“You know, the SCLC stands for nonviolence, but nonviolence hasn’t worked in this instance,” said Samuel Mosteller, President of the Georgia Branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “I am going to have to advocate, at this point, that all African-Americans advocate their 2nd Amendment rights.”
Samuel Mosteller said those words earlier this week. His statement followed the deaths of 27 year old Anthony Hill, a naked, unarmed veteran who was in the throws of a mental breakdown, and 23 year old Nicholas Taft Thomas, who was shot to death as police attempted to arrest him for violating probation. The police said Thomas was armed and sped towards them in a Maserati. Bystanders said that he was going in another direction. Curiously, the bullets holes were in the side of the car. Read more here.
Mosteller was suspended almost immediately from the SCLC pending investigation and internal training. For a representative of the SCLC to take the platform and advocate anything besides, ‘non-violence’ is foolish. Non-violence is the foundation upon which the SCLC stands.
The fact that its leadership routinely either exercised their 2nd amendment rights or enjoyed the protection of men who were doing so, is largely forgotten.
Dr. Martin Luther King’s home was once described as an arsenal. One journalist who covered the SCLC, recounted a visit to King. He went to sit down on an armchair in the living room and almost sat on a loaded gun.
King made it clear that Black men have a right to protect themselves.
“When the negro uses force in self defense, he does not forfeit support. He may even win it by the courage and self respect that it reflects.”
In time he abandoned the use of firearms, feeling that it would be hypocritical to espouse non-violence while traveling with armed guards and retiring to a home full of guns.
He also drew a clear line between arming yourself to protect your life and loved ones, and arming yourself in hopes of political gain. The former was acceptable, and even commendable. The latter he felt was tactically impossible and morally unjustifiable.
Although he abandoned firearms, I’ve never heard him tell rank and file Black men and women to do the same. I don’t remember the speech where he suggested that Black people turn the other cheek to KKK, unjust law enforcement or violent criminals, whatever their color.
Did Mosteller cross a line by issuing the statement at a press conference? Maybe. More than one reporter has said that he suggested Black people arm themselves “against police”. If he did, it wasn’t on the video.
I’m more concerned with the idea that Black men and women exercising our constitutional rights is somehow new or subversive. We’ve been doing it for a very long time.
There is nothing revolutionary about self defense. It’s a fundamental human drive that goes back further than language. It might not have been responsible or even smart, for Mosteller to bring up the second amendment in the context of police protest, but it’s hardly scandalous.