In my first meeting with Under A Tree, “Live Session #1: This I Believe,” we were provided with 50 statements about global issues, social topics, and personal values. One of these prompts asked us if we believed that it was ever permissible to use terrorism as a means of achieving justice. The subsequent prompt asked if we believed it was permissible to use violence to achieve that outcome. While most in our group strongly opposed terrorism, many felt that violence was more acceptable and even potentially necessary. But to me, they are indistinguishable concepts. Terrorism is merely a classification given to those who would use violence to liberate their people.
In the mid-1960s, Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, an activist organization that agitated for the cessation of police brutality and the achievement of civil rights and self determination for Black America. They were infamous for the “patrols” in which armed Panthers monitored police arrests in order to deter the use of force against Black people. One of their biggest early acts was their march into the California legislature to make their platform known. They brandished weapons inside and outside of the building. Their use of firearms for self-defense gave them the label of terrorists and criminals. They were largely maligned and harassed by the media and beaten and assassinated by law enforcement. The FBI also tapped their phones and planted informants into their ranks. Most infamous was the 1969 assassination of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Chicago branch of the Party.
In the early hours of the morning, police officers rode to Hampton’s apartment. When a Panther answered the door, they shot him dead. Officers began firing into the apartment, where Hampton, his comrades, and his pregnant girlfriend slept. They fired into the living room. They fired into the bedrooms. They fired through the walls in the hallway. When the crescendo of gunfire ended, they dragged Hampton’s bloodied body out of the apartment, grinning widely all the way. They had discovered his location from an informant placed in his inner circle by the FBI. Of the hundreds of bullets fired, only one was by a Panther when he dropped his gun as he died. All of this was justified, of course, because the Black Panthers were terrorists.
This portrayal by the media and the government conveniently omitted their creation of centers for children to get breakfast before they went to school. Or the education centers that taught Black children about their history. Nary a peep was said about how Hampton unified the poor of Chicago across color lines. Not a single word was uttered about the intellect that Hampton used to defend himself in court and win--only that he, and the rest of his kind, were terrorists.
The same was done to Malcolm X and others who fought for Black liberation. Yet, it is rare to hear the atrocities that America has committed, both domestically and abroad, as acts of terrorism. The bombings of towns, hospitals, weddings, or buses are all quietly swept under the rug of Freedom. The effects of this narrative were present when we were discussing it in UAT. A large portion of fellows condemned terrorism but approved of violence, with no clear distinction between the two. It is our duty to unlearn this way of viewing violence as necessary when its our own freedom we seek but as unforgivable when others dare to fight for the very same.
Ian Neville Scott is a junior at Somerset Academy High School. He is a young activist and aspiring writer. His passions include reading, writing poetry, and learning more about the world. He strongly believes that there is nothing more valuable than knowledge.