Black Activist Railroaded for Self-Defense
Free Siwatu-Salama Ra!
The nightmare for Siwatu-Salama Ra, a 27-year-old black environmental activist in Detroit, began in July of last year. That was when Ra picked up her registered, unloaded handgun to fend off an attacker who was ramming her vehicle into Ra’s, which held her two-year-old daughter inside, and was attempting to run over both Ra and her mother. For the act of brandishing a weapon to protect herself and her family, Ra was outrageously convicted in March of this year of felony assault and firearm possession, and is serving a two-year prison sentence. Ra’s lawyers have filed an appeal of her sentence on the basis that she did not receive a fair trial. We demand: Overturn the conviction! Free Siwatu-Salama Ra now!
From her arrest to her imprisonment, Ra has faced racist, vindictive treatment for the simple fact that she is a black woman who tried to defend herself. Despite the fact that the gun had no bullets, that she was legally armed, and that Michigan is a concealed carry and Stand Your Ground state, this made absolutely no difference to the cops, prosecutors and judge. The cops justified charging Ra and not the woman who attacked her on the ridiculous pretext that her assailant had filed a police report first. When Ra maintained that she had a legal right to self-defense and refused a plea deal, the prosecution retaliated by slapping the felony firearms charge onto the assault charge, which meant she got a two-year mandatory sentence instead of probation. The appeal by Ra’s lawyers exposes the mockery of a trial: the judge instructed the jury that pointing an unloaded gun constituted “deadly force” and blocked the defense from revealing how Ra’s attacker had a strong motivation to lie given that she was on probation for an earlier assault.
After her conviction, the judge denied motions that then-pregnant Ra be allowed to serve her sentence after giving birth. Ra was imprisoned in the final months of a high-risk pregnancy and shackled during medical examinations. In May, Ra gave birth to a baby boy, under confinement and without any family present. Her husband was not informed of the birth for two days, at which point Ra was separated from her newborn child. Such cruel abuse is endured by women prisoners around the country. Ra has also been victimized in prison for being a Muslim—denied halal meals, a copy of the Koran and a headscarf to wear during prayers.
Among the ludicrous assertions made by the prosecution at her trial was that Ra’s self-defense claim was baseless because Ra had purportedly shown no fear when she was being attacked. As Ra said: “The prosecutor convinced the jury and judge that I lacked fear and that’s not true. I was so afraid, especially for my toddler and mother. I don’t believe they could imagine a black woman being scared—only mad” (Detroit Metrotimes, 2 April). Meanwhile, killer cops and racist vigilantes who gun down black people in cold blood routinely get away with murder by invoking “fear” for their lives as a defense. That was how George Zimmerman walked free after killing black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. The Chicago cop who killed black youth Laquan McDonald in 2014 also claimed “fear for his life” as his defense.
Anything from sitting to driving to being at home “while black” can invite a potentially lethal encounter with the police, who aren’t about to tolerate black people with guns. The racist U.S. ruling class is haunted by the specter of an armed black population. When Philando Castile told a Minnesota cop who pulled him over in 2016 that he had a legal firearm in his vehicle, he was blown away in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter. In July, Harith “Snoop” Augustus was killed by Chicago cops while appearing to show them his Firearm Owners Identification card. Even a toy gun is enough of a pretext for the cops to gun down a black child, such as the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014.
As Marxists, we uphold the right of armed self-defense, a necessity for the working class, black people and the populace as a whole. We oppose gun control laws, which are most often promoted by Democratic Party liberals and black elected officials. Gun legislation only serves to preserve the monopoly of armed force in the hands of the racist capitalist state, an instrument of violence to uphold the brutal system of exploitation. Gun control leaves guns in the hands of the cops, criminals, strikebreakers and Klansmen, taking them out of the hands of the working and oppressed masses.
Ra’s conviction makes crystal clear that Stand Your Ground laws are not applicable to black people, whose oppression is the bedrock of American capitalism. They are meant to sanction only white, racist vigilantism and the wanton murder of black people and other minorities. We oppose Stand Your Ground which, as we wrote following the killing of Trayvon Martin, “allows for the use of deadly force by anyone who claims a ‘reasonable belief’ that such force is necessary, without even attempting to disengage. And in racist America, a black kid in a hoodie is enough to claim ‘reasonable belief’ of danger” (“Trayvon Martin: Killed for Being Black in America,” WV No. 999, 30 March 2012). A study by the Urban Institute found that 34 percent of Stand Your Ground cases involving white people killing black people are deemed justifiable, and only 3 percent when the shooter is black and the victim white.
The railroading of Siwatu-Salama Ra is another reminder that black people have no rights that the racist capitalist rulers are bound to respect. The reality is that over 150 years after the slavocracy was defeated in the Civil War, basic citizenship rights are still withheld from much of the black population. The liberation of black people can be realized only by the destruction of the capitalist system through socialist revolution.
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The Partisan Defense Committee—a legal and social defense organization associated with the Spartacist League—has donated to Siwatu-Salama Ra’s legal defense, and urges others to do so. To donate, go to: actionnetwork.org/fundraising/freesiwatu.