The African American community, at-large, is in a conundrum. While flag-waving bigots and racists are up in arms, sometimes literally—à la January 6, government spying is real for Black Americans. The GOP has decided that the FBI and the DOJ have been weaponized against primarily insurrectionists and old white conservative men, and they do not like it. I am a product of 1960s and 1970s politics. That was when black Americans could tell you firsthand about judicial, police, and political weaponization. The spying and attempted blackmail of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by the FBI, the ‘alleged’ murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark by the Chicago police in conjunction with the FBI, the political pursuit of Angela Davis, who was eventually exonerated, and endless spying of black social justice groups, including the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Dr. King was the keynote speaker and the most famous name coming out of the 1963 March on Washington, DC, for Jobs and Freedom. Before that event, the government tried to dissuade Dr. King, the titular head of the civil rights movement, from participation, ostensibly for his safety. The FBI had amassed a dossier on King’s private sex life, including audio tapes, and hoped to use the information to urge his suicide. These more sinister motives were revealed later care of FBI Domestic Intelligence Chief William Sullivan. “We must mark him now, if we have not done so before, as the most dangerous Negro of the future in this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security, Sullivan wrote in a memo. At one point in the letter, Sullivan described himself as a woke Negro to have King think he was losing favor in the black community, “you know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes,” wrote Sullivan.

It was clear to most in my community that the FBI was actively working to suppress liberty and equity long before the revelation of the King letter. In the Anthony Summers book; Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, the late FBI director believed King “ was a Black man who did not know his place.” Hoover feared King would replace Malcolm X as the messiah for a black revolution.

Just as the FBI maintained files on Fred Hampton, Kwame Ture (nee Stokely Carmichael), and Malcolm X, it is not a giant leap to believe that the FBI has files on Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi (founders of Black Lives Matter). Against that backdrop, it is just short of hilarious to hear Republicans, who for years preached the infallibility of law enforcement, talk about the weaponization of the Federal Government.

When I was thirteen, I participated in a march to rename Meridian Hill Park in Washington, DC, Malcolm X Park. I carried my red, black, and green liberation flag and chanted “honor X” with the rest. As a political neophyte at the time, I was focused on renaming the park for an American hero, as I saw it. As with most demonstrations, lots of groups were involved for reasons, some of which I understood and others I did not. At every corner we passed were stern white faces in dark glasses peering out over the crowd, seemingly taking mental notes. For years I joked somewhere in the FBI is a set of case notes on a 13-year-old boy just looking to honor a man he admired. For years I chalked up my feelings to paranoia. Still, with solid evidence of what government weaponization looks like, I wonder how many in the throng of marchers that day have actual files collecting dust in an F-B-I file drawer.  

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  • January 11, 2023