Donna Murch

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Donna Murch is associate professor of history at Rutgers University and co-director of the Rutgers Center for Historical Analysis and the Black Atlantic lecture series. Her teaching and research specializations are postwar U.S. history, modern African American history, and twentieth-century urban studies. Professor Murch has published several scholarly articles and has recently completed a book entitled Living for the City: Migration, Education and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. She received her Ph.D. from the Department of History at U.C. Berkeley and has won numerous honors, including a Teaching Effectiveness Award and a Woodrow Wilson postdoctoral fellowship. Professor Murch is currently researching a new book on black youth culture, informal economy and drugs in the 1980s. [1]

Socialism 2018

Donna Murch was a proposed featured speaker of the Socialism 2018, an annual socialist gathering sponsored by the International Socialist Organization held in Chicago, Illinois in July 2018.[2] Go to the main page of ISO Socialism Conference...

Spoke at Socialism 2016 Conference

Some of our Speakers at Socialism 2016 included:

Cocaine/CIA story

Over the last few years, Donna Murch has been researching the crack crisis in Los Angeles of the 1980s and 1990s, whose origins can be traced to the attack on black radical organizing and the intensification of police militarization under the War on Drugs. She says to understand the reaction against Webb, one needs to recognize the centrality of Los Angeles to the War on Drugs — and, in turn, the centrality of the War on Drugs, with all its punitive racism and racist impunity at home and abroad, to the broader right-wing ascendency.

Murch further explains:

The effect of the Dark Alliance series on Black LA could only be described as magnetic. When the story was initially released in August 1996, it was met with relative silence by the mainstream newspapers. However a broad coalition of activists in Los Angeles immediately recognized the significance of Webb’s reporting and began protesting and calling for Maxine Waters and the rest of the Congressional Black Caucus to intervene and formally investigate his allegations.
To contextualize the backlash against Webb, one has to understand the importance of Los Angeles for the national War on Drugs. In the 1980s, the city contained the world’s largest urban prison population. It had been the target of the most brutal campaigns against crack use and distribution. And it had been the venue of some of the Reagan/Bush Era’s most provocative War-on-Drugs spectacles, including Daryl Gates co-piloting a tank armed with a fifteen-foot long battering ram to tear down the side of an alleged “crack house” in Pacoima (only to find a mother and her children eating ice cream). In 1988, the LAPD’s implementation of “Operation Hammer” utilized similar shock-and-awe displays of police power through mass sweeps of black and brown youth. In a single day, law enforcement jailed over 1400 people, the largest total since the Watts Rebellion in 1965. Very few of the arrests stuck, but the scale of internment was so great that the LAPD set up mobile booking units in the parking lot of the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The “Southland’s” War on Drugs extended from saturation policing to the creation of a parallel legal structure criminalizing poor urban populations of color. Law enforcement databases listed over half of young African American men in LA County as gang members, and it was not uncommon for convicted teenage offenders to receive over a century of hard time. By attacking precisely the types of youth that joined militant political organizations like the Southern California Black Panther Party two decades earlier, law enforcement’s overlapping wars on drugs and gangs struck at the heart of postwar black radicalism in the city.
In this context, Webb’s revelations raced through South LA in the late 1990s like wildfire and helped to revitalize dormant anti-statist activism. Radical Angelinos used the Mercury News story to mobilize residents against U.S. covert action abroad and the drug war at home, bringing together disparate left-wing community groups together, including historical Black Power organizers and Central American activists. The umbrella group, “Crack the CIA Coalition,” united former Panthers, Sandinista supporters, black Communist Party members, the west-coast branch of Kwame Toure’s (formerly Stokely Carmichael) All African People’s Revolutionary Party, and even a few sympathetic dissidents from the NAACP. They sponsored regular protests and rallies in front of the L.A. Times accusing the paper of colluding with the CIA. In one demonstration, protestors dressed in hats and mittens carried an artificial snow blower with signs reading, “L.A. Times Snow Blind to the Truth,” “Contra Cocaine Story: Twelve Year White Wash,” and “Avalanche of Disinformation.” In an amusing piece of agit prop theatre, two rotund snowmen, “Frosty ” and “Flakey” marched hand and hand holding a sign, “CIA and L.A. Times Working Together to Keep you Snowed.”
Ultimately in light of Webb’s revelations, the tragedy and perceived hypocrisy of the war on drugs became a boon to anti-carceral organizing in Los Angeles. In October 1996 a rally was held with over 2500 people, and when CIA Director John M. Deutch traveled to Watt’s Locke High School to address Webb’s allegations, he confronted an angry overflow crowd. Even the Times, which pilloried Webb, published a story by Peter Kornbluh encouraging Deutch to appease South L.A. “by acknowledging that the CIA did, in fact, knowingly and willingly work with drug dealers.” When the U.S. Civil Rights Commission subpoenaed former Black Panther Michael Zinzun in 1996 for a hearing on police violence in Los Angeles, he insisted on testifying about new evidence on CIA complicity in local crack distribution. Zinzun, who founded the Coalition Against Police Abuse in 1970s, was not alone. In the months after Dark Alliance’s release, the Crack the CIA Coalition worked tirelessly to publicize state complicity in the crack crisis.
The backlash in mainstream media to black protest against the CIA and support for Gary Webb was brutal. In a Washington Post article entitled “Finding the Truest Truth,” African-American columnist Donna Britt wrote, “What feels true to blacks has fueled numerous conspiracy theories. Some, such as the infamous Tuskegee Experiment in which syphilitic black men weren’t treated by doctors who knew their condition, are true. Others are not” – the implication being that Webb’s story was not. In a similar vein, anotherPost story by Michael Fletcher argued, “The history of black victimization of black people allows myths – and, at times, outright paranoia – to flourish.” He continued on, “Even if a major investigation is done it is unlikely to quell the certainty among many African Americans that the government played a role in bringing the crack epidemic to black communities.”
Although most of the mainstream media dismissed the protest prompted by Webb’s series as a wave of irrational black paranoia, the organizing it inspired played a critical role in changing African American political elites’ views of the War on Drugs. The importance of this shift is hard to overestimate because up until this point, the Congressional Black Caucus had largely supported the punitive turn, including Reagan’s 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act which enshrined the 100:1 crack to powder cocaine disparity in federal sentencing.

The movie Kill the Messenger, and the Nick Schou book on which it is based, focuses on the cowardly and instrumental decisions of the Mercury Newseditorial staff that led to Webb’s professional and ultimately personal demise. In the film, Webb is rendered as a macho suburban hero whose family is imperiled through his search for truth in the face of complicity and incompetence. However, when considering Gary Webb’s legacy, it’s important to remember that Webb himself framed his story not only as a profound ethics breach of the national security state, but as an expose of hypocritical drug war policies that had terrible repercussions for African American populations in California and beyond. And for this choice, which inspired mass black support and political mobilization, he paid dearly.

Donna Murch’s Crack in Los Angeles: Policing the Crisis and the War on Drugs is due out in 2017.[3]

"They Say Austerity, We Say Solidarity!"

The Brecht Forum's 33rd Annual Intensive Introduction to Marxism

Thursday, July 14 through Sunday, July 17, 2011

Presenters include Younes Abouyoub, Kazembe Balagun, Nyaza Bandele, Matthew Birkhold, David Braun, J.J. Brown, Randy Martin, Donna Murch, Shadid Stover, Juliet Ucelli, Lincoln Van Sluytman, Tim Schermerhorn, Ganesh Trichur, Rick Wolff and others TBA.

The Brecht Forum's annual Summer Intensive is designed as an introduction to the theoretical and practical traditions that trace their origins to the works of Karl Marx and Frederich Engels. [4]

Organization of American Historians Ferguson event

April 18, 2015;[5]

Historicizing Ferguson: Police Violence and the Genesis of a National Movement

Chair and Commentator: Donna Murch, Rutgers university



  1. [TOPLAB-ANNOUNCE The 33rd Annual Intensive Introduction to Marxism: They Say Austerity, We Say Solidarity! NYC 7/14-17/2011 The Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB) news and announcement list. toplab-announce at Fri Jul 8]
  2. Socialism Conference 2018 Socialism Conference 2018 (accessed July 23 2018)
  3. The nation, Racism Drove the Backlash Against Gary Webb By Greg GrandinTwitterNOVEMBER 7, 2014
  4. [TOPLAB-ANNOUNCE The 33rd Annual Intensive Introduction to Marxism: They Say Austerity, We Say Solidarity! NYC 7/14-17/2011 The Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB) news and announcement list. toplab-announce at Fri Jul 8]
  5. Ferguson: Police Violence and the Genesis of a National MovementSaturday, April 18