Answer Indiana on white supremacist gun violence

The following speeches were delivered at the two-day protests against the national meeting of the National Rifle Association and the appearance at that meeting of President Trump and Mike Pence.

Following our protests, we heard about the antisemitic, white supremacist violence committed at a California synagogue during their celebration of the last night of Passover. We released this statement in response:

Answer Indiana stands in solidarity with the Jewish community on this last night of Passover.

The violence committed in San Diego is not an issue of mental health or the urgency of banning firearms. Rather, the issue is precisely what we raised over the past two days in our protests against the appearance of President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association—the inherent danger and rise of white supremacy.

White supremacy targets the Black, Latino, Muslim, Jewish, and LGBTQ communities, among others. We—from all races, ethnicities, belief systems, and backgrounds—must unite to end white supremacy.

We are out here today to protest, for various reasons, the appearance of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association here in Indianapolis.

We are out here to demand an end to gun violence!

But to demand an end to gun violence means we have to understand where that violence comes from and who it is perpetrated against. Let’s take a moment to consider some examples.

The Parkland school shooting. The murderer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was a white supremacist who carved swastikas into the magazines of his guns. He killed seventeen people.

The Charleston massacre at a historic Black church. The murderer at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was a white supremacist who admitted to murdering Black worshipers in hopes of starting a race war. He killed nine people.

The Las Vegas shooting. The murderer there killed 58 people and wounded over 400 more in the deadliest mass shooting in the United States as of today, but documents released by Las Vegas police show that before the attack he discussed the 25th anniversary of Ruby Ridge and Waco, government crackdowns on white supremacist movements in the 90s that served as the impetus for the rebirth of white supremacist militias. He also discussed conspiracy theories common to far-right, so-called “sovereign citizens.”

The problem of gun violence so often has its roots in the ideology of white supremacy—the belief that whiteness is better than, that whiteness is under attack. The bigger, more insidious problem that we must tackle is the ideology that drives these massacres. White supremacy erupts in naked, spontaneous violence time and again in our country. It is this same common thread of white supremacy that links the NRA, Mike Pence, and President Trump.

Since the NRA convention is what has gathered us here today in this protest, let’s begin with the NRA, and the gun manufacturers that support them.

Palmetto State Armory is a gun manufacturing company in South Carolina. It was founded by a veteran of the Army National Guard who served in Iraq—a war that never should have happened. Former South Carolina Governor and United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, called Palmetto State “a valued member of South Carolina’s thriving business community.” Palmetto State Armory also states on their website that they are “proud to partner with the NRA Foundation” and encourage customers to donate to the NRA when buying guns.

Just a few days ago, Palmetto State released a new AR-15 receiver with the serial number prefix “DJT”—a clear reference to Trump’s initials—and a model number of “BUILDTHEWALL-10.” It sold out so fast that their website already shows it as out of stock.

Most grotesquely, its fire selector replaces the word “Safe” with “Detain”, “Fire” with “Deport”, and “Full-Auto” becomes “10 Feet Higher.”

This explicit combination of Trump’s bigotry with the rampant gun violence in our country, which gunmakers profit from, is another manifestation of the white supremacy that so often erupts in violence against people of color in this country.

Philando Castile, a Black school employee who was lawfully exercising his right to carry a weapon under Minnesota law, was killed by police in front of his girlfriend and her daughter when he told his killer cop during a traffic stop that he had a gun in the vehicle. The NRA did nothing for him.

Just this past week, the leader of a racist armed militia was arrested after members of the group, the so-called “United Constitutional Patriots,” were exposed in the media for illegally kidnapping Latinx migrant families who had crossed the border into New Mexico and for holding them hostage until Border Patrol arrived. This was not a new arrangement—Border Patrol has quietly been working with this racist militia at the border since February.

When Trump announced his racist border wall, when he separated children from families at the border, inflicting unconscionable trauma on people fleeing the effects of imperialism in their countries, progressive people in this country flooded into the streets and public places to demand an end to family separations and the abolition of ICE.

And why wouldn’t we? We recognized that eruption of the violence of white supremacy for what it was. But the trauma in the minds of those being held at gunpoint by a racist gang—how wide is the gap between the trauma caused by a gang wearing militia gear and by those wearing vests marked “Border Patrol”?

One mistake that we must not make is to forget that white supremacy existed in this country long before Trump. Its prevalence in the country will not go away in 2020, no matter who is in the White House. I said a moment ago that the people affected by Trump’s racist border wall, the refugees seeking asylum—which, as we know, can only legally be requested once you reach US soil and cannot be requested through embassies—those people are often fleeing the damage wrought by US policies in Latin America and overseas.

One particularly egregious recent example is in Venezuela. The Center for Economic and Policy Research released a paper this month that found that sanctions against Venezuela put in place two years ago by the United States have resulted in more than 40,000 deaths. Of the more recent sanctions placed upon Venezuela, the paper says:

More than 300,000 people were estimated to be at risk because of lack of access to medicines or treatment. This includes an estimated 80,000 people with HIV who have not had antiretroviral treatment since 2017, 16,000 people who need dialysis, 16,000 people with cancer, and 4 million with diabetes and hypertension (many of whom cannot obtain insulin or cardiovascular medicine). These numbers by themselves virtually guarantee that the current sanctions, which are more severe than those implemented before this year, are a death sentence for tens of thousands of Venezuelans.

Tens of thousands of Venezuelans sentenced to death by the United States. Sanctions are an incredibly cruel form of warfare! How many thousands of people will leave their homes to seek better lives for themselves and their children far away from home? How many of them will suffer twice at the hands of our country’s white supremacy, first at home and then at the US-Mexico border?

The death and destruction caused by US imperialism and military interventions overseas is so extreme that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported just Wednesday that more civilians have been killed so far in 2019 by US-aligned forces than by the Taliban and ISIS combined.

The idea that the United States must continue to play world police is a 21st century manifestation of the racist “white man’s burden” that is itself a form of white supremacy—the concept that the United States singularly has the right to intervene in other countries’ affairs to disastrous results for the populace but massive profits for American weapons companies.

If we want a meaningful end to gun violence, we must lift the special legal protections for the arms industry. Gun manufacturers have special immunity from lawsuits that was granted by Congress in 2004 when the federal assault rifle ban was lifted. The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act must be repealed.

Weapons manufacturers—the military-industrial complex—clearly have a vested interest in promoting conflict and war, in exaggerating threats and promoting fear. Like the ban on advertisements of cigarettes, we must demand a ban on the marketing and advertising of weapons and get corporate money out of politics.

We must also acknowledge that the existence of assault weapons cannot now be resolved with a federal ban. We should support measures to curtail their mass production and the campaigns to get them out of everyday retail stores. But a meaningful end to gun violence is not achievable without challenging the larger militarization of society and the state itself, which is more armed than ever.

The mass production of weapons for the state, from the military on down to every prison, jail and local police department, creates huge opportunities for the arms trade, underground and above ground, and has empowered the weapons manufacturers. At present, 4 to 5 million assault rifles alone are circulating in the population, they are being produced for the police and military every day and ending their legal sale would at this point undoubtedly create a sprawling underground market.

Removing assault weapons from society would not be easily achieved. A federal government effort to confiscate guns would undoubtedly target Black, Latinx and working-class progressive forces, and not the right-wing social forces that have been stockpiling them. As progressives, we cannot lose sight of this.

Adding guns to our schools will not make our schools safer. We recognize that, and so we celebrated when Indiana State Representative Jim Lucas’s bill that would have allowed teachers to carry guns in schools—and which also would have allowed police to shoot projectiles at teachers in active shooter training—failed to get passed in this legislative session.

But we have to recognize that adding more guns to our police forces—increasing the militarization of police, which already resembles an occupying army with their repurposed armored military vehicles, combat gear and military-style rifles—will not make our communities safer.

To Black and Brown people who are on the receiving end of racist violence, militarized police represent a direct threat to their safety, as the police so infrequently face consequences for killing people of color. If we want to end gun violence, we have to end the massive overproduction of weapons and recognize that the biggest buyers of these guns are the police and military.

What we must do is challenge the white supremacist system in our country that gives rise to so much violence. We must support the work of violence interruption, conflict resolution, and social work programs that are in the streets working to reduce violence in communities. These groups are doing important work to end violence and build systems of restorative justice.

We must call for an end to all wars and bring soldiers home. When US forces and its allies kill more civilians than ISIS and the Taliban, there is clearly something wrong. But even this violence is not unique to the use of guns—with 40,000 people already killed in Venezuela by US sanctions and tens of thousands more threatened by even harsher sanctions. We must demand an end to this as well.

I cannot stand here and lie to you and say that we can end white supremacy and all of the violence that it entails by voting or calling our representatives and asking for change. The Black liberation fighter Assata Shakur reminds us that “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”

We cannot make the mistake of appealing to the moral sense of those who are oppressing us and our Black and Brown neighbors, both here in this country and those all around the world. The history of struggles for social justice is a history of grassroots movements at the street level, of people like all of you coming out in events like this to demand change in a united voice, a voice that the ruling class cannot ignore. And today, we unite our voices to demand:

“End white supremacy!”

If this is your first protest, welcome! We are glad to have you here today. But don’t make this a one-day affair. Link up with the groups that are here and learn how to stay involved in the movement to end white supremacy, because we know that the people united will never be defeated.

All Power to the People.