In the second part of this series we are offered systemic analysis regarding the methods employed to diminish resistance movements and the impact this had on working and middle classes.
“When you grow up in situations like me and Cliff…there is a lot of respect for brothers like [drug lord] Alpo and Nicky Barnes, those major hustler-player cats. Cause they made it. They made it against society’s laws. They were the Kings of their own domain“. (Cliff Evans, “The Ivy League Counterfeiter”, Rolling Stone, 2000; in Toure, Never Drank the Kool-Aid, Picador, New York, 2006)
The “Original” Black Mafia (BM)
Albeit a touchy matter to many, it’s an irrefutable fact that the original Black Mafia (BM) was first established in Philadelphia, Pa, in the late 1960’s, and has seen its cancerous ideas duplicated, imitated and lionized by Black youth ever since. Moreover, although it’s unclear how much the national Nation of Islam (NOI) leadership knew or learned about the BM, there’s no question of the local NOI’s eventual absorption of the BM-under Minister Jeremiah X. Pugh. In fact, although the BM was originally just local “stick-up kids” culled from neighborhood gangs, their being swallowed by the NOI would eventually turn them into a truly powerful and terrifying criminal enterprise-completely divorced from everything that the NOI had stood for since its founding in 1930.
Sadly, most of the high level tricks which the government employed against the BPP were also used against the BM/NOI; namely, Co-option, Glamorization of Gangsterism, Separation from the Most Advenced Elements and Raw Fear. Thus, it must be understood that although the NOI and BPP had different ideologies and styles, to most Black youth, both held out the promise of helping them to obtain what they most desired: self-respect, dignity and freedom. Interestingly, the puritanical NOI’s dealings with the founders of the BM were similar to that of the Catholic Church’s historical relationship with the Italian Mafia. That is, the BM members who attended NOI religious services did so strictly on that basiswhile still coming to the attention of the local NOI leadership as unusually good financial contributors. And within the lower
class Black community being served, everybody knew that meant that they were hustlers, stick-up kids, or both. So the same way that the Italian Mafia would contribute huge sums to the Catholic Church, the BM would do with Philly’s Temple No. 12.
The national NOI, however, had been under close scrutiny and surveillance by intelligence agencies for decades.
In fact, by the time of this death, the NOI’s founder, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, had in excess of one million pages of files in the archives of the FBI alone! (Anyone who still believes that the assassination of Malcolm X did not have a hidden U.S. government hand behind it, has no clear idea of the threat that the NOI was perceived to be at that time). As a result of their surveillance, the intelligence agencies knew who were the BM’s financial contributors to the NOI. Overshadowing this, of course, were the bloody assaults that the FBI and local police were levelling against other Black radical and revolutionary groups, like the local and national BPP branches, the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and scores of smaller formations.
The FBI first tried to recruit Minister Pugh as a snitch against the local BPP by telling him that the BPP was out to get him and supplant the local NOI for Black youth’s loyalties. Pugh, to his credit, didn’t take the bait and also avoided getting his Temple No. 12 involved in a war with the BPP, although he had to suspect that his taking of blood money from the BM had also come to the attention of the FBI, thus making him vulnerable. Yet miraculously about the same time Pugh’s name was removed from the FBI’s Security Index, which contained all of what that agency considered to be the country’s top-level threats. After Pugh’s having been on the list for years, and right after its agents filed a report of his refusal to be a snitch, why would the Bureau nevertheless relax the pressure?
How did J. Edgar Hoover & Co. think things would unfold?
By giving Pugh and his Temple, and their BM followers, enough rope to hang themselves, or to become addicted to a game that was ultimately controlled by their professed enemies-the U.S. government and its underlings. Thus, this would turn the tables on Pugh and force him to become less radical, more compliant, and no longer a threat on the level of the BPP, RAM and other revolutionaries. For the BM members, the glamorization of gangsterism fit right in. After all, why would a group of Black stick-up kids and gang members call themselves The Black Mafia?
This was in the era of Black is beautiful, when millions of Blacks began wearing Afros/Bushes and African clothing and adopting African names-completely at odds with aping Italians! Why not name themselves the zulus, Watusis or the Mau Mau-like even younger street gangs were doing? No, Hollywood’s projection of gangsterism was getting through. Consequently, within a couple of years the BM would uniformly be recognized as expensively dressed, big hat-wearing, Cadillac-driving imitations of the Italian Mafia. And sadly, they turned countless numbers of street gang members, former RAM cadre and militants from dozens of other Philly groups, who were fighting oppression, into pawns who were used to further destroy their own communities.
The third trick:
that is, of separating the youth from the more advanced elements, operated under cover of Pugh and other insiders continuing to preach Black Nationalist doctrines amongst the youth in the street gangs and within the prisons, never missing an opportunity to hold out the illusion that they could gain pride and respect. As a result, many youth believed they were joining a rebel group that was only awaiting the right time to throw their lot in with the masses of Blacks who were waging battles from coast to coast and on the African continent.
In reality Pugh & Co. were tricking the youth into diverting their energies into gangsterism, thereby separating them from the more advanced elements. Many, if not most, bought into the rationale that their extortion and drug dealing were a tax that would be used to build The Nation. A few years later that would be dubbed drinking the Kool-Aid, after Jim Jones and his CIA handlers tricked and forced hundreds of other Blacks to “drink” their death. And undoubtedly, Huey had also tricked his people with a similar game, which decades later was shown to be completely false! Yes, that ill-gotten money did build and/or buy some expensive homes, cars, clothing, women and drugs as well as a few schools and businesses. But to fight oppression? Please!
Finally, the raw fear being levelled on the entire society had a devastating effect on the BM, also.
Otherwise how can one account for the hundreds, if not thousands, of BM street soldiers, who were fearless enough to cow Philly’s long-established Italian Mafia and most of its warring street gangs; or the BM headhunters, who terrorized the city with decapitations, nevertheless producing a distinctly lackluster showing when confronting anyone in uniform? I’ll tell you how: their leadership had completely disarmed their members’ fighting spirits by alsways telling them not to resist the police until the leadership gave the order-which never came. Comically, after the police and FBI had succeeded in suppressing, jailing, exiling and co-opting most of the BPP, BLA, RAM and others, they then discovered the BM and attacked it with a vengeance.
As might be expected, none of the BM put up anything resembling real resistance except to go on the lam. Minister Jeremiah himself made a 180-degree turn by becoming a snitch after getting caught in a drug sting. Thus, the legacy of the BM is one of a ruthless group of Black thugs who have spawned similarly ruthless crews-notably Philly’s Junior Black Mafia (JBM) and the latest clone, Atlanta’s Black Mafia Family. But their most harmful effect comes from their deeds and mystiques that has returned a huge segment of Black youth to believing that the only way to gain any respect and dignity is through being the best and most heartless hustler around: that is, full circle back to 1955.
Finally, I used the BPP/BLA and NOI/BM as examples because they are the most well documented. Although both are surrounded by so much mythology, a true rawanalysis is almost never attempted except by the government and intelligence agencies. The latter use their findings to refine and revise older tricks in order to continue checking and controlling this country’s rebellious youth while simultaneously persisting in oppressing the communities they occupy-in line with the ruling classes’ agenda. As to the middle and upper class idealistic youth from all segments of the First Wave, with few exceptions they allowed themselves willy-nilly to be co-opted fully as the new managers of the system they had vowed radically to change. Moreover, they became the champions of and made a doctrine out of the necessity of always using and relying on passive and legal methods, epitomized by their new saint, Martin Luther King, Junior.
The Second Wave: circa 1980-2005
Thus, by 1980, for all practical purposes, the youth from the First Wave had been defeated. Following this they collectively descended into a debilitating, agonizing, escapist long period characterized by partying. I am not discounting the fringe elements who had been so adversely affected that they had their hands full trying to rebuild their sanity or families, or to go back to school or simply survive in prison or exile while everybody else seemed to be dancing on the ceiling. This was similar to the shell shocked vets of WWI and WWII and the post-tramatic stress syndrome sufferers of the Vietnam war.
The most misunderstood victims, however, were the First Wave’s children, who themselves became the Second Wave from 1980 to 2005. Those are the years when the latter either reached puberty or became young adults who, paradoxically, were left in the dark about most of what had occurred before. Instead they were left to the tender mercies of the reformed but still rotten-to-the-core and ruling class-dominated schools, social institutions and propaganda machinery. Thus, amongst all the lower and working class segments of the youth, Coolio’s Gangster’s Paradise fits the bill. These youth were raised by the state, either in uncaring schools, juvenile detention centers or homes; in front of TV sets, movies, video arcades, or in the streets. Within the greatly expanded middle classes-most notably amongst the people of color-the youth were back to the gospel of getting a good education and job as their highest calling.
This was mixed with an originally more conscious element which tackled politics and academia as a continuation of the First Wave’s struggle.
The upper class youth, however, were doomed to follow in the footsteps of their ruling class parents, since the radical and revolutionary changes they sought failed to alter the country much. Like a recurring nightmare, the Second Wave also fell victim to co-option, glamorization of gangsterism, separation from the most advanced elements, reliance on passive methods and raw fear of an upgraded police state. Left to their own devices, the lower class youth began a search for respect and dignity by devising their own institutions and culture, which came to be dominated by gangs and Hip Hop. These, on their own, could be either used for good or bad. But lacking any knowledge of the First Wave’s experiences, they were tricked like their parents.
The Gang and Hip Hop Culture Gangs are working and lower class phenomena which date from the early beginnings of this country, having also been in evidence overseas. In fact, many of those who joined the First Wave were themselves gang members, most notably Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, head of the notorious Slausons (the forerunners of today’s Crips), and the martyred founder of the Los Angeles Panthers. As little as it’s understood, the gangs are in fact the lower class counterparts of the middle and upper classes’ youth clubs, associations, Boy/Girl Scouts, and fraternities and sororities.
The key difference is the level of positive adult input in the middle and upper class groups.
Hip Hop is just the latest manifestation of artistic genius bursting forth from these lower class youth-seeking respect and dignity. Orthodox hip hoppers speak of a holy trinity of hip hop fathers: Herc, Afrika Bambaata, and Grandmaster Flash. But like moisture in the air before it rains, the conditions were ripe for hip hop before the holy trinity began spinning. Hip Hop’s prefathers or grandfathers are James Brown, Huey Newton, Muhammad Ali, Richard Pryor, Malcolm X, Bob Marley, Bruce Lee, certain celebrity drug dealers and pimps whose names won’t be mentioned here… (Toure, Never Drank the Kool-Aid, op. cit.)
Alas, Hip Hop culture is daily being co-opted in ways so obvious that it needs no explanation. But woe be to us if we don’t come to grips with how the Second Wave’s gangs have been coopted. It is a continuing tragedy, moreover, which if not turned around will ultimately make the shortcomings of the First Wave pale in comparison! Ronald Reagan and crack were hip hop’s ’80’s anti-fathers: both helped foster the intense poverty and the teenage drug-dealing millionaires as well as the urge to rebel against the system that appeared to be moving in for the kill, to finally crush Black America. (Toure, Never Drank the Kool-Aid, op. cit.)
Certainly the gangs have comprised a subculture that has historically been a thorn in the culing class’ side.
It either had to be controlled and used, or eradicated. Usually that was accomplished by co-option and attrition, with older elements moving on, or being jailed long enough to destroy the group. Our First Wave, as noted, was able-somewhat-to outflank the ruling class by absorbing some key gang members of that time. This added to the First Wave’s prestige in the community and its acceptance of radical and revolutionary ideas. (Also, as noted, these ideas were pimped by BM-style groups). It’s fascinatingly simple to follow how the Second Wave has been tricked to destroy itself. Just about all the pillars upholding this giant con game are familiar to everyone in the form of movies, TV, street culture, cops, courts, jails, prisons, death, and our own families’ and friends’ experiences with them.
Gangstas, Wankstas and Wannabes
All of the above, more than anything, crave respect and dignity! Forget all of the unformed ideas about the homies wanting the families, fathers and love that they never had. That plays a part, but if you think that the homies only need some more hugs, then you’ve drunk the kool-aid! Actually, even if you did have a good father and a loving family/extended family, if everything in society is geared toward lessening your self-worth because of your youth, race, tastes in dress, music, speech, lack of material trappings, etc., they you will still hunger for some respect, which if it came, would lead you to knowing dignity within yourself. Even suburban, middle and upper-class youth confront this-to a lesser degree.
All of the beefin’, flossin’, frontin’, set-trippin’, violence and bodies piling up comes from the pursuit of respect and dignity. This is how 50 Cent put it: Niggas out there sellin’ drugs is after what I got from rappin’…When you walk into a club and the bouncers stop doin’ whatever the fuck they doing to let you in and say everybody else wait. He special. That’s the same shit they do when you start killin’ niggas in you hood. This is what we been after the whole time. Just the wrong route. (“Life of a Hunted Man”, posted on Rolling Stone website, April 3, 2003; in Never Drank the Kool-Aid, op. cit.)
Admittedly, at times that simple, but raw truth is so intertwined with so many other things that it’s hard to grasp.
Namely, nowadays, the drug game, other git-money games, and most sets do provide a sort of alternative family. They also provide a strong cohesion that is mistakenly called love. Hence, to cut through the distractions, I’ll illustrate my point as follows: When the Second Wave was left hanging by the defeated and demoralized First Wave, its members unknowingly reverted to methods of seeking dignity and respect that the First Wave had elevated themselves above during their struggle for radical and revolutionary change. This was a period during which gang wars and gang banging were anathema!
The revolutionary psychiatrist Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth notes that the colonized and oppressed are quick to grab their knife against a neighbor or stranger, thereby in a subconscious way ducking their fear of directing their pent up rage at those responsible for their suffering: their colonial oppressors. The notable early sets-like the Bloods, Crips and Gangster Disciples-primary activity was banging, or gang warring over “turf”: neighborhoods, schools, etc., as well as over real or imagined slights. But the real underlying motivation was of all of the parties’ desires to build their reputations and earn stripes, meaning to gain prestige in the eyes of fellow bangers.
This translated into respect amongst their peers.
It also causedthese youth to bond with each other like soldiers do in combat; a bonding like a family-even more so. Not surprisingly, many outsiders decreed that this bonding was love. Some youth also thought that. However, to exchange love, you first have to love yourself, and the gang banger by definition has no love for his or her self. They in fact are desperately seeking respect, without which love is impossible. Example: If you respect your body, you can also love your body, and you would not dare destroy it with drugs or alcohol. But if you don’t respect your body and you go on to destroy it in that fashion, then it follows that you have no love for it either.
The bangin’ raged on for years, piling up as many deaths and injuries as the U.S. suffered during the Vietnam War. Each incident elevated either the attacker’s or victim’s stature in the eyes of his or her peers. As might be expected during those years, the overseers of the oppressive system bemoaned the carnage while locking up untold numbers of bangers for a few years; but overall, they did absolutely nothing to try to arrest the problem. Now here’s where it really gets interesting. Drugs, as noted, had been flooding into these same communities since the 1960’s. Back then, however, it was mainly heroin, with marijuana and meth playing relatively minor roles. Remember the movies Serpico and The French Connection exposing that? But the early gangs, to their credit, never got deeply involved in that. They saw dope fiends as weak and, although those early gangs would blow some sherm or chronic, it was just a pass-time activity for them. They were serious about bangin’!
The bangers were in fact all co-opted;
wedded as they were to their form of fratricidal gangsterism and totally separated from the remnants of the First Wave, about whom they knew next to nothing. Meanwhile, the “good kids” were being indoctrinated in passive, legal, get-a-good-education approaches. And both groups were scared to death of the police! For despite the bangers’ hate and contempt, any two cops could lay out a dozen of them on all fours-at will. Hence, Tupac’s later iconic stature amongst them, since he could walk his talk:
…”the fact that while everyone else talks about it, Tupac is the only known rapper who has actually shot a police officer; the walking away from being shot five times with no permanent damage and walking away from the hospital the next day and the rolling into court for a brief but dramatic wheelchair-bound courtroom appearance-it’s been dangerously compelling and ecstatically brilliant” . (“Tupac”, The Village Voice, 1995, in never Drank the Kool-Aid; op. cit.)
At that time this madness was contained in lower class communities since the ruling class believed that technology had made what it dubbed the underclass obsolete anyway. To do this the ruling classes’ henchmen made sure that their Gestapo-like police were heavily armed and fully supported. I urge people to see Sean Penn and Robert Duval’s movie, Colors. But something was on the horizon that was about to cause a seismic shift in this already sorry state of affairs. It was to alter things in ways that most still cannot or will not believe.
The first part of this piece was published yesterday and the final part of this series will be published on the 28th November 2010.
Original artwork was created for this piece by Siri: thank you!