If Malcolm Were Alive

(A speech delivered at the 14th Annual Malcolm X Day Festival in Greenville SC on May 16th and in Columbia SC on Malcolm X Day, May 19th)

Like Malcolm, I want to speak to you in a straightforward, down to earth way that you can clearly understand.

I suppose, if Malcolm X were alive today, they would kill him.

With all this talk about OUR government is in trouble, With war and uncertainty and fear inside and outside the land,

Malcolm would say THE government is in trouble. THE president and his co-conspirators are in trouble.

But as a consequence of misguided government and the new band of thugs in power today, OUR COUNTRY is in trouble.

The United States and its government, although it does its racial, sexual, ethnic window dressing–remains divided. It has never been a nation for all the people.

This government protects the wealth and power of a privileged few. Of the Bushes and the bin Ladens. Of the Chaneys and even the Kerrys.

This nation is predicated on maintaining white supremacy, white male dominance and the white male model of family, leadership and community.

The United States is founded on a bad model, and the sooner black people–all people–reject this model and its bad programming, the sooner real change in this country will happen.

I’ll be brief and to the point so I can leave you with something to think about and hopefully something to do if it’s nothing more than resisting the barrage of lies and bullshit by white talking heads–and the few black talking heads talking white–on TV every minute of every hour, trying to convince you that what you see is the opposite of what you see.

It seems that the government and corporate media have stolen a line from Richard Pryor’sThat Nigger’s Crazy album. The punch line of the joke is don’t ever admit to anything even if caught in the act.

Some of ya’ll older brothers and sisters might remember the story where the wife walks in on the husband having sex with another women and the husband tells the wife “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”

Of course, if Malcolm X were alive, he would oppose yet another war against people of color–to steal their lives, their labor, their land and everything that’s in, under and on that land.

He would challenge the lie-filled premise that a band of thugs can impose democracy from the barrel of a gun. And he would remind us that the public policies of African enslavement, Jim Crow and legal segregation were all products of a so-called democratic society.

Democracy is only good when the numbers are on your side. Even still, Malcolm would say, “America doesn’t practice democracy, it practices hypocrisy.”

If Malcolm were alive today he would no doubt oppose the war on Iraqi citizens. He would remind this country of its murderous history and present. Of its torturous ways–past and present.

And the government and the corporate media would no doubt respond to Malcolm’s charges by saying to the American people, “Who you gonna believe–us or your lying eyes?”

Malcolm would laugh at the very idea of American shock and outrage over pictures of tortured Iraqis.

Beyond the forced, fake apologies and attempts to scapegoat the “trailer park crowd” or the “six morons who lost the war,” as some in the Pentagon have described the initial group of soldiers charged with abusing Iraqi citizens, Malcolm would remind us that the real America IS Oklahoma Senator James Inohofe’s America, where it is outraged by the outrage over the torture of those sand niggers.

Some of you may remember in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing–before it was discovered that Timothy McVeigh, a homegrown terrorist, was responsible for the crime–Inohofe, without any evidence to substantiate his claim, was ready to blame and bomb Muslims. CNN even implied that the Nation of Islam might have been involved in the bombing.

And when it was discovered that McVeigh, a white Gulf War I veteran, was the culprit, there was no call or national debate about profiling white males. No apology from Inohofe.

The Army Times–the military’s newspaper–in its criticism of the war, its planning and the prison abuse scandal, was absolutely right when they said the Pentagon was blaming the wrong morons for losing the war. They just failed to name the right morons.

But anyone with a half a brain, or not lost in denial, or not cloaked in blind patriotism and partisanship, or not paralyzed by political cowardice, or not the beneficiaries of privilege — knows who they are.

Guilt begins George Bush, Dick Chaney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condelezza Rice, Richard Pearle and Colin Powell.

They’re the morons who opened the door for torture, political assassinations and the war crimes committed by US troops. And although the war could never be won, they are the first group of morons to hold accountable for all the evil that flows from their criminal policies. The anti-war movement and the limp American left should be calling for their indictment by American courts and by an international tribunal–right along side Saddam Hussein and Ariel Sharon. If a lie-conspired, ideological-inspired, pre-emptive war isn’t criminal, what is?

The second group of morons responsible for all the abuses and lives lost in the war are those in the House and Senate, Democrat and Republican, that gave and continue to give Bush and his band of co-conspirators the cover to further destabilize and terrorize the world.

But too many in America are outraged by the outrage.

New York Democrat Charlie Rangel’s solution to the Abu Ghraib scandal is Impeach Donald Rumsfeld. But it shouldn’t begin and end with Rumsfeld’s impeachment. It ought to begin with indictments and prison for the seven morons who conspired and lied to take our country to war so that a privileged few–their friends and contributors –could profit.

There needs to be more than just a few hearings where, as Malcolm might say, Bush officials don’t testify they test a lie.

But too many in America are outraged by the outrage.

Despite the mounting evidence of abuses that many predicted would be the inevitable by-product an illegal war, waged by troops infused with racism and arrogance, with no rules — the pundits, politicians and their flunkies have taken off on a campaign to convince the American people and the world that it’s all an “aberration, a few bad apples.”

But while Americans might be in denial, the rest of the world is not.

As H. Rap Brown–now Jamil Al-Amin, serving life in a Georgia jail–said, “Violence is as American as apple pie.” So is torture.

I spoke this past Sunday in Greenville’s Cleveland Park at their Malcolm X Day Festival. I stood next to 20 or more crosses representing black men killed by police in that South Carolina county over the past ten years.

The families of those victims can testify as to whether or not this country knows a thing or two or three about torture and abuse.

Anyone who is in or has been in a maxi-max or super-max prison in this country knows America is expert at torturing people. Ask Abner Loiuma what Americans know about broomsticks and torture. What about the 41 shots from New York’s finest that took the life of Amadou Diallo? Ask the Diallo family about American torture. Ask the families of James Byrd, the brother killed down in Texas, or Mickey McClendon, who years earlier died in our state in the same horrible way brother Byrd died–tied to the back of a pickup truck–about American torture. Ask the families of the countless others imprisoned, lynched, burned, shot, whipped, castrated, chained, buried alive, experimented on and raped about this country’s relentless history of torture and abuse.

Ask those innocent men and women who lost youth and years on death row because of lying cops and lying prosecutors about torture in America. Or those arrested on drug charges or even minor infractions, thrown in jail, stripped of their rights and futures. Many have ended up raped and infected with HIV. Ask them about the drug sentence that became a death sentence. Ask them about torture.

African Americans are experts in recognizing torture because we have been on the receiving end of American torture from the moment the first African was kidnapped and brought to these shores.

But now the excuse for the abuse of Iraqi citizens–at least the abuse we know about–is that it was “just some bad apples,” followed by their own predictable outs: “We were following orders.” Or, “the stress of combat got to us”, or “We’re reservists we never got the proper training”, or “We didn’t know the chain of command. We didn’t know our orders.”

Or the refrain from the “outraged over the outrage” corner: “Well, at least Saddam Hussein isn’t killing or torturing them any more.” Or, “At least we don’t behead our captives.” Or, “Look how those thugs burned and hung our people from that bridge–those barbarians.”

As though dropping a 500-pound bomb on someone’s house is any less brutal than a beheading. Or a helicopter gunship finishing off a wounded soldier is less brutal than being set on fire.

Malcolm would surely scoff at the amen corner of the right arguing that the American way of killing is more civilized than that of the “barbarians” they are attempting “democratize.”

Truth be told, there is no such thing as a civilized or humane way to kill anybody. Dead is dead, be it from a precision suicide bomber or a precision cruise missile. But one thing’s for sure, America is extremely efficient at killing people. Always has been. Ask a Native American.

Malcolm tells the story about the Negro praying, “Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do” as the Klan put a rope around his neck. To which Malcolm tells the audience “Why, as long as they been doing it they’re experts at it.”

This country is expert in violating and ignoring human rights and treating groups of people as sub-human.

Y’all saw the looks in the faces of those soldiers accused of abusing Iraqi citizens. It was that lynch mob look. That same look as those white folks in all those lynching photos in the history books.

It’s the same thing. It’s how America deals with niggers and sand niggers.

Sand niggers.

I was marching with a group of people opposing the first Gulf War right down by the capital building in Columbia when two white guys rode by and hollered out the car window, “We need to kill all those sand niggers.” I wasn’t surprised when I heard it. I will never forget hearing it. It’s cold, and honest. More honest than the lie that the war is about spreading democracy.

I would like to hope that America is tiring of the reality show known as the Iraqi war, or the comedy of the Bush presidency. But then again, America was willing to waste 58,000 American lives and over 3 million Vietnamese lives before it could admit failure. So, 800 American casualties and 11,000 or more Iraqi deaths are just a drop in the bucket given this country’s history.

But the hope lies with us.

It’s certainly time to fight back.

Polls say that 70 percent or so of African Americans oppose the Iraq war. That’s the good news.

Black people would have to be out of their minds to accept the government’s attempt to define a class of people–terrorists–with absolutely no rights. That is the essence of slavery.

Many whites who have attended the marches and protests look around and wonder where the black folks are. The simple answer is we already know how screwed up the country is–we need little reminding.

And if those anti-war marches ever focus on the real culprit, white supremacy, maybe more blacks would come out.

Yes, there are black soldiers such as Javal Davis, who may have committed atrocities. Davis, like all the individuals charged, is innocent until proven guilty. But if the charges are true, it would be no surprise. The stories of blacks on police forces who were and are more brutal toward other blacks than their white counterparts are easily found.

Brothers and sisters, there is something that is far, far bigger than the prison scandal. And that is the ugliness and violence at the core of the culture.

Let us remember that from the moment the first cruise missiles aimed at Saddam Hussein, but killing all those living within the bombs’ range, slammed into that Baghdad restaurant–from the time that the 1st tank rolled across the Iraqi border, America and American troops have been engaged in an illegal war. And so, by definition the actions of the troops have been criminal.

Now that’s a hard thing to say, some of these troops are our family. My own nephew just completed basic training at Fort Jackson. But a criminal war has made them all criminals.

So, part of our task must be, first of all, to encourage people not to join the military. Right now, over 50% of the women serving in the Army are black, over 20% of the men in Army are black and over 30% minority.

Not only must we discourage people from joining the military, we must oppose expansion of the draft regardless of which political party is carrying that water. I say expansion because those soldiers who were standing in line waiting to get on a bus to take them to a plane to go home, who were pulled out of line and told they would have to stay in country an additional three or more months–were drafted. And there are plans currently underway to activate local selective service boards.

On Sunday in Greenville, the crowd at the festival was predominately young and black. I encouraged them to pay attention to what’s going on because there was one more thing out there to put their lives at risk–war. I encouraged the church folk in attendance to begin to understand and organize to defend those young folk who are courageous enough to choose not to fight and to help them deal with the consequences of their choice.

Obviously, if John Kerry is elected, he will try to put more troops in Iraq to prove to the Republicans and white males that he is tough on defense. And maybe John McCain should run with Kerry so that the symbiosis of the two parties can be complete.

Be that as it may, our organizing must look past November 2nd.

Just as the right has no trouble using language and whatever means it can muster to keep folk either wrapped in the flag or gripped in fear–just as they use “Support our troops as a shield to continue their madness–we must have to have the courage call it as we see it.

If we don’t, ultimately, (although I have a sense that it is already starting to happen) the troops returning from Iraq will have the stench of not just failing, but of being wrong and wronged, of being chumps.

And finally, the other day, a young brother stopped by my house to ask me about the Geneva Convention and what constitutes a violation.

Every male member of my family has served in the military. My father made a career out of it. If it weren’t for the military, I would not be here. So, I’m not just hating. Still, one of the first things you get and learn is a little palm-sized Soldier’s Code of Conduct. It reads:

I am an American fighting man.
I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life.
I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command
I will never surrender my men while they still have the means to resist.

If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available.
I will make every effort to escape and aid others to escape.
I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.

If I become a prisoner of war, I will keep faith with my fellow prisoners.
I will give no information or take part in any action
which might be harmful to my comrades.
If I am senior, I will take command. If not I will obey the lawful orders
of those appointed over me and will back them up in every way.

When questioned, should I become a prisoner of war,
I am required to give name, rank, service number, and date of birth.

I will evade answering further questions to the utmost of my ability.

I will make no written statements disloyal to my country
and its allies or harmful to their cause.

I will never forget that I am an American fighting man,
responsible for my actions, and dedicated
to the principles which made my country free.
I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

Article 17, of the Geneva Convention relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War supports the Code of Conduct. It says that:

“Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information. ”

“No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.’

The chorus coming from the accused is that they were “following orders.” But as convict Luke Jackson, the character played by Paul Newman in the 1967 prison drama Cool Hand Luke, said, “Calling it your job don’t make it right, Boss.”

And the question for the president and Donald Rumsfeld is: Has the Code of Conduct changed? And for Colin Powell, the question should be: Has the US altered or modified its treaty with the other signatories to the Convention?

Both are rhetorical questions that we all know the answer to, but if nothing has changed then any torture is illegal. There can be no valid list of approved torture, or “fraternity hazing” as Rush Limbaugh and the FOX TV types would call it. Nothing beyond the convention is acceptable.

By international definition, the war is an illegal endeavor and all the subsequent acts of the military are illegal. As citizens, it is our duty to oppose and organize against this war. For those of us who are parents, it is our duty to make clear to our kids, that if they choose to fight in this war, they will be complicit in a criminal endeavor.

Harder times are ahead. And as Malcolm would say, we need to get our minds right.

American troops need to come home–by any means necessary.

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY is a CounterPunch contributer and civil rights organizer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached at: kagamba@bellsouth.net

Kevin Alexander Gray is a civil rights organizer in South Carolina and author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike! The Fundamentals of Black Politics (CounterPunch/AK Press) and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He is the editor, along with JoAnn Wypijewski and Jeffrey St. Clair, of Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence from CounterPunch Books. He can be reached at kevinagray57@gmail.com