The colonization of North America brought with it, disease, famine, war, extermination and enslavement. The United States perfected institutionalizing these negative traits to secure the power of the planters, merchants, landowners, and business owners, which embodied the ruling class of the time. However, the ruling class learned that the working class was not willing to sit idle and be controlled without resistance. For example, Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 was comprised of indentured servants of all races, slaves, and poor farmers who revolted against the colonial government of Virginia due to poor economic conditions, and lack of protection from attacks by Native American tribes (Wertenberger, 2009). The corruption in the Virginia colonies government put the slaves, indentured servants and poor farmers in a position of vulnerability, which raised their level of class consciousness to unite as one class, in opposition to the military junta in control of Virginia’s government. When slaves, free black men, indentured servants, and poor white farmers took up arms during the rebellion it was made clear that the order of the capitalist class was jeopardized. Three years later, Virginia passed into law, “An Act for Preventing Negroes Insurrection”, also known as Act X “… And it is hereby further enacted by the authority aforesaid that if any negroe or other slave shall absent himself from his masters service and lye hid and lurking in obscure places, comitting injuries to the inhabitants, and shall resist any person or persons that shalby any lawfull authority by imployed to apprehend and take the said negroe, that then in case of such resistance, it shalbe lawfull for such person or persons to kill the said negroe or slave soe lying out and resisting…”. Act X was a law that bans persons of color from bearing arms in the colony, and if found guilty of possession of arms, resisting arrest, and refusing to participate in forced labor, of which resisting forced labor and arrest, holds the death penalty. While this is not the only law that is still significantly impacting the United States today, Act X, continues to contribute to police brutality by promoting White America’s use of guns as positive and patriotic while demonizing and criminalizing African Americans use of guns as anti-American and illegal.
“An Act for Preventing Negroes Insurrection” did not stop rebellions from being plotted. What originally caused the capitalist class of the United States great fear of a slave rebellion, and from that class rebellion, was the Haitian Revolution. This revolution threatened the legitimacy of the American Capitalist, as it did with the French Capitalists that controlled Haiti. The slaves in America learned of Haiti and its success and tried to emulate it in attempted rebellions such as Denmark Vesey and Gabriel’s Conspiracy. Nat Turner’s Rebellion was the first all-black rebellion consisting of slaves being the soldiers carrying out the work of class liberation. The uprising killed fifty-seven white people before being suppressed. This rebellion enforced the conception among the white capitalist class that armed black people were criminal with no positive intent behind their rifles. This led to “white hysteria” and reprisal killings and punishments upon the enslaved segment of the working class (Schafer, p. 361). In order to prevent insurrections from becoming more frequent, the stigmatization of black gun owners as criminals and murderers had to occur to shift public opinion to prevent the rest of the working class from taking up arms with the segment of the working class in chattel slavery. Because of these threats, a rigid legal system had to be created and adapted, as the order of the Capitalist class became incredibly fragile during this time period.
Act X has persistently been re-enacted in new forms throughout the United States upon communities of color with great tenacity throughout the United States history, especially in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. During the Civil Rights Movement, groups such as the Black Panther Party practiced armed struggle in attempts to liberate communities of color, which would then allow for the most exploited people to become the vanguard of the struggle for liberation, thus providing an example for the rest of the working class to follow. However, the capitalist class once again passed a law to take arms away from Black Communities. The Mulford Bill was created to disarm the Black Panther Party when they went on their patrols or defensive actions. In response, The Black Panther took their shotguns and walked into the state capital building in California on May 2nd, 1967 to express their outrage at the Mulford Bill (Newton, pp. 68, 69, 70, 71[AH5] ). While the Panthers were ordered to leave the building, the police could not charge the Panthers with any crimes, as it was legal to walk into the building with their weapons as they were not concealed. This changed as the white legislature was threatened by this increasingly effective, yet militant revolutionary organization. After the Panther’s left the chamber, the Bill was passed on July 28th, 1967 making armed patrols by the Panthers illegal. (Newton, pp. 68, 69, 70, 71). Yet, When Ammon Bundy’s Militia took over a National Park office to demand the government give states governance over Federal land a standoff with the Federal Government occurred, for over a month and a half. When the Panthers did patrols, and operated community aid programs they were broken up with brute force. Yet when the all-white rural militia had a month and a half to negotiate with the Federal government, Ammon Bundy, who violently took over a federal building, had his sixteen month sentence dropped.
Resistance to the police is another action frequently denied to black people in the United States. In the modern age this rings true with the vast amount of police brutality and killings that have occurred throughout the twentieth century, and into the 2010’s. Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and many other people of color have been victimized due to the ancient belief that raising a hand against a “Christian”, or today, white person, is punishable by the most severe physical punishments, or death. While Act X states that “due proof” is required before any punishments can be laid out, it is the word of the “subhuman” versus the word of the human white Christian. Such “justice” was shown to Tamir Rice when he was shot in the torso for aiming a toy gun at people at the Cudell Recreation Center. The police arrived after an individual called the dispatcher, however, the caller said that the firearm is probably fake. This critical assumption made by the caller was ignored by the police and led to a young boy’s death. There are two glaring problems that highlight the role Act X still has in the United States. The first problem being the caller, in which he assumed the gun was fake but said to the dispatch, “It’s scaring the **** out of me” (12 Year Old Tamir Rice Shot ‘within Two Seconds’ of Police Arrival, 00:00–00:18). If the caller assumed it was fake, why call the police? There have been many times white children have played “war” and “cops and robbers” for hours on end in streets and parks across America without incident or fear caused by on-lookers. It is assumed this man was scared because the child was African American. The second issue is the police department failing to consider, the high probability, that the “gun” was a fake.
The shooting of Tamir Rice shows how the precedent set by Act X was carried out in 2014. For example, Rice didn’t drop the toy at the officer’s command and was reaching for the toy after the command was given. This prompted the officer to open fire on the child. This interaction is an embodiment of the last portion of Act X, “…any lawfull authority by imployed to apprehend and take the said negroe, that then in case of such resistance, it shalbe lawfull for such person or persons to kill the said negroe…”. Rice was “resisting” when he refused to comply with the officer’s order, thus giving the officer the legal ability to use lethal force. The response by reactionary segments of the White Community condemned the child for not listening to police and rallied to the defense of the officer charged in the murder of Tamir Rice.
The treatment of Dylann Roof, who committed a mass shooting at an African American church in the name of white supremacist ideology was radically different and is often pointed to contrast the treatment of the police towards white criminals and black victims. Dylann roof was arrested after running from the police for sixteen hours. After he was pulled over in Shelby, North Carolina he was calmly arrested, and was treated as if he was not a threat (Dash Cam Footage of Dylann Roof’s Arrest, 00:00–03:15). He then complained of hunger and was given a free Burger King meal by the police officers that detained him (Cops Bought Dylann Roof Burger King After His Calm Arrest: Report, 00:00–01:08). This is a disgusting display of how race and guns intersect. A white Neo-confederate who killed nine black people was calmly arrested and then treated to Burger King, but a young black child was brutally killed by the police for playing with a toy gun, and then subsequently blamed by the reactionary segments of White-America for not complying with the police officer.
Demonization of African Americans possessing firearms, has killed many people of color in the United States. This is due to the re-application of archaic laws, such as Act X in new forms, and the desperation of today’s capitalist class to maintain racial and class order for their benefit. With the State and the Media backing the demonization and criminalization of the black community arming itself, the capitalists in this country have effectively hindered the most exploited and revolutionary segment of the working class from possessing arms and defending itself. Thus, securing the dominant position of the capitalist class.
Mulford, Don. “Assembly Bill 1519 (‘Panther Bill’).” Sacramento, California 1967.
Wertenbaker, Thomas Jefferson. Bacons Rebellion, 1676. The Project Gutenberg Online Distribution, 2009, www.gutenberg.org/files/28010/28010-h/28010
(Newton, Huey P., et al. The Huey P. Newton Reader Seven Stories Press[AH10] ).
Slave Law in Colonial Virginia: A Timeline
News, BBC. 12 Year Old Tamir Rice Shot ‘within Two Seconds’ of Police Arrival. BBC, 27 Nov. 2014, www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVZM8w9JCXI
Dylann Roof Sentenced To Death For Charleston Church Massacre | MSNBC. MSNBC, 10 Jan. 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=r-KzrRryvQc&t=51s
Dash Cam Footage of Dylann Roof’s Arrest. AL.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GJDoP0UuQjk&t=142s
Cops Bought Dylann Roof Burger King After His Calm Arrest: Report. New York Daily News, 23 June 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=I-UZzfmXfYk
“The Immediate Impact of Nat Turner’s Insurrection on New Orleans.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 361–376. JSTOR, Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association.