Self Defense is everyone’s right. The Second Amendment applies to all Americans.
What radical black womanist politics organized around self-defense actually looks like, and why it matters.
Wilbert L. Cooper
Feb 8 2017
here was no wild rhetoric about “killing whitey” or clandestine plots to ambush and torture cops when I attended a political education class hosted by Dallas’s Black Women’s Defense League last year. Instead, there were a lot of women of color speaking from the heart, telling one another how they felt when they walk down the street alone, sharing the fears they had for their children growing up in America today. Some of these sisters rocked kente cloth with dreads, while others had weaves and perms and wore skirts and heels. A few of the women were decidedly old school: They were alive when the original Black Panthers stormed the California State Capitol building with shotguns in 1967. But there were millennials on hand, too—ladies with hip-hop songs paused on their iPhones and books like The New Jim Crow tucked into their purses.
The Black Women’s Defense League first popped up on my radar thanks in part to its red, black, and green logo, which features a woman with an afro toting a shotgun. After flipping through photos of the founder, Niecee X, brandishing firearms on social media, I couldn’t help relating to the group’s advocacy of firearms for self-defense. Even though I’ve never owned a gun, I’ve certainly thought about it, tempted by the illusion of security it might offer in a country where someone like George Zimmerman, a vigilante who took a young black life like mine on a whim, can walk away scot free. But prior to actually meeting with the group, I failed to grasp the scope of the issues they grapple with. As Ibora Ase, one core member of the Black Women’s Defense League, put it to me, black women don’t just have to fight “the man—we have to fight our men.”
Niecee, the Defense League’s leader, defies easy caricature. There is a distinct elegance on display in her perfectly posed Instagram selfies, where she mixes militant-fatigues, African prints, and exuberant hair styles that run the color spectrum from cherry red to Frank Ocean blond. Above all, though, she’s stern and fastidious when it comes to her work as an advocate for black women—leading the core members of her group in self-defense training sessions, charity work in the community, and outreach to the at-risk youths of Dallas.
Her grandmother gave Niecee the politics bug when she was still a kid. “I knew all of the senators and who the Republicans were,” she said. “I was really drinking the Kool-Aid for a minute.” But it was in her early 20s that she found her way activism through local black groups in Dallas like Guerilla Mainframe and the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, which introduced her to radical organizing.
It was only about two years ago that she broke off from those groups after a series of personal and professional incidents that begged for an organization specifically focused on obstacles faced by women of color. “There were issues with an individual that I had been dealing with romantically,” she said of a man she met within Dallas’s black activist community, “and there was some violence that occurred between him and me.”
Niecee said that she was pregnant at the time and the alleged violence led to her losing a child. But what compelled her to start the Defense League wasn’t a single act of malice so much as how the Huey P. Newton Gun Club handled her abuse allegations when she brought them to the attention of leadership.
“There has to be a hard line drawn within our communities and for each other that this isn’t something that will be tolerated, and even further that when it does happen, if it does happen, that it will be dealt with swiftly and dealt with in a way that will ensure it does not occur again,” she told me.