When They Call You a Terrorist

by

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

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When They Call You a Terrorist: Chapter 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gabriel comes home from prison when Patrisse is 20 years old and fully immersed in community organizing. After graduation, Donna tells her about a social justice camp where she teaches kids about systems of oppression and how to have compassionate relationships with all people. The campers come from all backgrounds, and the goal is to help them confront all types of difference and discrimination, including stereotypes they hold of one another. In a group discussion with the queer campers, they talk about depression and homelessness, and one young Black man reveals he is HIV positive. They all grieve for how homophobia means sentencing people to death.
Here, Patrisse again engages with intersectionality as she encourages the young campers she works with to understand different forms of discrimination—racism is important to address, but homophobia is, too. Patrisse says that homophobia sentences queer people to death, likely alluding to how inadequate sex education for queer people (such as not teaching the importance of using of condoms) can lead to HIV infection and, eventually, death.
Themes
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Family, Community, and Healing Theme Icon
The Strategy Center is one of the organizations that presents to the campers, and Patrisse is immediately drawn to them—especially Kikanza Ramsey, their lead organizer. She is a Black woman with natural hair, and Patrisse wants to be just like her: to challenge inequity and build power. After camp ends, Patrisse joins the Center and, for a year, is trained in how to be an organizer. She reads Mao, Marx, and Lenin; runs spoken-word events; and canvasses for the Bus Riders’ Union for fair public transit in LA. Eric Mann—the white antiracist founder of the Center—mentors Patrisse. Eventually, Patrisse gets her friends and also her parents involved, too—the first time she will be in public with both her parents, something her white friends had always experienced.
This moment is important in Patrisse’s development as a community organizer—she learned about oppression in high school, but here she is taking steps toward becoming the seasoned activist who will go on to start the Black Lives Matter movement. The Strategy Center is what brings her family together to demonstrate how community organizing and community healing go hand in hand.
Themes
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Family, Community, and Healing Theme Icon
At the Center’s annual gala, Patrisse and Gabriel dance the night away while Cherice stays seated, smiling. She is happy just to watch. Patrisse moves back in with her family (in a new larger apartment) to help take care of Monte when he returns from prison. He resists taking his meds because they make him sleepy and dull—it will be years before they realize he is being overmedicated. Gabriel also returns from prison, and Patrisse feels closer to him than ever. She rejoins family gatherings and brings her friends along, “demonstrating proudly just what love and community look like in action.” 
Again, Patrisse shows readers the reality of what it means to be both Black and disabled—though Monte is no longer in prison, he is still being mistreated by healthcare providers. With Gabriel’s return, Patrisse starts to merge her blood family and chosen family, explicitly naming how important “love and community” are to her.
Themes
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Intersectionality of Identity Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Healing Theme Icon
Gabriel tells Patrisse how he was less addicted to drugs and more addicted to the lifestyle; he was a poor Southern boy who, as a drug dealer, finally had money and clout. He is trying to hold himself accountable for his actions, and Patrisse wonders who has been accountable to Black people like him, people who were trained to serve others rather than to have their own dreams. When he was young, he wanted to financially support his family and felt the military was his only choice. When he got back from his tours, though, he returned to “a city under siege” and wasn’t able to access the benefits of the GI Bill because he was Black.
This moment highlights that Gabriel was not selling drugs for the fun of it, but because he wanted both financial security and a job that made him feel like he had some dignity. It wasn’t a poor choice he made, but one he felt forced into by external factors (like the fact that the benefits of the G.I. Bill, like low-cost education and housing for veterans, did not apply to Black people). This is an example of the type of healing presence that Patrisse is committed to being for her family and community—rather than abandoning her father after he went to prison, she wanted to hear his story and understand better why he did what he did.
Themes
Black Lives Matter Theme Icon
Prisons and Policing Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Healing Theme Icon
External Forces vs. Personal Responsibility Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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When Gabriel was discharged in 1984, the rates of unemployment for Black people in the LA region rivaled the rates in apartheid South Africa. Silicon Valley emerged but was almost entirely white. What Black people had access to were underground drug markets. Patrisse believes that Gabriel started using drugs while in the army, and that he began selling and using drugs to survive once he was left to fend for himself at home. Patrisse tries to explain to Gabriel that policies and structures, rather than personal decisions, determined his life’s outcome, but she doesn’t convince him. Now that racism is no longer written into law (like during Jim Crow), it’s hard to point to. Still, “they rewrote the laws, but they didn’t rewrite white supremacy.”
While 12-step programs have trained Gabriel to believe that he should take responsibility for the personal choices he made to use and sell drugs, Patrisse makes the case that external forces—such as legislative decisions—are really to blame. Patrisse goes on to explain that this is hard for some people to understand because it’s been 50 years since the Jim Crow laws that legalized racial segregation were in effect. Still, the coded language that policymakers use (such as “super-predators,” referring mostly to young Black and Latinx men) supports Patrisse’s point that policymakers still treat Black people like their lives do not matter.
Themes
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Prisons and Policing Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Healing Theme Icon
External Forces vs. Personal Responsibility Theme Icon
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Gabriel wants to have a grounded life and gets a job as a cement truck driver. Patrisse has lunch with him every day and spends each weekend with him and his extended family, sometimes bringing her friends to family baseball games and barbecues. She is thrilled to be connected to that family again and feels so much love. Patrisse attends 12-step meetings with Gabriel again and questions the binary thinking of people being either good or bad. Gabriel could have loved Cherice and, due to self-doubt, not showed up the day she wanted to tell him she was pregnant.
Patrisse again makes sense of Gabriel’s actions by looking at the external factors that led him to cause harm. He might have not shown up for Cherice when she was pregnant because of his own self-doubt as a Black man who learned from the world that his life did not matter. Patrisse believes in healing in community, which means accepting people—like Gabriel—for all their complexities and trauma.
Themes
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External Forces vs. Personal Responsibility Theme Icon
Patrisse and Gabriel talk about forgiveness and healing, and about Patrisse’s dream of building a new world.  She tells him about her journey to find God but doesn’t talk about her queerness. She senses that he knows but doesn’t care—he is so easy-going and nonjudgmental. She feels that his presence in her life is as necessary as air, but, three years later, he disappears again. She is an adult now who has survived homelessness, homophobia, and Gabriel’s first incarceration, and she is determined to find him. After calling him 35 times, Patrisse reaches Gabriel and meets him at a rundown motel.
Patrisse again explores her intersectional identities here: she is a poor, queer, Black woman who has had to navigate homelessness, homophobia, and racism. She also again proves her commitment to healing in community—instead of giving up on finding Gabriel, she calls him repeatedly and goes to see him.
Themes
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Family, Community, and Healing Theme Icon
Gabriel lets Patrisse in, and he’s not well—he looks inebriated and sunken. As Patrisse cries, he tells her he’s sorry. She begs him not to leave and he begins to cry. He has been avoiding her because he is ashamed—he was in jail, is out on bail, and is facing seven years in prison. Patrisse says she wants to know everything, and he tells her about how he hated driving the cement truck and how, after years of being bullied for being a weird country kid in LA, he hates himself. They talk about the drug war, how prison is the only intervention he’s allowed, and “how it feels to not seem to matter as a person in the world.” Since they’ve known each other, Gabriel has been behind bars for more time than not. 
This moment captures the depth of Gabriel’s trauma as a poor, Black ex-convict who simply wants to matter as a full person, rather than being treated by the public, police, and policymakers like his life is disposable. By sharing the depth of Gabriel’s despair, Patrisse again suggests that he did not start using and selling drugs due to ill intent, but simply as a way to survive. That Patrisse stays, asks questions, and listens shows how committed she is to helping her loved ones heal.
Themes
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Family, Community, and Healing Theme Icon
External Forces vs. Personal Responsibility Theme Icon
This is the first time Patrisse has seen Gabriel high, and it hurts her, but she refuses to leave. “If he matters to me at all then he has to matter to me at every moment.” Gabriel’s addiction and its stigma have made him profoundly lonely. Patrisse tells him that relapse is part of recovery, and that she won’t leave him. They stay there together all night, crying and holding each other. Gabriel is ultimately sentenced to three years, cutting down his time by volunteering to serve as a first responder to the California wildfires, risking death for freedom.
Patrisse is determined not to abandon Gabriel, even though his actions have hurt her and it’s difficult for her to see him inebriated—she demonstrates that loving people means supporting and accepting them even in their darkest moments. This is her way of showing him that she believes it’s possible for Black families and communities to heal together in the face of racism and the war on drugs. That LA allows prisoners to have shorter prison sentences if they risk their lives putting out wildfires supports Patrisse’s belief that prisons are not mechanisms to keep people safe from criminals. Instead, their purpose is to control and exploit people (especially poor Black people).
Themes
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Patrisse is 26 when Gabriel comes home from prison. (He will never go back.) Patrisse has built a small family around her with Carla and Mark Anthony (who is now her partner), and they pay for Gabriel’s flight home. Her chosen family’s love shows her that another world is possible. When they pick Gabriel up from the airport, Patrisse runs to him, full of joy. He lives with her for a week then moves into a shelter, going to 12-step meetings and getting a substance abuse counselor certificate to help other people heal. Patrisse is going to UCLA at the time, the first person on her mother’s side to attend college. She and Gabriel spend March through June of 2009 feeling hopeful.
Again, Patrisse demonstrates what it means to heal as a community—she and her chosen family (who are not related to Gabriel) pay for Gabriel’s flight and pick him up rather than letting him get home on his own. Gabriel also proves that he is committed to helping fellow addicts heal as he gets his substance abuse counselor certificate.
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Then Gabriel’s father dies, and he and Patrisse travel to Eunice, Louisiana for the funeral. Eunice is a small town known for Cajun music that Patrisse has visited once before when volunteering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. That was when she met her grandfather, who welcomed her and made he feel like she came from somewhere. This trip is healing for Patrisse; she sees Gabriel completely at ease for the first time among his loving family.  They mourn at the funeral but know they will survive; Eunice teaches them that they matter. Patrisse suggests that Gabriel move back, but he says the pace is too slow.
Patrisse’s experience in Eunice is significant in that she sees what it’s like to be in a place that shows her that her life matters—as opposed to LA, where police and policymakers show her otherwise. In connecting with her loving extended family, she also learns more about what it means to heal as a family and an extended community.
Themes
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They leave Eunice—saying goodbye to the “Black people who just love you and openly”—and Patrisse spends the summer watching Gabriel enjoy playing baseball with his family. By now, Patrisse is in love with Mark Anthony. He is kind and accepting of her sexuality, and she feels fully loved. Mark Anthony is dedicated to healing and gets his master’s in Chinese medicine. They move into a tiny cottage in Topanga Canyon, surrounded by beauty. Patrisse spends the holiday season making up for the celebrations she and Gabriel missed out on, including a raucous and loving Christmas with their extended family at Vina’s.
Here, Patrisse shares more examples of what it can look like for Black people to love one another and heal communally in the face of widespread police violence and racist policies: visiting extended family, forming loving romantic relationships, and celebrating holidays together.
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Two days later, Gabriel leaves Patrisse a voicemail saying he doesn’t feel well, but she doesn’t get it immediately since she’s at her mom’s house and then drives the long stretch without service on her way back to the Canyon. When she gets home, her landline rings, and it’s Cherice—she tells Patrisse that people are saying Gabriel is dead. Patrisse refuses to accept this is true and calls Gabriel’s cell repeatedly as Mark Anthony drives them to the shelter where Gabriel had been living. She is in shock. The shelter is surrounded by police cars, and an officer tells her matter-of-factly that her father is dead.
Gabriel’s death is devastating for Patrisse because she has only just started to become close to him again after he got released from prison. That the officer emotionlessly tells Patrisse her father is dead supports her belief that policing as an institution treats Black people like their lives are disposable.
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Patrisse sits outside, unable to move, as the medical examiner determines if there was foul play. There wasn’t. She goes upstairs to find Gabriel on a stretcher outside his room in boxers and a T-shirt. She keeps his glasses and watch, along with other small items inside the room that proved he had existed. Mournfully, she tells him she loves him and kisses him one final time. Planning the funeral helps dull the pain and, on January 3, 300 people gather to honor Gabriel’s life. His sponsor speaks, sharing about how Gabriel was committed to being a better version of himself and was working on making amends. Patrisse also speaks and struggles to be as authentic as Gabriel was, but she shares about his brilliance and how he was flawless and flawed, like everyone.
This is an incredibly painful moment for Patrisse, and yet she proves how committed she is to healing, even in the face of immense trauma and grief. Honoring Gabriel as someone who was both flawless and flawed is evidence of Patrisse’s approach to family and community healing—loving and accepting people fully for who they are.
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They bury Gabriel a week later with complete military honors, led by his sister Jackie, who works at the Pentagon. By this time, they know that Gabriel died of a heart attack, which Patrisse feels is related to having his heart broken by a country that didn’t love him. When a soldier hands her the folded American flag, she thinks about how the U.S. offered him cages instead of compassion—in addition to his cocaine use, his years in prison likely had a direct impact on his heart. Gabriel was part of a generation of Black men who weren’t allowed hopes or dreams, yet he kept trying, coming back to her from prison, loving her fiercely. If his life is not possible in the U.S., then the U.S. as a concept is not possible.
As Patrisse tries to make sense of Gabriel’s unexpected passing, she ties his heart attack to the experience of living in a racist society. While his drug used probably harmed his health, she believes that the root cause of his heart attack is his experience suffering abuse in prison for many years, along with spending his whole life existing in a racist society that taught him he didn’t matter. The implication here is that Gabriel is not responsible for his heart attack, and that Black people generally should not be blamed for their suffering when external factors—such as a violent prison system and racist policies—clearly affect their mental and physical well-being.
Themes
Black Lives Matter Theme Icon
Prisons and Policing Theme Icon
Family, Community, and Healing Theme Icon
External Forces vs. Personal Responsibility Theme Icon
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