History is repeating in Ferguson – Here, have some sources.

anti-Negro propagandaIn May of 1919, W. E. B. Du Bois published an essay called, “Returning Soldiers.”

We return from the slavery of uniform which the world’s madness demanded us to don to the freedom of civil garb. We stand again to look America squarely in the face and call a spade a spade. We sing: This country of ours, despite all its better souls have done and dreamed, is yet a shameful land….

We return.

We return from fighting.

We return fighting.

He wrote it because of the racially motivated riots that swept the country in the summer of 1919, which became known as The Red Summer. These were cases of whites attacking blacks, while claiming to be protecting themselves.  They would fabricate stories of white women being attacked, or attack thirteen year old boys.

I know about this and the Atlanta Race Riot and Brownsville Affair of 1906, and the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, and The Colfax massacre and the Hamburg Massacre of 1876 and scores of other cases, because I was doing research for a book. Not because it was taught in schools.

And this history of our country should be taught, because we’re repeating it right now in Ferguson. Anyone who says that this situation is unprecedented isn’t paying attention.

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22 thoughts on “History is repeating in Ferguson – Here, have some sources.”

  1. While I agree with what you’re saying here, I also know people who work at stores in the area that were broken into and looted; and I just don’t see how theft and destruction of property (especially the property of people who had nothing to do with the shooting) does anything to bring justice for this young man. If the protests had remained peaceful, the focus would be where it should be; but when things turn violent, the focus is shifted away from the victim and towards the protestors themselves.

    1. After years of systemic oppression, followed by an escalation by the government via military force, I feel like a display of destructive rage is pretty understandable. But really, I think you are missing the point by focusing on the looting. The point is that the police response is part of a pattern of behavior that goes back centuries.

      I’ll also just point out that women got the vote, in part, after a series of protests that involved deliberately breaking windows in stores. They carried hammers with them for this purpose.

      1. Exactly. The rioting/looting didn’t happen because of this one death. It happened because all the years of oppression and all the peaceful protesting was ignored. It took the rioting/looting before people stopped and actually started looking around to what was going on and what had happened.

        That is not to say that rioting/looting is a good thing. But sometimes anger/resent needs to boil over so that people start noticing that there is a problem.

      2. I can’t help but focus on the looting when I fear for my mother-in-law’s safety every time she goes to work and when I know that the school district my sister-in-law works for delayed the start of school because of the riots. You’re absolutely right that the looting is taking the focus off of the real issues, but that’s because it’s happening. I’ll agree that anger in the face of injustice is understandable. My 6 year old has Autism and I get angry at the injustices that he and others like him face every day and have faced for years, but I don’t destroy property over it because that would increase/spread the injustice in the world and do nothing positive to help anyone. And while I’m happy to have the right to vote, I don’t condone the harming of innocent people or the destruction of their property in the name of any cause, no matter how justified.

        1. Unfortunately, from following the Twitter feeds, it looks like a lot of the looting/rioting people are witnessing is happening due to outsiders coming in and taking advantage of Ferguson’s situation for their own ends. So that’s something to consider. It’s a lot like the thieves/professional looters who hit towns disrupted by tornadoes and other natural disasters. This disaster, though….

        2. For some reason, there is no “reply” button for Laura’s comment below, but I wanted to say that you made a very good point there. Many of the looters aren’t from the area and many people from the area are coming together to clean up the damage done by them. I just feel very strongly that it’s important when protesting something that we not lower ourselves to the level of the things/people we’re fighting against (same reason I’m against the death penalty). So when I see people harming the community of Ferguson (a place which happens to be not far from where I grew up) while claiming they’re trying to help it, it seems very much like they are lowering themselves to the same level as the broken criminal justice system which is also harming the community when it’s supposed to be helping.

        3. I understand you’re worried about family, and you list some personal situations where you face injustice but refrain from violence. But imagine if you organized a rally to educate people about Autism and support your son and other children like him — and the police showed up in full SWAT and riot gear, with tear gas and other weapons, and threatening to arrest or even shoot journalists who might be covering your rally. And while you are happy to have the right to vote, please imagine what it would be like if you didn’t. You would have no means of affecting the decisions others made about your life, and if you try to even voice your opinion, you would be laughed at or told to shut up because men were speaking. I’m glad that women broke windows and went on hunger strikes and all the things that they did to get us the vote today. When a group of people come up against the same institutionalized repression again and again and again, a certain amount of violence may occur. It still isn’t right when an innocent person is harmed or their business destroyed. But when people talk about what to focus on, the larger issues are the key to bringing an end to the violence because the violence is a symptom, not the cause.

        4. Are you absolutely certain that the swat and riot gear came out before the looting started? I haven’t seen anything that indicates that. And, as for voting, the people of Ferguson do have that right and the Chief of Police is an elected official. You’re right that “a certain amount of violence may occur,” but the fact that it may happen and that the anger behind it is justified doesn’t make it okay and it doesn’t make it a good way to get what you want. And I’m not saying that we should focus only on the looting, I’m just saying that this isn’t a straight forward “cops are bad, rioters are good” situation and that we shouldn’t ignore the negative impacts this behavior is having on the community just because we agree with their cause (which, in case it isn’t clear, I do agree with their cause). What I”m wondering now is if people would be so ready to turn a blind eye to the destructive behavior if it was being done in the name of a cause they didn’t agree with. I feel it’s wrong no matter what the cause. And as for your direct question about what I would do if similar things occurred at an Autism rally, I wouldn’t get the word out about it any way I could and so would the news media that were being threatened, just as people are doing in this situation. I can tell you for sure what I would not do is break into stores and steal things and set a convenience store on fire because (as has been my point all along) it doesn’t help the situation. It only draws attention away from the real problems.

  2. This often happens when injustices have accumulated over a number of years, the actual trigger is usually only part of the story. Look at the London riots in 2011 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_England_riots); while the death of Mark Duggan was what kicked it off, it wasn’t that alone that led people to take to the streets.

    When all of the resentment bubbles over at once, the scale of the reaction allows those who seek mayhem for mayhem’s sake to rise under cover of that wave of protest.

    Then the Powers that Be can avoid addressing the core injustice and instead condemn the overspill. A sad result for the community as a whole…

  3. A rush to judgment without all of the facts, I guess we didn’t learn anything from the Duke Lacrosse story.

  4. I’m grateful that I had a history professor who DID teach race riots, specifically the Tulsa riot of 1921. I’d never connected them to returning veterans, so that’s a lot for my brain to chew on.

    For related reading, James Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” deals at some length with the way American history–specifically American racial history–is sterilized.

  5. Hmm . . . I’m not sure this situation compares to 100 years ago.

    The difference here is that we have the top cop in the country getting involved. I can’t imagine any victim wanting more than the attention of the US attorney General, 50 FBI agents, and the eyes of the President focused on their plight.

    Even so, I get slightly uncomfortable with the call for prosecution and threats of retribution if the result is not conviction. Regardless of the emotion, we’re either going to be a nation of laws, or we are not.

    This incident is not cut and dry, and using to address the broader problem of racism and police violence can backfire.

    The pressure brought to the Trevor Martin case likely caused the prosecution to go for a murder charge as opposed to manslaughter. I understand people felt it was murder, but the evidence was not there for it. I think it would have been likely the prosecution could have landed a manslaughter charge.

    That case did nothing but divide the country, and this will likely do the same.

    There is another fact that annoys me to no end, especially reading the Guardian article. Shoot to wound? Tackle a man with a knife? People have no idea what they are talking about.

    I don’t know what happened in either case, and police personnel have certainly shown they can be thugs, but to assume that is the case in every situation is as wrong as assuming they are always justified in their actions.

    Even the unarmed situation suffers from public misconception. I, for one, would not want to be hit by a big guy (I’m 5′ 8″, 175lb). People don’t understand the kind of damage, and even death that can be inflicted with a punch.

    We ask policemen to be out there upholding the law, and yes, there is no excuse when they abuse the trust we put on them. But, there are studies and simulations and a lot of information on a large number of incidents that have been picked apart down to the minutia. They are worth reading, as well as looking at training videos (remembering the videos are devoid of the pressure of a live situation).

    There is one other thing I fail to understand . . . I’m not sure of the purpose of demonstrating at night, when no one can actually read your signs, when the threat of violence by even a few individuals can escalate the situation.

    I hope the facts come to light, but I repeat my concern that public opinion (either way) will sway the justice so many people are asking for.

  6. Kathleen Ladislaus

    One cop, not all cops. I think it important to retain that simple fact, one police officer committed a horrible and inexcusable act by killing an unarmed youth for no apparent reason. Is there ever a good reason?

    Now, all cops are seen as the same? I feel bad for the law enforcement officers that have to go out there and face angry crowds. Would it be better they stayed holed up in the precinct?

    I understand the rage over a senseless killing, but that manifested violence in the streets is a symptom of an age old problem in America rearing its ugly head. You need only read some of the vitriol directed toward our president to know racism is well and alive.

    I feel upset for everyone at this point and because I’m an old mother all I want is everyone to take a time out and think on peace and how to achieve it.

  7. The only difference I see here is the extreme militarization of the cops. They’re out there with more stuff than the guys who are on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least in 1919, the leftover tanks weren’t involved in the riots. Ironic that the National Guard seems to be using less hardware this week.

  8. Kathleen – given that Ferguson police are removing their badges while arresting reporters and other protestors, it’s hard to think of this as a case of one cop gone bad.

  9. 1943 in Detroit. Our “famous” race riot was in 1967, but the one in 1943 was after a black man attacked a white woman …somewhere. No one ever did find any evidence of an attack.

  10. I’ve noticed a common thread in people commenting on this case(and on pretty much any case of police brutality and/or working class communities reacting to it) is to assume that it is merely a case of a single bad individual, or sometimes even a ‘few bad apples’. The problem with this assumption is that the statistics show that the problem is systemic rather than individual. The police, in whichever country(I’m in Scotland and we have had similar problems on this side of the pond) they operate do so with a claim to having a monopoly over the use of violence against their fellow citizens. When a group of people are given a monopoly over violence then joining this group will be appealing to a certain kind of person. It will also make the use of violence an easier choice to make as the potential repercussions for using violence -retaliation or reprimand-are minimal.

    Since 9/11 the police in the US have killed over 5,000 citizens(as of November 2013). This outstrips even the UK which has a pretty appalling record with 333 deaths from police action since 1999(adjusted for population this is the equivalent of about 1700 in the USA). It isn’t simply case of a handful of individuals but of a police force that is a law unto itself and which operates without a mandate from those it purports to serve.

    If it was just a handful of officers this guy wouldn’t really have a video to go with his song.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlY9C6pzxKc

    Which brings me on to another point about the police. Since the first nascent police force emerged in London in the 18th Century the primary focus of police forces has been the protection of the property of the wealthy from the wider population. We have seen this time and time again throughout history where the police have used their monopoly of violence to repress demonstrations, attack and murder strikers, and generally ride roughshod over working class communities. This has been the case everywhere whether it’s 1880s Chicago, Spokane in 1908, Spain of the 1920s and 30s, Yorkshire of the 1980s, or the Parisian banlieue, Brixton London, or Ferguson Missouri.

    Whilst I have no doubt that there are police officers out there who are good people at heart and who only wish to serve their communities that doesn’t change the social role that the police play. They protect the property of the wealthy and, in order to carry out this task, are given the monopoly on violence. What we see on our streets when the police brutalise us is the Stanford prison Experiment write large.

    With regards the people that have travelled from outwith the immediate neghbourhood for ” for their own ends”, as one commenter put it, there is a very good reason for this. Solidarity and basic human empathy. If we see that our neighbours are being shot and then tear gassed and beaten when they complain what else are we to do? Should we simply tut and look disapprovingly at the officers concerned? Perhaps a strongly worded letter to the local paper? No, it is a natural human inclination to stand alongside those like us when they are being treated with such great injustice. In the 1930s thousands upon thousands of people travelled from across the world to stand side by side with the people of Spain and joined the International Brigades and the Anarchist and Marxist militias in their fight against the fascist coup. The suffering of our fellow humans is abhorrent, or at least it should be, and so people do what they can to oppose it. For some that means going and standing with their fellows in the face of tyranny. It means teaching people how to wash tear gas from burning eyes and performing first aid for the wounded(as some local anarchist groups have been doing), it means showing people that they are not alone. Solidarity is the only thing that can defeat oppression.

    As for the looting, I’ll leave it to a resident of Ferguson to talk about that.
    http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-vn-deandre-smith-justifies-the-looting-in-ferguson-20140811-embeddedvideo.html

    Woo, that was a bit of a rant. Soz. 😀

      1. Yep, sorry. meant to put in that I agreed with you. Was referring to commenters in general that I’ve seen popping up around the internet rather than yourself.

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