Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Black Lives Matter!... History vs Histrionics

A number of prominent commentators in American media are twisting themselves into unfortunate rhetorical and pseudo-factual knots in their efforts to delegitimize the Black Lives Matter movement. It is worthy of note that this relatively young civil rights action now has growing International support in its efforts to draw attention to the outrageous actions of some white actors in our law enforcement community. One such commentator is the very prominent former Mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, who, in his usual cultural incoherence, recently called BLM "inherently racist". Commentators like the former Mayor seem to find a certain inconvenience in those little facts of life we have collected and know as the history of our nation.

According to Victor E. Kappeler PhD, Foundation Professor and Dean of the School of Justice Studies in the College of Justice and Safety at Eastern Kentucky University:

Eric Garner Chokehold Death: NY <b>Police</b> Union Chief Praises Grand Jury ..."The institution of slavery and the control of minorities, ... were two of the more formidable historic features of American society shaping early policing. Slave patrols and Night Watches, which later became modern police departments, were both designed to control the behavior of minorities."

Professor Kappeler, whose work in this area is recognized worldwide, strengthens his assertions via other scholarly sources (Turner, Giacopassi and Vandiver) who point out:

"... the literature clearly establishes that a legally sanctioned law enforcement system existed in America before the Civil War for the express purpose of controlling the slave population and protecting the interests of slave owners.The similarities between the slave patrols and modern American policing are too salient to dismiss or ignore. Hence, the slave patrol should be considered a forerunner of modern American law enforcement."

Professor Kappeler underlines these observations when he states:

"In no small part because of the tradition of slavery, Blacks have long been targets of abuse. The use of patrols to capture runaway slaves was one of the precursors of formal police forces, especially in the South. This disastrous legacy persisted as an element of the police role even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In some cases, police harassment simply meant people of African descent were more likely to be stopped and questioned by the police, while at the other extreme, they have suffered beatings, and even murder, at the hands of White police. Questions still arise today about the disproportionately high numbers of people of African descent killed, beaten, and arrested by police in major urban cities of America."

Anyone witnessing the blatant criminal brutality demonstrated in the actions of members of police forces in today's Louisiana, Minneapolis, Ferguson, New York City, South Carolina, Tulsa, and other American cities and states, must stop to reflect on the origins of American policing as documented by Kappeler and other such scholars. There can be no doubt that the behavior of the officers in question, and those who continue to attempt to justify their behavior, must be understood in the context of this history. We must not be distracted by the usual red herring of "black on black violence" constantly being waved in our faces by those who will not face up to the facts of racism in our police practice

It is a well known fact that the majority of crimes in any group are committed by members of that group. There are criminals in every demographic, we make no excuses for any of them. To point however to the prevalence of criminal activity in certain inner city neighborhoods as a means of bypassing the very real issue of racism in law enforcement is nothing more than an excuse for continuing to provide cover for those who need to be weeded out of our police forces and prosecuted. The struggle in which Black Lives Matter is engaged seeks to create and maintain a focus on the reality that the terror that characterized slave society continues in the actions of White police officers who have a view of people of color rooted in the dynamics of Slavery and its aftermath.

To Rudy Giuliani and others like himself I would say... Let us not forget our history. As terribly inconvenient as it may be to those who would resist needed change, we have a moral duty to continue to shine a bright light on the unfortunate legacy of a holocaust that lasted over 400 years. Not to do so is to create for ourselves a potentially tragic path forward. The wisdom of learning from our past is nourishment for all of us, and more than that... it is the medicine we need. It has been noted that "In the abundance of water, the fool remains thirsty." The evidence of the existence of an insidious bigotry is all around us. Numbers don't lie. People of color are tracked, harassed, shot, arrested, and imprisoned at a rate far disproportionate to our segment of the population. Ultimately there is no reasonable justification for this from any reputable source.

It may well be the case that in the course of the rat race that typifies the efforts of some commentators to get paid, moral compromises in analysis are par for the course. Those hired to offer such analysis must balance their own existential needs with the demands of truthfulness. The debate about matters of life and death in which we are engaged can get very heated. We sometimes experience reality from perspectives informed by... our various needs? The glare of television, the temptations of fame, our anxieties about maintaining the status quo, the appeal of dollar signs... all these things tug against our tongues and our thoughts. We may be pulled to and fro between our prejudices and principle... Ultimately however, histrionics are no substitute for history.

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