“Good gracious. Anybody hurt?”
“No’m. Killed a nigger.”
“Well, it’s lucky because sometimes people do get hurt.”
Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn (1884)
Dear Young fella:
It’s confusing… it’s scary… it makes you want to lash out out. You feel like hurting someone… You feel like burning this muthafucka down! Shit ain’t right… Time after time… Day after day… You see the same thing. The images are displayed over and over on a multitudinous array of cable news networks.
Participant in Ferguson Rebellion
By now the script has been etched in your brain, “young Black male killed by police, no charges will be filed against officer.” Over and over again, we see unarmed Black males gunned down in an instant. There’s never any doubt about what happened. White police officer killed the unarmed Black male.
How the fuck are these assholes NOT charged, prosecuted and convicted?
The problem young fella… what you have a hard time understanding… what is causing you to feel the way you feel is the fact these acts are not “crimes” in America! Whites killing unarmed Black males, like YOU, while enforcing the “rule of law” has always been encouraged and rewarded. The “law” in the United States of America was NEVER intended to protect YOU young fella. The fact that you are frustrated and surprised by the manner in which the legal system dispenses “justice” in these matters is prima facie evidence of your mis-education.
I apologize… I’m truly sorry… I have complicit in this mis-education. As a teacher, mentor and adviser I have failed to arm you with an adequate understanding of where you live and how the legal system was designed to work. I have failed to clearly illustrate and explain how deeply ingrained the “legalization” of Black suppression is in American history. Like so many in my generation, I have allowed you to grow up believing that the phrase “Equal Justice under Law” applies to you.
For that, I apologize… I sincerely apologize for allowing you to actually believe that the high-minded ideas put forth by America’s Found Father’s actually guide the American legal system as it relates to you. That was a very big mistake on my part.
I promise from this moment forward to be brutally honest with you… Young fella, from it’s inception, the American legal system has adjudicated and upheld racial deprivation. For well over two centuries, the language of the “law” has shielded the consciousness of white Americans from the plight of Black human beings subjected to inhumane, brutal yet perfectly “legal” and acceptable behaviors of white “law enforcement” officials.
Same shit… Different day…
Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Oscar Grant are merely some of the latest victims of America’s inhumane and immoral law enforcement and legal processes. They are among the latest links in a chain of legalized oppression and brutality that stretches back to colonial America.
Young fella… when it come to protecting the rights of Blacks against oppressive, brutal and even murderous police behaviors, American laws ain’t SHIT! They have NEVER been fair… The American legal system was NEVER been designed or intended to protect your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
George Junius Stinney, Jr. age 14, the youngest person executed in the USA in the 20th century
Truth be told young fella, you need to completely disregard the phrase Equal justice under law engraved on the front of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. Trying to bring that ideal in line with the actual experiences of your fellow Black males across this nation only causes confusion and deeply seated angst.
The racist oppressive patterns on display in contemporary America and the possibilities for your children and grandchildren are buried in the American past. It is here that you must begin your attempt to understand what just took place in Ferguson, Missouri. Unfortunately, none of the mainstream – white controlled – media outlets and very few teachers have the fortitude required to provide you with the tools necessary to uncover this past.
As a result, you don’t know… you are lost… you have been mis-educated.
Please allow me to introduce you to the American legal system. More than any other legal system in the modern world, with the possible exception of Apartheid South Africa, the United States has devised and implemented a legal system which is simultaneously racist, brutally oppressive and committed to the protection of white individual and property rights: a white supremacist/democratic legal system.
Let’s take cursory look at some of the ways the American legal process was developed to establish, protect and enforce the rights of individual whites, whites as a group and white institutions while simultaneously imposing restraints on Blacks. As you struggle to digest and comprehend the failure of the system to hold Mike Brown’s killer accountable, it is a perfect time to assess the historical trajectory of the interrelationship between race and the American legal process.
It pains me to watch you trying to make sense of the racial dynamics playing out in police stations and courtrooms across America. The time has come… Youngfella… you must face the truth of the white supremacist foundations and origins of America’s legal system with YOUR eyes wide open. Only then will the lack of significant legal consequences for the killings of unarmed Black men at the hands of “law enforcement” officials begin to make sense. Only then will you understand how such horrific actions are fully compliant with the “rule of law.”
For centuries… “law enforcement” officials have had license to kill YOU. Despite what YOU have been taught, the rights afforded to American citizens have never been fully extended to Blacks, especially males.
This fact is indisputable.
All you have to do is place YOURSELF in American society at any point in America’s history and you will begin to understand that George Junius Stinney, Jr., Emmett Till, Mike Brown and Eric Garner are inextricably interrelated.
Emmett Till, Murdered at 14 in Mississippi. White Supremacist killers confessed after being acquitted during a trial
Young fella… I must warn you… Since YOU have been taught to think of the law as a neutral instrument serving the entire community, it will be disconcerting to see that American laws were written and enforced in the most blatantly racist manner, favoring whites over Blacks. The American educational system is incapable of speaking truth to power. Only Blacks with awareness and knowledge can impart it to you.
Let’s go back to the very beginning… This problems you see in Ferguson and New York existed before the States were united.
In 1755, Colonial Georgia passed laws entitled “An Act for the Better Ordering and Governing Negroes and Other Slaves in This Province.” Ponder, for a moment, the following question: How were the rights of people like YOU protected under these “laws”? Place yourself, a young Black man, in Colonial America. Take a minute… Imagine YOU simply could no longer continue living as the equivalent to a mule, cow or pig… Imagine YOU wanted to find your Momma, you long for your Dad, you want to find your sister, you need to be reunited with your wife and your children that had been sold and shipped away… Suppose you decided to leave your “home” and set out in search of your family and/or your freedom… What did the “law” say about your right to do so?
According to the prevailing “law” in Colonial America, there was no prohibition for killing YOU. In fact, your killer would be rewarded. According to the “law,” a “law enforcement” official was given one pound sterling for presenting YOUR “scalp with two ears.” That’s right… As they say the “law” is clear… YOUR “scalp with two ears” attached to it could be submitted for remuneration.
Your “scalp with two ears” could be exchanged for cash.
I know… I know… That’s not the way the story is told in American movies and literature. In the old cowboy westerns they constantly talked about Native Americans “scalping” innocent white people. Scalping is always associated with the “savage” Native Americans. In reality, however, white Americans were rewarded for scalping Black men with the temerity to actually desire freedom.
Young fella… This is a clear example of how Colonial American legal systems dealt with YOU. In some ways, barbaric Colonial laws such as this foretell contemporary events. Over the past couple of years, George Zimmerman “presented” local officials in Sanford and state officials in Florida with Trayvon Martin’s corpse. He was rewarded with donations totaling at least $314,099.17 to his legal defense fund. Officer Darren Wilson “presented” official in Ferguson with Mike Brown’s corpse and in excess of $432,000.00 was donated to his legal defense fund.
Think about that young fella… think about that… Understand the beast YOU are dealing with…
You have been taught that the Founding Fathers devised the preeminent example of modern liberal democracy. You have been repeatedly told that they developed a government based on popular consent with respect for the equal rights of all.
Young fella you were mis-educated!
You were intentionally deceived. The standard story of America’s formation is deceptive because it is too narrow. They were teaching you the history of relationships among a small minority of Americans. They were focusing exclusively on relationships among wealthy white men of predominantly northern European ancestry.
A truer telling of America’s history would place white male supremacist ideologies at center of the plot. It would go something like this: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of White Supremacy…
The narrative would spell out the racist and sexist practices that defined the relationships between this relatively small white male minority with the overwhelming majority of the population constituting the subjugated groups (Blacks, Native Americans and women).
Young fella… When these white supremacist, racist, sexist elements are kept in plain view the history of America’s legal system looks quite different. My aim here is to help you understand that the historical frame of reference and the analytical tools provided to you in school are inadequate. The experiences of your ancestors have been, more or less, written out of the script. As such, the tools provided by the American educational system are simply inadequate form performing the task at hand. Greater understanding of contemporary legal proceedings and racial strife can be achieved by replacing the narrowly circumscribed lessons they teach in school with a more realistic view of America.
Southern Chain Gang, circa 1903
So young fella… at it’s founding in 1787, how did the United States, legally speaking, deal with YOU? How were Black men taken into account? For purposes of taxation and representation, the “Founding Fathers” determined that YOU would count as 3/5 of a human being. You were considered about 60% of a human being. The importation of captured and enslaved Blacks from Africa was given constitutional protection for another twenty years. Also, enslaved Blacks who escaped from one state to another had to be delivered to the original owner upon claim, a provision that was UNANIMOUSLY adopted by the “Founding Fathers.”
The Three-Fifths Compromise, is located in Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the Constitution. It reads as follows:
“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.“
Moreover, from the moment of inception, US constitutional and legal processes continued and further perpetuated the racial injustice and oppression that prevailed in Colonial America.
When white males of northern European descent set out to “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” they did not include YOU the the equation. YOU were most likely enslaved and they intended for you to remain enslaved for the duration of your natural life. More specifically, the federal “law” they developed expressly forbade YOU from changing your status by escaping to another part of the country.
The Founding Fathers inserted the following in Article IV, Section 2:
No Person held to Service or Labour in one sate, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.
Youngfella… YOU had no rights in America upon it’s founding. If you were taught otherwise in school you have been hoodwinked… you have been bamboozled.
Seventy years later, the US Supreme Court would make YOUR legal standing painfully clear. Unfortunately, it seems that many Americans, in general, and teachers, in particular, would rather distort the history of this nation than face the extent to which the American legal system was designed and intended to uphold and strengthen the concept of white supremacy. Nonetheless, in a rather remarkable moment of clarity and honesty the nature of the American legal system was laid bare for all to see… if they are willing to look.
In 1857, the Supreme Court handed down a monumental decision in the case Scott v. Sanford. Dred Scott was an enslaved Black man whose owner had taken him to live in free areas of the country. Having witnessed freedom, having smelled freedom, having tasted freedom, having touched freedom, Scott longed for it to such an extent that he took dramatic steps to attain it. Scott sued for his freedom on the grounds that living on free soil rendered his “enslaved” status null and void. He tried to utilize the American “legal system” to gain control of his destiny and his labor. Scott sought recognition of his basic humanity in the courts.
Like so many Black Americans today, Scott didn’t fair very well in the courts. Youngfella… This is what Chief Justice Roger B. Taney wrote in response to Scott’s claim:
“It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
Hold up… Hold up… Let’s take our time and review the core of the Supreme Court ruling again…. Blacks have “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”
That, young fella, was the law of the land as interpreted by the US Supreme Court.
America’s educational system, with its’ extensive focus on white male political actors and their conflicts with one another, has failed abysmally to teach YOU (and white for that matter) how the rights of Blacks have been systematically suppressed through the legal system. Every day in classrooms across America, “certified” teachers fail to help Blacks understand how the “rule of law” has been very effectively used as a weapon in the hands of those committed to maintaining white supremacy in the United States of America.
In this subtle and nuanced way, white males have been “rioting” in American legislative houses and courtrooms for more than three centuries.
Following a brief period of enlightenment (1865-1877) at the end of the Civil War, white supremacists, once again, utilized the American legal system to systematically deprive Blacks of the most basic rights and protection from abuse. Beginning in the 1870’s Jim Crow “laws” started to emerge across the American South. Through these laws, YOU were separated from whites is areas of public life. YOU were relegated to inferior accommodations on trains, in depots and on wharves.
Jim Crow Drinking Fountain county courthouse lawn, Halifax, North Carolina, 1938
The Supreme Court, once again, affirmed YOUR lack of legal standing by outlawing the Civil Rights Acts of 1875. In an instant, you were effectively banned from white hotels, barber shops, restaurants and theaters. Across much of the country, there “laws” were enacted requiring separate schools.
In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld, sanctioned and formally legalized Apartheid-like segregation is the form of the “separate but equal” principal in the Plessy v. Ferguson ruling. With that ruling, the American legal system entrenched a white supremacist caste system that perpetuated the racial exploitation and financial super-exploitation of individual Blacks and Black families families for the better part of the next century.
Legally sanctioned American Apartheid would reign supreme for the next seven decades.
Like YOU today, Blacks at the turn of the 20th century searched for answers… They tried to figure out the best way to deal with white supremacy and the racist dynamics of the American social/economic/political/legal systems.
By 1920, many Blacks were searching for an escape from the explicitly white supremacist, rigidly racist and profoundly oppressive American social order. Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) attracted millions of followers. The UNIA was an ambitious organization of people of African descent which encouraged people of color to look to Africa both as an ancestral homeland and a hope for a future. Garvey claimed over 2,000,000 UNIA members by 1919. A year later, he claimed over 4,000,000 had joined the movement.
By 1921, Garvey was the leader of the largest Black organization of its’ type in American history. Frustrated Blacks flocked to the UNIA. As of August 1921, there were 418 charted division and another 422 awaiting charters. If one factors in another 19 chapters, there were a total of 859 UNIA branches.
By 1923, Garvey was convicted of mail fraud. Young fella… The American “legal” system was the means by by which the Garvey movement was destroyed.
Marcus Garvey, 1924
This how American “justice” worked for Garvey. In a memorandum dated 11 October 1919, J. Edgar Hoover, the future Head of the FBI wrote: “Unfortunately, however, he [Garvey] has not as yet violated any federal law whereby he could be proceeded against on the grounds of being an undesirable alien, from the point of view of deportation.” They were not investigating any criminal activity. Clearly, Hoover explicitly acknowledges that Garvey wasn’t engaged in any criminal activity. The aim… young fella… was to deport Garvey and eliminate him as a threat given his proven ability to mobilize Black Americans. The “law” would be used to suppress his “Back-to-Africa” movement.
Toward this end, in November 1919 an investigation was begun into the activities of Garvey and the UNIA. Toward this end, Federal “law enforcement” agencies hired James Edward Amos, Arthur Lowell Brent, Thomas Leon Jefferson, James W. Jones, and Earl E. Titus as its first five African-American agents.
On January 12, 1922 Garvey was arrested for alleged mail fraud. In 1923 he was convicted. In February 1925, his appeals ran out and he entered the federal penitentiary at Atlanta. In 1927 his sentence was commuted and he was deported to Jamaica where his ship landed on December 10, 1927.
From the perspective of a white supremacist government and legal system, the mission – deportation of Garvey – was accomplished.
White supremacy was firmly entrenched.
Slowly, beginning in the 1940’s organizations led by men such as A. Phillip Randolph began to slowly chip away at the edges of white supremacist hegemony. A significant factor allowing this progress was attempt by the century’s greatest white supremacist, Adolph Hitler, to subjugate the European continent. Fully engaged engaged in World War II, the US government desperately needed Black soldiers in the arena and Black labor in the factories. Recognizing the increased leverage they possessed Black leaders pressed for increased opportunities in the workplace.
The fierce opposition faced by Blacks seeking gainful employment provides a stark illustration of the depth and breadth of white supremacist ideologies and patently racist practices in cities like Philadelphia, Pa.
First black motormen for Philadelphia’s transit system
On August 1, 1944, eight Black men began training for trolley car driver jobs within the Philadelphia Transit Company (PTC). These were solid relatively well-paying jobs. White PTC workers refused to work alongside Black trolley drivers. Thousands of racist whites chose to shutdown the entire public transportation system rather accept eight Black men into their ranks. On the first day of the strike, 3,000 PTC workers gathered in a trolley car barn and made clear their determination to remain off the job until the Blacks were removed from trolley car driver positions.
Once the strike was underway, fueled by white supremacist notions, PTC workers began to “wild out.” Immediately, it became unsafe for African Americans to travel in predominantly white sections of the city. A group of whites driving through black neighborhood shot a 13-year-old African American girl without warning. There were other instances of racially motivated – white on Black – violence in the city the night after the strike began and the following morning.
The racist PTC workers impacted the war effort. After one day of striking, U.S. Army production of war materials in Philadelphia was cut in half due to the transit stoppage, and Navy production diminished by 70%. War workers could not get to their jobs. On a daily basis, the PTC carried 300,000 war workers.
On Friday, August 4, the committee representing 6,000 PTC employees on strike met for the third day and unanimously approved continuing the strike until PTC revoked its decision to promote the eight African American workers.
Young fella… 6,000 white Philadelphians were striking, engaging in terroristic violence and, as a result, holding up war production in Philadelphia because they did not want eight (8) Black men to work as trolley car drivers.
White supremacy is a muthafucka…
However, they miscalculated President Roosevelt’s resolve. On Saturday, August 5, President Roosevelt sent 5,000 heavily armed soldiers into Philadelphia to crush the strike by whatever means necessary. The Army set up encampments in Fairmount Park and brought in ammunition, including machine guns.
The strike, which was the largest racially motivated strike of the World War II era and led to the loss of over 4,000,000 man-hours in war production factories, ended on the morning of Monday, August 7, 1944. By September 1944, all eight African Americans were driving PTC trolleys.
Young fella… It literally took 5,000 armed federal troops, at the height of WWII, to integrate 8 Black trolley car drivers into the Philadelphia Transit Company.
That’s American history… That’s Philadelphia history… Your teachers do not cover this…
I know you have learned about Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Right’s Movement of the 1950s and 1960s… Those lessons are taught ad infinitum for 28 days every February…
Your ability to understand the rampant killings of unarmed Black men would be greatly enhanced by greater awareness of manner in which the white supremacist ideas have persisted throughout US history. YOU would recognize immediately that Black corpses have long appeared after visits from US “law enforcement” agents.
By the late 1960s, the Black Panther Party had more or less succeeded the Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as the most influential Black organization in America. By the end of 1968, the Panthers had chapters in several dozen states and a membership in excess of 5,ooo.
By the end of 1969, the Black Panthers had been targeted by 233 separate “law enforcement” actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover. This was fifty years after Hoover initiated his effort to neutralize of Marcus Garvey. That year 27 Black Panther Party members were killed by local, state and federal police. Another 749 were jailed or arrested.
Hoover was particularly concerned with an extremely bright, articulate and politically astute young Panther from Chicago. Fred Hampton was 19 years old when the FBI opened on him in 1967. Over the next twenty four months, Hampton’s FBI file expanded to twelve volumes and over 4000 pages. The Feds placed a tap on Hampton’s mother’s phone in February 1968. By May of that year, Hampton’s name was placed on the “Agitator Index”, and he would be designated a “key militant leader for Bureau reporting purposes.”
Fred Hampton, Black Panther Party
In late 1968, the FBI’s Chicago field office brought in an individual named William O’Neal. In exchange for having felony charges dropped and a monthly stipend, O’Neal agreed to infiltrate the BPP as a counterintelligence operative. He joined the Party and quickly rose in the organization, becoming Director of Chapter security and Hampton’s bodyguard.
On the evening of December 3, 1969, O’Neal slipped a powerful sleep drug into a drink that Hampton consumed during the dinner. His aim was to incapacitate Hampton so he would not awaken during the subsequent police raid. O’Neal then left Hampton’s apartment. Around 1:30 a.m., Hampton fell asleep in mid-sentence talking to his mother on a wire tapped telephone.
At 4:00 a.m., the heavily armed police team arrived at the site, divided into two teams, eight for the front of the building and six for the rear. At 4:45 a.m., they stormed into the apartment. O’Neal provided the FBI with a detailed map of Hampton’s apartment.
Map of Hampton’s Apartment provided by FBI Informant William O’Neal
Once the raid ensued Mark Clark, sitting in the front room of the apartment with a shotgun in his lap, was shot in the heart and died instantly. His gun fired a single round which was later determined to be caused by a reflexive death convulsion after he was shot. By all accounts, this was the only shot the Panthers fired. The police fired between 82-99 shots.
Fred Hampton’s mattress and bullet holes in wall
The police showered the head of the south bedroom where Hampton slept with automatic gunfire. Hampton was heavily sedated and unable to awaken as a result of the barbiturates O’Neal had slipped into his drink. He was lying on a mattress in the bedroom with his pregnant fiancée, who was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with their child. Two police officers discovered him with a severe wound in his shoulder. Another Black Panther Harold Bell reported that he heard the following exchange:
- “That’s Fred Hampton.”
- “Is he dead?… Bring him out.”
- “He’s barely alive.
- “He’ll make it.”
Fred Hampton’s dead body on floor of his apartment
Two shots were heard, which it was later discovered were fired point blank in Hampton’s head. According to Johnson, one officer then said:
- “He’s good and dead now.”
Youngfella… despite all of this evidence… The federal grand jury did not return any indictment against anyone involved with the planning or execution of the raid. Just like Officer Darren Wilson in the Mike Brown case, the killers of Mark Clark and Fred Hampton were NEVER held accountable for their actions. They walked… Just like Darren Wilson, the officers involved in the raid were cleared by a grand jury of any crimes.
The FBI snitch, William O’Neal, killed himself in 1990 after admitting his role in setting up the assassination of Hampton.
Young fella… As I said at the outset… Whites killing unarmed Black males, like YOU, while enforcing the “rule of law” has always been encouraged and rewarded. The “law” in the United States of America was NEVER intended to protect you youngfella. The fact that you are frustrated and surprised by the manner in which the legal system dispenses “justice” in these matters is prima facie evidence of your mis-education.
I should’ve told you how they do us…
Delgreco K. Wilson