Two events in 2015 should attract the attention of Black social justice and anti-racist organizers/activists throughout the United States. Both involve Black women who used social media platforms to express their militant anger with rampant police brutality. Both ended with arrests, and both demonstrate the limits of free speech when expressed as militant and inflammatory rhetoric in the post-911 period of the U.S. police state.
In April, Georgia resident Ebony Dickens, using the name Tiffany Milan, posted on Facebook:
All Black ppl should rise up and shoot at every white cop in the nation starting NOW.
I condone black on white killings. Hell they condone crimes against us.
I’ve thought about shooting every white cop I see in the head until I’m either caught by the police or killed by them. Ha!!! I think I can pull it off. Might kill at least fifteen tomorrow. I’m plotting now.
The East Point and Atlanta police along with the FBI and federal Homeland Security Department moved swiftly to arrest Ebony the following day. She was eventually charged with “disseminating information related to terrorist acts,” given a $10,000 bond, and banned from using social media.
Latausha Nedd, aka “Eye Empress Sekhmet,” also a Black woman living in Georgia, was arrested by U.S. Marshals and FBI agents on September 24th for comments she made on a YouTube clip in which she allegedly declared war against whites and racist police. At one point, Latausha holds a machete in one hand and a pistol in another, while proclaiming, “It’s open season on a motherfu-king cracker!” The judge later denied her bond, and video of her in court has gone viral.
I’ve heard two primary responses from community folk regarding these incidents:
1. “I don’t condone what they said, but I also don’t think they should’ve been arrested, either.”
2. “They are some got-damned fools, talking reckless like that on Facebook or YouTube! What did they expect to happen?
Depending on your sociopolitical frame of reference and life experiences, both perspectives contain elements of validity. Of course, intelligence and reason dictate that we do not start or end our discussion with these particular incidents. Unlike the sensationalist mainstream (corporate) media, we must dig deeper for meaning and context, to put these incidents into perspective.
The first thing we must consider takes us back to the year 2001 and the tragic loss of life on September 11th. The shocking attacks on the World Trade Center complex in New York City coupled with a similar attack on the Pentagon building in the nation’s capital, created national outrage, fear and waves of paranoia that cut across racial, ethnic, and religious lines.
Conspiracy theorists suggested that the U.S. government itself initiated these attacks in an effort to scapegoat fundamentalist Muslims and justify military invasion of the oil-rich “Middle East.”
Conservative patriots and Islamaphobes argued that the United States must “send a message” to Islamic “terrorists” and their sympathizers in the U.S.: “We are the leader of the free world, and we will NOT tolerate intimidation or coercion from those jealous or resentful of our way of life.”
Whatever the angle or perspective of these pundits, however valid or outrageous their logic, the outcome of their combined views was inevitable. With a fanaticism that rivaled that of the alleged terrorists it sought to guard against, the United States launched an unprecedented series of actions to tighten national security against both external and internal threats. These ranged from the creation of a new federal department (Homeland Security), laws (USA Patriot Act) and government surveillance programs (Prism).
As is customary in times of great national hysteria, “We the Sheeple” waived our privacy and search and seizure rights (or at least did not vigorously protest to uphold them) in exchange for the rather elusive promise of “national safety.”
Section 802 of the 342-page USA Patriot Act broadly defines an act of domestic terrorism as “An act dangerous to human life.” It goes on to specify this as an act that appears to:
- Intimidate or coerce a civilian population
- Influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion
- Affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping
In this context, we understand why it might not be wise to make violent calls of retribution against police officers, particularly in public social media spaces where such proclamations remain documented for people to see and hear long after the fact. Also, it’s near impossible to deny or falsely represent what you said or wrote when paranoid and petty law enforcement agents can easily see the video or read and download the post at their leisure.
When we publicly record our speech or writing, we waive this important right, and what we say or do, will absolutely be used against us in court. Therefore, we must use discretion and observe our Fifth Amendment right NOT TO INCRIMINATE OURSELVES, or be prepared to face the outcome when we do.
I also caution us not to confuse impromptu and angry proclamations with effective movements to effectively challenge injustice and mistreatment. The first stems from frustration and despair; the latter comes from righteous indignation fused with accurate analysis, along with sustained and strategic grassroots organizing. Getting snatched into the enemy’s captivity without having the opportunity to hold a rally, meeting, protest, boycott, fundraiser, community patrol or anything else, is a victory only for the enemy.
And yet, we cannot simply critique our sisters without empathy. We all understand their frustration and despair. We too, tired of rampant acts of police brutality without punishment. We tire of people subtly or indiscreetly mocking or trivializing our “Black lives matter” call by responding that “All lives matter;” We don’t appreciate people calling us oversensitive, impatient, or reverse racist when we address our societal issues from our own perspective and vantage point; We cringe in anger when media personalities attempt to absolve police of guilt by divulging the criminal record of the brother or sister they killed.
Most telling about race and racism in the United States, is that 2 Black women were arrested for allegedly making verbal threats to whites or police officers. But whites and racist police officers assault or kill Black people every 28 hours and rarely get indicted let alone arrested.
That is the point… That we cannot fall victim to the skewed perspective of others or adopt their hypocritical priorities. The media would have us gasp in horror at the actions of sisters Ebony Dickens and Latausha Nedd. They’d like us to condemn and distance ourselves from these “crazy and evil” women.
Did they lack discretion? Yes. Were their actions wise? No. But I for one will believe their actions pale in comparison to the actions of this white supremacist government, its corporations, prison system, miseducation system, and economic system. Our greatest concern should not be with a few frustrated Black people who speak without discretion on social media, but an entire system of oppression that maims, miseducates, murders, and maligns the Black, Brown, and poor in this country with impunity!
At the same time, and in the interest of effective organizing and privacy, we should take measures to secure our phone conversations, emails and texts (there are apps for this) and speak with clarity, conviction and discretion. Those snooping in our calls often fail to differentiate between raving maniacs and legitimate progressive-minded activists. If the enemy wants to lock us up and sabotage our liberation movement, we should make his job difficult, not easier….. and we should support our sisters being persecuted and teach them how to effectively Keep it Real in the age of domestic terrorism….
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.