Movement for Black Lives
New Targets of the State

by: Lamont Lilly

Ferguson from Wikipedia Commons: photo by Loaves of Bread

Ferguson from Wikipedia Commons: photo by Loaves of Bread

During the height of the Ferguson Rebellion in late summer 2014, youth organizer, Joshua Williams quickly rose to the call of duty.  In the aftermath of Officer Darren Wilson’s brutal murder of unarmed Black teenager, Mike Brown, nineteen year-old, Josh Williams, stepped forward in the most dedicated and courageous way possible – on the front lines.

At protests, Williams stood his ground against armed police, National Guardsmen, tanks and teargas, and encouraged others to do the same.  In doing so, Josh not only earned the respect and admiration of his peers, he began to garner favor with longtime veteran leaders such as Cornel West and Al Sharpton.  Williams became a darling of the national media, from USA Today to the New York Times.  Everyone loved Josh.  His humor.  His courage.  His charisma.

Joshua Williams, photographed in Ferguson, Mo. on Sept. 10, 2014. Trymaine Lee for MSNBC

Joshua Williams, photographed in Ferguson, Mo. on Sept. 10, 2014 by Trymaine Lee for MSNBC

Unfortunately, just a few months after Mike Brown’s dead body lay in the street for four hours, another Black teenager, Antonio Martin, was shot by the police in Berkeley– a small town just outside of Ferguson.  In a righteous rage, youth took to the streets in rebellion.  In the process, Williams was caught on camera lighting a fire at the convenience store where Martin was shot and killed.  In December 2014, Josh Williams was arrested by the St. Louis County police, and a year later plead guilty to first degree arson and second degree burglary.

Were Josh’s actions of “damaging property” illegal?  Yes, of course.  But so were the murders of innocents.  Did Darren Wilson serve time in jail?  No, he did not.  Did George Zimmerman serve time for murdering 17-year-old Trayvon Martin?  No, not at all!  Josh Williams, however, was sentenced to eight years in the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, Mo.  Neither Wilson nor Zimmerman ever served one day in prison.

Daily Journal file photo by Teresa Ressel The last two housing units have opened at the Bonne Terre prison.

Daily Journal file photo by Teresa Ressel
The last two housing units have opened at the Bonne Terre prison.

Legal Repression, Trumped-up Charges

Another recent case of overt targeting of activists by the state is the case of twenty-eight year-old, Jasmine Richards, also known as Jasmine Abdullah.  The Founder of the Black Lives Matter Pasadena Chapter, Richards became the first Black person in the United States convicted of “felony lynching.”  Yes, lynching!  She was hit with this charge for attempting to prevent the arrest of a Black woman accused of not paying her bill at a local restaurant, back in August 2015.

During the incident, Jasmine and others were nearby at a local park rally against violence in the Black community.  As commotion spilled over into the street, Jasmine and nearby protesters came to serve as witnesses, demanding justice.  At the time, only the suspect, accused of not paying her bill, was formally arrested.  Three days later, however, for her valiant pursuit of justice, Jasmine was charged with delaying and obstructing officers, inciting a riot and felony lynching.  On June 1, 2016, Jasmine Richards was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years of probation time.

In the state of California, lynching includes “the taking by means of a riot of another person from the lawful custody of a peace officer.”  The erroneous charges against Jasmine backfired, however, when the general public finally received word of such a ridiculous interpretation and legal application as were seen here.  Public outcry was heard worldwide.  And though Richards was released on bail just a few days ago, on June 18, the resurfacing of an old phenomenon has become quite clear.

Learning Lessons from Past Movements

What we’re seeing in regards to targeting activists and organizers of the Black Lives Matter Movement is nothing new – no different than the targeting of Mumia Abu-Jamal, Assata Shakur, and Leonard Peltier.  What we’re seeing is the same strategy that COINTELPRO used against the Black Panther Party (BPP), Black Liberation Army (BLA), and American Indian Movement (AIM).

What we have to do now is call this out, and critique such developments through a contemporary context.  The intent of such repression is to halt the movement, to halt the surge and organization of the poor and oppressed, to “disrupt, discredit and destroy.”

For those who may not be familiar, “the state” is the police and county sheriffs – ICE, the U.S. Border Patrol, the FBI, and the CIA – your local probation and correctional officers – even the judges and state prosecutors.  Collectively, the state apparatus will do anything to protect the elite.  Such a statement is unfortunately true because, it is indeed, their job.  And if the state cannot stop you permanently, they’ll tie up your time, energy, and resources in the jails and the court system.  And, they’ll use the media to demonize you in the process.

As current activists, radical scholars, and revolutionaries, we have to learn from these lessons and pass them on.  As the Movement for Black Lives continues to grow, mature, and push forward, it would behoove us to expect that there will be other activists targeted.  It could be me.  It could be you.  It could be any one of us: the organizer, the foot soldier, the professor.

We know what the state wants – to prevent the poor and disenfranchised from rising and seizing power.  Such position has always been the state’s role.  What is new, is that a new generation must be armed with the proper information to protect themselves.  Those on the front line must be defended, by us, the people, the community, at all cost, by any means necessary.

As our great field general, Assata Shakur, teaches us:

It is our duty to fight for our freedom.  It is our duty to win.  We must love each other and support each other.  We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Lamont Lilly

Lamont Lilly

NC-based activist, Lamont Lilly is the 2016 Workers World Party, U.S. Vice-Presidential Candidate.  He has recently served as field staff in Baltimore, Ferguson, OaklandBoston and Philadelphia.  In 2015, he was a U.S. delegate at the International Forum for Justice in Palestine in Beirut, Lebanon.

Clarion Content

Clarion Content is a Durham-based online magazine that curates and creates the thriving culture that gives our city its identity. Our community building is only as strong as our collective contributions. Our team of curators welcomes your comments, suggestions, and concerns. We are open to all points of view, especially those that challenge and therefore stimulate our own. We also encourage reader submitted material as well as guest columnists. See something cool, outrageous, outlandish, or important? Have a great cause? Send us a note or stop by our offices at the Mothership, 401 West Geer Street inside the MotorCo complex.


  • Reply June 28, 2016

    Jerome Tygress

    What does this have to do with Durham? Why is this on here?

    • Aaron Mandel
      Reply July 5, 2016

      Aaron Mandel

      Durham is a hot bed of this kind of activism and our leaders may be on the tip of this spear. Witness the outrage at Councilwoman Jillian Johnson remarks last month. Mr. Lilly is a Durham resident and a leader voicing a legitimate concern.

  • Reply August 11, 2016

    Barbara Summey Marshall

    Thanks for reminding us of the Struggles of so many Brothers and Sisters. Our heart aches when we recall the injustice and over sentencing of our Sons and Daughters…Today we pray for their strength and courage. We advocate for their early release….We say the name of Joshua Lamar Williams, 20 years old and ready to make the world a better place. Shalom.

Leave a Reply