For the past couple of weeks, the ruthless disheartened “nonchalant” murder of George Floyd by ex-police officer Derek Chauvin (along with his three co-conspirators also now ex-policemen) has sparked protests from the site of Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis, Minn. to California, New York City, West Palm Beach, Fla., Washington, D.C., Savannah, Ga. to Europe, Japan and Australia.
As peaceful protests gripped U.S. cities, fires and looting began to take place. For the next few days, looting became the top news story around the world. Looters should always be called out and admonished but there is no reason why these actions should be synonymous with rioting and Black people dating back to the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who stated, “A riot is the language of the unheard.”
The Merriam Webster Dictionary describes looting or looters as: to rob on a large scale and usually by violence or corruption; illicit gains by public officials; goods, especially private property, taken from an enemy in war; to despoil by taking loot; plunder or pillage (a city, house, etc.), as in war; to rob, as by burglary or corrupt activity in public office: to loot anything taken by dishonesty, force, stealth, etc.
The definition of looters describes the actions of what the United States government and white citizens have been doing to American Blacks from slavery to this very moment. Racial violence like the American flag is a fabric woven into societal existence like institutional racism. In the United States, the importance of land has always served as a motive for lynchings and white mob attacks on Blacks which was an extreme form of looting and the first acts of terrorism in the U.S. Aside from slavery the most egregious act of terrorism and looting by the United States government and its white settlers were the attempted annihilation of Native Americans in an attempt to steal their land which was damn near all of America.
In December 2001, the Associated Press documented 57 violent land takings in an 18-month investigation of Black land (more than 24,000 acres of farm and timber land plus 85 smaller properties, including houses, stores and city lots) loss in America. In these cases of land looting, Black landowners were cheated out of their land or driven from it through intimidation, violence and murder. “In some cases, government officials approved the land takings; in others, they took part in them. These earliest cases occurred before the Civil War; others are currently being litigated today, (AP).”
The Tuskegee Institute and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have documented more than 3,000 lynchings between 1865 and 1965. Some of those lynched were land owners, said Ray Winbush, director of Fisk University’s Race Relations Institute.
Since looting will always be a narrative in protesting, the history of looting and looters should be mandatory in such conversations. People shouldn’t automatically see visions of Black kids in sneakers running out of Chanel, Macy’s, Best Buy or local grocery stores with food or merchandise. In 400 years too many Black people have been brutally murdered by white looting terrorists which makes it part of the American tradition.
Within this context it would be negligent not to mention the Central Park incident between Amy Cooper and Michael Cooper. It was a matter of Ms. Cooper deciding to use her white female damsel-in-distress prerogative to call the NYC police, as she shouted how a Black man was harassing her, realizing they would come immediately, ready to do him bodily harm.
How is her false statement any different from 14-year old Emmitt Till’s accuser Carolyn Bryant, who informed her husband that Till had made advances toward her. Or the two young white women who told Alabama police that nine young boys (known as the Scottsboro boys ages 13-19) raped them. Ms. Cooper is no different than other racist accusers, each of whom understood that their accusations would not end well for the accused. Fortunately, for Michael Cooper her lies did not lead to his demise as was the horrific cases of Till and the Scottsboro Boys.
The three similarities between white mob lynchings and white police men killing Black people are; they were killed for being Black, they were innocent of any crime, and the white men, who committed these terrorist acts were never convicted (that only holds true for the lynchings, a few police officers were actually convicted). But the long-standing reason why police officers are rarely prosecuted dates back to slavery.
From the moment our African ancestors landed on American soil 400 years ago, they were no longer considered human beings as they became the property of white men. Blacks were raped, killed, and mutilated but white men never had to answer for these crimes, at the height of reconstruction as the Ku Klux Klan reined terrorist attacks on Blacks from lynchings, to the looting of entire towns, they never answered for those crimes. Now in this 21st century some white police officers have inherited their forefathers belief of white supremacy; that Black lives are expendable and at the very least their blue uniform and that the blue wall of silence will find them innocent––after all, white men don’t go to prison for killing Black people.
And here we are again standing up for Rayshard Brooks’ recent murder and George Floyd’s brutal murder.
Around the globe people are quietly protesting and yes burning in anger in desperation and even a sense of hopelessness that is being fought back by the perseverance of truth and faith. Each day news reporters and TV hosts ask, “Well––what do you want? What do you think will happen this time?” What Black people want is the same thing they wanted when the civil rights charge was led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. What Black people want is the same thing they protested for when the writer and poet Henry Dumas (called “an absolute genius” by Toni Morrison) was killed by a NYC Transit police officer in 1968, when the elderly Eleanor Bumpurs was shot twice with a 12-gauge shotgun by police officer in 1984, when Trayvon Martin, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and Michael Brown, among others, were all gunned down by white police officers.
Black people want JUSTICE not Just-US. They want criminal justice, police reform or reconstruction or the entire system. What will happen remains to be seen! But it better end soon!! America has worn its dark cloak of in-justice for 400 years and its fabric of racism will not die easy.
Sustained resistance. Unrelenting Perseverance… Black Lives Matter.
Ron Scott writes the Amsterdam News weekly column “Jazz Notes” and contributes to the monthly publications Positive Community and Network Journal.