Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Emblem of the Outlaw in America

The cultural trope of the young black man as a fearsome criminal is almost as reductive and misleading as the trope about biker gangs in the US being American Ronin. Both are of course highly racialized perceptions, based on an imaginary reality. But they’ve come together in odd ways in the past few days.

When the average American thinks of a young black man in conflict with the police, it’s a safe bet the first image that comes to mind is a criminal element. It’s the result of insidious subtextual conditioning that pervades our culture from our news to our entertainment. Every day, Americans are inundated with a constant undercurrent of news media driven fearmongering setting black men up as the ever present prevalent threat to civil society. Every night, Americans see black men presented as the enemy on television and on film.

The image of the outlaw biker in America today is quite different. Due to the huge popularity of Kurt Sutter’s soap opera Sons of Anarchy, the American public now imagines a doe-eyed Leif Erikson type when they think of a biker. The noble white outlaw that Charlie Hunnam portrayed with vacant sincerity and earnest whispering over seven seasons has spawned a new love affair with the idea of motorcycle clubs.

As a practical matter, these two tropes don’t have too much to do with one another. Until recently.

On Thursday, May 20, at 1 AM, two men were accused of attempting to shoplift beer in Olympia, Washington. The police shot the perpetrators. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that the victims were young black men. Although the incident is now being framed as a response to an assault with a skateboard, the facts don’t appear to back this up- and at the very least any “assault” had negligible effects on the officer in question and left the skateboard intact.

As anyone who has ever lived in Olympia can tell you, the shooting of two unarmed young black men in that city by a police officer was bound to provoke protest. Olympia’s beautiful, quirky, radical, leftist community loves nothing more than to stand up for justice. So it was no surprise that within twelve hours of the shooting, there was a movement on the streets of the city in support of the victims.

And, people being people, it was no surprise that there was a counter demonstration in support of the police officer who shot two unarmed young men in the chest for allegedly trying to steal a case of beer. The makeup of this counter demonstration is the point of interest. Observe.

The insignias on the backs of the shirts worn by the counter protesters (who are attacking the anti-police demonstrators with no repercussions) are modeled after motorcycle club patches. They read Black Top Demon and are not an MC but rather a rockabilly band local to the Olympia area.

A cursory glance at the band’s social media presence reveals the usual angry white guy rock band imagery. One picture shows the band’s leader burning his guitar, another involves the band’s skull insignia (blatantly ripped off from The Punisher comics), another still shows the frontman drinking and driving. Oblivious to privilege and full of their own self image, Black Top Demon fits the mold of every single big fish small pond rock band that will never go anywhere and never shut up about the big break right around the corner.

Where they’re different than most bands is in their appropriation of MC symbolism. The band members all wear a patch on their clothing representing their allegiance to Black Top Demon. This patch style, which is known as three piece, is generally used by outlaw motorcycle clubs. Interestingly, the appropriators of this style in Black Top Demon are using it to protect the police.

Obviously this band is just using the situation in Olympia for attention, and obviously it does a disservice to the demonstrators there in particular and to fans of music in general to bring them any more attention. But they do serve the purpose of showing the difference in our cultural understanding of symbolism and the representation of criminal elements in the zeitgeist.

When two unarmed young men are shot by police officers, our societal reaction should be to demand justice. When two unarmed young black men are shot by white police officers, the latest in a long line of such incidents, our societal reaction should be to not only demand justice but demand a cultural and social shift to address the deep problems with a system that perpetuates such actions in the name of the law.

As the people of Olympia make their voices heard to try and shake the institutionalized racism that pervades law enforcement and the culture as a whole, they should be supported. The counter actions of those who want to maintain the status quo are typical. And their appropriation of the symbols of actual criminality in the name of protecting the police from the consequences of murdering alleged criminals only shows how predicated on race our culture’s emblems of the outlaw have become.

Eoin Higgins has a master’s degree in history from Fordham University. He lives in New York.

More articles by:

Eoin Higgins has a master’s degree in history from Fordham University. He lives in New York.

May 24, 2018
Gary Leupp
Art of the Dealbreaker: Trump’s Cancellation of the Summit with Kim
Jeff Warner – Victor Rothman
Why the Emerging Apartheid State in Israel-Palestine is Not Sustainable
Kenn Orphan
Life, the Sea and Big Oil
James Luchte
Europe Stares Into the Abyss, Confronting the American Occupant in the Room
Richard Hardigan
Palestinians’ Great March of Return: What You Need to Know
Howard Lisnoff
So Far: Fascism Lite
Matthew Vernon Whalan
Norman Finkelstein on Bernie Sanders, Gaza, and the Mainstream Treatment
Daniel Warner
J’accuse All Baby Boomers
Alfred W. McCoy
Beyond Golden Shower Diplomacy
Jonah Raskin
Rachel Kushner, Foe of Prisons, and Her New Novel, “The Mars Room”
George Wuerthner
Myths About Wildfires, Logging and Forests
Binoy Kampmark
Tom Wolfe the Parajournalist
Dean Baker
The Marx Ratio: Not Clear Karl Would be Happy
May 23, 2018
Nick Pemberton
Maduro’s Win: A Bright Spot in Dark Times
Ben Debney
A Faustian Bargain with the Climate Crisis
Deepak Tripathi
A Bloody Hot Summer in Gaza: Parallels With Sharpeville, Soweto and Jallianwala Bagh
Josh White
Strange Recollections of Old Labour
Farhang Jahanpour
Pompeo’s Outrageous Speech on Iran
CJ Hopkins
The Simulation of Democracy
Lawrence Davidson
In Our Age of State Crimes
Dave Lindorff
The Trump White House is a Chaotic Clown Car Filled with Bozos Who Think They’re Brilliant
Russell Mokhiber
The Corporate Domination of West Virginia
Ty Salandy
The British Royal Wedding, Empire and Colonialism
Laura Flanders
Life or Death to the FCC?
Gary Leupp
Dawn of an Era of Mutual Indignation?
Katalina Khoury
The Notion of Patriarchal White Supremacy Vs. Womanhood
Nicole Rosmarino
The Grassroots Environmental Activist of the Year: Christine Canaly
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
“Michael Inside:” The Prison System in Ireland 
May 22, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Broken Dreams and Lost Lives: Israel, Gaza and the Hamas Card
Kathy Kelly
Scourging Yemen
Andrew Levine
November’s “Revolution” Will Not Be Televised
Ted Rall
#MeToo is a Cultural Workaround to a Legal Failure
Gary Leupp
Question for Discussion: Is Russia an Adversary Nation?
Binoy Kampmark
Unsettling the Summits: John Bolton’s Libya Solution
Doug Johnson
As Andrea Horwath Surges, Undecided Voters Threaten to Upend Doug Ford’s Hopes in Canada’s Most Populated Province
Kenneth Surin
Malaysia’s Surprising Election Results
Dana Cook
Canada’s ‘Superwoman’: Margot Kidder
Dean Baker
The Trade Deficit With China: Up Sharply, for Those Who Care
John Feffer
Playing Trump for Peace How the Korean Peninsula Could Become a Bright Spot in a World Gone Mad
Peter Gelderloos
Decades in Prison for Protesting Trump?
Thomas Knapp
Yes, Virginia, There is a Deep State
Andrew Stewart
What the Providence Teachers’ Union Needs for a Win
Jimmy Centeno
Mexico’s First Presidential Debate: All against One
May 21, 2018
Ron Jacobs
Gina Haspell: She’s Certainly Qualified for the Job
Uri Avnery
The Day of Shame
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail