Crime Among Our People

Crime Among Our People


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



the chance for black youth to take out their rebellion in conflict with whites faded away



Books by James Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs


Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century  / The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook

Living for Change: An Autobiography Conversations in Maine: Exploring Our Nation’s Future 

Manifesto for a Black Revolutionary Party   / Racism and the Class Struggle 


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Crime Among Our People 

[or a revolutionary proposal for regenerating Community]

By Grace Lee Boggs 

The escalating violence in Detroit makes this statement as timely now as when it was first published in June 1972 by NOAR (National Organization for an American Revolution). We sold tens of thousands of copies at 10c. Today it sells on the for $15.00. 

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Black people hustling, fighting, killing other black people – it’s on all our minds. We are afraid to walk our streets, few of us go out after dark except in a car. We hesitate to leave our homes for fear that when we return, our few possessions will be gone. We dare not stop to talk on the streets with one another – because we are subject to being robbed or mugged by a black person or groups of blacks – day or night.    No one in the black neighborhood feels safe. Robbing, breaking in, snatching purses, stealing out of cars, garages and homes (often moving all the furniture out in broad daylight), selling property stolen in a neighborhood; youthful bandits roving around the clock in twos and threes, spotting places, things to steal – all this is now a commonplace.    Everyone in the neighborhood knows this, sees it day after day. Some people try to give the bandits a feeling of support in what they are doing. Others encourage the criminals by asking “What do you have for sale today?” With an eager eye out for a bargain, they buy loot stolen from a neighbor and thus subsidize criminal activities against themselves.    In every block no less than one, more often three dope houses sell their poison like a corner drug store, often exchanging drugs for stolen radios, hi-fis, TV sets for which the owner has often made only one payment. No one pays any attention when drugs are openly sold on the streets. Few are shocked when as many as seven people are executed at one stroke in a drug war.    WHAT HAS HAPPENED?    How did all this become so normal and natural When did it begin? How long can we tolerate it and keep our sense of humanity? Do we really oppose crime any more? And if we do, is there anything we can actually do about it in our neighborhoods – or must we just give up?    Black people fighting, killing each other is nothing new. Crime and banditry are a common occurrence among all oppressed peoples, especially in periods of transition. But crime at the present level and rate of increase in black neighborhoods is unlike anything that has ever existed among blacks.    1967 was the turning point all over the U.S.A. Blacks in the cities rebelled – city after city. From these rebellions came the idea that violence of any kind was legitimate as long as it was against “the man’s” system. Thus the looting (which is characteristic of all rebellions) was equated with Revolution and became legitimized as a badge of militancy and blackness. From this point onward, crimes of every nature have become rampant.    As white merchants and other whites fled the city, the chance for black youth to take out their rebellion in conflict with whites faded away. For a period black youth fought white youth in the schools. Then, as more schools became predominantly black, black students turned against each other – BLACK ON BLACK.    Prior to the rebellions and for a brief period immediately after, black neighborhoods had a real sense of hope and community closeness. After the rebellions older people felt that younger ones had stood up against oppression in a way that they had been unable to. Younger ones felt that in standing up against the system, they were carrying on and taking to a higher level the struggles by blacks in the past.    But as crimes increased and the black community appeared to be unable to do more than cry “Free the prisoners,” what had been the black community began to turn into little more than a geographical area where blacks live, to rob and be robbed, to steal and be stolen from, to fear and be feared.    CRISIS OF BLACK POWER MOVEMENT    The failure of the Black Power Movement to provide revolutionary direction and perspective for our real problems, coupled with the Opportunism, Adventurism and Personality Cultism of Black Power leaders, has had a great influence upon the increase in crime. No revolutionary organization, based on revolutionary political principles and concrete programs of struggle, has come forward to give our people an idea of the struggle they must organize in order to achieve Black Power. For a brief period the Black Panther Party provided a channel for the militant feelings of black youth. But since its decline, the mass energies aroused by the rebellions have found no political outlets. Hence these energies are now turned inward – upon blacks in the neighborhoods.    The Black Power Movement did not define what Black Power must mean in terms of responsibilities for governing our communities. Hence the Black Power Movement has drifted into Cultism and Commercialism. If “everything black is beautiful”, if “Anything Black goes”, then why shouldn’t blacks, in the name of blackness, hustle anything and everything – from Soul Music to Soul Religion, from Soul Food to Soul Clothes? Thus Black Power has been transformed into an excuse for anybody to make a fast buck. Middle class blacks get their rake-off at the top from white liberals. Dropouts “operate” at the bottom – among other blacks.    Most obviously affected have been our unskilled black youth who are occasionally employed by seasonal work, but who are constantly being made expendable by technology. Even if they work a few weeks, they are soon thrown back on the streets, to live by their wits. Many end up stealing even from their own families or selling drugs to other youth, thus making a “living” by destroying the lives of others.    Drugs and the use of drugs are a big reason for crime, but not the basic cause. The very nature of crime is changing as the capitalist system declines. Today, unlike the Depression of the 30s, when someone robs a house, he doesn’t raid the refrigerator or rush off to buy food with the stolen money. Crime itself has become a way of life. The only consideration is “fast money” – no matter how you get it. From junkies to pimps, people use the excuse that black people must “do their own thing” to “survive” in “the man’s” system, justifying the worst kind of crime in the name of the black struggle.    Having failed to give programmatic direction and revolutionary leadership in struggles to resolve the real grievances of black people, most Black Power militants and radicals make excuses for crime in our communities. So groups view the crimes of blacks against blacks as caused by external factors only, blaming the system for all crimes, ignoring the real concern among blacks about crime, talking only about “survival” from inevitable genocide. Others are jubilant that blacks have become militant or are afraid to question the widespread anti-social behavior of blacks, deluding themselves that by putting a political face on this behavior, they will “psyche” the system into taking the responsibility for providing jobs, better homes and schools, recreation and other reforms. Still others say that since the system is so bad, only a revolution can change things – and meanwhile “there is nothing we can do.”    WE CAN’ T DEPEND UPON THE SYSTEM    We know that the system has systematically oppressed us from the day that the first slave ship landed in Africa. We know that racism has been the ideology by which capitalism justified killing off the Indians and enslaving blacks. We know that the racist-capitalist system has degraded us for 400 years, robbing us of the fruit of our labors, depriving us of education, lynching us in the name of Christian virtues, rendering us powerless and now more and more useless – except to buy the fancy junk that pours off its production lines.    We recognize that the system causes crime and even flourishes on crime, using crime to make more jobs for social workers, wardens, jailers, policemen, probation officers, counselors, judges, lawyers. But we will not accept crime because the system accepts it. We know that the system fosters crime. THAT IS WHY WE CANNOT DEPEND ON THE SYSTEM TO STOP IT.    As people who are dedicated to changing the system in order to advance black people and all Humanity, we believe that it is our duty – and that of all people who claim to be struggling to free black people – to assume the leadership to break out of the vicious circle by which the oppressed are taking out their despair and frustration on each other.    WHAT MUST WE DO NOW?    FIRST, all those who claim that they are giving revolutionary leadership must accept the responsibility for projecting new standards for human behavior. These standards must make unmistakably clear that crimes like robbing, raping and vandalizing are unforgivable in any society and against any people. We must make clear that TRUST, DISCIPLINE, RESPECT, COURAGE, DEPENDABILITY and ACCOUNTABILITY TO COMMUNITY are absolutely essential to any people and especially to oppressed people who are fighting to get rid of their oppression. Such standards will give us a political idea of who is a friend of the revolution and who is an enemy. They will provide us with a basis for distinguishing between criminal acts and political acts. They will enable each of us to fight the capitalist corruption which is within us all. They are the first step in the long hard struggle before us to recreate our communities.    SECOND, we must project a vision of a new society, a new system, in which there will be no need for jails and prisons because the society will provide opportunities for everyone of us – men, women and children – to carry on meaningful productive activities and to make meaningful political decisions, and thus to develop into new, socially responsible and better human beings.    THIRD, we have to engage in programs of action to rid ourselves of the corrupt values and practices which are the result of the present system and which make us accomplices in our own self-destruction.    We can begin by practicing the principle of “Value People More than Things.” This means we have to make choices and we have to stick by them.    1. Everyone of us, in every community, should refuse to buy the stolen or “hot” goods which seem so tempting but which really mean that we are subsidizing crime and accepting stealing as a way of life. Each of us should pledge this for our own selves, and then make joint pledges with our families, relatives, friends, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, club and church members, etc. – holding each other responsible for these pledges. Thus, in our practice, we can educate our communities, including the criminal elements, to understand that we are not going to tolerate inhuman anti-social behavior any longer.    2. TEACH-INS SHOULD BE HELD in our schools and churches, on the causes and effects of crime in our communities, culminating in joint pledges not to associate with anyone who continues to practice looting, stealing, pimping or other inhuman, anti-social behavior.    3. We should criticize any section of the black movement which takes advantage of blackness to blackmail anyone or to commercialize on blackness. We should be equally critical of anyone who takes a liberal or sympathetic attitude to anyone of any race who rips off, steals, mugs, vandalizes, pimps or rapes a woman of any race, or who pushes drugs or sells “hot goods” in any community.    4. Finally, wherever we are, among friends, at work, in school, at church, we must make clear our conviction that it is the duty of the oppressed to carry on united, purposeful struggles against all forms of oppression, and that we are ready to explore with anyone those programs that will enable all of us, young and old together, to struggle against oppression and for the power and the sense of community that we as black people must have to give human dignity and value to our lives, now and in the future.    We call upon all people, in every city and town, and particularly in black areas, to support, encourage and work with all groups, individuals and organizations to put these principles into action. 

Source: Michigan Citizen, May 14-20, 2006 

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Other Related Information: James & Grace Lee Boggs Collection; History Is A Weapon

James Boggs (1919-1993) was a militant African American activist, perhaps best known for authoring, The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook in 1963. He was married for forty years until his death in 1993  to Chinese American socialist and feminist activist, Grace Lee Boggs. He was also an auto worker at Chrysler from 1940 until 1968. Boggs was active in the far left organization, Correspondence Publishing Committee led by C.L.R. James from around the time it left the Trotskyist movement in the early 1950s until Boggs and Grace Lee Boggs led a split in 1962, breaking with C.L.R. James. . . . James Boggs expressed the reasons for the 1962 split in his 1963 book, The American Revolution: Pages from a Negro Worker’s Notebook.

posted 14 May 2006 Living for Change: An Autobiography by Grace Lee Boggs  

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Grace Lee Boggs is an activist, writer, and speaker whose sixty years of political involvement encompass the major U.S. social movements of this century:  Labor, Civil Rights, Black Power, Asian American, Women’s and Environmental Justice. Born in Providence, R.I. of Chinese immigrant parents in l915, Grace received her B.A. from Barnard College in l935 and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in l940.  

In the l940s and l950s she worked with West Indian Marxist historian C.L.R.James  and in l953 she came to Detroit where she married James Boggs,  African American labor activist, writer and strategist. Working together in grassroots groups and projects, they were partners for over 40 years until James’ death in July l993.

Their book, Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century,  was published by Monthly Review Press in l974. In l992, with James Boggs and others, she founded DETROIT SUMMER, a multi-cultural, intergenerational youth program to rebuild, redefine and respirit Detroit from the ground up which completed its ninth season in June 2000.  Currently she is active in the Detroit Agricultural Network, the Committee for the Political Resurrection of Detroit, writes for the  weekly Michigan Citizen, and does a monthly commentary on WORT (Madison, Wisconsin). 

Her Living for Change: An Autobiography  published  by the University of Minnesota Press in March l998, now in its  second printing, is widely used in university classes on social movements and autobiography writing. —

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Zippety Doo Dah, Zippety-Ay: How Satisfactch’ll Is Education Today? Toward a New Song of the South

Dr. Joyce E. King on Black Education and New Paradigms

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music website > writing website > daily blog > twitter > facebook >

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Men We Love, Men We HateSAC writings from Douglass, McDonogh 35, and McMain high schools in New Orleans.

An anthology on the topic of men and relationships with men

Ways of LaughingAn Anthology of Young Black VoicesPhotographed & Edited by Kalamu ya Salaam

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The State of African Education (April 200)

Attack On Africans Writing Their Own History Part 1 of 7

Dr Asa Hilliard III speaks on the assault of academia on Africans writing and accounting for their own history.

Dr Hilliard is A teacher, psychologist, and historian.

Part 2 of 7  /  Part 3 of 7  / Part 4 of 7  / Part 5 of 7 / Part 6 of 7  /  Part 7 of 7

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Basil Davidson obituary—By Victoria Brittain—9 July 2010—Davidson [(9 November 1914 – 9 July 2010) a British historian, writer and Africanist] was enthused early on by the end of British colonialism and the prospects of pan-Africanism in the 1960s, and he wrote copiously and with warmth about newly independent Ghana and its leader, Kwame Nkrumah. He went to work for a year at the University of Accra in 1964. Later he threw himself into the reporting of the African liberation wars in the Portuguese colonies, particularly in Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau. . . . In the 1980s, with most of the African liberation wars now won—except for South Africa’s— Davidson turned much of his attention to more theoretical questions about the future of the nation state in Africa. He remained a passionate advocate of pan-Africanism. In 1988 he made a long and dangerous journey into Eritrea, writing a persuasive defence of the nationalists’ right to independence from Ethiopia, and an equally eloquent attack on the revolutionary leader Colonel Mengistu and the regime that had overthrown Haile Selassie. Guardian

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Basil Davidson’s  “Africa Series”

 Different But Equal  /  Mastering A Continent  /  Caravans of Gold  / The King and the City / The Bible and The Gun

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West Africa Before the Colonial Era: A History to 1850

By Basil Davidson

This book is excellent as an introduction to West African history. It begins with a brief overview of region’s history from earliest times but the focus of the book is on the thousand years between the 9th and the 19th centuries A.D. Comprehensive overviews of the political histories of both well and little known West African states and cities are recounted. These include the histories of the empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhay, Kanem-Bornu, Oyo, Benin, Dahomey and Asante. Accounts of several other smaller states are also detailed such as the Hausa city states, the Wollof kingdom, the Bambara states, the Niger Delta trading states, the Fulani states of Futa Jallon and Futa Toro, the important cities of Timbuktu, Jenne and Gao and several others.

Apart from these political histories, Davidson also provides an insight into the social fabric of West Africa, especially at the dawn of the 17th century. He describes economic features (like trade items, routes, currencies etc), religion, arts and learning in the region, social stratification and dominant trends. These provide the reader with a real “feel” of the society at that time. Like all of Davidson’s writings on this subject matter, this book dispels the myth that Africa had no history or civilization before contact with Europe. It is clear, concise and very easy to read. D. E. Chukwumerije

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African Slave Trade: Precolonial History, 1450-1850

By Basil Davidson

The best general acount of the Atlantic slave trade. It is the story of one of the most enormous crimes in all human history. Basil Davidson states that by examining three important areas of Africa in the history of slavery ‘against a general background of their time and circumstance’ he was taking ‘a fresh look at the oversea slave trade, the steady year-by-year export of African laborr to the West Indies and the Americas that marked the greatest and most fateful migration—forced migration—in the history of man. This book is about the course and consequences of this long African-European connection that endured from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth. It makes an answer to three vital questions: What kind of contact was this with Europe and  America? How did the experience affect Africa? Why did it end in colonial invasion and conquest?

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John Henrik Clarke—A Great and Mighty Walk

This video chronicles the life and times of the noted African-American historian, scholar and Pan-African activist John Henrik Clarke (1915-1998). Both a biography of Clarke himself and an overview of 5,000 years of African history, the film offers a provocative look at the past through the eyes of a leading proponent of an Afrocentric view of history. From ancient Egypt and Africa’s other great empires, Clarke moves through Mediterranean borrowings, the Atlantic slave trade, European colonization, the development of the Pan-African movement, and present-day African-American history.

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  /  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 5 August 2010



Home Criminalizing a Race: Blacks and Prisons Table   Conversations Table

Related files:  Crime Among Our People  Conversation about Religion   Give Detroit Schools a Fresh Start    The Dropout Challenge     Food Future Past  

Organizing Comes Before Mobilizing   Boggs Center: Going  Beyond Black and White

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