Black Lives Matter: interview with a US organiser

Reproduced below is an interview Red Youth conducted with an organiser for the Black Lives Matter movement in Illinois, comrade Dylan García.

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Black Lives Matter is a broad movement against police brutality and racism in America, originating in the protests of the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the 2014 murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

Since then it has grown as one of the driving forces of anti-racist action in the US and has recently inspired sympathetic protests in the UK, with the aim of rebuilding the black liberation struggle since its decline as a result of state suppression. During the 60s in the US the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation was repurposed from infiltrating and sabotaging the communist movement to destroying the civil rights and black liberation movements, targeting Martin Luther King, Jr., Fred Hampton, Malcolm X, and the Black Panther Party as well as other individuals and organisations.

Red Youth: The official BLM movement exists as a kind of forum to organise and discuss the black liberation struggle, with specific focus on the murder of black people by police, security guards, and vigilantes. What conclusions, in your experience, have these discussions drawn as to the cause of such systemic racism and the possible strategies and tactics to combat it?

Dylan Garcia: The Black Lives Matter movement has been amazingly important at forcing people to face the fact that racism, especially anti-Blackness, is not a series of isolated incidents. It is a problem with the system we live under which does not value the lives of people of color. This movement has also done important work at highlighting the role of the police in this system. I think the conversation within the movement at large is still evolving around understanding what causes systematic racism, but these conversations are happening. In terms of tactics, there seem to be many thoughts about which kinds to use and at what time. It has been inspiring, however, to see Black people leading large groups out onto the streets to take a physical stand against brutality and racism, however.

RY: There has been shock and outcry at the militarised police response to demonstrations and protests, as well as targeting and harassment of activists. Has the police response been unusually extreme, or is this business as usual for them?

DG: The response has been more intense, but only because Black Lives Matter has put them and their actions under the microscope. And when you’re used to being able to be violent with impunity and suddenly people are paying much closer attention, you’re going to react with extra hostility.

RY: The civil rights/black power movement seemingly declined in strength and militancy since the days of the BPP and other groups in the 60s/70s. What caused the decline and how do you think BLM can build the movement today?

DG: Civil rights leaders and Black Power leaders were actively hunted down by the US government and its agents. Take Martin Luther King, Jr. and Fred Hampton, for example. These movements were so threatening to racist American society that there were campaigns to end them. The people in these movements were already oppressed, then when you count in suppression, things were difficult. I think that definitely played a role in the decline in militancy. In terms of building the movement, BLM just needs to keep up the work that’s currently underway. And non-Black people must support them in whatever ways they want and need us. Societal change will happen if we support the oppressed in their fight against their oppression.

RY: Can you describe the event in Rockford you organised – how many attended, what the prevailing reasons and discussions were, and what the response of local authorities and media was like?

DG: After Alton Sterling’s murder, I contacted Star Lasha, a Black political organizer in Rockford, to ask if she knew of any events that were being planned in response to the murder. None were in the works, so she and I decided to put together a rally. All of this was decided before the murder of Philando Castile came to our attention. Then it became even more urgent that we do something to speak against this brutality. Rockford tends to seem apathetic about things, and Star and I wanted to wake people up to the reality of police violence against Black people. This was especially important to us because of the death of Mark Barmore at the hands of Rockford Police and the death of Valentina Jovan Fresco at the hands of two security officers. This violence isn’t just national. It’s local. And we needed to talk about this. The event was a speak out. Over 100 people showed up and many people talked about their anger regarding these events. Other people rapped and read poems against this violence. It was very powerful to hear Black people speak out, and I was very proud that so many showed up to listen. Our event also sparked a march the following day which was organized by two other members of the Black community, which was amazing. The march was also very well attended. The media gave us a lot of attention. Both local TV stations interviewed us before and during the event, and we also got coverage in the local paper. The Rockford Police aggressively tried to contact Star and I about the event. I received 3 Facebook messages, 4 emails, and had an officer come to my apartment trying to talk to me. We did not speak to the police, and they had one marked car at the event, across the street, but they didn’t get involved at the rally itself.

RY: What do you think needs to change to end the system of oppression and violence against black people?

DG: The system cannot be fixed. It must be overthrown. By that, I mean capitalism must be ended. Racism is such an integral part of American society that the only way to fully dissolve it is to break down the whole system and create a better one.

Learn more:

Police racism is not a case of a few ‘rotten apples’ (Proletarian 59)

Anti-racism in Britain: The India Workers’ Association (GB)

After Brexit