Firebombing in Ramona Gardens
Why Should We Do What They Want Us to Do?!

May 31, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


From readers:

On May 12, Black homes were firebombed in the mainly Latino housing project of Ramona Gardens in East Los Angeles. In the middle of the night Black children awoke to the terror of crashing glass and flames, pulled outside to safety by their parents. This is a familiar terror, reaching through the whole history of this monstrous country. Take the example of Chicago in the 1940s and '50s, described in the current issue of The Atlantic magazine (and I urge readers to check out the whole article "The Case for Reparations" by Ta-Nehisi Coates, in The Atlantic, May 21, 2014):

In 1947, after a few black veterans moved into the Fernwood section of Chicago, three nights of rioting broke out; gangs of whites yanked blacks off streetcars and beat them. Two years later, when a union meeting attended by blacks in Englewood triggered rumors that a home was being "sold to niggers," blacks (and whites thought to be sympathetic to them) were beaten in the streets. In 1951, thousands of whites in Cicero, 20 minutes or so west of downtown Chicago, attacked an apartment building that housed a single black family, throwing bricks and firebombs through the windows and setting the apartment on fire. A Cook County grand jury declined to charge the rioters—and instead indicted the family's NAACP attorney, the apartment's white owner, and the owner's attorney and rental agent, charging them with conspiring to lower property values. Two years after that, whites picketed and planted explosives in South Deering, about 30 minutes from downtown Chicago, to force blacks out.

Attacks like those in Chicago happened throughout cities of the North, over and over again for decades, especially in places where Black people were migrating in waves out of the South, pushed and pulled to the cities by economic factors and to escape KKK lynchings and other horrors, coming out of hundreds of years of the most unimaginably brutal and dehumanizing conditions of slavery (see the movie 12 Years a Slave if you don't know about this). Today it's Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis who are gunned down by racists, and the way the courts work end with verdicts that refuse to come up with murder convictions, sending the same message the Supreme Court gave in 1857 when it ruled that Black people have no rights the white man is bound to respect.

In Ramona Gardens, where Black people only recently began to move in after firebombings in 1992 drove them out for many years, those doing the driving out are Latinos who live in the very same conditions of poverty and discrimination.


Because this is what happens when people are trained in and actively take up the outlook of the very system that is fucking them over, capitalism-imperialism.

Bob Avakian has described this many ways in many of his talks and writings. In Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About, he describes a scene where you have a bunch of people lined up, and a guy with a gun in one hand and a club in the other going down the line, hitting people with the club and breaking their legs. And somebody jumps up and says, "Alright then, I'm gonna be the baddest broke-leg muthafucker there is!" And BA goes on, to laughter, and then resounding applause from the audience: "Something's wrong here. What we need to be doing is saying, 'Hey, that man's breaking everybody's legs! Let's get together and stop that muthafucker from breaking everybody's legs!'"

This system has always worked to pit one section of people it oppresses against another. And for many years now in places like Los Angeles, it has been Black people and Latinos fighting against each other. People know almost nothing about each other's history and how while the ways they've been tormented are different, they share the same tormentors. (To find out more about the history that is kept hidden from people, listen to the clip from BA's Revolution talk, "Why Do People Come Here From All Over the World?")

On January 1 of this year, Bob Avakian gave a New Year's message—A Call to REVOLUTION—and in it he shows how people don't have to go along with how this system trains us to think and act:

Why should we do what they want us to do—killing and crippling each other, trying to beat down or beat out each other, ending up in jail, or paralyzed, or dead at an early age—instead of joining together to go up against the system that has got us in this mess in the first place? Why should we accept the lies that people who are of a different color, or live in a different place, or speak a different language, or love in a different way, are less than human and deserve to be locked up, or beaten down, or murdered? Why should girls and women be treated like things, whose only value is to be used for sex and having babies? Why should we go along with the sickening culture of this system which says money is more important than people, and people are only a means to make money? Why should we believe that "it's all in god's hands," when all this horror and suffering is completely unnecessary and could be ended? Why should we accept the way things are, or just try to make things a little bit better, still living within this system that will keep on destroying the lives of human beings, and denying a decent future to the youth, all over the world?

Revolutionaries who heard about what happened in Ramona Gardens went there with this message, to take this to people who are caught up in the logic of the system and connect up with people who don't want to go along with all this. We also brought two other things to help people get clear on who are their friends and who are their enemies: the Call to End Racial Hostilities that was written in 2012 by SHU prisoners in Pelican Bay who were leaders of prisoner hunger strikes to stop the torture of solitary confinement, and copies of Revolution newspaper with a poster on the back page that vividly exposes the oppression of Black people from slavery until today and points clearly to the need for revolution to uproot this (Three Strikes poster).

We talked mainly with Latinos, young and old. We didn't find a neighborhood full of racists. We found people who said they didn't like that this happened, and some were even outraged and upset. But they also didn't want to confront what this country has done to Black people, historically and today. One way several people avoided confronting this reality was to talk about the attack only in terms of gang violence. Perhaps it was gang-related (which we don't know), but for the people, this is much bigger than a feud—and it means something when three out of the four apartments firebombed were Black people's homes, when there are only 78 Black residents out of the total 1,791 who live in Ramona Gardens, and everybody knows that, as one Black person commented to us, "Black people aren't supposed to be here."

We also got a feel for the resentment that was just under the surface in the people we heard from, but clearly is a big part of the larger picture. More than one person said that the victims of the firebombings were now going to get Section 8 vouchers and be able to move to Long Beach (a nicer area), so what's the big deal, they're actually benefiting from what happened!

This is part of how people who are themselves held down and treated like something less than human, become part of holding down other people in the same situation. They get caught in the trap of seeing their problems as how to survive individually or as a family or as an oppressed section of people that is competing for resources and opportunities with each other and with other oppressed sections of people. They don't see the common source of their problems, and the common solution.

This also contributes to the feeling from those who don't like what they see happening and don't want to go along with it, that there's nothing they can do about it anyway. Reading to people the questions posed by BA in the New Year's Message challenged their thinking about this. It made them seriously think about what they are going along with and they went from saying there's nothing we can do, to asking, what can we do about changing all this? We had discussions with people about the need for revolution and the strategy for how to get to the conditions where it would be possible to seize power, establish a new state power, and lead a new society. And we also explored with some people the possibilities of how people could come together in that area to take a stand and not go along with the ways the system has people thinking and acting in opposition to each other—in particular in this situation the violence against Black people.

There was a clear distinction that what the revolutionaries are about are values and thinking and acting in ways that are part of building a movement for revolution to emancipate humanity. This was most sharply in contention with the massive and constant police presence in the neighborhood—with both their constant threat of violence and force against the people, including a gang injunction there that prevents groups of young people hanging outside together, as well as their Community Snitch Program (CSP "Community Safety Program") that has been going on in several housing projects the last couple years.

There is still a need for people in the neighborhood to stand up/speak out in support of the Black people in Ramona Gardens and in ways where they are changing the overall atmosphere by what they do. When people begin to challenge how everyone thinks the way things "just are," it changes what others understand and how they see what's possible. One lesson we summed up after going there is that as important as it was to learn about and challenge people's thinking, we also needed to have concrete ways people could act. When people said, "what can we do about it?" we actually needed to have an answer! In some other places when there have been fights or other ways the Black/Latino contradiction has sharpened up, there is experience leading people to put together unity picnics or mass wearing of black and brown ribbons.

One of the concrete ways we've thought of for people to act is popularizing that question from BA, whether on a sticker, button, t-shirt, or other forms: Why should we do what they want us to do—killing and crippling each other, trying to beat down or beat out each other, ending up in jail, or paralyzed, or dead at an early age—instead of joining together to go up against the system that has got us in this mess in the first place? And together with that quote, an image of black and brown hands together breaking out chains. People need to act in ways that are part of building and strengthening the movement for revolution, and we're heading back to Ramona Gardens to work with people there to do that.


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