Jul 20, 2020
by Ceylan Karasapan Crow, Academic Investigative Journalist for SCG
— Ida B. Wells1 —
To understand today’s racial strife and the police violence against black people we need to track the history of black lives in the United States of America. Racial violence is one long continuous thread in American history starting with the decimation of native peoples. Focusing here on Black lives, the beginning was slavery enforced through violence by slave patrols, which were the first form of policing. This article/essay will trace abolition, the ensuing race-based violence to keep black lives in control for economic reasons, the attack on civil rights struggles, the choices made by Southern white supremacists after abolition and the rest of the country’s accommodation. All of these moments in history show clearly a thread of unbelievable and unending violence against blacks.
Yes there are today, educated, well to do Blacks and this may attest to some “progress,” but lets be real put any one of those same up and coming black individuals in different garb and situate them in a ghetto and they will experience the same police violence if they find themselves in an ‘unfortunate’ situation.
"The bold and unpunished deaths of black men, women, and children deemed dangerous—like Trayvon Martin in Florida; Philando Castile in Minnesota; Tamir Rice and Samuel DuBose in Ohio; Alton Sterling in Louisiana; Sandra Bland in Texas; Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland; Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, and many, many more—continue to demonstrate the fatal consequences of a racialized presumption of guilt permitted to fester for more than a century. The trauma borne by Anthony Ray Hinton and countless more men and women condemned to death only to be exonerated many years later reveals the arrogance of a judicial system built on a history of injustice but still confident in its ability to fairly and justly judge who should live and who should die." Jennifer Rae Taylor senior attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative.
The outright in our face, brutal, unflinching violence/murder we recently witnessed of George Floyd cannot happen without the entrenched history of such violence throughout American History, his was I would argue a modern day lynching.
Systemic Racist violence isn't manifested just in physical violence, it is a part of keeping black lives down for economic expediency via a racist agenda. It is well accepted how violent slavery was, both psychologically and physically, a practice solely to serve the economic needs of the south — not cheap labor but free labor.
Today African Americans make up about 13 percent of the nation’s population, but constitute 28 percent of all arrests, 40 percent of the incarcerated, and 42 percent of those on death row. African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are all more likely to be arrested, jailed awaiting trial, and sentenced to jail or prison when compared to white Americans.
Perhaps the starkest statistic, recent data predicted one of every three black boys, and one of six Latino boys, born in 2001 would go to jail or prison within their lifetimes if current trends continue.2
News broke in 2017 that up to 40 percent of the firefighters battling California’s outbreak of forest fires are prison inmates working for $2 an hour. These roughly 4000 incarcerated men and women risk their lives fighting fires in California, only to find the profession closed to them when they are released from prison. Practices like these are disturbingly common: military gear, ground meat, Starbucks holiday products and McDonald’s uniforms have all been made (and are still made) with low-wage prison labor.3
Inmates are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that workers are paid at least the federal minimum wage. That makes it completely legal for states to exploit inmates for free or cheap labor. More than half of the 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons work while incarcerated, and the vast majority only make a few cents per hour.
Years of exclusion from wealth, suppression by government policies, and terrorizing by violence begets destitute citizens, who are then somehow seen as the cause for their lot in society.
Many blacks are stuck today in inner cities as well as rural out-lands, in neighborhoods that have poor social, economic and educational opportunities. Police-minority violence is fueled by centuries of racial and ethnic divisions in American society that perpetuated segregation and exemption from economic opportunities, and cannot be changed simply by police reform or even defunding policing. Such solutions as police reform, may be a start and at least addressing immediately what must be addressed. But long term solutions they are not.
There are solutions that may start to address the entrenched economic inequalities that are at the root of the historically pervasive racism. One such solution may be Reparations for injustices not going back to slavery but beginning in the 20th century as argued by Jonathan Kaplan and Andrew Valls in their well researched and argued presentation, HOUSING DISCRIMINATION AS A BASIS FOR BLACK REPARATIONS. When thinking and discussing solutions we need to remember, solutions can start small as pilot policies/programs and expand to larger and larger policies and programs.
• Slave patrols were formed for hunting down runaways and suppressing rebellions out of fear of enslaved people rising up against their white owners, who were often outnumbered. The slave patrol, was a volunteer troupe made of white men who watched, traced and attacked black people who tried to escape.
“Everything that you can think of that a police officer can do today, they did it,” Historian Sally Hadden says. “The biggest thing is that they were race-focused as opposed to the police today, who should be race-neutral in their enforcement of law.” Slave patrols were not designed to protect public safety in the broadest sense but rather to protect white wealth. 4
• Segregation a very important factor in today's police violence, finds its roots in Black Codes and Jim Crow, the system of laws that advanced segregation and black disenfranchisement. (Little known fact is Jim Crow actually began in the North.)
Most if not all the police violence is taking place in disenfranchised poor neighborhoods, ghettoes and ‘projects’. These neighborhoods were constructed and formed deliberately for racist and economic agendas by states and often with federal approval.
"Chattel slavery in the United States required manufacturing a myth of racial difference to justify the brutal practice of buying and selling African men, women, and children as property. Unless there was a narrative that enslaved people were not really people, the inhumanity of slavery would’ve been unsustainable. The same ideas survived to justify racial terror lynching through the criminalization of black identity. The military battles and legal developments that led to the abolition of slavery did little to stomp out that ingrained racist agenda.
Today, the fear of the “black criminal” and the dehumanization of black lives remain at the center of the national acceptance of a prison system that cages and warehouses millions of people of all backgrounds. The impact of American mass incarceration is felt far
beyond the black community, but the black community and its history illustrate the roots of this crisis—and potentially a path out."5
Such is the sad thread, the slave trade, racial terror lynchings, black codes, Jim Crow segregation, and mass incarceration are points on the history of violence on black lives. Racism and violence against black people to prevent their full integration into society at large is the result, of a constructed policy to keep their labor cheap and integration remote. Today it is so ingrained in the system, it literally runs itself.
The era of Slavery by its nature pure unadulterated racism, was initially perpetuated mostly by the slave owner elites. But the way in which Racism continues in American society with violent, ignorant vengeance, can be seen especially in the era after Slavery was "abolished, this era was Called "Reconstruction."
The Reconstruction era was the period in American history which lasted from 1863 to 1877. The 14 years following the end of the Civil War and the Abolition of Slavery. Since the Civil War did end slavery, many Americans think abolition was the Union’s goal. But the North initially went to war to hold the nation together. Abolition came later.6
Reconstruction ended the remnants of Confederate secession and abolished slavery, making the newly freed slaves citizens with civil rights ostensibly guaranteed by three new constitutional amendments.
• The Thirteenth amendment (1865)— abolished slavery and involuntary servitude,
• The Fourteenth amendment (1868) — one of the most consequential amendments to this day, addresses citizenship rights and equal protection under the law, and equal protection under the law.
• The Fifteenth amendment (1870)—prohibits the federal government and each state from denying a citizens the right to vote based on that citizen's "race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
These amendments to the constitution were important in implementing the Reconstruction of the American South after the war. Their proponents saw them as transforming the United States from a country that was (in Abraham Lincoln's words) "half slave and half free" to one in which the constitutionally guaranteed "blessings of liberty" would be extended to the entire populace, including the former slaves and their descendants.
Yet, 600,000 people sacrificed during the Civil War, and the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery, were not enough to guarantee equal treatment and protection of African-Americans by local governments.
Violence against black lives after the Abolition of slavery did not take long to become a tool of repression and fear to protect the economic system.
Film to watch: "12 Years a slave". Slavery didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation and men like Solomon the protagonist in the film did not fare well after his "freedom". The film depicts the overall slave regime and all its horrors extremely well, but it also adds depth and nuance to our understanding of slavery’s complexities.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuOaTwuzlrY
As the most radical aspect of the so-called Radical Reconstruction period, the political activism of the African American community also inspired the most hostility from Reconstruction’s opponents. Southern whites frustrated with policies giving former slaves the right to vote and hold office increasingly turned to intimidation and violence as a means of reaffirming white supremacy. The Ku Klux Klan an extension of Slave Patrols targeted local Republican leaders and blacks who challenged their white employers, and many black officials were murdered by the Klan and other white supremacist organizations during the Reconstruction era.7
"Often committed in broad daylight and sometimes “on the courthouse lawn,” racial terror lynchings were directly tied to the history of enslavement and the re-establishment of white supremacy after the Civil War. These lynchings were intended to terrorize entire black communities and perpetuate and enforce racial hierarchy. Unlike frontier justice in the West, racial terror lynchings generally took place in communities with functioning criminal courts — seen as too good for African Americans. Despite its lawlessness and terrifying unpredictability, lynching was sanctioned by law enforcement and elected officials, and the perpetrators acted boldly and with impunity. ( Reminds one of Derek Chauvin’s demeanor in the George Floyd incidence).
The recent killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd reveal the thinly veiled truth about how little black lives are valued in this country. That all three killings involved current or former law enforcement officers is revealing.
"The license that is taken, the tolerance that is assumed by the perpetrators in these (and too many other) incidents is an inheritance. It is the legacy of lynching writ large: horrifying, traumatizing, shocking — and present."8
Parallel today: Each year in the United States, somewhere between 900 and 1,000 people are shot and killed by police, Philip Stinson found in his research, an associate professor at Bowling Green State University’s criminal justice program.
Those killed are disproportionately black and more often than not blamed for their own deaths or demonized in the process. Police officers facing questions about the use of force will not always tell the truth or face penalties when they lie. Prosecutors who must face voters at election time and work with police officers each day are often reticent to bring charges. When they do, juries and judges rarely convict.9
Leading up to the civil rights debate at the federal level, African-Americans in the North and South organized grassroots movements to secure their rights as citizens. “Black participation in Southern public life after 1867 was the most radical development of the Reconstruction years, a massive experiment in interracial democracy without precedent in the history of this or any other country that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century. But this moment was short-lived.”10
“Slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” W.E.B. Du Bois *
After the Civil War ended in 1865, some states passed black codes that severely limited the rights of black people, many of whom had been enslaved. These codes limited what jobs African Americans could hold, and their ability to leave a job once hired. Some states also restricted the kind of property black people could own.
The most common “crime” that of being unemployed – which brought a large fine that few blacks could afford to pay, was vagrancy.
"Black convicts were leased to private companies, typically industries profiteering from the region’s untapped natural resources. As many as 200,000 black Americans were forced into back-breaking labor in coal mines, turpentine factories and lumber camps. They lived in squalid conditions, chained, starved, beaten, flogged and sexually violated. They died by the thousands from injury, disease and torture. The exploitation of black convict labor by the penal system and industrialists was fundamental to southern politics and economics of the era and benefited the national economy, as well. The federal government passed up one opportunity after another to intervene. 11
When Southerners failed to recognize African-Americans as citizens, Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois led a congressional response and wrote the Civil Rights Bill. The bill passed into law in April of 1866. Its principal objective was to make explicit the citizenship rights of African-Americans, and in effect prevent racial discrimination. More specifically, the law guaranteed black people protection by the government. Up until this moment, the United States military had filled the vacuum created by the collapse of the Confederacy. One of their roles was to administer justice and adjudicate disputes.
"Designed to reverse black advances, Redemption was an organized effort by white merchants, planters, businessmen and politicians that followed Reconstruction. “Redeemers” used vicious racial violence and state legislation as tools to prevent black citizenship and equality promised under the 14th and 15th amendments.
The economic and social threat of a freed and over time educated black population was so great that by the early 1900s, nearly every southern state had barred black citizens not only from voting but also from serving in public office, on juries and in the administration of the justice system.
On paper, emancipation had cost the slave owners about $3 billion — the value of their capital investment in former slaves — a sum that equaled nearly three-fourths of the nation’s economic production in 1860. The real losses of planters, however, depended on whether they lost control of their former slaves. Planters attempted to reestablish that control and to substitute low wages for the food, clothing, and shelter that their slaves had previously received. They also refused to sell or rent land to blacks, hoping to force them to work for low wages.
The Reconstruction Act of 1867 weakened the effect of the black codes by requiring all states to uphold equal protection under the 14th Amendment, particularly by enabling black men to vote. (U.S. law prevented women of any race from voting in federal elections until 1920.)
Many black men participated in politics by voting and by holding office during Reconstruction. Reconstruction officially ended in 1877, and southern states then enacted more discriminatory laws. Efforts to enforce white supremacy by legislation increased, and African Americans tried to assert their rights through legal challenges. Unfortunately as politics would have it, this fight back led to a disappointing result in 1896, when the Supreme Court ruled, in Plessy v. Ferguson, that so-called “separate but equal” facilities—including public transport and schools—were constitutional. From this time until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination and segregation were legal and enforceable. 12
“Jim Crow” laws — which existed for about 100 years, from the post- Civil War era until 1968—were meant to marginalize African Americans by denying them the right to vote, hold jobs, get an education or other opportunities. Those who attempted to defy Jim Crow laws often faced arrest, fines, jail sentences, violence and death. Different laws were established specifically to convict African Americans for offenses as small as loitering and not having proof of employment. These laws were abolished during Reconstruction, but then they were recreated in different forms in the Jim Crow era.” 13
By about the 1920s partly due to the construction of new prisons, the convict-leasing system did eventually come to an end, . Prisoners who might have been sent out to work were increasingly kept in facilities — and their numbers began to rise, in the North as well as the South. But the prison system too fell into the same thread and continued to use prisoners as cheap labor.
The disproportionate imprisonment of African Americans and Latinos has become huge problem and a huge industry today. It can be argued that keeping convicted felons from participating in society, by disenfranchising them and making it harder for them to find housing and jobs, is a form of modern slavery. In fact, the national prison strike that took place this August and September 2018 was in part aimed at ending what organizers called “modern day slavery” in the form of forcing prisoners to labor for little wages, or none at all."
Convict labor, debt peonage, lynching – and the white supremacist ideologies of Jim Crow that supported them all – produced a bleak social landscape for African-Americans. In one form or another all these continue today as mass incarceration and prison labor, higher bail amounts for blacks and unjust, “over-kill” police violence.
Police violence cannot be understood without reference to continuing segregation and the history of the destruction of prospering black communities.
On August 4, 1916, Tulsa passed an ordinance that mandated residential segregation by forbidding blacks or whites from residing on any block where three-fourths or more of the residents were of the other race. Although the United States Supreme Court declared such an ordinance unconstitutional the following year (see Buchanan v. Warley), Tulsa and many other border and Southern cities continued to establish and enforce segregation for the next three decades.
The Tulsa Race Massacre (also called the Tulsa race riot, the Greenwood Massacre, or the Black Wall Street Massacre)
On May 30, 1921, the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla., was a thriving black community: a rarity in an era of lynchings, segregation and a rapidly growing Ku Klux Klan. Over a falsely alleged assault on a white woman by a black man.
Although the police questioned the woman Page, no written account of her statement has been found. However, the police determined that what happened between the two teenagers was something less than an assault. The authorities conducted a low-key investigation rather than launching a man-hunt for her alleged assailant. Page told the police that Rowland had grabbed her arm, but nothing more, and would not press charges.
The massacre took place when mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It has been called "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history." The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district—at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as "Black Wall Street".15
Decades-old housing policies have had a lasting effect on American society. "The segregation of our metropolitan areas today leads to stagnant inequality, because families are much less able to be upwardly mobile when they're living in segregated neighborhoods where opportunity is absent," A lowering of the hostility between police and young African-American men, presupposes desegregation.”16
The Federal Housing Administration, which was established in 1934, furthered the segregation efforts by refusing to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods — a policy known as "redlining." At the same time, the FHA subsidized builders who were mass-producing entire subdivisions for whites — with the provision that none of the homes were to be sold to African-Americans.
Decades after, the “tough on crime” politics with racist undertones resulted in harsh drug and mandatory minimum sentencing that were applied in racially unequal ways. The rate of imprisonment quadruped between the 1970s and the mass incarceration system grew exponentially. And prison labor continues with little monetary benefit to the incarcerated.
“The New Jim Crow” in her book of the same name Michelle Alexander details this phenomena. “Two years after Obama’s election, Alexander put the entire criminal justice system on trial, exposing racial discrimination from lawmaking to policing to the denial of voting rights to ex-prisoners. This bestseller struck the spark that would eventually light the fire of Black Lives Matter.” [https://newjimcrow.com ]
Today, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, with 2.2 million behind bars, even though crime has decreased significantly since the early 1990s. While black Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they make up 37 percent of the incarcerated population. Forty percent of police killings of unarmed people are black men, who make up merely 6 percent of the population, according to a 2015 Washington Post report.
In a system of separation and containment manifested in many so many ways, crime and policing are just two of the elements and not likely the main ones. The system includes residential segregation, inequality in public schools, displacement, as well as health and environmental inequality. (We are witnessing this health inequality as the unequal toll the pandemic is taking on minority communities, including the latino community here in Sonoma County, that community who provide cheap labor as hospital workers and keep our wine county vineyards growing.)
Whether or not they occur in inner cities, suburbs, or anywhere else, all these forms of spatial containment as ghettoization, and policing these areas is designed to control and marginalize. Police violence may be due to poor training and control, but it is not surprising if it is consistently targeted at segregated poor populations. The use of coercive crime control against the “threatening” minorities maintains the existing unequal social order. Police-minority tensions have roots in historical racial and ethnic divisions in American society and can't be addressed simply by altering the organization of policing.
The work seems overwhelming if one thinks of overhauling the entrenched economic base of racism and segregation. Reparations, in the form of restructuring of housing so it is gradually de-segregated by defunding policing and redirecting the funds toward social services and especially education in poor neighborhoods would be a good start.
"Educational inequality is one of the most urgent civil rights issues of our time. The re-segregation of America's schools in the last few decades has gained significant traction, putting the lives of thousands youths of color in danger. Through case studies in Little Rock, New York City, and Los Angeles, a feature-length documentary film "TEACH US ALL" seeks to bring the critical lessons of history to bear on the current state of U.S. education and investigate: 60 years later, how far have we really come and where do we go from here?". Video Link
No biological distinction exists between races. Race is a social construct created to oppress certain groups of people, while giving advantage to another group. Everyone, of all races, has been socialized into a race-based system. Instituted in the United States in the 1600's to justify the slave trade, racism has provided the economic underpinning that has shaped multiple systems including access to: housing, employment, capital, health care, and food as well as the criminal and civil justice systems.
Reparations in the form of policies whose overall effect will be to close the wealth gap, defunding police and funding social services, funding for schools in disadvanted neighborhoods, and an emphasis on desegregationist housing policies.
Housing equity – what homeowners possess after subtracting their mortgages – is a main repository of U.S. family wealth. Philosopher Jonathan Kaplan and political scientist Andrew Valls argue that the decades-long housing discrimination that stopped most African Americans from building significant home equity justifies the ‘payment’ of major reparations. ( Reparations as being paid, at least in part, through policies. )
The Movement for Black Lives, a collective of more than 50 organizations representing Black people from across the country, includes reparations as a plank in its platform of issues. They call on the government to remedy the harms caused to Black people by ensuring that they have free access to lifetime education; a guaranteed minimum living income; access and control of food sources, housing and land; and “mandated public school curriculums that critically examine the political, economic, and social impacts of colonialism and slavery.” 15
In the Papef by Jonathan Kaplan and Andrew Valls; "The argument is focused on the effects of housing discrimination in the post-World War II era, and there are good reasons for this narrower focus. In light of all of the wrongs of Jim Crow, it is difficult to know where to begin in thinking about compensation to African Americans. Housing discrimination offers a focal point that has at least two advantages: it is recent (indeed, there is evidence of racially based housing discrimination up to the present day) and it is quantifi able. The recent and ongoing nature of housing discrimination means that no one can dismiss arguments for compensation based on it as purely academic, as focusing on the distant past, or anything of the sort. The fact that the effects of housing discrimination are quantifi able is another advantage: if reparations are to be paid, we would want to have an estimate of the amount, or at least the magnitude of the appropriate payment. Making inferences from readily available data on housing values allows us to do this. Focusing on housing also places the spotlight on the “wealth gap” between Black and White Americans, which is an important continuing aspect of racial inequality in the United States. "
Only through Reparations and helping the black community get on an equal footing with the rest of society can we make any significant progress in stoping the violence againt the black community so endemic in our system. and as long as this is not addressed seriously the rest of society will be dragged into more and more turmoil and unrest. Peace cannot come without a commitment to real change. Bit by bit as we make the lives of younger blacks easier the deep wound may heal and hateful racism end.
Recommended Source Books to read
“Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” by Ibram X Kendi
“The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander
“When They Call You A Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele
* William Edward Burghardt Du Bois February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) was an American sociologist, socialist, historian, civil rights activist, Pan-Africanist, author, writer and editor.
(1) Wells was an African American journalist, abolitionist and feminist who led an anti-lynching crusade in the United States in the 1890s. She went on to found and become integral in groups striving for African American justice.
(4) Historian Sally Hadden: 'Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas'-
(13) - Chad Williams, Professor of History and African and African American Studies at Brandeis University
for more info on the Tulsa masacre: https://medium.com
HOUSING DISCRIMINATION AS A BASIS FOR BLACK REPARATIONS by Jonathan Kaplan and Andrew Valls: PDF file:
Article on the coronavirus and how and why it is disproportionately affecting Black, latinx and indigenous communities:
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