPD is what I am referring to. No doubt the NYPD came out in greater force and presence then the night of the rebellion. Cops were not only in the air, on horse, but on top of the buildings. There was virtually no escaping the eyes of the law last night. Rebellion in this situation could have only occurred if the size of the crowd was possibly nearing in the thousands. Instead less than one hundred came out. Most noticeably the number of young Black militants was much smaller, although still very noticeable.

However the Empire is not only the NYPD. The different tentacles of the Empire made a powerful appearance, revealing the complexities of the moment. The Black establishment of the likes of Council Member Jumanee Williams made an appearance. A group called Fathers Alive in the Hood (FAITH) made an appearance and Shamar Thomas [1] who made a name for himself during Occupy Wall Street’s heyday. While other players were involved, these were the most obvious.

Jumanee Williams has been at the forefront of attacking the rebellion which occurred on March 13th. I wrote earlier that it was a Black led rebellion with no outside agitation. Williams made an appearance again on March 14th , playing a two faced game. Do the young Black militants know that this man has been running around New York City saying that the brave struggles waged by Black militants have actually been controlled by white outsiders? I can only wonder what the Black militants would say to Williams if they knew of his treachery.

As the night opened up FAITH and Shamar Thomas stood across the street. The class divide could not have been clearer. Across the street were mostly older, well dressed Black people and an occasional youngster. On the other side were the Black militants from the neighborhood, sections of the Black left, and large sections of the Brooklyn anarchist and (ultra-left) communist scene. Also on this side was white and Black protesters standing together in one sense, but still internally divided, which I will explain later.

Eventually Thomas and FAITH crossed the street and came over to the vigil. While bull horns are illegal without a permit, somehow they managed to have a bullhorn. How did this happen? The three points made by this crew of reformists were: a) Black on Black violence needs to be our focus b) We need to keep things peaceful c) We should go to the church to have a dialogue.

This was challenged by a section of the Black left, most prominently, Fatimah Shakur [2]. As soon as she raised the idea of marching to the precinct the standard attacks on her came: she is not from the community; she is putting young people at risk; she is playing into outside agitators. Eventually, the crowd started moving in the direction of the precinct.

Thank God for the Failing Public Education System

While one of the great disasters of America today is the failure of public education, perhaps last night one of its failures turned out to be the reason for the small victories which did occur. To survive in school one of the great skills students develop is to ignore what teachers have to say. Sometimes the best defense against the stupidity of public education is to shut yourself down and create a mental barrier against the filth spewed by teachers. This skill was crucial last night as far as I could tell. What seems clear from last night is that regardless of skin color or politics, the young Black militants from East Flatbush seemed not to listen to anyone.

Great amounts of time were spent by Shamar Thomas, Jumanee Williams, and FAITH in convincing the young militants of their failure. Great time was spent discussing the need to go to church that very night and have a dialogue. The young militants just stared at the misleaders. No one knows what was going through their mind. Perhaps for now what they did is more important then what they thought. Sister Fatimah Shakur and others eventually helped spur a march towards the precinct. Through all of this, the question was where would the young Black militants go: into the church or with the white crowd of anarchists and (ultra-left) communists?

When we finally reached the church, after much yelling and shouting, the crowd filtered past the church. It was not clear what was occurring. It was clear that the anarchist and (ultra-left) communists were not going to the church. It was unclear, besides a few Black militants, what they were doing. Would the march be split along racial lines?

For obvious reasons I decided to go to the precinct. But walking a couple blocks, curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to check out what was going on at the church. I ran back and went into the church. I went inside and found a church that was empty. Instead of the presence of God, the fifteen senior citizens inside were sitting in the presence of awkwardness. There were no young Black militants inside. Instead Shamar Thomas was awkwardly commenting that those in the church did not reflect the community—dare I say that those in church were the outside agitators! Of course Thomas’s comment caused the group to be rather upset. I did not stay any longer. The next question on my mind was, where are the militants from East Flatbush? That now became the important question of the night.

A Window into the Black Vanguard

For a few minutes last night, it was possible to see what the Black revolution, what the Black vanguard might look like. Ultimately what last night was about was the following: For FAITH, Jumannee Williams, and Shamar Thomas it was about containing the insurgency and channeling it into reformist circles. For the revolutionary left, it was seeing how they can interact with the Black militants to foment a healthy rebellion and collaboration. Many times the crowd moved in the direction of the Black militants through the streets. Where they went, the rest of the crowd had to go. There was no choice. It was clear who the potential leadership was.

Understanding the situation we face is crucial. Since The LA Rebellion of 1992, countless rebellions have occurred across the United States. Virtually all of them led by Black or Latino militants, but occasionally including Asians and whites as well. What is important to understand is why these cycles of rebellions have not regenerated a new revolutionary Black left or left in general. In contrast to the rebellions of the 1960s which radicalized Black militants and were directly tied to the formation of the Black Panther Party, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, and many other groups. What explains the lack of a Black revolutionary left in this day and age?

There are many complex reasons for this, ranging from de-industrialization, to mass incarceration, to the formation of a powerful Black middle class. However, one that needs to be understood is the immense powers brought forth to contain and limit the imagination of young Black people by those like Shamar Thomas, Jumanee Williams, and FAITH. Instead of congratulating the young Black militants, instead of saying that now it is time to read “Wretched of the Earth” or “Mass Strike” or “Black Boy” and to plan and expand the rebellion, the only solutions offered were crumbs off the scraps from our Black and white masters in New York City. Community centers, play grounds, etc. is what is offered. That is nothing short of a bribe to fix a gigantic problem looming in America. When millions are in prisons, basketball courts and community centers are the solution according to these people.

The question remains. The rebellions have occurred under immense anger and frustration. But will organic leaders from the militants in East Flatbush emerge who cannot be baited for being an outsider, who cannot be baited for being white, and who have the connections to the poor and working classes of East Flatbush. The politics of Shamar, Williams, and FAITH are about making sure this never happens. The task of anarchists and (ultra-left) communists of all colors is to help this development occur. This is a gigantic task worth much study, conversations, and actual practice.

The Ending of the Night

What eventually came together was that larger groups of Black militants from Flatbush came to the march at the precinct. One could hear and see some of the debates occurring amongst the militants. While at its height maybe 50% of the protest was Black from East Flatbush, at times there were questions raised by some of the militants. They made fun of their friends for marching with white people.

At another more serious moment, I cannot exactly remember when, Shamar Thomas punched a white anarchist and started yelling that nobody was going to kill anybody. He claimed that he saw/heard an anarchist whisper into the year of a young Black militant, that cops should be killed. Seconds later, one or two young Black militants started asking Thomas why he hit “the white nigga”. In that small moment, normalized categories of race were blurred. The white man who was hit became a “white nigga” and Shamar Thomas’s loyalty was under question. However, Thomas is a powerful speaker with a commanding presence that can rival anyone in the movement. He quickly turned the point into white people telling young Black people to do something illegal. Whether this is true or not, I will admit this is poor advice to be giving anyone at this moment. Individual hit jobs are not the answer.

More important is what Shamar Thomas did. I do not know Shamar Thomas. But after what I have seen, I cannot, with good conscious have any working relationship with this person. I saw him hit another protester. When this happened we were at the back end of the protest with maybe ten people around. Most of the people were white and physically much smaller then Thomas. Thomas is a well built Black soldier. It would have taken many of us to physically confront Thomas. However with most of the other people being white, the racial situation contained everyone from reacting. A couple people of color communists had to be held back from confronting Shamar.

Nor can Shamar Thomas ever imagine that there were Black and Brown communists who were talking about the need for armed struggle. Is he going to sock them too? Perhaps Thomas is not aware about the Maoist tradition of People’s Liberation Army which, no matter what disagreements I have with it, has been an inspiration to tens of millions of people of color across the world, and thousands of people of color in the United States. What world is Thomas living in? I can take a small guess. Thomas sees the Black militants from Flatbush only as victims who can never take the great risks that their brothers in sisters in Haiti, South Africa, and/or Watts have taken. For Thomas, his viewpoint is not necessarily of the white man any longer, but of the Black middle class which tries to manage the Black working class and poor.

While I do not think we should have fought back at that moment, anarchists and (ultra-left) communists need to prepared for the next engagement in larger settings. There is no point fighting Thomas when no one is looking. However, anarchists and (ultra-left) communists cannot let racial pimps like Thomas bully them with reformists politics. As long as that occurs, non-Black militants will never get respect in the hood (it should be pointed out that Thomas clearly has no respect in the hood either). Anarchist and (ultra-left) communists have a proud tradition of being against all middle classes and rulers, regardless of color. We need to figure out how to put that into practice in such difficult situations as Thomas will present. This will not be the last time.

Thomas has used his Iraq war Veteran status for a long time in the movement. It is time he is called out for this. Ironically, he is against outside agitators, but has he ever thought that he was an outside agitator in Iraq, putting down righteous insurgencies against US Empire? Has anyone questioned him on what he has done in Iraq? Was he a glorified toilet cleaner in the country or was he hunting down Iraqi militants and killing them? The hypocrisy and opportunism of Thomas could not be more glaring. He preaches non-violence and I could only imagine what he has done in Iraq. He hit another protester.

Anarchists, (ultra-left) communists, and left-nationalists of all colors need to wage a serious political struggle against he likes of Shamar Thomas. Thomas has existed inside the movement for too long. But no white militants are willing to stand up to Shamar because of the race question. Thomas hides behind the color of his skin. And no Black militant is willing to stand up to Thomas because of betraying ranks or just calling out another Black man. I am not white or Black. I am a South Asian Muslim immigrant. And for now, I will stand up to this clown who pimps his US military experience, hides behind the color of his skin, and intimidates people with violence while advocating non-violence. I look forward to meeting Shamar Thomas. I believe he should not be seen as part of the movement under any circumstances.

Questions Which Remain

I passed out a flyer to maybe 30-40 young militants. I usually said to them, “Congratulations on whoever took part in last night’s rebellion. Victory to East Flatbush,” or some variation of that. I usually got a smile and an acknowledgement of thanks and that was it. But that is exactly the point. I saw no conversations of worth taking place between the young militants from East Flatbush and anyone. They were not talking to politicians, not talking to the Black left, not talking to mostly white anarchists or ultra left communists. The point is that it is not clear what the young militants think.

What did they make of all the white people in the protest? Did they know that most of the white people in the protest were anarchists and (ultra-left) communists? Did they know that there were Black and Brown anarchists and (ultra-left) communists?

Do the militants from East Flatbush know that Williams, Thomas and FAITH are saying their rebellion was caused by Machiavellian white people from the outside?

Why did the militants decide not to go to church and instead march with the white crowd, turning it into a clearly multi-racial march? Do the militants think that the white people are soft? Do the militants know that some of the white militants have fought very bravely in rebellions and in many other parts of the world?

Ironically, why have the presence of “outside agitators” actually led to peaceful demonstrations. The two nights of rebellions were when no “outside agitators” were present. What does this mean? When the revolutionary left shows up, nothing happens. This is something to think about.

Concluding Thoughts…

It is clear that Thomas, Williams, and FAITH are just as scared of the young Black militants as the police and white racists are. This is something which has to be said loud and clear. However, that analysis leaves little for serious revolutionaries to act upon other than calling them out.

I often hear from all kinds of revolutionaries and liberals that our youth today are misguided and have low consciousness. I am well aware of the many political problems in the community. However, young people are trying under the most difficult of circumstances to figure the way out of capitalism’s mess. The problem remains that a fundamentally different vision does not exist at this moment even with the young Black militants. How an anti-capitalist and liberatory vision emerge is a serious question. To simply say it will emerge or already exists does not explain precisely the lack of such a vision.

In a period when capitalism and racialism knows no categories of outside agitators, when they send Shamar Thomas to Iraq to kill Iraqis, we should not recognize the category of outside agitator. Everyone knows the anti-communist and racist origins of that argument. There is no need to go into the history of it here. It only exposes what side Thomas is on. Furthermore, the outside agitator argument hides the makers of history and politics today: poor and working class people. Another question which remains is, does the outside agitator argument help build multi-racial struggle? Are white workers, are transit workers, are nurses, are Latino poor and working class people from the Bronx, or Bangladeshi in Jackson Heights who have gone through deportations, arrests, stop and frisks and much more, outside agitators if they show up at these protests? What the outside agitator argument fears is what will happen when oppressed people who often distrust each other, realize that their freedom lies in common liberation against the middle classes and rulers of their respective communities. Those who make the outside agitator argument fear the masses. After all, think of all the great revolutionaries in our past in the USA: Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X, Ricardo Flores Magon, or Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Were these people not outside agitators at some point in their lives?

- Will
Fire Next Time


[2] Not clear if she is in a group, but certainly has well defined Black nationalist politics.