From Prism by William C. Anderson | May 17th, 2022
We can honor the lives of those who have been killed by abolishing the structures that allowed for their deaths
“No longer will the revolutionary segment of the Black colony of Buffalo remain passive and silent while our youth, women, and children are killed, brutalized, kidnapped, and robbed by the Gestapo pigs and vicious SS troops … running amok in our community.” – Martin Sostre
How many massacres are enough? This absurd question outlines the depravity of a condition that’s so woefully infuriating. Over the last decade (and certainly before then, too), we’ve seen enough killings by individual white supremacists and the larger apparatus of state violence to understand how the two work in tandem. The latest slaughter carried out in Buffalo by a white 18-year-old named Payton Gendron follows the tradition of several that came before it. Murdering Black people is a socially acceptable expression in an anti-Black society. That’s why we’re here again, and that’s why this keeps happening and has happened for as long as every Black person alive right now can remember. The state enacts this violence on us every single day, and we’re lucky if it makes a blip on anyone’s radar. Gendron was an individual, but he is the product of the U.S. He was a police officer who didn’t have a badge yet. He was a soldier who hadn’t officially enlisted. His service was unofficial, and that’s all that makes this a tragedy for far too many.
During times like this, it’s important to understand that Black people’s deaths often become opportunities. After a white supremacist made an ideological statement through his attack, many will gather around the dead with exploitative intentions. Rather than stopping these crises, much like the nonprofit-industrial complex, the problem becomes a driving force for opportunists. We’ll see people push their respective lines, whether organizational, party politics, or policy responses. These rolling disasters and the gravesites they produce become a gathering place where everyone can say, “This is why I’m right,” instead of, “This is why everything’s wrong.” The difference between the two is the sincere observation of the failure of so much around us.
The fascist far-right wants an all-out war. They are not fixated on electoral victory like the liberals who facilitate their growth by making everything into a political honor contest. The right has made it abundantly clear that they want to use violence to destroy their enemies in open conflict. Gendron, the Jan. 6 attack, Dylann Roof, and Kyle Rittenhouse are just a few indicators of this. They know elections and protests are not their only options, and plenty of them are willing to kill for their ideas. Liberals and the Democratic Party are not an obstacle nor in opposition to them, and the various factions masquerading as “the left” have not built a substantial force to counter what we’re up against. Herein lies much of the problem: everyone seems to know what’s best for “the people,” but those very people keep dying. A noteworthy radical from Buffalo has been of great help to me in processing all of these challenges.
The revolutionary Black anarchist Martin Sostre was once one of the most widely recognizable political prisoners in the U.S. and throughout the world. People like Angela Davis, Jean-Paul Sartre, the Young Lords, Ralph Abernathy, Robert F. Williams, and Bobby Seale were among his countless supporters. Opening a radical Black bookstore in Buffalo that became a safe haven for Black youth put a target on his back. As a radical educator, he brought history to life when revolt and uprising hit Buffalo following the “long, hot summer” of 1967. Sostre’s teaching and distribution of radical literature in the Black community offered a radical perspective in the face of repression. People were at odds with the same institutional racism we’re still fighting today: unemployment, housing discrimination, crises of material needs, and police brutality tormented Black people nationwide. His now-gone Afro-Asian Book Shop was only a few blocks from the location of the Tops store where the mass shooting took place. The symbolism in the distance between the two should not be lost here.
As we watch book bannings, U.S. imperialism, police brutality, and threats against reproductive health care expand, we’re not without options. Sostre once said that people would have to use “all means that are necessary—to overthrow this repressive, sexist, racist State and replace it with an egalitarian society.” His journey from Black nationalism to Marxism-Leninism to Black anarchism represents a trajectory I feel is of the utmost importance. Not because I think everyone should be one thing, but because of the questions Sostre asked to grow toward that point of development and analysis. Sostre encouraged people to reject the “wooden party line” and step away from this “type of philosophy where others issue orders and you follow … toward greater independence of thought and action.” These decaying radicalisms, reforms, and politics that are not saving enough lives have had generations to prove their worth. Some people only know how to repeat the same things as those who came before them. But I believe we need new ideas that have not produced more senseless killing, capitalism, and state violence.
Black America deserves more than this. Black people deserve more than what this country has to offer us. We deserve more than piecemeal promises and incremental change in response to unrelenting oppression. This is part of why Sostre’s support for the community in Buffalo led to authorities framing him for possession and sale of heroin. The imprisonment that followed was transformative for the conditions of incarcerated people nationwide. He’d been imprisoned more than once in his life, and he always fought back from the inside. He did so to such an extent he almost single-handedly transformed prison conditions for the incarcerated by winning several new rights through his jailhouse litigation. His successful cases brought new political and religious freedoms, fought the use of solitary confinement, and contested the censorship of prison literature. When he arrived at anarchism he credited the organizing of his defense committee that eventually won his freedom to his anarchist model too.
All of that is relevant here because we’re going to have to fortify the communities where we live. Malcolm X once said we’re born in jail, and Sostre called this society a minimum-security prison, so struggling against our confinement is required. We need to be ready to defend ourselves and fight back alongside one another against those who have genocidal aspirations. Our struggles can become a network of tendencies, ideas, and motivations, but there is no totalizing program, ideology, or political party coming to save us. There is no police force coming to protect us. Believing as much has led to enough lost life up until this point. Yes, the white supremacists are prepared in their desire to kill and destroy, and many of us will have to be prepared in our desire to live and overcome. Precious lives have been stolen, and we’re not any safer than we were before they were taken away.
What can we do to educate, grow, evolve, and protect our loved ones so that more lives aren’t lost? How can we build together and be ready to strike from where we’re at rather than wait for the worsened scenarios and simply react? The collective care that’s important to our everyday survival asks us to find our respective places within struggle and do what we can to help. Our survival programs, mutual aid, and support networks have to do more than respond. They have to build a countering infrastructure that threatens what’s been established at our expense. There has to be an alternative for our communities to pull us out of this hamster wheel where we die, people proselytize, and then retreat to their comforts. So many of us can do something, but we mustn’t fear doing something new. Recent years have been hellish enough; rather than ask what is there to lose, I’d say just look at what we’ve already lost.
If enough is enough, then let us embrace both the beauty of spontaneity and the precision of organization that comes with rebellion. No one has all the answers, but we can come up with solutions together, and we can do much more than feel despair in our present state. We can honor the lives of those killed by abolishing the structures that allowed for their deaths. We can say “no more” to a society and its killers that have taken much more than any of us had to give.