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Don’t be Black in America

The United States has a black president who is treated with respect by most people, but millions of other African-Americans are not so fortunate because in the Land of the Free there is widespread bigotry which goes back a long way.

On 24 September 1957 American President Dwight D Eisenhower took action to protect nine black students from being assaulted by a mob of white citizens who objected to them going to an all-white school in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Two days later the stage musical West Side Story opened on Broadway. It had a song by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim called America in which the verses are forceful and haunting reminders of how non-whites in America were viciously segregated.  The cast sang that

Life can be bright in America

If you can fight in America;

Life is all right in America — 

If you’re all white in America.

In 1954 the US Supreme Court ruled that segregation in education was unconstitutional, but in the South this was regarded as unacceptable, and nowhere more than in Little Rock where on 4 September 1957 the State Governor, Orval Faubus, sent armed soldiers of the National Guard to prevent entry by black students to the Central High School, one of the many bastions of white supremacy.  US Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina had summed up the attitude of the white majority when he declared that “all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, into our schools, our churches and our places of recreation and amusement,” and his words hit home.

Thurmond, as with so many ardent and malevolent segregationists had fathered a black child (as had President Thomas Jefferson who authored the Declaration of Independence), in his case a daughter, by a family servant (“a 16-year-old black girl who worked as a household servant for Thurmond’s parents”), but this did not alter his hatred of those he called “negroes”.  He epitomised the hypocrisy of the Southern race supremacists whose bigotry and spiteful anti-black torment continue to this day.

Over the past sixty years the evil practice of segregation by race has been gradually reduced in terms of law and morality, but coloured people in America, as declared tunefully in West Side Story,  continue to be

. . .  free and have pride

Long as you stay on your own side.

Free to be anything you choose;

Free to wait tables and shine shoes.

And, it might now be added, they are free to be killed by policemen who have little fear that they will be brought to justice for their murders.

One of the most horrible cases recently was the shooting to death of a black teenager, Michael Brown, who was killed on August 9, 2014 by Darren Wilson, a white policeman, in Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri.  In November St Louis County announced that a grand jury composed of 9 whites and 3 blacks had decided that Wilson should not be charged with having committed a crime.  Grand jury decisions can be decided by “consent from nine jurors.”  The policeman, Wilson, fired twelve times at the unarmed 18-year old Brown, whose body bore evidence of at least seven gunshot wounds and was left on the ground for four hours before being removed.

The Economist reported that “black residents make up less than 70% of Ferguson’s total, but they accounted for 93% of arrests, 85% of car stops and 90% of citations by Ferguson police between 2012 and 2014. Black drivers were more than twice as likely as white ones to be searched during car stops, yet 26% more white drivers were found in possession of contraband. For certain offenses Ferguson police almost exclusively charged blacks. For example blacks accounted for 95% of charges of jaywalking and 94% of all charges of failing to obey a police officer between 2011 and 2013.”

It is notable that the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution lays down that “the right of the people to be secure . . .  against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,” but in 2015 this does not apply to blacks in Ferguson and many other places where a person’s “manner of walking along roadway” can result in police harassment.

After the murder of Michael Brown the black citizens of Ferguson began street protests that were brutally suppressed by police in armoured cars firing tear gas, rubber bullets and eardrum-rupturing “Long Range Acoustic Devices.”

Then, as Amnesty US reported, “just days after Michael Brown was fatally shot, St Louis police shot and killed a young African American man, Kajieme Powell, 25, who was reportedly holding a knife; police claims that he was brandishing a knife were not borne out by the available video footage of the shooting. On Aug. 11 Ezell Ford, 25, an unarmed black man with a history of mental illness was shot and killed by Los Angeles police officers; and on Jul. 17 Eric Garner, 43, died after being placed in a chokehold by New York Police Department officers . . .”

The New York Times has a web page showing “Videos That Are Putting Race and Policing Into Sharp Relief.”  These record savage treatment of unarmed black people by police, and their undeniable evidence is generally at variance with the official version of events.  In one particularly alarming case in April, “a bystander recorded a white officer, Michael T Slager, shooting an unarmed black man, Walter L Scott, 50, in the back as he ran away. The video showed Mr Slager firing eight times then casually walking over to Mr Scott, who was pronounced dead at the scene.”  Scott had been driving a car that allegedly had a broken taillight and the police description of his arrest was totally at variance with what appeared on the video, as in another case on 7 August in Texas when “surveillance cameras at a car dealership showed what occurred just before a white rookie police officer shot and killed Christian Taylor, 19, an unarmed black college student and football player.”  Following this incident the policeman, Brad Miller, “was fired for using poor judgment.”

The poor judgment about black people displayed throughout the United States is largely to do with the dislike, distrust and contempt that so many whites have for people who are not of their colour.  The extent of this prejudice is highlighted by the attitude of the police and other officials to blacks and Hispanics, which, as acknowledged in a report by Eric Holder, the US Attorney General, is amazingly repulsive.  These employees of the people of Ferguson sent each other racist e-mails, one of which read “an African-American woman in New Orleans was admitted into the hospital for a pregnancy termination. Two weeks later she received a check for $5,000. She phoned the hospital to ask who it was from. The hospital said, ‘Crimestoppers.’”  Another described a man seeking to obtain “welfare” for his dogs because they are “mixed in colour, unemployed, lazy, can’t speak English and have no fucking clue who their Daddies are.”

The US Declaration of Independence of 1776 states that “all men are created equal” but unfortunately the lyric from West Side Story of sixty years ago remains appropriate in that

Life can be bright in America

If you can fight in America;

Life is all right in America — 

If you’re all white in America.

More articles by:

Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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