The Folly of Calling the FBI

by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Revolutionary Worker #1002, April 18, 1999

"When are you Black folks gonna throw off the KILLERS that are JAILIN' you for murder?"

John Africa, On the MOVE! (July 26, 1975)

When Black folks are beaten down by cops all around the United States, and when they are shot down in their cars as in the cases of Dontae Dawson of Philadelphia, or Malice Green of Detroit, or the beautiful young sister (Tyisha Miller) who was shot over 15 times in her car in Riverside, California recently, or... (We can go on and on) one of the first things that many Black leaders do is to announce that they are asking for the FBI to come in to "solve" the case. What such an announcement means, of course, is that they recognize that local police are in no position to meaningfully investigate such cases, as their interests are in protecting "their own." But why the FBI?

Such a call sounds strange when one considers that the FBI played a significant and an openly dangerous role in the history of African-American struggles for freedom in America, and they were deadly enemies of such leaders as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Marcus M. Garvey, and of such groups as the Black Panther Party, RAM, SNCC, the Republic of New Afrika, and the like. In truth, the history of the FBI shows that they have waged a secret war against Black America, and frankly, it seems kind of stupid to look to them for relief from other state forces who are waging a part of their long white supremacist war against Black folks.

James Forman, the former head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, after being beaten by white supremacists and Klansmen while demonstrating for civil rights throughout the south, constantly requested FBI protection from the violence. Instead, they would turn up every time that he was beaten, stand by, and take notes, never stopping any of the violence, but instead were involved in gathering dirty and derogatory personal information on civil rights workers. He finally concluded that the FBI was a part of "the governmental structure," and were, in effect, "the enemy of Black people" [from O'Reilly, K., Racial Matters: The FBI's Secret File on Black America, 1960-1972 (New York: Free Press, 1989), pp. 108-109]. Forman noted:

"We did not say it that way in 1963, but we did know that the FBI was a farce. It wasn't going to arrest any local racists who violated any and all laws on the statute books. Instead, it would play a game of taking notes and pictures. The files in Washington must have been growing thick even then with documents from the civil rights movements and with photographs of us all-- doing everything but screwing, and maybe even that." [p. 109]

The former FBI chief, J. Edgar Hoover, found it intolerable that "Negroes" would "want to be addressed as `Mr."' (p. 257). Scholar Kenneth O'Reilly writes that the job of the FBI was, in large part, to stifle black unity:

"Division Five also worked to "prevent the rise of a `Messiah"'-- someone "who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement." Malcolm X had been the most likely candidate, but his assassination removed that threat. Malcolm was simply "the martyr of the movement today." Muhammad was hardly a more viable threat "because of his age." In the final analysis, Division Five said, [Stokeley] Carmichael and [Martin Luther] King were the only serious candidates. They both dreamed of becoming a messiah and had "the necessary charisma." Not even [William C., head of Domestic Intelligence] Sullivan considered King to be a militant, but that was beside the point. "King could be a very real contender for this position should he abandon his supposed `obedience' to `white, liberal doctrines' (nonviolence) and embrace black nationalism." [p. 282]

The role of history has taught us that the state has its interests and the people have another; and they do not coincide.

Now, with much of the nationalist movement in pieces, with some aligned to the Democratic party, some involved with community organizing, and others involved in other areas of social and cultural life, it is somewhat surreal to read of community calls for the FBI every time that a young person is murdered by cops.

Since when are they the solution? The propaganda shown by the movie Mississippi Burning doesn't come close to showing the true role of the FBI. It's time folks acted as if they knew that.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497
(The RW Online does not currently communicate via email.)