Days after the racially massacre at Tops Grocery store in Buffalo, President Biden motivated called on all races to speak up and reject white supremacy in America. But the president did not provide a road map on how to do that, nor did he issue any executive orders to address this rise in white supremacist violence.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced measures to address the rise in domestic terrorism by white supremacists. But while the federal government was aware of the surge in white supremacist extremism in the United States well before the racially-motivated massacre in Buffalo occurred, the feds have yet to provide any concrete policies to prevent white supremacist extremists from targeting Black and brown lives. This lack of action feeds deeply seeded mistrust of law enforcement.
In 2020, “PBS NewsHour” reported that two-thirds of African Americans don’t trust the police to protect people of color who, historically, have been targets of white rage. That makes them deaf to proposed actions by Mr. Garland’s DOJ because of this lack of trust in law enforcement.
In the early-20th century, extreme violence by white supremacists resulted in the massacres of Black communities in Rosewood, Florida; Tulsa, Oklahoma, and other parts of the Jim Crow south. These acts were attempts to suppress racial progress and delay the emergence of equality.
In the mid-20th century, the civil rights movement fought back nonviolently, securing watershed civil rights reforms. However, the movement failed to eradicate the evil fueling the growth of white supremacist extremism we experience today, which resulted in the racially motivated mass shootings in Buffalo, Charleston, South Carolina; and El Paso, Texas.
These deadly incidents confirm that white supremacists are waging war on Black and brown lives in a campaign attempt on genocide. This cannot be allowed to continue. Action is required. This is nonnegotiable. Yet, the FBI fails to track let alone prosecute murders committed by white supremacists.
As we all know too well, efforts to ban guns have stalled in the US for years — not one mass shooting in the US within the past 30 years has succeeded in influencing the passage of a national gun ban. Yet, gun bans in other countries continue to be successful in preventing future mass shootings.
Without any viable countermeasures at the federal level, including sensitive gun control legislation that doesn’t infringe on the provisions of the second amendment, radicalized white supremacists will continue targeting and killing Black and brown people. This threat is real and isn’t going away.
Unfortunately, California just made it easier for minors to obtain semi-automatic rifles as conservative judges in California recently struck down a state gun protection law that was enacted in reaction to the 2018 Parkland shooting. Lifting this regulation signals the de-prioritization of lives and public safety in California.
Given the incremental nature of policymaking to bring about sweeping legislation that prioritizes and protect lives, as well as the FBI’s poor response to address white supremacist extremism, people of color can’t afford to wait for the government to take bold strokes to do what’s necessary to protect our lives and our communities. We have to protect ourselves.
There needs to be a sufficient response from minority communities to counter white supremacist violence, one that will ensure protections and reduce harms. It must be developed and led by impacted groups, given policymakers are failing to act swiftly to protect vulnerable populations from racist acts of violence.
To be clear, I’m not calling for anyone to arm themselves against white supremacists. Nor is this a cry for vigilantism. This is a call for a sufficient response from minority communities toward white supremacists that will give racists a reason to think twice about destroying Black and brown lives with guns.
Undeniably, the demography of the US population is changing. By 2045, it’s expected that white people will become the minority in the United States. No amount of racist terrorism nor misinformation will halt the upcoming shift in America’s racial composition. Yet, there’s an advantage here that allows for the creation of a collective response from Black and brown America to address the rise in white supremacist violence against them.
Form a coalition. The civil rights movement, Occupy Wall Street and countless other movements proved that change is achievable when people are united toward a common goal. Let’s agree to work together to identify what’s important and what’s needed to protect our communities and move forward to build momentum. Working with allies will be important here, including organizations such as Color of Change, the Southern Poverty Law Center and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. We’re stronger together.
Have a seat at the surveillance table. Build relationship with a liaison from the DOJ and demand to be informed on a consistent basis of credible threats to your immediate community by federal and state law enforcement officials so that you know how to take action and protect yourself and your community.
Develop a strategy to change the trajectory of racist harms against people of color. If I’ve learned one thing as a community advocate, it’s that change is possible when there’s a strategic plan. Let’s get in the same room and plan a course of action, and gather resources to put prioritized ideas into motion that effectively counter and respond to white supremacists’ campaign of violence.
Demand change, tenaciously. The movement for racial reckoning succeeded in pressing public defenders to prosecute police officers who used excessive force while performing their duties. But efforts must not stop there. Demand that racist members of law enforcement are not only fired from the force but are legally banned from serving as public servants ever again, as white supremacists who have infiltrated law enforcement often move around to other law enforcement agencies without changing their behaviors. This continues the cycle of abusive power in the same system that systematically continues to oppress Black and brown communities.
Apply pressure — push for meaningful legislation. The 2022 COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that creates pathways for citizens to report hate crimes is not enough. We need concrete protections for people of color that go beyond reporting. Investment in services to alleviate poverty and economic disparity can go much further to address racial violence and domestic extremism.
Pushing for meaningful legislation includes statutes that make it difficult to obtain guns illegally and raises the requirements for gun ownership. This tactic addresses the issue of easy access to weapons not only by minors but also others intent on committing extreme acts of violence against minority communities. Such legislation should ensure provisions in the second amendment for responsible gun ownership are not impacted. Also, groups advocating for stronger gun control need more assistance, and those of us on the sidelines can help.
Meaningful legislation does not include expanding counter terrorism authority to prosecute domestic terrorism. Such expansion harms communities of color, exposing them to covert surveillance practices where the government collects private information without their knowledge (Edward Snowden blew the whistle on this practice). Also, existing counterterrorism law can be weaponized, targeting nonviolent groups such as climate activists who constitutionally protest government policies. Expansion of counter terrorism authority will continue to enable this abusive practice.
It requires accountability. Any meaningful action needs to be put in motion and maintained by public agencies. Overworked civil servants and overburdened systems can hamper effective enforcement of laws designed to protect people of color from racist violence, but we cannot afford negligence at this time. Hold these systems and civil servants accountable for failure to act in situations that arise from white supremacist extremism.
Speak out often. Our words matter. In addition to the actions above, write op-eds on these issues. Publish your own articles on blog sites. Inject you Twitter feed with solutions. Write a book if you are a scholar. Protest, protest, protest when needed. Let your voices resonate, and don’t allow anyone who has the power to change the tone and meaning of your words to filter it.
Take control by grooming future leaders. Identify those in the community you believe can influence legislation, and groom them for future leadership. Emerge Maryland is one model organization that prepares women to run for public office. Do Something inspires young people to get involved and change the world they will eventually inherit.
Balance power by running for public office. Change doesn’t happen without balancing the power dynamics in state, local, and federal government. The energy to fight the past administration’s suppressive policies served as a catalyst for a wave of new policymakers to run and get elected to Congress. Without change agents in positions of power, lawmakers will continue to deprioritize protections for Black and brown communities.
Those with means and/or courage must answer this call to action. Failure to do so means sanctioning a form of Jim Crow in which Black and brown killing seasons become normalized, erasing the progress of racial reckoning and exasperating oppressive conditions at our borders.
Whatever the response, one is needed quickly if we’re to prevent the next attack.
Chris Redwood (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an advocate for equitable community revitalization in Baltimore. His interests lie at the intersection of race, equity and civic engagement. Twitter: @kissyfurredwood.