CAIRO – To many African-Americans, Jim Crow was not only about race apartness, segregation, or discrimination; it was a system of terror and violence designed to inflict extreme fear in the black communities across the United States. Lynching, the preferred method of public executions by white mobs, was used to punish black offenders of the Jim Crow Laws and carried out mainly after a black person is accused of a white person’s perception of wrong, or acts that offend any parts of the racist laws.
Part of the reasons that led to public lynching and other mob executions was that, some agitated whites felt that freed slaves were responsible for their financial woes. That their economic pains were brought about by the civil war and end to free labor. The best antidote to this grievance, in their view, was to engage in bigoted public slaying of the emancipated slaves.
Other reasons for racially charged killings were jealousy, hatred, and intolerance. Such as when a black child is accused of whistling at a white woman. He is brutalized and mutilated for it, leaving the corpse of the dead youth unrecognizable. Whatever bogus reason the lynch mob were able to manufacture, were used to resolve white anger against blacks for their righteous acceptance of freedom.
A history of impunity backed by the law
Often, the murderous mobs circumvent the constitutionally required due process. They seize the innocent black victim, subject him to all kinds of humiliation, with most in the horde watching and others cheering. The victim is sometimes hanged to a tree by the neck. While his body struggles for life, the cheering mob continues the insults on the dying sufferer as life slowly ebbs out of his body. Newspapers will then print stories about the killings and even mention that prominent white people attended the lynching in local communities.
The authorities looked away.
To “add insult to injury” in one of its disgraceful and yet objectionable decision ever, the US Supreme Court upheld the loathed Jim Crow practices in a case called Plessy v Ferguson, 1896. The Plessy Court laid down its ‘separate but equal’ doctrine, legalizing segregation, and gave constitutional backings to Jim Crow and the violence that came with it. These were the legacy of the Jim Crow laws, which began in the decade after the civil war until 1965.
The civil rights laws of 1964 attempted to remedy some of the inequities brought on by Jim Crow, but it did not go far enough as states began to evade the statutes by capitalizing on loopholes found in the law. Lawmakers across the country began expanding police powers, such as allowing the use of deadly force to subdue citizens and “qualified immunity” to immune them from lawsuits brought on them by the citizens.
These authorities encouraged the police to brutalize citizens with impunity. The slightest perception of threat by a police officer could be fatal to the citizen, and the officer will be justified under a “reasonable fear” concept. This is why a mere police encounter could quickly escalate to the use of deadly force under the pretext of fear of imminent harm from the citizen. Put differently, police officers, post-Jim Crow, are allowed to shoot first and ask questions later—a modern concept in good congruence to Jim Crow.
The modish police culture in the United States is a blend of brute and excessive force, escalation in police encounters, imperious and draconian practices, and extrajudicial killings. All wrapped up in one unsavory policing of the black communities. Where Jim Crow left off, the police picked up. The laws gave them the leeways they need, and the courts gave them the backings. To terrorize, lord it over, and keep down as if the blacks are a group that has to be conquered at all cost.
Same game, just a different day
Nowadays, inhumane treatments and unspeakable indignities of the black person are the norms of a disturbing number of police stops. A traffic stop is no longer routine as it can quickly be morphed into an unnecessary escalation where the motorist can be killed, citing any bogus reason the officer can make up.
Trivial excuses, such as the driver failed to comply, or the driver was reaching for his pocket or glove compartment, mistaking a taser for a gun or a cell phone for a weapon – or simply breathing while black. It is not uncommon that the officer tends to result in barking orders, yelling, berating, mistreating, and degrading the humanity of the black motorist. A minor challenge to the officer’s uncouth tactics could quickly be escalated and result in excessive and unjustifiable use of deadly force. This conduct has become all too rampant, and it appears that, no posture of a black person is acceptable to police.
Even a fleeing suspect that poses no harm, or an arrestee, or a person restrained, or duly in police custody, is no longer safe from the stare of the barrel and other deadly police tactics. The black person is always perceived as an imminent danger to the officer so that killing is the only viable option to remove the threat. See the lives of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Daunte Wright, George Perry Floyd, etc. They all died under these circumstances.
But what about the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution designed to remove the imbalance in how people are treated? One might ask. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States… nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The language of the 14th amendment is too broad, not specific or targeted, diluting the purpose of writing, which is to protect black people from state-sanctioned abuse.
Even the courts have interpreted it differently over the years. Like every other law meant to protect minorities, the clause continues to exist in flux, leaving black people exposed and unprotected from racist police culture.
State v. Chavin – On George Floyd and the road to justice for all
For the past four weeks, the world witnessed the trial of one former police officer, Derek Chauvin – a white man. We all saw his emotionless and stoic state when the guilty verdict was handed to him for the savage killing of George Perry Floyd – a black man.
Many believed because of this judgment, the police are finally being held accountable for their criminal conduct. The entire country rejoiced and exulted; even the President of the United States took satisfaction in the decision, called the family of George Floyd, and joined them in savoring the moment. While this verdict was just and correct, I am unconvinced that the black community is anywhere close to receiving relief from an inherently racist police habit.
This is not about Derek Chauvin or one officer being made a whipping boy for police misconducts; it is about a system that gave us Derek Chauvin. There are many more Chauvin’s policing the black communities all over America with badges and guns. It is no more different from the old Jim crow arbitrary menace, only now administered by a lawful state agent. From a hateful lynch mob to the government.
No wonder African-Americans are not aghast when reports came out that a Virginia police officer had expressed support and donated to Kyle Rittenhouse – who is white and currently facing felony charges for the shooting and death of two men during the Black Lives Matter protest of the police killing of Jacob Blake, another black man. The officer’s message to Rittenhouse was, “God bless, Thank you for your courage. Keep your head up. You’ve done nothing wrong.” Apparently, to this officer, shooting Black Lives Matter demonstrators in point-blank is doing the right thing. All these actions do is fuel the notion that police and the system are structurally anti-black.
In the intervening period between the time George Floyd was murdered and the writing of this piece, 181 black persons have been killed by police in the United States. That is about five black people killed every single week. This is a confirmation that the police have not shown signs of abandoning their iniquitous treatment of the black person any time soon.
Therefore, the only sensible option is to dismantle the entire policing structure and embark on a do-over. Defunding the police or scapegoating the so-called few “bad apples” is not the viable solution. The apple tree is rotten, corrupted, and must be uprooted and replaced with a new one.
If the United States fails to overhaul the system, I am afraid the quest to repair the “stain on the soul of our nation” is still an illusion. This conviction of one police officer will not reverse a century-long culturally entrenched system of racism.