Tues Jun 16
Black lives matter.
A week ago, I attended a protest in support of the BLM movement that had a neat idea; to distinguish between peaceful protestors and bad-faith agitators, everyone wore a white shirt with names written on them; citizens whose lives have been stolen due to police brutality and rampant civil racism. If someone was causing trouble without a white shirt, they'd be easily identifiable.
It was a silent march, and everyone walked in a single-file line across downtown Kansas City to hold vigil for George Floyd and the many others we have lost to the senseless evil of our criminal justice system, mirroring the "Silent Parade" held by the NAACP in 1917 New York City.
These are the names I wrote:
Emmett Till (1955, Mississippi)
At the age of 14 years old, Emmett Till flirted with a white girl named Carolyn Bryant. At 3am on August 28, 1955, two white men marched him out of his house into their truck and tied him up, despite his great aunt offering them money to leave. They drove him out to a barn, pistol whipped him until he was unconscious, shot him in the head, weighed him with a 70 pound fan, and dumped him in the river. His body was recovered three days later, marred beyond recognition; only identifiable by a silver ring he wore with the initials "L.T."
Tamir Rice (2014, Cleveland)
Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old boy playing with an airsoft gun at Cudell park. On November 22, 2014, two police officers drove up and shot him dead on sight. Video here.
John Africa (1985, Philadelphia)
John Africa (born Vincent Leapheart) founded a back-to-nature movement called MOVE in 1972 West Philadelphia. A former army conscript during the Korean War, he developed a community ideology emphasizing religion, justice, individuality, and animal rights, among other things. As the movement grew, several neighbors issued various complaints, including a claim that MOVE organized armed patrols of their neighborhood, which preceded several conflicts with the police. After a shootout in 1978, when one police officer was killed, nine members were arrested for third degree murder. MOVE relocated to a new headquarters. In 1985, during another standoff with the police, Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo authorized the dropping of a firebomb (Tovex, a water-gel explosive), igniting a fire which eventually destroyed a rough total of sixty-five houses in the neighboring city block. This extraordinary story is documented in the 2013 film Let the Fire Burn.
Mahatma Gandhi (1948, New Delhi)
Mahatma Gandhi organized the largest successful non-violent revolution against colonial British rule. He was killed on January 30 of 1948 by a Hindu nationalist. I don't need to belabor the story here. [Note: Gandhi was Hindu and a citizen of India]
James Powell (1964, Manhattan)
An altercation developed between a local superintendent and three black boys. James Powell, age 15, arrived later, and allegedly pursued the superintendent into a building. After leaving almost immediately, he was shot three times by off-duty officer Lieutenant Gilligan, after raising his arms up in defense. Gilligan later claimed the boy was in possession of a knife. This incident sparked six consecutive nights of riots and protests in Harlem and surrounding neighborhoods, leading to vandalism and several protestors being beaten by NYPD officers. 118 protesters were injured, and one died.
Botham Jean (2018, Dallas)
An off-duty police officer came home, entered the wrong apartment, saw a black man, and killed him, believing he was a burglar. Initially charged with manslaughter, protests ensued, and she was later charged with murder. On the day of Jean's funeral, Dallas police released a search warrant showing that he had possessed 10.4 grams of marijuana.
John Smith (1967, Newark)
On the evening of July 12, 1967, a taxi driver was pulled over by the police for "following another vehicle too closely". An altercation followed, and Smith was beaten badly, arrested, and dragged to the nearest precinct. Rumors spread that Smith had died in police custody, and a citywide riot broke out that lasted five days. At the end, 26 people had died and hundreds more were injured. You can read the police report here; I couldn't find any published eyewitness accounts.
Eric Garner (2014, Staten Island)
Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes outside a store when he was approached by a plainclothes police officer. After pleading with the officer to leave him alone, he was placed under arrest; when he pulled his arms away from the handcuffs, saying "don't touch me, please", the officer placed him in a chokehold, and within minutes he had died of suffocation. He was recorded saying "I can't breathe" eleven times before he went silent. The officer who killed him was not indicted, but was eventually fired -- five years after the incident. Video here.
Daniel Shaver (2016, Arizona)
Daniel Shaver was shot in the hallway of his own home after brandishing a pellet gun in his window. He had been having drinks with his friends when a rookie police officer showed up to investigate. As the officer attempted to apprehend Shaver in the hallway, he shouted a series of bizarre and confusing commands to have Shaver crawl forward to be arrested. Shaver attempted to comply, but instinctively reached behind himself, likely to either pull up his pants or scratch his lower back. The officer opened fire, striking Shaver five times and killing him almost instantly. The officer was fired and charged with second degree murder, but was acquitted. The officer was later reinstated into the force, but retired after only a month due to post-traumatic stress disorder from the incident. Video here. [Note: Daniel Shaver was white]
Robert Hall (1943, Georgia)
A landmark Supreme Court decision, Screws v. United States,was handed down on May 7, 1945, regarding a brutal police killing of an unarmed black man named Robert Hall, two years earlier. A review published by Robert K Carr describes the incident as follows:
Claud Screws was the sheriff of Baker County, reputedly one of the most backward counties in the state of Georgia. Aided by the defendant Jones, a policeman in the town of Newton in Baker County, and the defendant Kelley, a deputy sheriff, he arrested Robert Hall, a negro citizen of the United States, late on the night of January 29, 1943, on a warrant charging theft of a tire. Hall was handcuffed and taken by car to the court house. There, as he left the car, he was beaten by the three men with their fists and a two-pound blackjack. The defendants claimed that Hall used insulting language and, although he was still handcuffed, that he reached for a gun. Thereafter he was knocked to the ground and beaten for from fifteen to thirty minutes until he was unconscious. Hall was then dragged feet first through the court house yard into the jail and thrown upon the floor dying. An ambulance was called" and he was taken to a hospital where he died within an hour without regaining consciousness. There was evidence that Screws and Hall had had a previous altercation over the possession of a gun by Hall, as the result of which Screws nursed a grudge against Hall and had threatened to "get" him.
It took the court nearly seven months to render a decision, which ultimately reduced the federal government's authority to prosecute state and local officials for violating the due process clause of the 14th amendment. According to legal historian Christopher Waldrep, this case severely limited federal civil rights prosecutions for years. Carr's review is a fascinating look into the case and surrounding legal precedent; you can read it here.
Two other observations stuck with me from the protest. As the march concluded, the group kneeled in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, while an organizer read off a long list of names of black men and women who had been killed unjustly. About halfway through, a (black) man, not participating in the protest, began playing music loudly. There was some discomfort, but the reading carried on, until the man started shouting at the crowd: "Fuck you! Fuck you all! You're all white!", among other things. Discomfort intensified, and people began nervously looking around, not sure what to do. Two local security officers (I don't think they were police) approached him and asked him to calm down, which only increased his shouting. Eventually, organizers from the protest came over, talked him down, and the man left.
The only other thing I noticed, in a crowd of white shirts and solemn faces, was a young man wearing bright orange construction gear and a Guy Fawkes mask. No idea what that was about.