Law and Order and Racism

Not the first time Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has been mentioned on this site. In this interview with Anand Giridharadas at The.Ink, he openly says what many of his colleagues in the Senate have not.

I think it’s interesting that, as violent as America is around the revolution, we don’t start to become a global outlier of violence until the slave population explodes. There’s a ton of violence in America in the 1600s and 1700s, but from the data we can glean, it looks like America’s homicide rate doesn’t start to go into the stratosphere until we have so many enslaved Americans that violence is the defining feature of the American economy.

To me, violence explains a lot about how America has ordered itself from the very beginning. But, for many of our formative years after the Constitution’s signing until the eradication of slavery, it took just massive, mind-numbing amounts of violence to keep America’s economy running. It stands to reason that we became anesthetized to that violence during that period. I don’t think that we’ve ever got our sense of feeling back.

Giridharadas, Anand. (2020, September 15). America’s real law-and-order problem is racism. The.Ink. https://the.ink/p/americas-real-law-and-order-problem

Giridharadas himself doesn’t mince words either.

When pollsters ask voters about “law and order,” or when leaders promise to secure it, here is what many white Americans seem to have in mind: pure, placid, milk-colored communities living in perfect harmony, until darker-skinned people violently intrude.

In the minds of many of the suburban white voters who, in our peculiar system, have a disproportionate influence over election outcomes, peace is the default condition of white America, and violence is something that bubbles up from Black and brown communities that must be kept in check.

And so it was striking to me, in interviewing Senator Chris Murphy some days ago, that he rightly turned the law-and-order issue on its head. America, he notes in his new book, is the most violent country in the advanced world, and long has been. And he makes no bones about why: white people’s racism. Because from its earliest days America committed itself to an economic model dependent on chattel slavery, Murphy told me, “it took just massive, mind-numbing amounts of violence to keep America’s economy running. It stands to reason that we became anesthetized to that violence during that period. I don’t think that we’ve ever got our sense of feeling back.”

So America does have a law-and-order problem, but it’s nothing new. And the nature of that law-and-order problem is being the most violent country in the rich world. And the genesis of that violence isn’t Black and brown communities rising up against friendly, overwhelmingly white suburbs of Minneapolis. It’s white America, from the founding days of the republic, committing to an economic and political model that made violence a daily, systemic necessity.

Giridharadas, Anand. (2020, September 15). America’s real law-and-order problem is racism. The.Ink. https://the.ink/p/americas-real-law-and-order-problem

Black Women Led the Movement Behind the Voting Rights Act

N’Dea Yancey-Bragg, writing for USA Today on the leadership of Black women during the Civil Rights movement that led to the Voting Rights Act.

Boynton Robinson’s mother was a suffragist and she grew up in a “culture of justice,” according to Faya Rose Touré, a fellow activist and lawyer. She said Boynton Robinson and her husband Sam, also a voting rights advocate, came to Selma in the 1920s where they started their own insurance business.

“They saw [voting rights] as a key to the road to justice, to equality. They saw it as the key to end Jim Crow segregation in the South,” Touré said. “They lived long enough and were smart enough to know that voting rights may not be a panacea, but it was certainly something that could be fought for.”

The couple worked with sharecroppers, teaching them about voting rights “in an underground manner,” according to Verdell Lett Dawson, board chairman of the Historic Tabernacle Baptist Church Selma AL Legacy Foundation. When Boynton Robinson’s husband died in 1963, she used his memorial service at Tabernacle Baptist Church as the first mass meeting for voting rights in Selma.

Also in attendance at that meeting was Marie Foster, the sister of a dentist who became interested in voting rights after being denied the opportunity to vote multiple times early in her life. She began holding voter registration classes and teaching people to read in the basement of Tabernacle, Dawson said.

Both women became the first two female members of the Dallas County Voters League, a group that led a voting registration campaign and some of whom would eventually be known as the Courageous Eight.

Yancey-Bragg, N’Dea. (2020, August 6). The Voting Rights Act was signed 55 years ago. Black women led the movement behind it. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/08/06/voting-rights-act-55th-anniversary-how-black-women-led-movement/5535967002/

The Strength of John Lewis

Michael A. Fletcher, writing at The Undefeated on the quiet strength of John Lewis.

I have always admired John Lewis. But early on, I have to admit, I held something back. His courage was unquestioned. His vision was unwavering. He shed blood for many of the rights that I, my family, and every African American, enjoys today.

Yet, I sometimes felt a pang of suspicion when I heard Lewis lauded as the conscience of the Congress. It was the same when I read about his annual sojourns with some of his congressional colleagues to his home state of Alabama, where in 1965 he and 600 other marchers were savagely assaulted by state troopers on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge for daring to assert their rights as citizens.

The compliments, of course, were fitting and the tours were no doubt instructive. But it sometimes felt like the plaudits for the saintly Lewis, who died at 80 late Friday months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, flowed too easily. And when the praise was offered by people who gave comfort to those who once denied Lewis’ humanity or never supported his legislative priorities, it came off as insincere.

My apprehension was rooted in the mistaken notion that Lewis was not angry enough. Why did he not demand revenge for the unspeakable racism he fearlessly confronted? How could he accept an apology from former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, a longtime segregationist who ordered the infamous Bloody Sunday attack? Or forgive the pathological Bull Connor, the former public safety commissioner in Birmingham? Why would he forge a relationship with former Klansman Elwin Wilson, who was part of a mob that in 1961 beat down Lewis and other Freedom Riders outside the whites-only waiting room at the Rock Hill, S.C. bus station?

Fletcher, Michael A. (2020, July 18). I Didn’t Understand John Lewis at First. The Undefeated. https://theundefeated.com/features/i-didnt-understand-john-lewis-civil-rights-leader-at-first/

“Many People…want to Walk by Institutionalized Racism”

Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu on the topic of removing a statue of Robert E. Lee in New Orleans:

There is no defense for having a monument in a place of reverence to a person who fought to destroy the country in order to preserve slavery. The whole point of reverential monuments in public spaces is to encourage people to be like that person. That’s the whole point! Why shouldn’t we use the names of our military bases to honor American heroes or people who lift us up? Why in the world would we want our young kids, Black or white, walking by names that communicate to them that you don’t belong here or, if I would have had my way, you wouldn’t currently be capable of reading or writing? The war is over. The United States won. Thank God.

Smith, Chris. (2020, June 23). “Many People…want to Walk by Institutionalized Racism”: Mitch Landrieu, Former New Orleans Mayor, on the Hard Work of Uprooting the Confederacy. Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2020/06/mitch-landrieu-on-uprooting-the-confederacy

When Conscience Overcomes Loyalty

“Moments of upheaval can change you, shift the trajectory of your life, and mold your character. The President’s comments and actions surrounding racial injustice and Black Americans cut sharply against my core values and convictions,” Taylor wrote in her resignation letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. “I must follow the dictates of my conscience and resign as Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs.”

Min Kim, Seung. (2020, June 18). Top State Department official resigns in protest of Trump’s response to racial tensions in the country. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/top-state-department-official-resigns-in-protest-of-trumps-response-to-racial-tensions-in-the-country/2020/06/18/e142e342-b181-11ea-a567-6172530208bd_story.html

The brain drain in the Department of State continues.

Statues in Disrepair

I would propose a lesson from postwar Germany, whose Nazi predecessors built monuments to themselves so large and ambitious that nothing short of aerial bombing could destroy them. We obliged in some cases. But one of the grandest Nazi dreams—the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg, site of the patriotic reverie Triumph of the Will—is still there, undisturbed. It is about five times the size of Monaco, and near downtown Nuremberg. You can visit it anytime you like.

It is not, however, lovingly maintained. There are no ticket-takers, and no guards in sight. Large portions are overgrown. Chain-link fences make it difficult to reach the central grandstand. On the structures, weeds grow up through cracks between the stones, and almost no signage notes that where you are standing, the Reichsführer and his deputies once inspected zeppelins and Hitlerjugend. You can take out your phone, find out where Hitler sat, and go spit or fart in that exact spot. No one cares. The experience of being in the presence of evil may still be emotional, but it is nothing like Dachau or Auschwitz. You could easily forget where you are, and imagine that you are in the ruins of Phoenicia or Nabataea, civilizations that would be missed only by a few archaeologists if the deserts were to swallow up their last remnants. The rally grounds are preserved not in amber but in pathos.

Wood, Graeme. (2020, June 8). A Solution to the Confederate-Monument Problem. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/let-confederate-monuments-go-seed/612817

Take the Confederate Names Off Our Army Bases

We could probably disqualify the rebel generals on a technicality: After all, none of them were actually in the U.S. Army when they performed the actions for which they were honored. Nonetheless, I would prefer to disqualify them on the grounds that they do not meet the letter or spirit of the regulation’s second criterion: “Memorializations will honor deceased heroes and other deceased distinguished individuals of all races in our society, and will present them as inspirations to their fellow Soldiers, employees, and other citizens.”

The magic of the republic to which many of us dedicated our professional lives is that its definition of equality has repeatedly demonstrated the capacity to broaden. And America’s military has often led social change, especially in the area of racial integration. We do not live in a country to which Braxton Bragg, Henry L. Benning, or Robert E. Lee can serve as an inspiration. Acknowledging this fact is imperative. Should it fail to do so, the Army, which prides itself on leading the way in perilous times, will be left to fight a rearguard action against a more inclusive American future, one that fulfills the nation’s founding promise.

Petraues, David. (2020, June 9). Take the Confederate Names Off Our Army Bases. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/take-confederate-names-off-our-army-bases/612832/

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