A Discussion on Self Defense
‘Jim Crow’ Self Defense: Personal Protection in a “Colorblind” Society.
I initially attempted to submit this article to a ‘mainstream’ martial arts publication. It was denied due to its ‘racially charged’ subject matter. Lol.
Unfortunately, for those who are specifically targeted in the context of being part of an oppressed minority, this subject matter is NOT funny. And the frosty response to this subject I received, which I had hoped would spark healthy debate amongst my fellow self-defense instructors, speaks volumes to the prevailing attitudes in mainstream amerikkka towards real-deal ‘life or death’ issues that shape the quality and content of the daily lives of oppressed people (and in fact ALL people).
And while many of us rightfully and justifiably criticize the latest imperialist outrage in the Middle East, or how local police act towards groups of protesters/activists/community people on the streets of europe or amerikkka, or how the FBI or CIA conduct themselves on activist’s doorsteps[!] around the world, or increasing attacks on Blacks, Latinos, and Muslims by organized white supremacists, we still often under-report (or outright ignore) violent incidents towards workers, youth, and elders outside the easily identifiable state-sponsored acts of terror. We have difficulty speaking to ‘horizontal violence’, both in its panoramic analysis and in the formulation and implementation of solutions that attack not only the symptoms, but the systemic root causes.
Both the liberals and conservatives, in addition to having historical, and thus ideological, tenure on the planet (this is an empire, after all) as distinct national political tendencies and associated organizations, have a monopoly on state-sponsored violence in which the real politic of the legal standard is essentially this: “What is, or is not, ‘justifiable’ as ‘self-defense’, as interpreted by court precedents in various political periods in amerikkkan history, as viewed through the lens of the current political climate in the area from which the defendant is accused of the offense, the political climate in the area from which the jury is selected and seated, and in the country at large?”.
Based upon the sick ‘logic’ of some of these rulings, and the willingness of much of the public (including the potential targets of oppression) to co-sign to the aforementioned ‘sick logic’ for a whole host of reasons (all related to our relative powerlessness at this time), they have a monopoly on the debate on what constitutes ‘self-defense’ as well. We need to change that, lest we ALL fall victim to it!
For many of us, this is a deeply personal subject. Take note of my ‘nice guy’ presentation to these folks.
Let me know what you think. Let’s begin… – G.L.
Are we coming to a point in American history where we, as real-world self-defense instructors, are going to have to throw our curriculum(s) out all together, revisit our entire approach to use of force as it applies to civilians, and revise it to reflect the specific needs of our students who come from so-called “minority” populations?
Are we really willing to take the professional risk and responsibility to tell our Black, Latino, Indigenous (so-called “indians”), and Lbgt (lesbian/bi-sexual/gay/transgendered) students that statistically they have a greater chance of being assaulted or killed, and that whoever is convicted of committing the crime will potentially serve less time for that act of violence than our student(s), the target(s) of the attack, will serve for defending themselves?
Indeed, these are life-or-death questions we must ask ourselves, given the ever-changing political (and thus, legal) direction the United States is going; especially in regard to its various non-white, non-Christian, non-heterosexual populations.
Two years ago John White, a black resident of Suffolk County, NY, was forced to defend his home and his son against an angry white mob who had gathered outside.
Aaron White, John White’s teenage son, had been attending an under-age drinking party nearby when he was accused by several white males of being a rapist, based upon a facebook post made by a female acquaintance of both he and his accusers. White denied the allegation, but willingly left the party in order to avoid conflict. He was followed home by his accusers, who exchanged racialized insults with him via phone and text message. When these young men attempted to enter the house one of the attackers, 17-year-old Daniel Cicciaro, was shot dead. John White was arrested for first degree manslaughter and for the illegal possession of an unregistered handgun.
During the trial, right-wing pundits asked why White didn’t just lock his door and call the police. This question was never asked of the white teens why they decided to institute their own brand of vigilante justice, instead of calling the police to investigate the rape allegation. They also failed to mention that Cicciaro had been drinking heavily prior to the incident. Nor was there any mention of the poor police/community relations that existed between black residents and the police department(s) for years due to numerous allegations of harassment, as well as high-profile incidents of assault and summary executions of black people by police, including the cases of Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, and Anthony Baez; which could conceivably make blacks and other minorities hesitant to call 911. And none of them one uttered a word about how this incident is could be viewed as a ‘21st century’ attempt at lynching.
Often in this nation’s ‘glorious past’ [that more than a few openly state they wish we could return to], mobs of white men would kidnap a young black male for simply looking in the direction of a white woman and then spread a rumor of sexual assault throughout a white community in order to mobilize and justify support for hanging, burning, and mutilating the individual in question publically.
Suffolk County Court Judge Barbara Kahn granted a request that allowed the jury to consider convicting Mr. White of reckless endangerment, a misdemeanor that carries a prison term of up to one year. Instead, the jury found him guilty of second degree manslaughter which carries a minimum sentence of 5 years and a maximum sentence of 15. In 2007, White was sentenced to 2 to 4 years in state prison. His conviction has been upheld on appeal.
Four years ago, seven young Black lesbians from New Jersey—Patreese Johnson, Renata Hill, Venice Brown, Terrain Dandridge, Chenese Loyal, Lania Daniels, and Khamysha Coates—were hanging out on the pier in New York City’s West Village when Dwayne Buckle, a man selling DVDs on the street, sexually propositioned Patreese. Prior to this event, another young woman named Sakia Gunn had been stabbed to death under very similar circumstances—by a pair of highly aggressive, verbally abusive, openly homophobic male strangers in that very same area. One of the seven had known Sakia personally.
Refusing to take “no” for an answer, Buckle followed them down the street, issuing insults and threats, telling one of them “I’ll f*** you straight, sweetheart!” During the resulting confrontation, Buckle first spat in Renata’s face and threw his lit cigarette at her, then he yanked another’s hair, pulling her towards him, and then began strangling Renata. Patreese Johnson, a ‘menacing’ 4 feet 11 inches tall and 95 pounds, produced a small knife from her bag to stop Buckle from choking her friend—a knife she carried to protect herself when she came home alone from her late-night job.
Two male onlookers, one of whom had a knife, ran over to physically deal with Buckle in order to help the women. Buckle, who ended up hospitalized for five days with stomach and liver lacerations, initially reported on at least two occasions that the men—not the women—had attacked him. What’s more, Patreese’s knife was never tested for DNA, the men who beat Buckle were never questioned by police, and the whole incident was captured on surveillance video. Yet, the women ended up on trial for attempted murder. Doing their part to contribute to the climate of a witch hunt, the local NY corporate-owned media referred to the women repeatedly as a “wolf pack of lesbians.” and demonized them at every opportunity in print and on the air.
In June 2007, after spending most of a year in jail, four of the seven women were sentenced—reportedly by an all-white jury of mostly women—to jail terms ranging from 3 1/2 to 11 years. The oldest of the women was 24, and two of them are mothers of small children. The pro-bono lawyers for the women would later have to purchase the public record of the case since the judge, Edward J. McLaughlin (who openly taunted and expressed contempt for the women in front of the jury all throughout the trial), refused to release it. As of August 2007, the defense team still does NOT have a copy of the security camera video footage!
Then there’s the case of Montequa Jackson, a former University of Louisville student. In August, 2009 after walking her home, her boyfriend Jermaine Stafford was randomly surrounded and attacked by a group of white men on campus. Hearing what was happening outside her dorm, Jackson rushed to his aid and stabbed one the attackers with a small knife. She was prosecuted for assault, placed on probation, and expelled from school. You can watch the FOX news account (including the attack caught on security camera video) for yourself here.
As the economy worsens, and the people become more desperate, it becomes easier for conservative talk radio personalities, politicians, and other fear-based demagogues to use their access to the media to move the public (especially the white population) into a narrow, dogmatic, decidedly reactionary direction. Currently, both republicans and democrats pander to this crowd; as do various religious and political leaders at the local and state level.
In their pandering to the most racist, intolerant, imperialist, and anti-democratic forces, those who have positions of real power over our daily lives (and that of our students), particularly those who are employed as public servants who have a social, political, and cultural affinity with the political line of the most racist, intolerant, imperialist, and anti-democratic forces in the country are creating policies, procedures, ‘best’ practices, and legal precedents that we as instructors must pay attention to and consult both legal and political experts to help us to interpret, in order for us to deliver to our students the most up-to-date, realistic, and relevant self-defense education we can provide.