General T.A.C.O. a.k.a. Wolverine Shakur is the leader of the Black Riders Liberation Party, a group in Los Angeles also known as the "New Generation Black Panther Party for Self-Defense." As that name implies, they're not exactly shy about their activism: In March, they traveled to Texas and marched with the Huey Newton Gun Club through South by Southwest, carrying guns to the state capitol to "raise the cry for armed self-defense" for the black community.
The link between black activism and gun control goes back a long ways. The "open carry" of firearms was banned in California by the Mulford Act in 1967 in response to the armed police patrols of the original Black Panthers; their ideological successors in the Black Riders now organize "Watch-A-Pig" patrols in South LA, Oakland, and elsewhere to defend against what they see as "police terrorism." While they can't lawfully carry loaded guns, they say they use video cameras and "legal weapons" to confront police arresting black suspects. But where they differ from the Copwatch approach is that their eventual goal is total revolution.
We spoke with General T.A.C.O. (which stands for "Taking All Capitalists Out") about Baltimore, gang truces, and the history of Black America. His comments reveal an alternative narrative of contemporary race relations that's instructive for understanding how some black Americans view the current wave of attention to police brutality as the beginning of a renewed Black Power movement. Here's what he had to say:
VICE: In the past year, with a number of high-profile incidents involving police killings of black suspects, have you seen more interest in the message of the Black Riders?
General T.A.C.O.: Yes, we've been growing pretty rapidly in the last year and a half. We're also extremely strong in the prison-industrial complex—we have a nationwide prison chapter. By the pigs exposing their hand, they're revealing to the public the things that have been going on in the black community since we were dragged here on slave ships from Africa. They're using the same repressive, violent measures to colonize us into the position that we're in right now. The police came from the paddy rollers, patrollers, who chased down runaway slaves and dragged them back to the plantation.
In that case, do you think that any type of police reform efforts are going to make life easier for the black community, or do you think it's going to take a more systemic solution?
We see the whole issue of police terrorism as being tied to the issue of white supremacy and capitalism and US imperialism on the planet. We see our struggle and our freedom tied to an international struggle against a worldwide capitalist class, which has been oppressing people around the world since its existence. When we talk about police terrorism, it's in conjunction with property relations, in conjunction with means of production and distribution of wealth. We deal with economic, social, and political subjugation and repression. The police act to protect the property of the capitalist class. As long as those types of property relations exist, we're gonna have a problem with this government; we're gonna have problems with capitalism, white supremacy, and US imperialism. We see a need to educate our people for armed self-defense and community service, then after that we want to move them to a community where we're in control of the police and where we can disarm the pigs. But even that alone would never work—we need to have total revolution to deal with police terrorism, because as long as the state is in the pocket of the ruling class, we're always going to have this racial and class conflict.
Since the announcement of criminal charges against officers who arrested Freddie Gray, tensions on the ground in Baltimore have appeared to relax. What do you think is the next step for black organizers seeking to prevent further police abuses?
What they can learn from the Freddie Gray situation is that the need to resist is necessary. No longer can we sit idly by and watch the pigs terrorize our communities. You have to understand that even though this concession was given to the masses, it was designed to appease them, to offset the real revolutionary rage that's inside of them from being oppressed by a racist US government. It's like they did with those small crumbs of reform in the 60s like affirmative action; they created a black neocolonial class to provide a buffer guard for the ruling class. They need these house negroes to convince us that the capitalist, white-supremacist system works, despite the fact [that] it doesn't. We've already proven that by numerous times throughout our history where the police have been indicted for a crime, and yet still, because of the racial dynamics of the jury pool, which is usually white, we don't have anybody there to represent the interests of our people. Our peer group are those around us in a geographic location, who talk like us, look like us. As long as the jury pool is composed of people who are alien to our culture, to our language, to our ways as a people, then they're going to see things through a white, racist, capitalist viewpoint, and end up letting the pigs off.
Who are some members of this black neocolonial class, in your view?
Obama! He's the ultimate neocolonial puppet. We like to say, look at race car drivers, like Mario Andretti, one of the fastest race car drivers in the world. If you put that man inside a Pinto, a raggedy Pinto that only goes 50 miles an hour, you'll understand that no matter his skill, no matter his intention or goodwill, he cannot make that Pinto go faster than it was designed to go! The racist US government and its system were never designed for our people; it was designed to enslave, massacre, and genocide our people out of this country. We look at Obama as pushing the same kind of line. He's the grand house negro.
Do you think that charges would have been brought against those officers had there not been demonstrations and rioting in Baltimore?
We don't call it rioting ourselves. We think things that the white supremacists did to gain control of this country, like the Boston Tea Party, were riots! This was a rebellion, a righteous response to brutal terrorism. It wasn't the protesting that did it—it was the rebellion that forced the enemy's hand to placate our people and try and calm us down so they can make business as usual. So no, the charges would have never been raised on these dumb pigs unless the rebellion took place. Now we have to keep rebelling as a people for justice and freedom.
So you're not very confident that the charges will stick?
I think that people should push and keep up the resistance by any means necessary. We can't depend on pigs to investigate the pigs. We have to understand the criminal justice system is a criminal "criminal justice system" that isn't designed for our people, but to protect to the property of the racist, capitalist ruling class. We cannot depend on these same mechanisms formed by the enemy to seek justice or our freedom.
A memo was issued by the Baltimore Police Department which alleged that members of the Crips, Bloods, and the Black Guerilla Family were aligning to "take out" police officers. Do you think the police mischaracterized a truce as something violent?
This was a deceptive ploy to create mass confusion within our community. They saw that not only were the Bloods and Crips organizing together, members of other gangs such as the Vice Lords and the P. Stones were uniting and seeing the real enemy after the Freddie Gray situation. But also, it's directly tied to history—we have to understand that even during the period of plantation chattel slavery, they did not like two, three, five black people congregating together, because they felt we were conspiring to overthrow the slave masters. It's the same thing today. They don't want us to work together and organize to uplift our community, because we're opposed to their dominance.
You have to understand that in the 80s, the government used the tactics of bringing in crack cocaine and military weaponry to flood the black community. They decided to neutralize the black liberation movement in America and the righteous liberation struggle of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, to wipe out two birds with one white rock. They created the Contras, a group of counter-revolutionaries who pushed cocaine, to overthrow the Sandinistas, while using our own people, Bloods, Crips, and "Freeway" Rick Ross, to bring in crack and military weaponry to throw off the whole black liberation movement. They created the rise of the so-called "gang epidemic," the "crack epidemic," the "guns and violence epidemic"—they created these problems by smuggling these things into our community.
The whole idea of Crips came from the Black Panther Party. Crips stood for "Class Revolution in Progress," later on Bloods came and created "Black Liberation of Our Descent." Both Bloods and Crips came from the black liberation movement, so the government used our revolutionary righteous thrust and need for freedom and justice, and turned it against us, creating the pop-cultural, subcultural mentality of the "thug." But they are the greatest thugs, the greatest terrorists, the racist US government.
There are Bloods and Crips in peace talks all over this country right now, not only in Baltimore. Not only are Bloods and Crips uniting, Christians and Muslims are uniting. All of our black people that are being oppressed and brutalized by a racist government are in peace talks, love talks, and knowledge-of-self talks, and once this public gets talking, it ain't over. There isn't too much time left until we start walking the walk, and the Black Riders intend to lead them to revolution.
What do you think of the Black Lives Matter movement?
The process of awakening, of revolution, is developmental. The initial phase starts when people just talk or scream or yell at the pigs, but once the pigs show their true intentions, and show that they're morally bankrupt, then the Black Lives Matter movement will gain knowledge of the enemy's true nature, and will eventually see the need to push for self-defense and revolution.
Do you see revolution as inevitable as long as black communities keep resisting, or do you think something could stop it?
The only thing that will stop our people from achieving true freedom, justice, and equality is disunity within ourselves. Our goal is to educate and liberate not only black people, but to be the vanguard of the global revolution to wipe out any form of racism or imperialism on the planet. We cannot be free as long as even one slave is oppressed.
What can sympathetic white people, and people of other races, do to assist the black community in defending against police brutality?
The main thing sympathetic whites can do is ride on the pigs and white supremacy. It's important that black people are allowed to define themselves and their struggle, for outsiders not to come in and co-opt or water down our righteous revolutionary rage. The main way is to ride on the pigs, to go against the pigs. You've gotta study the history of John Brown, 'cause if you're not John Brown, you might as well get out of town.
Bill Kilby is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.