• AMBA

BLACK HISTORY AND FUTURE

“O believers! Stand firm for justice as witnesses for Allah even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or close relatives. Be they rich or poor, Allah is best to ensure their interests. So do not let your desires cause you to deviate ˹from justice˺. If you distort the testimony or refuse to give it, then ˹know that˺ Allah is certainly All-Aware of what you do.”

– Surah Al Nisa Ayah 135

As this Black History month comes to an end, the American Muslim Bar Association (AMBA) celebrates and commemorates Black-led movements for their struggles and triumphs in the pursuit of justice, equity, and liberation while facing the centuries-old oppressive and violent institutions of white supremacy and settler-colonialism. We also honor the memories of those who were stolen and forced to build this nation. Their free skilled labor not only built up the economic infrastructure of the United States, which was heavily reliant on kidnapped enslaved Africans to save it from crippling debt and economic failure, but their forced free labor was also used to literally build structures that are integral to the identity of the United States. We, as Muslim legalists and lovers of the Ahlul-Bayt, as seekers of justice and truth, stand in solidarity with our Black Muslim siblings as well as all Black communities who face varying intersections of state violence. We align with Black people in the fight against these systems of oppression by elevating the forward-thinking visionary goals set out by Black-led movements to create a bold future of justice and liberation. We also recognize that Black history is Islamic history and celebrate the rich traditions of Black Muslims within Islam.


Black History is Islamic History

When the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) and his followers were being persecuted by the Quraysh in Mecca, they were told to seek refuge from a compassionate Christian King in Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea). King Najashi opened his arms and his kingdom to the early Muslims, and that is how Islam began in Africa. Long before it was spread through the Middle East and Asia, it was protected by a Christian African King. Centuries later at the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 1500s, many of the first Africans kidnapped and brought to the U.S. were also some of the first Muslims who brought Islam to the United States. There are also accounts of Africans from Senegambia who may have come to the U.S. as early as the 1300s, bringing Islam with them.


This is just one iota of our Black history. Black history is Islamic history, American history, and global history.


Slavery and Systemic Racism Entrenched in the Legal System

When discussing American history we cannot leave out the horrific institutions of slavery and systemic racism that were entrenched in the American legal system since the foundation of this settler-colonial state. Slavery of Black and Indigenous people was sanctioned by our legal system through de facto and de jure acceptance. In 1640, a Virginia court marked the first legal sanctioning of slavery.[1] In 1705 the Virginia Slave Codes codified laws sanctioning chattel slavery of enslaved Africans. There were countless other examples of laws on the books promoting the institution of slavery. Even the U.S. Constitution sanctioned slavery through the Fugitive Slave Clause, Article IV, Section 2, Clause 3 until the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.


In the century after slavery, Black people faced widespread lynchings and targeted massacres. The U.S. government also enacted segregation laws, making Black people second class citizens and denying them dignity in nearly every arena of life from criminal justice to economic security to health care. This American apartheid included redlining Black communities, Black voter suppression and disenfranchisement, denying home ownership, diversion of community resources, all of which continue to pervade our system today. In the 1960s and 1970s Black liberation movements and leaders who attempted to speak out about these systemic injustices were surveilled, harassed, and targeted by the U.S. government. The movements were violently shut down by government law enforcement agencies and many of their leaders arrested or killed. And yet, we are still witnessing many of the same tactics being used today to target Black movements and protesters who have mobilized against police brutality, anti-Black violence, and police murders of Black people.


Criminalization of Black Lives

State violence against Black lives remains prevalent through our present carceral system, fueled by the prison-industrial complex. The criminalization of Black communities and poverty, brought about under the guise of the War on Drugs[2] and the 1994 Crime Bill, are a result of the profit-driven mass incarceration system. These were laws passed to create systems of oppression with a disparate and extremely harmful impact on poor and working class Black and brown people.


Furthermore, the American economy is dependent on racial and economic subordination. This has been the reality since its inception, and the systems we use today continue to perpetuate the same harm. Systemic racism is profitable. Mass incarceration is profitable. The criminalization of Black art is profitable. Just as chattel slavery was profitable. These profit-driven systems of oppression are rooted in our present-day legal system.


As a community of lawyers, we have watched the legal system fail Eric Garner, Kalief Browder, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, Rodney King, Alton Sterling and countless others. The same legal system that protected Carolyn Bryant for murdering 14-year-old Emmet Till protected Detective Myles Cosgrove and Detective Joshua Jaynes after they murdered Breonna Taylor. That legal system viewed Philando Castile’s life as worth only $3 million dollars after Jeronimo Yanez murdered him in front of his child and partner on camera, while the family of Justine Damond, a white woman, was given $20 million dollars. These stark contrasts demonstrate how our justice system does not actually serve justice to Black and countless other communities. Black lives continue to be viewed as expendable by the state and law enforcement apparatus, as justice continues to be denied.


Collective Solidarity and Demands

That is why it is important that we collectively come together to center the voices of Black people, organizers, and movements in the struggle to end systemic racism. Black-led movements have laid out a clear vision for the future in which justice, equity, and liberation can be actualized. We echo and uplift their demands for a truly just future in which systemic racism is dismantled, white supremacy is destroyed, violent profit-hungry carceral structures are abolished, and Blackness and poverty are no longer criminalized. As such we call for the following bold and truly visionary policy demands, created and formulated by the Movement for Black Lives and other Black-led movements, to be implemented for a just and equitable future:

  1. Pass the omnibus federal bill, known as The Breathe Act, which lays out a visionary plan for community safety that ends mass incarceration and criminalization of Black communities, among many other things, by:

  2. Divesting from carceral systems, prisons, and policing and redirecting/reinvesting federal funds in non-punitive public safety interventions, education, health, other necessary social investments to create sustainable and equitable communities

  3. Defunding and terminating federal programs and agencies that take part in policing, surveillance, incarceration. Stopping the transfer of overflow/leftover weapons from the department of defense to municipal police departments.

  4. Directing Congress to create a Community Public Safety Agency that provides resources to local communities to innovate ideas for public safety, such as restorative justice programs and long term trauma-informed mental health care.

  5. Ending the school-to-prison pipeline by decarcerating schools and school zones, and getting rid of all police from schools. In addition, providing funding for counselors and support for restorative justice programs in schools.

  6. Hold political leaders accountable and ensure/enhance self-determination in Black communities

  7. Provide reparations for:

  8. the systemic denial of access to high quality educational opportunities in the form of full and free access for all Black people (including undocumented and currently and formerly incarcerated people) to lifetime education including: free access and open admissions to public community colleges and universities, technical education (technology, trade and agricultural), educational support programs, retroactive forgiveness of student loans, and support for lifetime learning programs.

  9. the continued exploitation of Black communities in the form of a guaranteed minimum livable income for all Black people, with clearly articulated corporate regulations.

  10. the wealth extracted from Black communities through environmental racism, slavery, food apartheid, housing discrimination and racialized capitalism in the form of corporate and government reparations focused on healing ongoing physical and mental trauma, and ensuring our access and control of food sources, housing, and land.

  11. the cultural and educational exploitation, erasure, and extraction of our communities in the form of mandated public school curriculums that critically examine the political, economic, and social impacts of colonialism and slavery, and funding to support, build, preserve, and restore cultural assets and sacred sites to ensure the recognition and honoring of our collective struggles and triumphs.

  12. Pass H.R. 40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act, which calls on the US government to examine the institution of slavery and systemic discrimination in the colonial United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies to Congress.

  13. The commission should identify (1) the role of the federal and state governments in creating and propping up the institution of slavery, (2) forms of systemic discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed formerly enslaved people and their descendants, and (3) lingering and lasting harms of slavery on living African Americans and society.

  14. Establish truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs), similar to the South African TRC after de jure apartheid ended, to come to terms with past and continuing harms exacted on Black and Indigenous communities and to speak truth, bear witness, and advance reconciliation and restorative justice.


Footnotes

[1] Case of John Punch, an African man, sentenced to life in servitude after he attempted to flee his service, while the two whites he fled with were sentenced only to an additional year of their indenture, and three years service to the colony


[2] In 1986 Ronald Reagan signed an omnibus drug bill, which allocated $97 billion to build new prisons. The bill created mandatory minimum penalties for drug offenses. This promoted significant racial disparities in the prison population, because of differences in sentencing for crack vs. powder cocaine.


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