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Gavin Long’s Last Words

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“So you think it’s wrong when you fight back but you celebrate it when somebody else fights back.”

— Gavin Long

The murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille were not unique. On average one black person is killed by police every day. But cameras were rolling and the sight of police lynch law twice in 48 hours was too much for millions of people to bear. So much so that revenge was not just contemplated but carried out. Micah Johnson and Gavin Long were named as suspects in shootings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Both paid with their lives. If guilty, they were motivated to act on their anger and they changed everything about the movement to end police lynch law.

Johnson and Long were both black men who served in the military. Johnson was deployed in Afghanistan and Long in Iraq. Aside from the police version of their conversation with Johnson we know nothing about his thinking. But Long often expressed himself on social media. What he said is worthy of attention.

In an eight-minute long video downloaded the day of the Baton Rouge shootings, Long explained his beliefs about confronting violence, building revolutionary struggle and getting justice. He said what many black people think about but do not act upon. Long asked questions that never make it into the realm of accepted discourse precisely because the truth is so inconvenient.

Long made a specific reference to the celebration of American independence. “When an African fights back its wrong. But every time a European fights back against his oppressor he’s right.” The question may be rhetorical but the answer is very simple. The fight for so-called independence by the white settler population was a struggle for the right to wage aggressive war against the indigenous population and enslaved Africans. George Washington and the rest of the “founding fathers” wanted to be certain that Britain would not hinder their project for annihilation and subjugation. That history makes it impossible for black people’s freedom to be discussed at all, much less be celebrated.

Long did not make a plaintive plea for justice. He told us what we know in our hearts but usually don’t want to acknowledge in our state of hopefulness. “A bully doesn’t care about your rights.” White supremacy is our collective bully. The politicians and the 1% they work for are bullies. Like “made” men in the mafia they don’t care about law or morality. They crush black peoples’ lives and take what they want. All the while they expect us to be silent about their criminality. Their treatment of those who do speak up shows the truth of Long’s words. The exaltation of the concept of human rights in this country is a ruse used to keep people passive and in a state of confused magical thinking.

Long continued in a discussion of revolutionary struggle. “100% of revolutions, of victims fighting their oppressors, from victims fighting their bullies, 100% have been successful through fighting back through bloodshed. Zero have been successful just protesting.” The failure of the Black Lives Matter organization proves that apolitical protest with no expression of demands amounts to very little. They have coined a phrase that is on everyone’s lips but they have no program, no plan for teaching black people to fight back, to stand on their rights as Long said. BLM specializes in talk of “healing” and “safe spaces” but is uninterested in providing a road map for action.

The denunciations directed at them by white racists don’t mean much. Black people can do very little and still be the object of hate and derision. Hostility towards the useless Black Lives Matter organization is proof. After all, bullies don’t care about rights or slogans and won’t rectify injustice until they feel the need to do so.

“Knowing your rights doesn’t mean nothing especially in this world ran [sic] by devils. Devils run this.” Talk of devils in our system should not be a relic of long past polemics. Our system is diabolical as it snatches up lives into the prison system or increases poverty through capitalism or kills wantonly around the world. America is the evil empire and thinks nothing about trampling on humanity on a regular basis.

“That’s what the revolution is. Once it gets to the point where people stand on their rights. It’s not knowing your rights. Knowing your rights is nothing to a bully its nothing to a demon, its nothing to a devil. You got to stand on your rights.”

There was a time when talk of devils and revolution was common and it should be reclaimed in the 21st century. It is a mistake to reject Micah Johnson and Gavin Long. When they wore military uniforms and carried out orders on behalf of the empire they were honored and thanked for their service. They acted in Dallas and Baton Rouge as they were trained to by our government.

The same devilish system that encourages murder by anyone wearing a uniform should not determine how we assess Johnson and Long. As always happens in moments of struggle, their acts may prove damaging to the people they wanted to avenge. One of the policemen killed in Baton Rouge was a black man. That sad irony must be part of the black community discussion and should have nothing to do with political platitudes or corporate media pronouncements.

Johnson and Long had no reason to believe that Sterling and Castile would get justice. Eric Garner didn’t. Freddie Gray didn’t. The rest of us may hope that the system will do what it should and punish devilish behavior. Perhaps we are the crazy ones. Micah Johnson and Gavin Long were certainly outliers. But perhaps they understood reality better than the rest of us do.

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Margaret Kimberley writes the Freedom Rider column for Black Agenda Report, where this essay originally appeared. 

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