As we struggle to battle with a worldwide pandemic, racial issues from the past are creeping back into the forefront or our daily lives.
The case of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia shows another senseless killing of an unarmed black person. In Central Park in New York a white woman uses her sense of privilege to call 911 on a black man who had the audacity to ask her to follow park rules by placing a leash on her dog. She claimed on the call that he threatened her. He films the incident on his cell phone, the video goes viral, and she is fired from her job then issues a useless apology. During the video she says “I’m being threatened by a man… send the cops immediately.”
In Minneapolis recently 46-year-old George Floyd died after a police officer sat on him with a knee in his neck as he said “I can’t breathe” much like Eric Garner did in New York in 2014. Mayor Jacob Frey said “The technique that was used is not permitted; is not a technique that our officers get trained in on. And our chief has been very clear on that piece. There is no reason to apply that kind of pressure with a knee to someone’s neck.” Another dead unarmed black man who posed no discernible threat.
White people keep feeling the need to call 911 when black people are minding their business and living their lives in spaces that white people apparently don’t want them in. We remember “Barbeque Becky,” “Permit Patty,” “Cornerstone Caroline,” and “Golfcart Gail” as white women who’ve become enshrined in the hall of shame for irrational calls to 911 about “dangerous” black people. The memes are all over the place and many find them funny. I don’t
These are the modern day equivalents of white women using their privileged status and having black people lynched in this country. Many recall the case of 14-year-old Emmett Till being murdered because a white woman lied about him flirting with her in 1955 in Money, Mississippi. What we don’t hear is that in 2017, over sixty years later she admits she made it up.
One of the oldest lies told about black men in America is that we are natural born rapists. When rape was punishable by death in the early twentieth century black men were lynched and executed in large number in many cases when white women falsely accusing them of rape. Civil authorities in this country executed 455 men for rape and 405 of them were black, most likely accused of raping white women because the authorities ignored the rape of black women and girls.
While black men were being roasted alive for accusations of sexual transgressions, white men and boys were raping black and brown women and girls with impunity across the country. Even when the so-called criminal justice system was used it had an uncanny resemblance to the lynch mobs of the time.
“In 1912, newspapers around Virginia reported that a young white widow named Bertha Ferguson had been attacked and raped. Within hours, police had apprehended Alfred Wright an eighteen-year-old black man… the sheriff announced that the evidence against him was ‘complete.’ Two days later, Wright’s case went to trial… Wright was quickly convicted and sentenced to death. Wright’s trial was reportedly the speediest trial and conviction that ever took place in the State, the jury having deliberated only fifteen minutes before returning its guilty verdict to the expectant crowd. – Lisa Lindquist Dorr, “White Women, Rape & The Power of Race in Virginia 1900-1960”
Ida B. Wells-Barnett investigated lynchings of blacks with the intention of discovering the truth, which was often clouded in racist accounts of what led to lynchings of black men. One of the most commonly held beliefs about the 5,000 documented lynchings in this country is that black men were most often lynched for rapes. Wells-Barnett wanted to correct the historical record. She became the most forceful voice for anti-lynching in the country. She was able to show that the charge of murder was way more common for black male lynching victims. In many of these cases the authorities disregarded cries of self-defense by the black men. When Well’s three friends and colleagues Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Stewart were lynched in Memphis in 1862 she set about her on journey across the country investigating and documenting lynchings.
She wrote a controversial editorial in the weekly Free Speech newspaper questioning the “threadbare lie” that most black men were lynched for raping white women. She found evidence that rape was used as an excuse when consensual relations between black men and white women were exposed. Angry mobs of whites descended on the offices of the paper intending to kill her but she was out of time. Her business partner J.L. Fleming was threatened by the mob, which destroyed their printing press and office. She left and moved to New York.
“Hundreds of such cases might be cited, but enough have been given to prove the assertion that there are white women in the South who love the Afro-American’s company even as there are white men notorious for their preference for Afro-American women. There is hardly a town in the South which has not an instance of the kind which is well known, and hence the assertion is reiterated that “nobody in the South believes the old thread bare lie that negro men rape white women.” – Ida B. Wells-Barnett, “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases”
She began to publish numerous articles about the lynchings she investigated. She described lynchings as a tool of whites to destroy black political and economic power. She noted that lynchings were state supported murder and terrorism allowing whites to take black lives with no fear of being punished.
In one infamous case in New Orleans in 1892 two black men were minding their own business, sitting on steps in front of a home when they were accosted by three white police officers even though there was no suspicion that they had committed a crime. The police officers decided to arrest the two men, Robert Charles and Leonard Pierce. A fight ensued when Officer Mora put a gun to Charles’ head after beating him. Charles defended himself drawing his weapon. Both men were shot.
When police arrived at a home where Charles was hiding out they had an order to kill him on site. Charles responded once again by defending himself and shot two police officers intent on killing him first. As was to be expected when Charles escaped to save his life a bounty was placed on his head and announced by the Mayor of New Orleans.
“Under the authority vested in me by law, I hereby offer, in the name of the city of New Orleans, $250 reward for the capture and delivery, dead or alive, to the authorities of the city, the body of the Negro murderer.”
After escaping with his life a second time he was finally surrounded by a mob of 20,000 angry whites. For days roving mobs of whites had beaten and killed blacks in the city while pursuing Charles and letting their anger out on innocent blacks.
Charles was able to wound several mob members while attempting to escape. They set the home ablaze wile firing dozens of shots into the burning building. Charles once again escaped by dashing out of the house into a neighboring building where he was shot first by Dr. C.A. Noiret and then by a number of members of the mob. His corpse was dragged out of the building and riddled with more bullets. A cry of “Burn him! Burn him!” went out. Mobsters beat, kicked and shot his corpse while others looked for kerosene, which had been acquired to burn him out of his refuge. The officers prevented them from burning the body and tossed his remains into the back of a wagon. Angry members of the mob followed behind poking and striking Charles’ head with sticks.
Charles’ death was one in along line of blacks killed for minding their own business. Just as Ahmaud Abery was out jogging and was murdered by a group of white men who claim they were attempting to make a “citizens arrest” the white woman in Central Park, Amy Cooper endangered the life of a black man named Christian Cooper whose only defense was to videotape the incident. This could have easily led to an encounter with police and another senseless death.
This is why I don’t find these incidents funny. Many of them have ended with black people being killed. Ida B. Wells-Barnett in 1892 told us, “Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so. The awful death-roll that Judge Lynch is calling every week is appalling, not only because of the lives it takes, the rank cruelty and outrage to the victims, but because of the prejudice it fosters and the stain it places against the good name of a weak race. The Afro-American is not a bestial race.”
“Eight lynched in one week and five of them charged with rape! The thinking public will not easily believe freedom and education more brutalizing than slavery, and the world knows that the crime of rape was unknown during four years of civil war, when the white women of the South were at the mercy of the race which is all at once charged with being a bestial one… there are many white women in the South who would marry colored men if such an act would not place them at once beyond the pale of society and within the clutches of the law. The miscegenation laws of the South only operate against the legitimate union of the races; they leave the white man free to seduce all the colored girls he can, but it is death to the colored man who yields to the force and advances of a similar attraction in white women. White men lynch the offending Afro-American, not because he is a despoiler of virtue, but because he succumbs to the smiles of white women.”
The fear of black men by white women, white men and police officers is as prevalent today as it was one hundred years ago. The police chief fired the four officers involved in the death of George Floyd. As is to be expected, The Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis issued a statement saying, “Now is not the time rush to (judgment) and immediately condemn our officers. Officers’ actions and training protocol will be carefully examined after the officers have provided their statements.”
We have seen far too many of these incidents. This irrational fear of blacks is playing out during the pandemic in much the same way as it did pre-COVID-19. America has not changed its stripes. Many whites still harbor a great deal of racial resentment against blacks and use their privileged place in American society to freely take the law into their own hands or in the case of multiple white women call for “help” knowing their pleas will typically be answered.
As we frantically fight for a vaccine for the novel coronavirus I wish that as much effort was put into finding a vaccine to cure whites of their fear of black men, women and children.
Rіchаrd Tsong-Tааtаrіі, Carlоs Gonzаlеz, and Kеrеm Yucеl