(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
March 01, 2009
Recalling State Repression Of Black People In The USA - II
THE Black Panther Party however was not the FBI/CIA’s only target, just a ‘favoured’ one. The other famous targets of the Black movement were Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King Jr and many more. Unlike either Malcolm X and Carmichael, King Jr was a non-violent activist using satyagraha as his means of protest. But he too was not spared from the government’s surveillance and strong-arm tactics leading finally to his assassination. Also significantly, Carmichael just before his death due to serious illness said that the disease was introduced in his body by the American imperialists in a plot to assassinate him. A statement which was corroborated by the Washington Post and AP news agency in a report on CIA’s abuses of its powers in June 2007. Despite lack of hard evidence, the US administration’s dislike of King Jr and the ‘potential threat’ he posed to them was mentioned by Hoover in his Counter Intelligence Programme (COINTELPRO) directive goal number two about preventing the “Rise Of A ‘Messiah’ who could unify, and electrify the militant black nationalist movement”. The directive reads “Malcolm X might have been such a ‘messiah’; he is the martyr of the movement today. Martin Luther King Jr, Stokely Carmichael and Elijah Muhammed all aspire to this position. Elijah Muhammed is less of a threat because of his age. King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed “obedience” to “white, liberal doctrines” (non-violence) and embrace Black Nationalism” (emphasis added). Two months following this directive, King was shot dead in a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. This abuse of power by the CIA and FBI and their impunity to it is brought out by Hoover’s boastful claim of calling his own office the “Seat of Government” (SoG) as he had been waived off the compulsory retirement rule by US president Ford. This prolonged service had allowed him to see presidents come and go!
The manic attitude of the US government is highlighted in the act of the FBI and CIA carrying out extensive spying on its own citizens cutting across social lines. From unknown activists or groups to well-known personalities including actors, artists and even presidents were tracked and files kept about them. World renowned boxer Muhammad Ali, famous for his anti-Vietnam War statement “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong ... They never called me nigger”, was one such ‘famous’ target. Apart from this, many Hollywood celebrities, scientists, thinkers etc were targeted too for their liberal views. The list even includes US president Franklin D Roosevelt’s wife Eleanor Roosevelt whose personal life was spied on and documented owing to her liberal views and opposition to the FBI’s Gestapo like work. Actually documenting private lives was more the norm than exception for Hoover who bugged leading public personalities in their offices, homes and stays in hotel rooms, often using such information to blackmail the victims. As the Church Committee noted in its concluding report saying “Too many people have been spied upon by too many government agencies and too much information has been collected. The government has often undertaken the secret surveillance of citizens on the basis of their political beliefs, even when those beliefs posed no threat of violence or illegal acts on behalf of a hostile foreign power. The Government, operating primarily through secret informants, but also using other intrusive techniques such as wiretaps, microphone “bugs”, surreptitious mail opening, and break-ins, has swept in vast amounts of information about the personal lives, views, and associations of American citizens. Investigations of groups deemed potentially dangerous – and even of groups suspected of associating with potentially dangerous organisations – have continued for decades, despite the fact that those groups did not engage in unlawful activity. Groups and individuals have been harassed and disrupted because of their political views and their lifestyles. Investigations have been based upon vague standards whose breadth made excessive collection inevitable. Unsavoury and vicious tactics have been employed —including anonymous attempts to break up marriages, disrupt meetings, ostracise persons from their professions, and provoke target groups into rivalries that might result in deaths”.
About the use of violence against Black and Left groups, the report says “Governmental officials – including those whose principal duty is to enforce the law – have violated or ignored the law over long periods of time and have advocated and defended their right to break the law”. The committee doesn’t exonerate the judiciary and the executive either and they have been implicated owing to its complicity to the whole subversive process by saying, “The Constitutional system of checks and balances has not adequately controlled intelligence activities. Until recently the executive branch has neither delineated the scope of permissible activities nor established procedures for supervising intelligence agencies. Congress has failed to exercise sufficient oversight, seldom questioning the use to which its appropriations were being put. Most domestic intelligence issues have not reached the courts, and in those cases when they have reached the courts, the judiciary has been reluctant to grapple with them.”
This covert ‘governance’, however, did not end with Hoover. The continuance of covert governance is seen from the USA Today expose on May 10, 2006 about the four largest telephone companies in the USA – AT&T, SBC, BellSouth and Verizon – who were part of the National Security Agency (NSA) created database of over 1.9 trillion call records. Despite public outcry, the Bush administration gave the NSA and all telecom companies a blanket immunity to carry on legally what they had earlier done illegally.
Repression of the Black populace is still strong while the populace itself is poor and weak. The Justice Policy Institute based in Washington DC in 2000 showed that a staggering 7,91,600 black men are in American prisons and county jails. Contrast this with only 6,03,032 black people enrolled in colleges and universities. The organisation’s president, Vincent Schiraldi, scathingly noted the government’s lackadaisical response by saying “If we were saying that more White, middle-class men were being sent to prison than to college, the president would have to declare a state of emergency”. In a country where according to census the Black populace is just 12.8 per cent as opposed to the overwhelming majority of 80.1 per cent Whites, the prisons show that Black people occupy nearly half of the nation’s prisons cells. Forty one per cent of all death row inmates are Black. Texas expectedly leads with the George W Bush-ruled state having 70 per cent of the inmates on death row as non-white. For a country that once used to punish black slaves for ‘erring’ by burying them alive, the criminal justice system in the US still varies according to the accused and accuser’s race.
This racial bias is noted by many human rights watch groups based on the US government’s own Justice Department’s reports. For example, today in the US, since resumption of judicial killings in 1976 after a gap of 4 years, Whites and Blacks have been murdered in equal numbers. However 80 per cent of those sentenced to death since then are Blacks. The case of murder accused Harvey Green, a black citizen from North Carolina, is exemplary of this bias. Green was put to death for the murder of two White men although in the same year in all 550 other murders had taken place and none of those invited the death penalty. As noted by the US Supreme Court itself in a 1994 observation in the Callins Vs Collins case under Justice Blackmun, “Even under the most sophisticated death penalty statutes, race continues to play a major role in determining who shall live and who shall die.” Between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 1999 in Texas, none of the murders that involved non-white victims resulted in a death sentence while all accused of White victims’ murders were given death sentences. Their governor, George W Bush, gave a measly average of 15 minutes of consideration to each death penalty case on his desk.
So, there is an undeniable truth in Obama’s statement when he said at the 2004 National Convention of Democrats “…let’s face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely [owing to his racial pedigree]”. One wishes to believe him when he said in his “Race Speech” in the March of 2008, “But what we know – what we have seen – is that America can change.”
But the questions glaring at him and his “change” arising from “what we know” and “what we have seen” are too strong to ignore. History as of now stands by any cynicism about his version of “audacious hope”. Obama, for example, says nothing to oppose the free market that sponsors hate in the first place. On the contrary he says on CNBC channel “Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market”. Does he have an option but to love the market? Did any American president ever have so in the past? So even if he says “I won’t shop there” for Wal-Mart because it is one of the country’s lowest wage payers to low-level employees many of whom are Black, he has to make Wal-Mart official Jason Furman head his economic policy team. Will he be able to reign in the FBI, CIA, NSA, Pentagon and the like who perpetrate State repression on the Blacks? Will he really be in the ‘Seat of Government’ or will it still be in the Hoover building or in Langley or in the Pentagon? How will he undo ages of injustice when he comes from a party that is intrinsically related to the repression he wishes to change? How will he change the culture of beating, maiming and killing protesters when he keeps silent on the US Army’s Northern Command unit recently made “guideline” specifically for ‘internal use’? How can he reign in the Frankensteins of repression in foreign lands to stop them from turning on the internal ‘enemies’ when he chooses to remain silent on the diabolic massacres of Gazans? Even his call for change is impregnated with ominous doubts when he says “I thank president Bush for his service to our nation…” Even if one optimistically assumes the thank-you as simply an extension of a courtesy to a former president, it nonetheless remains a thank-you to a person who was a very important part of a largely White-dominated US history that has bled the Blacks since ages.