I’m old enough to remember the late 1960s, when it seemed like almost every time I turned on the TV, there was a new report of rioting and burning by black people in an American city.
Almost every one was touched off by a real or imaginary report of police abuse of a black person.
The divisions in American society today are bad enough, but, believe me, they were nothing compared to the division back then.
Could we return to that era? Eric Hoffer in The True Believer wrote that violent revolutions happen when downtrodden people are offered hope, and then that hope is taken away from them. I think this feeling exists today among all kinds of people, not just racial minorities.
It’s true that a poor black person in a crime-ridden neighborhood is much more likely to be killed by another black person than by a police officer. But, as Rod Dreher, who lives in north Louisiana, pointed out, there are reasons why black people focus on police killings.
I don’t know that I would have been able to grasp this before working with Wendell Pierce on his memoir, and talking to his family members about their history. Wendell’s uncles and aunts remember in the 1940s how the Klan rode into their neighborhood — they were all poor farmers who lived along the bayou — one night, doused a black family’s new car with gasoline, and set it afire. “Let this be a lesson to you n—gers,” one said. The family that bought that car had scraped and saved for a long time. It was the only car in the whole neighborhood. They had told all their neighbors that they would use it to take them to the doctor, to the grocery store, and such.
The Klan members were hooded and robed, but everybody knew who they were. They included law enforcement. In my own town, within living memory of the oldest people living here, the sheriff gathered a lynching party, hunted down a black man he believed guilty of raping a white woman, and when they caught him, hanged him that night without trial. It quickly emerged that he was innocent, without a shadow of doubt. You think that corrupt sheriff had to pay for his crime, or any of the deputies who helped him?
Closer to our present time, a sitting judge in our judicial district was a member of the Klan. Most of the people who lived in this district at the time were black. What kind of justice do you think they could expect in that judge’s court? These are just two small stories from a small place, but those people — the lynching sheriff and the Klansman judge — were the face of law enforcement in my parish in the pre-Civil Rights era.
This is a history that white people don’t know. But black people do.
I tell you that not to diminish unjustified police shootings, but as part of a post that adds context to this hideous situation we are all facing as a country.
Police officers in north Baton Rouge every single day have to contend with a world crawling with armed criminals who kill each other at alarming rates. I can’t imagine doing that for a living. Can you?
At the same time … there is no denying the burden of historical memory in the black community, from a time when the law could do whatever it wanted to them with impunity.
Still, if civilians start killing cops, all bets are off. That is one thing that civilization absolutely cannot tolerate.
I don’t have good answers as to what to do. What are yours?
The Dallas Atrocity by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.
Dallas Shootings: Don’t Mention the (Race) War by Peter Lee for China Matters.
The Uncomfortable Reason Why It Came to This in Dallas by Leon H. Wolf for RedState [added later]