Under The Radar - A History of Violence


By Francis White 

“The riot broke out on May 31, 1921, when a white lynch mob clashed with blacks who were protecting a black man accused of assaulting a white elevator operator. Over two days, white mobs set fire to homes, business and churches in Greenwood, a thriving African American business district known at the time as the Black Wall Street of America. When the smoke cleared, the area lay in ruins. Many blacks left and never returned. The National Guard rounded up thousands of others and held them at various locations around the city.

After two years of meetings, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission recommended Friday that direct payments be made to survivors and descendants of riot victims. The eleven-member panel also called for a memorial to the dead, scholarships and a tax check-off program to fund economic development in the Greenwood district, where the 1921 rampage by a white Tulsa mob killed as many as 300 people, most of them black.”

- Amy Goodman on a year 2000 episode of Democracy Now on the Tulsa Race Riots/bombings of 1921

“The FBI began COINTELPRO—short for Counterintelligence Program—in 1956 to disrupt the activities of the Communist Party of the United States. In the 1960s, it was expanded to include a number of other domestic groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, the Socialist Workers Party, and the Black Panther Party. All COINTELPRO operations were ended in 1971. Although limited in scope (about two-tenths of one percent of the FBI’s workload over a 15-year period), COINTELPRO was later rightfully criticized by Congress and the American people for abridging first amendment rights and for other reasons.”

- From the FBI website on the US government sponsored Cointelpro operation

“It's seems incredible that so many people had never heard about the time American law enforcement bombed U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, which, on top of the deaths, left dozens of bystanders' homes destroyed in an uncontrolled fire that the police commissioner told firefighters not to put out right away. The details are so extreme, so over-the-top. How have we forgotten this?

- Gene Demby of NPR on the Bombing of the Move organization in Philadelphia in 1985

We can probably go on down the line, but then I’d be writing this story all month. I think that enough has been said, written, and produced in Hollywood about slavery and the origins of Africans in the Americas (although my opinion of some of its interpretation I could argue). So, I decided to look at a few instances from history post slavery and reconstruction.

"Deep like the mind of Farrakhan"

- Notorious B.I.G. on Warning on his Ready To Die album

With such a sordid past when it comes to the subject of African Americans/communities of color, their social and economic mobility, and their relationship with law enforcement and the US government, it’s not hard to see why Minister Louis Farrakhan is calling for “Justice or Else” when he visits Washington DC this Saturday October 10th to speak for the 20 year anniversary of The Million Man March.

“We fought in the Revolutionary War, we fought in the Civil War, we fought in the War of 1812, we fought in the Spanish American War, we fought in World War I, we fought in World War II, we fought in Korea, we fought Vietnam. We’re dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re dying for what? Let’s put something before this government – the theme is Justice or Else” says Farrakhan.

Without a doubt, the United States is one of the most violent nations in the modern world. As a matter of fact, violence and intimidation is what built this country. Even before any of the first “Pilgrims” or settlers got to the Americas, they were involved in violent religious confrontations back home in England and Europe. England even cleaned out some of its prison population and let some of its prisoners (in similar fashion of the settling of Australia) come to the new world. The settlers were in violent confrontations with Native American peoples almost immediately after stepping off the Mayflower. The international slave trade was already in full effect before the first American settlers, and there’s evidence to suggest that there were American settlers involved in the exploiting of Africans for money and sex. These were the Original Gangsters, the ones who built the foundation for the America that we know today.

The violence here is so a part of our culture, that I believe we’ve become desensitized to it. We’re like a pig in pig pen that spends all its existence dirty and smelly, so it doesn’t know that it’s a filthy creature. Violence is in our sports, our movies/TV shows, our video games like Call of Duty, and even in our food – it’s what we do. I don’t think it can be argued that out of most non-European American groups, black people (mostly descendants of slaves), and Native Americans in order to survive over here throughout the centuries, have had to develop a response to the culture of American violence historically directed at them. For what it is worth, Native Americans were given some type of legal nationhood status by the US federal government, while blacks on the other hand have been dealing with integration.

In the examples I gave earlier you have situations where American violence and/or intimidation were the final solutions to scenarios that could’ve been resolved very peacefully. Many poor white Americans living in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area at the time of those Race Riots in 1921 were envious of the success of the black middle to upper class community of Greenwood. An accusation of an attack on a white elevator operator by a black Greenwood resident was the excuse used to finally mob up the poor whites (with the help or blessings of local government and law enforcement) against that modestly affluent black neighborhood. 

The history of the Cointelpro operation (also called Counter Intelligence Program) in America is well known, but the facts and specifics of who really were the targets of the government and why remain sketchy because so many of the released documents have omitted information, and there are many more documents still that are classified. What is known is that the government had a budget; it spent tax payer money to document, follow, and apparently in some cases sabotage the careers of positive black leaders in this country.

Probably one of the more bizarre and incredible instances of American violence and intimidation towards black people on this soil happened in Philly in 1985, which wasn’t that long ago. A group of row houses inhabited by the MOVE organization, which is often characterized as a radical black separatist group was bombed by Philadelphia law enforcement officials in broad day light. Innocent men, women, and children were killed. There are even reports that the Philly fire department was told not to put the fires out immediately, to let them burn for a while. 

I’m not advocating violence or a race war at this time, because it will solve absolutely nothing. I don’t agree with everything Louis Farrakhan says, but I think he is one of the more influential black leaders of our times and that we should pay attention to some of the things he has to say. He helped organize the Million Man March in 1995 which also took place in Washington and I remember (at least for black Americans) that was a momentous occasion. I remember black Americans having visions of Malcolm, and Martin returning. I remember the many, many bus trips from around the country that were organized to go to DC. Black movie director Spike Lee released a movie called Get on The Bus about this. I remember black parents who were taking their children and entire families to what they figured would be a historic occasion. Black people had been looking for leadership, and still are that could help them finally get past the things that were keeping them separated for centuries from realizing some part of the American dream, a country for the most part they help to build, sweated for, slaved for, and died for. Communities of color have been begging, pleading, and working for basic fairness on many levels for such a long time in this country. Nobody had been asking for any handouts only for what was owed them – just the justice to be left alone to live and grow like their white counterparts.

Police shootings in black communities in America is nothing new, it’s just that it’s the day of the information age and information news travels fast and direct. A Mike Brown shooting in 1812 probably wouldn’t have the same impact as it did in the 2000’s. It’s getting hard to hide the fact that black and brown neighborhoods get different policing standards than white ones. It’s getting harder and harder to sweep these types of instances off as just coincidences and isolated incidents, it must be admitted that there is at least a culture here that must be investigated. When you add in all the other things that seem to be a part of American culture like the high rate of imprisonment for non-whites in this country, unequal access to economic advancement opportunities and business startup capital for these folks, and just the overall poverty statistics, all of which is nothing new – one starts to wonder if there is a conspiracy going on. Well if isn’t a conspiracy what are we collectively going to do about it, and when do we get started?