[Book Excerpt #5\”The Roots of Racism in American Policing”]
From May 1 to May 3, of that year, Black Memphis neighborhoods were victimized by White mob violence. White policemen were the main culprits in igniting the mayhem and murder that occurred.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Coast Guard veteran Walter Scott shot down by bullets to the back on April 4, 2015, by former officer Michael Slager.
The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book “The Roots of Racism in American Policing: From Slave Patrols to Stop-and-Frisk.” Over the next few weeks, the Black Star News will be publishing selected portions from the book.
The following excerpt is from Chapter 1.
Lately, we’ve heard a lot of rubbish about the Second Amendment “right” of American citizens by Republicans and conservatives. We should ask them if this supposed Second Amendment right is applicable to African-Americans?
If so, they should tell us why, in 1967, then California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford Act (named after Republican Assemblyman Don Mulford) into law which repealed a state statute allowing for the public carrying of loaded firearms? They should tell us why this law was enacted, if, it wasn’t to disarm members of the California Black Panthers who were founded one year before?
The Black Panthers were hated by cops because they instituted a “police the police” policy, that had been effective in stopping some of the abuses of police in Black communities. The political disarming of the California Black Panthers, through the Mulford Act, was surely not the first time Whites did whatever they could to deny gun rights to African-Americans.
One of the duties of the Slave Patrols was to make sure Blacks were disarmed and defenseless. After Slavery, White police who were spawned from these Slave Patrols, employed the same tactics of harassing, terrorizing, killing and disarming Blacks.
For example, let’s examine what is known as the Memphis Massacre of 1866.
From May 1 to May 3, of that year, Black Memphis neighborhoods were victimized by White mob violence. White policemen were the main culprits in igniting the mayhem and murder that occurred. During three days of violence 42 Blacks were left dead, hundreds were robbed, and at least 5 Black women raped.
The backdrop for this violent eruption includes several things. Among them: the recent ending of the Civil War; the effects of the Emancipation Proclamation and the ending of slavery; a rise in Irish immigrants who some labeled then as “low Whites,” who several years before escaped the Great Famine in Ireland; and the recent presence of Black soldiers who had fought for the Union in the Civil War.
Though largely destitute when they came to Memphis, many of these White Irishmen were able to attain positions in public office: including becoming policemen. The powerful positions these Irishmen reached in the police departments, at this time, later, and currently, as well as some of the racism they exhibited toward African-Americans, will be explored in a later chapter.
During this period in Memphis, hostilities between Blacks and Whites were being provoked and there were attempts made to disarm the Black soldiers. Whites resented seeing these armed Black soldiers. Since White police in Memphis had been busy brutalizing the Black citizens of Memphis, the new presence of armed Black soldiers represented an intolerable threat to the continuance of White police brutality. These attempts at disarming the Black soldiers were only partially successful.
On May 1, one day after a street brawl between four White policemen and three Black soldiers, police attempted to stop a contingent of Black soldiers from hanging out on a city street. The Black soldiers were having none of it. The police called for reinforcements. Gunplay erupted. In the ensuing battle two policemen were shot. One was killed.
After this, a gang of police and White citizens combined forces and reengaged the Black soldiers with more gunfire. Several soldiers were killed. The Black soldiers were then ordered back to their base, where they were confined—and disarmed.
With the Black soldiers gone the White mob in Memphis took advantage of the situation. With the blessings of city leaders, they were told to kill all the Black people. An orgy of violence ensued. Black homes were burned to the ground. Several Black women were raped. Some 46 Blacks were killed.
Consider this excerpt that was written by one T.W. Gilbreth to officials in Washington D.C., about the murders in Memphis, “police fired upon unoffending Negroes remote from the riotous quarter. Colored soldiers with whom the police first had trouble had returned in the meantime to Fort Pickering. The police was soon reinforced and commenced firing on the colored people, men, women and children, in that locality, killing and wounding several. Shortly after, the City Recorder (John C. Creighton) arrived upon the ground (corner of Causey and Vance Streets) and in a speech which received three hearty cheers from the crowd there assembled, councilled and urged the Whites to arm and kill every Negro and drive the last one from the city. Then during this night the Negroes were hunted down by police, firemen and other White citizens, shot, assaulted, robbed, and in many instances their houses searched under the pretense of hunting for concealed arms, plundered, and then set on fire, during which no resistance so far as we can learn was offered by the Negroes.”
The 1866 Memphis Massacre is a prime example of wanton police murder and of the fact that the Second Amendment was never intended to give gun rights to Black people. The militia the Second Amendment talks about was the instrument the Founding Fathers used to police slaves in the south. They morphed into the very killer-cops who committed mass murder in Memphis in 1866—and who still do so at this very moment.
Regular “low Whites,” like the then recently immigrated and destitute Irish, were empowered with policing powers over Blacks. This type of policing empowerment of Whites–from lower economic classes–encouraged later carnages of racial murder that reached a crescendo with the Ku Klux Klan. Today, this racist sentiment is still seen in the utter contempt contemporary cop culture has for Black lives.
Author’s note: After the shooting last weekend of two NYPD officers, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the following: “There’s too much hatred in general, there’s too much hatred being directed at our officers, and it has to end.”
The mayor is right when he says “There’s too much hatred in general.”
Unfortunately, the racist hatred for Black and Brown people, which is deeply embedded in police policy, has not been addressed in any profoundly meaningful way by his administration–although this was a major issue that led Black and Brown New Yorkers to vote him into office.
We should all agree that unprovoked violence–toward anyone–is unacceptable. Unfortunately, many are quite comfortable with the racist violence that is meted out daily on Blacks by police.
The mayor’s latter comment about hatred toward cops ignores the ongoing problem of institutional racism in policing. Even worse this sentiment sends the objectionable signal that the lives of police are, somehow, worth more than Black and Brown lives that apparently don’t matter.