“I did it so that the world knows these police are not here to protect and serve us. They are here to assassinate us. They are here to kill us because we are black.”
— Diamond Reynolds, social media chronicler and eyewitness to her boyfriend Philando Castile’s point-blank “assassination” in Minneapolis July 7, quoted in the Los Angeles Times
I The Fruits of Arbitrary Power—The Bloody Massacre
On the evening of March 5, 1770, in the Incident on King Street, commonly known as the Boston Massacre, eight occupying forces—one captain, one officer, and six privates—of the British Royal Army fired upon a pretty unruly and belligerent mob of colonists, many of whom were armed with clubs, responding to an ugly and ridiculous street encounter between a provocative merchant and a British sentry, killing five and injuring six. The incident served to inflame tensions that were already nearly intolerably high between colonists and occupying British troops enforcing the Townshend Revenue Act upon the point of bayonet and through the depths of musket muzzle, and was a pivotal signpost on the road to revolution. Among the dead was Crispus Attucks, a mixed-race merchant seaman and escaped slave of Black-African and Native-American descent who cloaked himself under the alias, Michael Johnson. Attucks was among the first and foremost to agitate that day and the first to die. He is seen lying prone with two gushing red gunshot wounds to his chest in the far left of Paul Revere’s infamous engraving—actually a copy of an original by Henry Pelham, apprentice and half-brother to John Singleton Copley, entitled The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, or The Bloody Massacre. In some prints, Attucks was depicted as a person of color, but in others, he appears to be colorless, or White, as if Black Americans were to be effaced from the prominent history of the colonial revolution.
It was none other than then lawyer and literary political provocateur John Adams who eventually defended the “assassins,” who’d been charged with murder; six of them were acquitted, while two others were convicted of manslaughter and given a lighter sentence, which constituted a hot branding upon the thumb. Adams, who believed murder convictions would have been a gross miscarriage of justice, singled out Attucks among the “motley rabble of… negros and molattoes” and other low life, as having gone a long way toward engaging the fatal actions of the besieged soldiers with his “mad behavior.” Indeed, if the incident had occurred 246 years later, say, in March of this year, and the other victims had been Black as well, Fox News Channel show hosts and commentators might also have found the “massacre” to have been entirely justified; you can just imagine the incendiary and inflammatory coverage.
Adams, who nonetheless defended the term “massacre” as an apt description and asserted the incident, among the others taught to American schoolchildren, necessitated the complete and utter removal of British rule from the colonies, stated prophetically, “the incident is the strongest Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies.” Indeed, in its immediate aftermath, in the interest of public safety, a reluctant Thomas Hutchinson, then Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, successfully petitioned to have the occupying forces—the 14th and 29th regiments of the British Royal Army—removed to the fortress of Castle William Island. At a time of great public agitation and unrest, Massachusetts Bay was left without any effective means of official law enforcement.
II Proofs of the Danger of Standing Armies—The Ghastly Apparitions of D.C.
It sounds rather ideal, doesn’t it? Is it not plainly true and self-evident that today’s urban police forces constitute just such an imminent threat upon the liberty of our persons? Just past the celebration of this nation’s 240th year of independence, then, might not Adams, above those very same colonial merchants and rabble-rousers, if they’re bones and chains were to be rattled and loosed from beyond their decrepit cemeteries by the anguished hue and cry of yet another lamentable citizen death at the hands of our present-day standing armies—those militarized and belligerent police forces—might they not arise and call for a new day? Would these ghastly colonists alighted to the happenings and circumstances of the present day in this regard, not find a uniformed army of police forces with a vast array of semiautomatic and automatic rifles and the like at their most immediate disposal at least, if not more, hostile than those posted, billeted Redcoats of 1770? Just what is Independence, now, besides slavery, for the affected African-American communities? What is it for any of us? From what are we Independent from, and from whom? The British?
Are we not the subjects of what amounts to a national police force of such astounding facility and the will and readiness to use it so as to render the Constitution itself to be little more relevant than if it were mere discarded toilet paper in a public restroom at the end of another long and bustling day? Would not these police that so often put themselves upon the African-American descendants of the former slaves themselves cause even a former slaveholder like Thomas Jefferson, who certainly would’ve hoped for better, to recoil in utter horror if he were to return in ghostly apparition? Would he not have cause to pause, and ponder—&*^%, perhaps I was right all along—maybe we should have repatriated many of these poor people to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Haiti, after all?
From one vantage, he peers in a vertical, south-facing window into the Oval Office, espying that eloquent statesman, Barack Obama, presiding at the handcrafted wooden presidential desk. After awhile, the ghost withdraws, to stretch his legs, so to speak, moving east down Pennsylvania Avenue NW, then a quick left on Madison Place NW, then disappearing for a long stretch east on H Street NW, cutting down Benning Road NE at Maryland Avenue, then left on E. Capitol Street SE, up Division Avenue NE into Lincoln Heights until he makes a sharp right on Dix Street NE, whereupon he suddenly stumbles upon the prone and quivering body of a young African-American male dying in a pool of his own blood at the hands of a swarm of nearby armed, commiserating D.C. Metropolitan peace officers. Though the incident barely agitates the tranquil atmosphere enveloping the sitting president, dutifully applying his signature to various documents with a pen from his left hand, nonchalantly taking calls from a foreign leader or two on some urgent and pressing matters, and what-not, there’s nothing peaceful about it. Is it not one thing to be oppressed by the occupying force of a colonial army, a rather cut-and-dry affair, after all, and yet another to be repressed by those peoples of your own nation?
III Generations—Slavery To Now
Indeed, compared to today’s gut-wrenching racial horror courtesy the nation’s police forces, as if black-on-black gang violence spirited by the deliberate introduction of rock cocaine and inexpensive, fly-by-night firearms from White-owned gun manufacturers wasn’t enough, that riveting B&W Civil Rights-era footage utilized by the likes of the producers of PBS documentaries Eyes on the Prize and the more recent Freedom Riders seems almost quaint by comparison. Rabid, racist cops armed with water cannons; vicious, trained dogs; nightsticks; handcuffs; jails—beatings, melees, taunts, threats vs. today’s calculated, cold-blooded police murders—take tour pick. Secret, nighttime abductions, clandestine extrajudicial lynchings? The grotesque horror of 14-year-old Emmett Till’s nude, beaten, bloodied, barbed, ravaged, mutilated corpse dropped into the murky depths of the Tallahatchie River or 25-year-old Freddie Gray beaten, broken, shackled, severed, disfigured, and unconscious in the back of a Baltimore Police Department transport van? The twisted, mangled, fractured, crushed corpses of Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, 14, 14, 11, and 14, strewn across the blasted, burnt out basement of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church or the lifeless, charred corpses of the five children, 7-13, ash choked in their constricted nostrils and lungs, assigned by history to anonymity, in the burnt-out, smoky ruins of the ravaged West Philadelphia row house? Freedom Riders or Black Lives Matter? Perhaps only the shot-up, bloodied, disfigured body of Medgar Evers, collapsed on the cold ground in front of his own house, remains? Al Sharpton is still with us.
These times have become so dreadful and incredible that art imitates life in the second season of NBC’s fascinating, dark serial glimpse of late ‘60s Los Angeles, Aquarius. In the episode, “Revolution 1,” which aired the night a Baltimore judge cleared a second officer of second-degree murder and three counts of manslaughter in the absolutely brutal beating, maltreatment, and rough-ride death of Gray, in the tense, charged aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., who would have an absolute heart attack over any number of issues—and not only those enveloping the Black community—if he were also to arrive, like Jesus, today, the Watts-based Black Panther Party affirms its decision to hold a peaceful demonstration the following morning, to the incredulous dismay of Charlie (Gethin Anthony), who’d been watching the rest of the nation’s major cities burn on the television screen from a sofa in the serene Pacific Palisades estate of Dennis Wilson (Andy Favreau). The peaceful march drops his spirit, dampens his hopes for an apocalyptic American “race war” in which African-Americans rise up, Haitian-style, leaving only he and his followers to live out their new destiny; failing that, it will have to arrive spasmodically through the spilt blood of their victims. That the deeply disturbing events and circumstances of today would certainly alight the depraved, manic, and racist imagination of a Charles Manson shows just how backwards we have gone, how far we have fallen, as a people and a nation. From slavery to Reconstruction to the Civil Rights era to today, Diamond Reynolds is not naive. She knows these issues are not just domestic, but that the entire world—from Moscow to London to Johannesburg and beyond—is watching, wondering if, and when, we will ever change, or awaken from our national nightmare of race and unremitting violence.
(This posting will continue.)
© 2016 John Tyler/24 Hours