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In the old normal until the 1980’s we had lynchings by the Klu Klux Klan and others marked by racial hatred and economic inequality. In the last 30 years we have added conceal and open-carry laws and an absolute tsunami of guns on the streets to the volatile mix of race and economics. This is the new normal now—and it will not change until we erase income inequality—or the guns. Some thought the election of half-white Barack Obama in 2008 to the presidency would herald a new relationship among the races. After living in Jim Crow North Carolina for three years during the 1950’s, I had very serious doubts that change would come about so fast. Immediately upon Obama walking into the Oval Office, death threats against the president rose by 400%. The Republican elite met on the night of the election and vowed to make him a one-term president, signaling obstruction from the first getgo. The fact is it may take another hundred years to overcome relationships established by slavery, race, and income inequality—unless we try harder. Look at South Africa.
A story about the finest tap dancer in America in 1934 illustrates the problem. Black dancer Bill Robinson carried several things in his pockets: a diamond-studded case containing a gold sheriff’s badge presented to him by New York, a number of letters from police chiefs in major cities around the country certifying his friendship, and a revolver given him by the Harlem police precinct. After all, he had been “elected’ by prominent New York whites as the unofficial mayor of Harlem. While performing in Pittsburgh, Robinson, while walking downtown, saw two black kids mugging an elderly white woman. He pulled out his revolver and fired it into the air. The kids ran. A white cop, seeing a black man with a gun, shot Robinson in the shoulder, knocking him down. The situation made headlines across the country because Robinson was a famous entertainer. While on the ground, Robinson showed the cop a letter from the Pittsburgh chief of police. The cop’s response: “All black men look alike to me.” He was released later. Two days later Robinson was dancing in the show “Brown Buddies,” a musical comedy about blacks serving in WW I, with his arm in a sling. But now, everybody, including the kids and the old lady, can have a gun.
Private Violence and Public Lynching
The practice of lynching is the most violent act of terrorism directed toward maintaining control of blacks from the early 1600s to today. A report recently issued by the Equal Justice Initiative indicated that at least 3,959 blacks were lynched in 12 Southern states between 1877 and 1950. We have no record of the total number of lynchings in the United States over the last 400 years—but they have occurred in practically every territory and state, including North Dakota and Minnesota. Practically all lynchings during slavery and Jim Crow days were held in public for the purpose of intimidating blacks, as recorded by the Equal Justice Initiative: “To be an effective mechanism for social control, lynching had to visible, with the killing publicly known, especially to the target population. Large crowds of whites, often numbering in the thousands, and including elected officials and prominent citizens, gathered to witness pre-planned, heinous killings that featured prolonged torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and/or burning of the victim. White press justified and promoted these carnival-like events, with vendors selling food, printers producing postcards featuring photographs of the lynching and corpse, and the victim’s body parts collected as souvenirs.” Lynching is only one reason we have animosity between the black and white elephants in rooms in today’s racial climate and gun culture. Elephants grow old but hardly ever forget.
There are thousands of outrageous, terrifying, murderous incidents at the center of our racial unrest, and our young whites, browns, and blacks need to know about them if they are to survive and prosper. The Slocum, Texas massacre of 1910, which took the lives of as many as 300 blacks, has never been recognized until Saturday, July 16, 2016. A Texas State Historical Marker was finally erected recognizing the massacre, the first to recognize racial violence in the state. A world heavyweight championship fight between Jack Johnson, the first black champion, who kept his title by beating white James J. Jeffries, who had the label “The Great White Hope,” probably created the massacre. It was the most important title in sports, and the fact that Johnson had some white girl friends aroused all Southern white men to a sexual fever pitch. This fight, held in Reno, Nevada, set off racial violence across the country. Why it got so violent in the little town of Slocum is not known, but the sheriff, a white ironically named William Black, described the massacre in an interview with the New York Times: “Men were going around killing Negroes as fast as they could find them, and so far as I was able to ascertain, without any real cause. I don’t know how many were in the mob, but there may have been 200 or 300…They hunted the Negroes down like sheep.” Many black families left Slocum, never to return, their homes and property stolen from them.
Governor Mark Dayton Was Right – A White Man Would Not Have Been Killed
We don’t need to go through the shootings of blacks, some in the back, in Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, Louisiana, Maryland, California, South Carolina, and a dozen other states. We are all too familiar with those lynchings by bullet. But we should know why. After all, the Supreme Court ruled in 1857 in the Dred Scott case that no descendent of any “Negro of the African race” could ever be a citizen of the United States. Even after 60 years of having our schools desegregated, black students are four times more likely to be suspended from school. About 6.5 million students are chronically absent from school because of suspensions and the need to stay home to care for other family members.
Philandro Castile, the beloved St. Paul school lunch server and supervisor of 14 years who knew every student by name in his school, was shot and killed by a cop during his 49th traffic stop. His girlfriend with her four-year-old daughter were passengers who said he was stopped because of a broken tail light. He told the officer he had a conceal-carry permit and that’s when the shooting started. A couple of days later the cop who shot him claimed he was stopped because, with long dreadknots and all, he looked like a robbery suspect. We might know the truth someday. Stopped by a St. Anthony, Minnesota cop, that force was known to have a record of arresting blacks 41% of all arrests when the black population of St. Anthony was only 6%. Castile totaled 88 brushes with the law in his short 33 years: Insurance problems, 15; License problems, 40; Speeding, (2); Seatbelts, (11); Parking, (5); Marijuana, (6), and other, (9). A strange result: Of 82 non-parking citations he was given over the years, 47 were dismissed. The misdemeanor tickets cost him $7,000 over time and his driver’s license had been revoked and reinstated again and again. His current salary was $33,317. Is this punishment for being black and poor? Is Minnesota in the same business as many other states, issuing fines and trivial fees to the poor for everything under the sun to raise funds for all government functions? Jennings, Missouri just agreed to pay $4.7 million to 2,000 citizens it had been abusing with fees and fines. We have debtor’s prisons in this country that essentially criminalize being poor. In Virginia 90,000 poor people have lost their driver’s licenses because they couldn’t pay court fines and fees. How do they get to work, get their kids to school, and complete other family duties? If they do drive with a suspended license they may be punished by a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500. We are constantly proving that driving while black and poor is expensive and very dangerous—even in Democratic California.
One Reason Cops Kill Over 9,000 Civilians Each Year
This country of 320 million has some kind of rifle, shotgun, and handgun for every man, woman, and child—and hundreds of bullets for each one. No wonder a policeman goes on the beat each day knowing that contacts he makes range from a citizen simply asking for directions to a situation which might call for the taking of a human life. In some ways it’s like being on patrol in Iraq against ISIS or in Afghanistan against the Taliban. And millions of guns and billions of rounds of ammo available on every street corner complicate his mission tremendously. So does conceal-and-carry and open-and-carry laws. Warren Wiley of Duluth wrote this revealing letter to the StarTribune: “I am a white male licensed to carry a gun, and I’m scared. Recent events make me wonder how I am supposed to react when pulled over by an officer of the law. Should I tell the officer I have a permit and there is a gun in the vehicle? Or should I just keep my mouth shut? If I speak up and the officer is a young, excitable individual who does not listen to what I am telling him or her, am I at risk? Am I going to be shot for conforming, in all ways, to the law? My 75th birthday has passed, and I have never been scared of traveling in this country in all those years. Until now.”
Warren, let an 84-year-old former Marine Corps commander of a heavy machinegun platoon tell you this. If you don’t have some fear when carrying a firearm, you have to be nuts. Guns kill or wound. If you drop it on the floor, it might go off and blow your knee or ass to smithereens. Guns can surprise you. I can’t believe these open-and-carry guys. Say there is a shooter at the Cleveland Republican Convention who starts blasting with all those cops around. What are the open-and-carry guys going to do with their Glocks or AR-15s? Show their permits to the cops as they pose with their weapons? I wish them luck. You may be catching what I call the Tombstone Syndrome, the idea that a gun can solve all problems. That’s why a lot of people end up under tombstones because they were “carrying.” We kill 33,000 each year just like you. I suggest leaving the Glock at home. Give cops a chance.
With All The Available Guns, New York, Baton Rouge, and Dallas Were Inevitable
Now cops have to give civilians a chance. In an Atlantic article “The Near Certainty of Anti-Police Violence” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, he writes about force and current Congressional attitudes: “When the law shoots down 12-year-old children, or beats down old women on traffic islands, or chokes people to death over cigarettes; when the law shoots people over compact discs, traffic stops (broken tail lights), drivers’ licenses, loud conversation, or car trouble…and when government seems powerless, or unwilling to stop any of it, then it ceases, in the eyes of citizens, to be any sort of respectable law at all. It simply becomes “force.” That is the current attitude of the black community. With a majority in Congress frightened to political death by the National Rifle Association, with police forces caught among poverty, drugs, guns, income inequality, and the killing of cops and citizens, there will most likely be more Dallases, New Yorks, and Baton Rouges.
Congress should remember that the capitol building they vote in was mainly built by slave labor rented from rich plantation owners around Washington. Slave coffies, the lines of slaves chained together, were horrifying to visitors from other countries. Slave markets and pens were built on land very close to where the Mall is today. Gee, weren’t all men created equal?