I was 21 years old when I joined the Nation of Islam. I remember my second experience selling the Final Call Newspaper like it was yesterday. A pick-up truck zoomed by myself and my fellow brother while a White boy yelled out of the window “ni**eeeeeer!” My fellow brother told me not to worry; just keep doing God’s work. I replied; “You don’t worry, let them come back. I’ve got something for them.” I was a new member and did not know that we were forbidden to carry weapons. When I told the brother that I had “the strap” under the seat, he replied to me “Brother we don’t rely on guns…we rely on God.”
I have to be honest; I had to rethink my decision to join the Nation of Islam. Guns had been an integral part of my life for years. I didn’t realize how insecure I felt without “that thang” under the seat. Then I began to think of all the friends I’d buried since childhood due to gun violence. I began to think of all of my loved ones who were locked away in prison due to criminal convictions involving guns. In my hood we always had guns, but we never had knowledge of self. Therefore, the guns served as tools of self-destruction; not self-defense.
Today, millions of Black youth are armed to the teeth. Never in our history has it been so easy to get your hands on a high-powered assault weapon. There was a time when our thirteen year-olds wanted Play Station video games and fancy sneakers for birthday gifts. Nowadays, many of them secretly want AR-15’s, AK 47’s and glock pistols. In the 1980s during the apex of the drug trade, many brutal murders took place over money, dope and hood politics. Nowadays the dope game doesn’t bring in much profit. It’s pretty much over. However, the murder rate is steady climbing in cities like Houston, rivaling the eighties and nineties. Cities like Chicago easily experience dozens of shootings during a single weekend. Our neighborhoods have become war zones where our youth feel empowered by guns, because they have not been properly taught that true power comes from God.
I am a firm believer in self-defense. As a matter of fact, it is an important part of my religion. As the gun control debate continues to dominate headlines, there are arguments about access to guns taking place from the barber shops to the board rooms. When I look at the debate from the Black perspective I can’t help but think of how 99% of the guns that end up in the Black community are used to kill other Black people. As a matter of fact, when a youngster gets his hands on an AR-15 it does not even cross his mind to use it on anyone other than one of his own. Guns and self-hatred are a dangerous and deadly combination. It is a mix that has single-handedly created acres of grave space for a generation dying way too young.
Black on Black gun violence has meant big business for many industries. I’ve spoken to funeral home directors about the inordinate amount of young people they are burying. I’ve never heard one complain that business isn’t good. We spend millions annually on “R.I.P t-shirts” with the faces of murder victims on the front. Millions are spent on attorneys hired by families for defendants who pulled the trigger. And let’s not talk about all the free labor the prison industrial complex inherits once the judge sentences one of ours to prison for crimes committed using these guns. It’s, but, another way of financing our own oppression.
We can’t afford to lose another generation to senseless bloodshed and mass incarceration. As a community, we cannot ignore the critical role that guns play in this process. Be clear! The gun control debate for the Black community is different from the debate for other communities. The cultural dynamics are different. The socio-economic conditions are different. Everything is different. I understand the argument that says if White people are armed, Black people need to be armed too. Trust me, I get it. My issue is that we aren’t shooting anyone, but one another with the guns that we get our hands on. My issue is that the defective weapons we have are absolutely no match for America’s mostly White-male dominated gun enthusiasts. And on top of that, most of us do not know how to properly shoot so we end up killing innocent people with our wild marksmanship. Let’s face it. As of late, guns have not served our community well at all. Gone are the days when the Black Panther Party and the Deacons for Defense bore arms to protect our community. We’re just mostly burying each other at this point. We are indeed fighting a two front war; them against us and us against us.
Let me give you some food for thought. What if every so-called gang member in the hood had knowledge of self and love for self and kind? What if they had a clearly defined Black agenda to be proud of? What if we owned tens of thousands in land acreage to defend in every state? We have enough soldiers in hoods across America to make up a standing army. Let the blue (crips) and the red (bloods) unite to protect and defend the Black nation. Every nation has its intellectuals and every nation has its patriotic warriors. We have given birth to a generation of warriors yet we’ve given them nothing to fight for. What have we built collectively that we need an arsenal of guns to defend? These are topics that we need to weigh in on.
We must educate our youth about who they are, whose they are and where they are going. Once they begin to see value in their own lives they will begin to value the lives of their brothers and sisters. I am not anti-gun. I am anti-ignorance. I’m sick of seeing mothers shed tears while burying children killed by guns. We must teach the youth that the most powerful weapon that they will ever access is the power of their own minds. To the degree that we don’t help them to develop mentally, they will feel they need guns to solve the problems that they are unable to solve with underdeveloped minds. Lastly, we must give them a workable, practical knowledge of the ultimate power; God himself. I used to be a hot-head with a pistol. Were it not for The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, there is no telling where I might be. We cannot allow our reliance on guns to replace our reliance on God in the Black community. When you know your own; you love your own. And when you love your own you will stop killing your own.
(Deric Muhammad is a Houston-based community activist. Visit his website at www.dericmuhammad.com)