"People get used to anything. The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is the normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave." - Assata Shakur
The Black Liberation Army, or just the Army, was an underground black nationalist revolutionary organization, which effectively operated in the United States from 1970 to 1981. Composed largely of former members of the Black Panther Party, the organization's program was one of armed struggle, and its stated goal was to take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States. To further this effort, the organization carried out a series of bombings, assassinations, bank and armored vehicle heists, what participants termed expropriations, and prison breaks. The organization, like many of its kind, was born out of government oppression. The FBI, CIA, and local police department's Counter-Intelligence Program planted degenerative seeds to increase tensions and factionalism within the Black Panther Party. Their efforts culminated in a split between Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver. While Newton remained the leader of the now broken Panther organization, Cleaver went on to lead what came to be known as the Black Liberation Army, which had previously existed only as the underground faction, and fighting apparatus, of the Panthers. The Army was considered, by some, to be notoriously brutal because of the tactics that they used, police car bombings and the like, while waging war against local police department oppressors.
The Black Liberation Army's operational standard was a mixture of, generally, three leftist political philosophies. Their combat strategy was based on Maoism. Maoism rejects the idea of the vanguard party and puts responsibility for the revolution in the hands of the rank and file of the general citizenry. As such, they do not fight like a traditional military force, but rather, they organize independent cells, usually operating in their own home territories, and fight a guerrilla style revolution. The goal is to make it difficult to catch, or even be able to identify, any major leaders, but also to confuse and disrupt the oppressing force, as they are faced with different fighting strategies in every territory that they control. They combined this with a hint on Anarchism. Very simply defined, Anarchism is the absence of authority. The Army implemented this philosophy with their choice of targets and their 'no terms accepted' attack campaign. They attacked government buildings, bombed police vehicles, and robbed government owned or operated armored vehicles, all in an effort to established amongst the general public, a sense that the government was losing its authority. They wanted the people to believe that the government could no longer effectively protect them. Their intended governing and economic strategy was based upon the principles of Marxist–Leninism. Marxist–Leninists espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of Marxism and Leninism, but generally they all support the idea of a vanguard party, a pro working class agenda, state control of the economy, internationalism, opposition to bourgeois democracy, and opposition to capitalism.
War without terms commenced on May 19, 1971, the anniversary of Malcolm X's birth. Two officers guarding the residence of the prosecutor in the Panther 21 trial were lured into a trap. The Panther 21 was a group of twenty-one Black Panther members who were arrested and accused of executing a planned and well coordinated bombing and long-range rifle attack on two police stations and an education office in New York City. The trial eventually collapsed and the twenty-one members were acquitted. A car drove the wrong way down a one way street and a squad car gave chase. A few blocks away someone in the fleeing vehicle opened fire with an automatic weapon, seriously wounding both officers. Two days later the press received the first communique from the Army, "The armed goons of the racist government will again meet the guns of oppressed third world peoples as long as they occupy our community and murder our brothers and sisters in the name of American law and order. Just as the fascist Marines and US Army occupy Vietnam in the name of democracy and murder Vietnamese people in the name of American imperialism are confronted with the guns of the Vietnamese liberation army, the domestic armed forces of racism and oppression will be confronted with the guns of the Black Liberation Army, who will meet out in the tradition of Malcolm and all true revolutionaries, real justice." That very day, May 21, the Army struck again. Two patrolmen were ambushed outside a public housing development in Harlem. They were struck from behind, at close range, with automatic-weapons fire. Both were killed. One of the officers was black, a traitor to his people, according to the Army.
For a short period, the Army then went quite. However, on January 28, 1972, they once again took the offensive. Two NYPD officers were ambushed on the Lower East Side and taken down by submachine-gun fire. The assailants stood over the fallen officers and emptied their magazines into the bodies. Shortly thereafter, the authorities received a communique from the George Jackson Squad of the Black Liberation Army, "No longer will black people tolerate Attica and oppression and exploitation and rape of our black community. This is the start of our spring offensive. There is more to come. We also dealt with the pigs in Brooklyn." The last sentence referred to two recent past incidents in which officers had been wounded by unknown attackers. The Army next showed up in St. Louis, on February 15. A gun battle erupted during a routine traffic stop and one officer was wounded. Other officers on the scene returned fire, killing one fighter and wounding two more. A search of the car turned up one of the pistols taken from the officers who were ambushed on January 28. After this, the Army went quite again for almost a year. January of 1973, however, was an active month. On the twelfth, a fighter wounded two off-duty housing detectives in New York. Twelve days later, the NYPD cornered three fighters at a bar, killing two in the shoot-out. In retaliation, the Army ambushed random patrol cars on January 25 and 28, wounding four officers. In its communique announcing the event, the Army urged black cops, "do not take up arms against us. Refuse to be pitted in mortal combat against your own people, defending a system which has enslaved, still exploits, brutalizes and murders black people."
The second phase in the Black Liberation Army's war was fought in courtrooms, jails, and prisons. Several fighters were acquitted or had charges dismissed or reduced, but most were convicted and received long sentences. Many did not resign themselves to this new Babylonian captivity, however. They plotted with comrades on the outside and made numerous attempts to escape. Several were successful, but many more remained in captivity. One imprisoned fighter escaped from a county hospital on September 27, 1973, only to be recaptured a week later. On December 27, four Army supporters were caught trying to break into the Tombs through the sewer system. Another four tried again on April 17, 1974. They were using a small blow torch to cut through a steel partition in a visitors booth. The attempt failed, and they fled. These supporters were tracked to New Haven, CT and captured on May 4, but only after a shoot-out in which two police officers were wounded. On August 5, 1974, a woman was caught trying to sneak a hacksaw blade in her shoe to an imprisoned fighter. A week later that same fighter and two of his comrades overpowered their guards and tried to scale a fence at the Brooklyn House of Detention. The fighter was shot and recaptured.
On February 17, 1975, fighters in wet suits paddled rafts through the East River to Riker's Island and tried to free 11 comrades held there, but the attempt failed. On May 12, a group of supporters smuggled explosives, mace, knives, wrenches, and lock picks to three fighters on trial in the New York Criminal Courts building. The materials were hidden in large envelopes and sat on a courtroom table all day before being discovered in the holding pen after the trial. Two weeks later, two more fighters broke free from their cell and tried to climb down a wall at the Brooklyn House of Detention. The improvised rope broke and one fighter plunged one hundred feet to his death. The other fighter was recaptured at the outer fence. There were other attempts too. A prison uprising in New Jersey was organized by a fighter. Marilyn Buck went AWOL while on a prison furlough, and went back underground. However, the most famous escape attempt liberated the heart and soul of the Black Liberation Army, Assata Shakur. Several fighters forced their way into the minimum security facility where she was being held and led her out safely. The getaway vehicles were driven by Buck and another white woman from the M-19 organization. Assata was then spirited out of the country and into exile in Cuba. Her escape was a media sensation.
The first phase, essentially, in the life of the Black Liberation Army came to an end on November 15, 1973, when one of the last of Army's fighters was gunned down on a street in the Bronx. Massive police manhunts and street executions had been taking place for around two years up to that point. During the arrest, the pulled a gun and wounded an FBI agent, two police officers, and a bystander before being killed in a hail of bullets. He was the seventh fighter to be killed by the authorities. Nineteen others had been apprehended by then, including the only white associate of the Army, up to that point, Marilyn Buck. She purchased weapons and ammunition for the Army at gun shows. She was arrested in March of 1973. In 1974, a group in Jacksonville, Florida began abducting and murdering white youths. The group took credit for the killings in the name of the Black Liberation Army, declaring that the victims were executed and made to pay for the political crimes that have been perpetrated upon black people; however, this group was not connected with the New York fighters, and did not receive aide from any of its supporters. These four members were caught and convicted for the murders they committed in 1975.
Over the course of a decade, fighters killed at least 14 guards or law enforcement officers and wounded more than 20. Nine of their own died in action and more than two dozen were convicted on various charges. At its height, the police believed that the Army, or at least its New York branch, consisted of at least twenty-five to thirty solid activists and another seventy-five supporters. Sixteen people belonged to the Family, including associates from the Weather Underground. Although they justifiably had no faith in the criminal justice system, several fighters were acquitted at trial. Assata Shakur's first trial ended in a miss trial. In the second trial, she was acquitted of bank robbery; but in the third she was convicted of first-degree murder for the shooting of a New Jersey State Trooper. Henry Brown was acquitted for the murder of the two police officers in January of 1972 but was convicted on several other charges. Richard Moore was found guilty in 1973 for the Army's first attack; but eventually, his conviction was thrown out, and he was paid a large cash settlement by the federal government. All of those involved in the October 1981 Brinks armored car assault received long prison sentences. A few members of the Family, as they had referred to themselves then, have been released in recent years, but many fighters are still awaiting parole.
So, let us rap our minds around this whole ordeal. Of course, the setting is the late 1960s to the late 1980s. The circumstances are post Civil Rights Movement government oppression and massive social resistance to that oppression. The two prime players are JoAnne Deborah Byron, better known as, Assata Olugbala Shakur, and Jeral Wayne Williams, better known as, Mutulu Shakur. Assata had a Bachelor's Degree from the City College of New York, and Mutulu was a licensed Acupuncturist through the state of California and the Assistant Director of the Lincoln Detox Community Program in Harlem. Yet, by 1986, Assata was in exile in Cuba, as a Political Refugee, and Mutulu was incarcerated in a federal prison in California, as a Political Prisoner. These are kind, intelligent, and well educated people. What on Gaia's Earth could possibly lead them down such violent and lonely paths, as have been laid out this article? If one ponders the issue for just a moment, the answer should come to their mind fairly quickly. It's not hard. In fact, it's easier to grasp than glimpsing the noon day sun in the middle of a Texas summer. It's the repressed emotion built up from four hundred years of direct exposure to a highly organized and brutally enforced system of oppression designed to place an entire people at the bottom of a society that is taught to loathe them for no other reason than that they have a darker skin tone. It's the theft of an identity, a culture, a language, a religion, and soul and the forced adoption of an alien identity that grinds at the very core of the human spirit. It's the loss of personal autonomy. It's bone-wrenching poverty. It's the loss of self-awareness, and its the destruction of the inner moral compass that should inform a person that what is happening to them is wrong.
This country, and the white people that rule it, are guilty of the kidnapping, rape, and murder of an entire people, and they are pretending like it was all a bad dream. They are guilty so because rather that doing the right thing and correcting a four hundred year old heinous crime, they perpetuated the atrocity and made it even worse. The period in which the Black Liberation Army's operations took place is evidence that it was, in fact, very real, but somewhere along the way, it's as if this country was struck by a brick in the back of the head and is now suffering from a severe case of amnesia. The massive media propaganda machine that the white elite have under their control wants us to believe that racism, state oppression, and all the crimes of their forefathers are no longer something that happens in this country. Once the last of the great icons of resistance were either in prison or had fled the country, Assata and Mutulu, they hijacked the mid 1950s to mid 1960s Civil Rights Movement; and put it on a high pedestal as an example of what good honest black folks can get when they come asking for their rights the 'right way.' They the made everyone else after that, the people that actually fought to take control of what they had finally realized was always theirs to begin with, their human dignity, out to be crazy wild beasts and common street criminals, worthy of nothing more than a jail cell. They clandestinely made it out that that was where 'those types' belonged anyways. With that done, they polished everything up nice and pretty and then went about brainwashing the entire country into believing that all the trouble was over. They try to tell us, even to this day, "Racism is no more." We are all friends now.