Black Caucus Sells Out Its Constituents Again – to the Cops

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This bill will be received as yet another attack on these communities and threatens to exacerbate what is already a discriminatory system of mass incarceration in this country.”

The bigger the Congressional Black Caucus gets, the more it betrays its constituents. Last Wednesday, three out of every four members of the Black Caucus in the U.S. House voted to make assaults on police officers a federal hate crime. The Protect and Serve Act of 2018 is totally superfluous, since cops are already the most protected “class” in the nation. Nearly a million sworn officers inhabit a legal dominion of their own, where immunity from prosecution for even the most heinous crimes is the norm. As People for the American Way point out : “All fifty states have laws that enhance penalties for people who commit offenses against law enforcement officers, including for homicide and assault,” and federal laws already “impose a life sentence or death penalty on persons convicted of first-degree murder of federal employees or officers, killing state and local law enforcement officers or other employees assisting with federal investigations, and killing officers of the U.S. courts.” However, like the Israel lobby, the cop lobby demands abject, groveling obeisance from the people’s representatives — lest there be any doubt as to who rules in either of the world’s white settler states.

Nearly a million sworn officers inhabit a legal dominion of their own, where immunity from prosecution for even the most heinous crimes is the norm.”

The Protect and Serve Act, which sailed through the U.S. House on a vote of 382 to 35 , is a “Blue Lives Matter” bill that serves no other purpose than to give a giant middle finger to the Black Lives Matter movement. When the cops demanded to know, Which side are you on? three-quarters of the Congressional Black Caucus kissed the feet of the Blue Beast: “Your side, Boss!”

The Ugly

Twenty-nine CBC members paid homage to the world’s largest police state.

Alma Adams (NC); Joyce Beatty (OH); Sanford Bishop (GA); Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE); G.K. Butterfield (NC); Andre Carson (IN); Emanuel Cleaver (MO); James Clyburn (SC); Elijah Cummings (MD); Danny Davis (IL); Val Butler Demings (FL); Keith Ellison (MN); Dwight Evans (PA); Marcia Fudge (OH); Al Green (TX); Sheila Jackson Lee (TX); Hakeem Jeffries (NY); Hank Johnson (GA); Robin Kelly (IL); Brenda Lawrence (FL); Al Lawson (FL); John Lewis (GA); Donald McEachin (VA); Gregory Meeks (NY); Bobby Rush (IL); David Scott (GA); Terri Sewell (AL); Bennie Thompson (MS); Marc Veasey (TX)

The Worthless

Three Black Caucus members did not bother to vote, which was the same as casting a “Yea” for the Act.

Anthony Brown (MD); Cedric Richmond (LA); Frederica Wilson (FL)

The Few That Did Not “Comply”

Below are the 11 members that stood up the police lobby, voting “Nay.”

Karen Bass (CA); Yvette Clarke (NY); Wm. Lacy Clay (MO); Alcee Hastings (FL); Johnson, E. B.(TX); Barbara Lee (CA); Gwen Moore (WI); Donald Payne (NJ); Bobby Scott (VA); Maxine Waters (CA); Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ)

A Slap in the Face

Donald Trump and three-quarters* of the Black Caucus are on the same side, despite all the Democratic rhetoric seeking to distinguish between the two parties. When it comes to the Mass Black Incarceration State, Black Democrats are First Responders, ever ready to buttress the power, prestige and immunities of the cops and jailers.

As People for the American Way, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights put it : “Rather than focusing on policies that address issues of police excessive force, biased policing, and other police practices that have failed these communities, the Protect and Serve Act’s aim is to further criminalize. This bill will be received as yet another attack on these communities and threatens to exacerbate what is already a discriminatory system of mass incarceration in this country.”

Worse than Misleaders, the CBC is the Enemy

The advent of the Black Lives Matter movement has wrought virtually no change at all in the political behavior of the Congressional Black Caucus; collectively, they are just as treacherous as in the pre-Ferguson days. Back in June of 2014, two months before Mike Brown’s murder sparked a national movement, four-fifths of the Black Caucus voted down an amendment to halt the Pentagon’s infamous 1033 program that has funneled billions of dollars in military weapons and gear to local police departments. Twenty-seven members voted to continue the militarization of local police forces, five abstained from voting, which amounted to an endorsement of the status quo, and only eight members – one out of five — supported the Grayson Amendment. We at BAR called the Black Caucus super-majority “The Treasonous 32.” Below is the breakdown of the vote from that day of shame:

The Ugly

Karen Bass (CA); Joyce Beatty (OH); Sanford Bishop (GA); Corrine Brown (FL); G.K. Butterfield (NC); Andre Carson (IN); Yvette Clarke (NY); Wm Lacy Clay (MO); Emanuel Cleaver (MO); James Clyburn (SC); Elijah Cummings (MD); Danny Davis (IL); Chaka Fattah (PA); Al Green (TX); Alcee Hastings (FL); Steven Horsford (NV); Sheila Jackson Lee (TX); Hakeem Jeffries (NY); E. B. Johnson (TX); Robin Kelly (IL); Gregory Meeks (NY); Gwen Moore (WI); Donald Payne (NJ); David Scott (GA); Terri Sewell (AL); Marc Veasey (TX); Frederica Wilson (FL)

The Worthless

The abstainers of 2014, as four years later, effectively endorsed the status quo: militarization of the police.

Marcia Fudge (OH); Charles Rangel (NY); Cedric Richmond (LA); Bobby Rush (IL); Bennie Thompson (MS)

The Few for Demilitarization

John Conyers (MI); Donna Edwards (MD); Keith Ellison (MN); Hank Johnson (GA); Barbara Lee (CA); John Lewis (GA); Bobby Scott (VA); Maxine Waters (CA)

Are Black People Represented in the Congress?

When 80 percent of Black Democrats in the U.S. House vote for continued militarization of local police forces, and then four years later 75 percent of these same Black Democrats give “protected class” status to cops, then we must conclude that the intervening period of “Black Lives Matter” agitation had no effect on Black Democratic Party politics — and further, that the Caucus is wholly and brazenly unaccountable to its constituents.

As Malcolm X said: “You’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok.”

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

* Of the Congressional Black Caucus’ 48 members , two are U.S. Senators (Cory Booker and Kamala Harris), and two are delegates from Washington DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands, who cannot vote on the House floor. BAR does not count Mia Love, the Black Republican CBC member from Utah, in its tabulations on Black Caucus behavior. (She voted “Yea” on the Protect and Serve Act.) That leaves 43 Black Democrats with full voting privileges in the U.S. House.

By Glenn Ford/BAR

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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Plainclothes Police Officers are Terrorizing, Robbing and Killing Black People

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Plainclothes or undercover police officers are engaged in an inordinate amount of killings, suggesting there is a fundamental problem with the practice of placing law enforcement out of uniform.
In the New York Police Department, plainclothes officers are involved in fatal shootings far in excess of their numbers on the force, as The Intercept reported. An analysis of 174 fatal shootings by NYPD on-duty officers since 2000 found that plainclothes or undercover officers, who are approximately 6 percent of the force, were involved in nearly one third — 31 percent — or 54 of those killings.
According to a 2016 report from the NYPD, plainclothes cops accounted for nearly half of officers involved in “adversarial conflicts” in which police are in confrontation with a suspect and intentionally discharge a weapon. Specialty units such as anti-crime units, which proactively pursue people on the street, claim one-third of these gun discharges. These elite units of plainclothes officers, unlike their uniformed counterparts, do not respond to 911 calls but instead pursue violent criminal activity while or before it takes place. Typically, undercover officers patrol without body cameras, use unmarked vehicles, and operate without accountability. Further, unlike beat NYPD cops who may form relations with the community, plainclothes police are known to instigate, harass and engage in aggressive and dangerous behavior.

Plainclothes officers have long been associated with death in the Black community, failing to protect and placing Black lives in harm’s way. In the 1960s, the NYPD used Black undercover officers to infiltrate Black radical organizations through the department’s clandestine operations, the Bureau of Special Services, or BOSS. The NYPD was monitoring Malcolm X up until his assassination. Undercover agent Gene Roberts was a member of Malcolm X’s OAAU and the minister’s chief of security. Known as “Brother Gene,” he unsuccessfully administered CPR to the fallen leader at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. This man who betrayed Malcolm went on to infiltrate the Black Panthers. FBI agents worked undercover in the Nation of Islam, including John Ali, the NOI national secretary. Another undercover NYPD agent, Ray Wood, who infiltrated the Bronx chapter of CORE, was reportedly seen running out of the Audubon at the time of the assassination.

Over the past few decades, plainclothes officers have been involved in the slayings of a number of Black men. For example, in 1999, members of the infamous NYPD street crimes unit killed Amadou Diallo in a hail of 41 bullets because they reportedly thought he was a suspect and mistook his wallet for a gun. Although the NYPD disbanded the unit, the brutality against Black people continued unabated.

Another casualty of undercover police was Sean Bell, who was shot to death in 2006 at his bachelor party, hours before his wedding. Undercover officers opened fire on Bell’s car with 50 shots, killing Bell, 23 and injuring two others. In 2013, Kimani Gray, 16, was fatally shot by members of an anti-crime unit in Crown Heights. The officer who choked Eric Garner to death in 2014 on Staten Island on suspicion of selling untaxed “loosie” cigarettes was working in plainclothes as well.
The Baltimore Police Department abolished plainclothes policing because of a “cutting corners mindset” among crime fighting units, as the Baltimore Sun reported, and as a result of federal indictments against seven officers who were engaging in robbery and extortion of Baltimore residents, filing false police reports and fraudulently collecting overtime pay. Members of the Gun Trace Task Force acted as both cops and robbers, stealing large amounts of money from Black men with no recourse. Such units charged with fighting and reducing crime have violated the rights of the public.
Undercover police are also a common fixture of antifascist protests, infiltrating crowds and student activist groups that oppose the presence of white supremacist hate groups on college campuses. As white extremist groups continue their demonstrations, police arrest anti-racist protesters, sometimes at home or their place of work, in an effort to intimidate left-wing and racial justice activists. This as campus, state and local police face accusations they protect and collaborate with white supremacists. For example, when white supremacist Richard Spencer was scheduled for a speaking engagement at Michigan State University in March, 200 officers from eight different departments were present that day, including nine undercover officers, of whom two were campus police.

As plainclothes officers violate the civil rights of Black people, sometimes they are taken to court and made to answer for their crimes. In 2014, a federal jury awarded art student Jordan Miles, 22, $119,000 for a 2010 false arrest and beating from three white Pittsburgh police officers. Because of his race and dreadlocks, the police, who reportedly assumed Miles was a drug dealer, rolled up in an unmarked car, without identifying themselves, asking for drugs, money and a gun. Jacqueline Little, a Philadelphia resident and IRS employee, sued the city and three plainclothes officers who pulled her over, claimed she had drugs in her possession, and falsely arrested her. She admitted herself to a hospital after sustaining injuries from the tight handcuffs while in police custody. Meanwhile, Glen Grays, a New York postal worker, was nearly struck while making a delivery by an unmarked NYPD police vehicle, then arrested in his uniform. The officers involved had a history of various civil rights complaints filed against them.
It is clear that plainclothes police are a problem, particularly where Black people are concerned.

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Officer wants charges dismissed in black motorist killing

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The attorney for a fired police officer said he should not stand trial for fatally shooting a stranded black motorist, saying the slaying was tragic but justified.

Attorney Richard Lubin began the two-day hearing Monday for former Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja by saying Corey Jones pointed his gun at Raja after he identified himself as a police officer. He said Raja should be protected by Florida’s so-called stand-your-ground law.

Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer will decide whether to dismiss manslaughter and other charges against Raja for the 2015 shooting of Jones, who was legally carrying a handgun.

Raja was working undercover in plainclothes. Prosecutors say he never identified himself as a police officer, making Jones think he was a robber. Raja is of South Asian descent.

More from News & Observer

Posted by Libergirl…why in the f*uck should the charges be dismissed!

In Louisiana, Threatening to File a Complaint Against Police Can Lead to a Five-Year Prison Sentence

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Livingston Parish Sheriff’s deputies (Facebook)

On April 30, 2015, William Aubin Jr. was at home with his wife in Livingston Parish, Louisiana when a patrol car from the sheriff’s office pulled onto his street. The deputy, William Durkin, was there to investigate a reckless driving complaint. Aubin wasn’t involved in the incident but he knew about it and went outside of his home to speak with Durkin. During a vulgar and combative conversation, according to Aubin, Durkin repeatedly called Aubin a “pussy.”

“I’m calling your supervisor,” Aubin said. “I’m gonna get you fired.” Aubin took out his cell phone, called the sheriff’s department, and started walking back towards his house. But before he made it inside, Durkin arrested him. The charge: intimidation of a public official — a felony that in Louisiana carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

The 21st Judicial District Attorney’s Office (whose jurisdiction includes Livingston Parish) ultimately declined to prosecute Aubin. But in a lawsuit filed in April 2016 in the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Louisiana against Durkin and his supervisor, Sheriff Jason Ard, Aubin challenged the constitutionality of the statute that led to his arrest. The statute prohibits “the use of violence, force, or threats … with the intent to influence [an official’s] conduct in relation to his position, employment, or duty.”

The statute’s constitutionality was also called into question in a December 2015 incident in nearby Tangipahoa Parish, when officers pepper sprayed a man named Travis Seals even though he was already in handcuffs. After telling the officers he was going to file a complaint against them, he too was charged with public intimidation. Seals then launched his own lawsuit, also in federal court, challenging the constitutionality of the statute.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry intervened in both cases to defend it. But in the past year, federal judges in the two cases have called the statute unconstitutional. In a September 2017 ruling, Chief Judge Brian A. Jackson of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana pilloried the application of the statute in the Aubin case. “The right to criticize the police without risk of arrest distinguishes a democracy from a police state,” he wrote.

In the Seals case, Jane Triche Milazzo, a judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District Of Louisiana, ruled last July that the statute violates the First Amendment.

“The Attorney General does little in the way of arguing that [the law] is constitutional as written or in overcoming the presumption of unconstitutionality,” Milazzo wrote. She noted that the statute broadly criminalized “threats to engage in lawful conduct such as, criticizing a police officer, writing a letter to the newspaper, filing a lawsuit, voting for an official’s opponent, or filing an ethics complaint.”

Landry has appealed her ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. His office did not respond to requests for comment.

Kearney Loughlin, the New Orleans-based attorney representing both Aubin and Seals says that the statute has become a “sort of a hammer that the police officers can use” since it was ratified in 1942. “You get a higher bail because it’s a felony,” he said. “It’s a more serious felony than battery on a police officer. You can punch an officer and not face the same ramifications.”

According to Loughlin, higher bail means that often many are jailed simply because they can’t afford to purchase their freedom. Loughlin also says that prosecutors may be using the law against defendants arrested for less serious offenses, such as public intoxication, in order to leverage them into pleading guilty to lesser charges.

In August 2017, the ACLU condemned the statute after it was used in the case of a Northern Louisiana man who raised his middle finger to a state trooper. “Among the freedoms this country provides is the right to criticize the government and public officials, including police officers,” wrote Marjorie Esman, who was then the executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana.

Sheriff Ard, one of the defendants in the Aubin lawsuit, argued in court filings that the statute is necessary to protect public officials from threats and coercion. “The government certainly has a substantial interest in ensuring that such threats are not allowed to influence the behavior of police officers and other officials,” Ard’s office wrote in a memo submitted to court in January 2017.

Not everyone in law enforcement, however, agrees that the statute is necessary to ensure the safety of public officials. Twenty-first Judicial District Attorney Scott Perrilloux recently told the Advocate that there are other laws that his office can use to fulfill the statute’s original aim — protecting public officials from true threats and coercion. Perrilloux did tell the newspaper, however, that he believes that the basis for the statute is sound.

But Seals’ and Aubin’s attorney Loughlin maintains that the statute’s broad reach is a clear violation of constitutional protections. “Ultimately the case is, can you threaten to do something lawful and go to jail for it, or is that protected by the first amendment,” Loughlin said. “That’s what this comes down to.”

By Michael Stein/InJusticeToday

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Sessions invokes ‘Anglo-American heritage’ of sheriff’s office

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday brought up sheriffs’ “Anglo-American heritage” during remarks to law enforcement officials in Washington.

“I want to thank every sheriff in America. Since our founding, the independently elected sheriff has been the people’s protector, who keeps law enforcement close to and accountable to people through the elected process,” Sessions said in remarks at the National Sheriffs Association winter meeting, adding, “The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”
“We must never erode this historic office,” Sessions continued.
Invoking “Anglo-American heritage” seems to have been an impromptu decision by the attorney general. A written version of the remarks says that Sessions was supposed to say: “The sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage.”
Posted by The NON-Conformist

 

Baltimore’s police problems go beyond just a few criminals in uniform

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It hurts to see Baltimore cops turn criminal, especially for me as a former resident and police officer.

The conviction of two former members of the city’s Gun Trace Task Force on charges of robbery and racketeering does not end the problems in Baltimore or its police department. Six other members of the unit have already pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges, reflecting years of robberies, burglaries, intimidation and theft against drug dealers and honest working folk alike. During the trial, other officers were implicated in crimes. Baltimore City’s state’s attorney, Marilyn Mosby, who professed no prior knowledge of the officers’ criminal conduct, faces accusations that a prosecutor tipped off the officers about the federal investigation. Her office has already dropped or vacated convictions in 125 cases the unit had made.

This current scandal is more than a case of a few bad apples, though bad apples they were. These officers acted with impunity until the FBI caught wind of their actions through an unrelated criminal investigation in Pennsylvania. A specialized police unit cannot survive for years as a criminal enterprise without the implicit — or overt — acquiescence of higher-ups. Effective leadership could have prevented this. Bad leadership has consequences.

In a city reeling from violence and less proactive policing in the wake of riots in 2015, these officers were given carte blanche. When crime goes up, guns and drugs on a table are like catnip to departmental brass. Yet the same people eager to bask in the reflected glory of seized contraband failed to ask how such quantities can be seized through legal and constitutional means.

Major police corruption scandals — whether Michael Dowd or the “Dirty 30” in New York City, Rampart in Los Angeles or Jon Burge in Chicago — share a common template. Red flags should make identification and prevention easier. Often, corrupt officers will be highly decorated, rewarded for their arrests and “productivity” without regards to how they did it. These officers will have a lengthy history of complaints against them, both sustained and unsubstantiated. Complaints are not proof of wrongdoing, and active officers interact more often with the public, but claims need to be flagged rather than dismissed by higher-ups or paid for by city taxpayers. Drugs, specifically the futile enforcement of our failed war against them, will inevitably play a central role.

Corrupt units tend to be specialized and selective. Once murky rumors begin about a unit or officer, good cops stay away for fear of trouble. The corrupt and brutal cops work together, as I once heard, as if pulled together by some magnetic force. You don’t just randomly get assigned to a plainclothes “gun trace task force.” This unit segregation removes officers from the otherwise corrective influence of the honest rank and file. There is no formal colleague review in policing; perhaps there should be.

Honest cops — still the vast majority — avoid trouble, as any citizen should hope. The rank and file cannot be blamed for keeping their noses clean, especially when unresolved questions remain about the integrity of internal affairs and the prosecutor’s office. These officers in Baltimore were guilty, but the systemic problems represent a failure of leadership, the same leadership that absolved itself of responsibility by inviting the Justice Department to investigate after Freddie Gray’s death.

The final DOJ report, which had vague methodology and no named authors, provided the legal and political cover to invite a federal consent decree over the Baltimore City Police Department. And yet, not coincidentally, the investigators failed to find fault with any contemporaneous city leaders, nor did they get a whiff of the criminality of the Gun Trace Task Force that was happening under their noses.

Self-serving political declarations of “reform” can even make things worse. A more reactive policing model is partly by design of those who see policing as inherently repressive. And it’s partly by choice of police who want to avoid any action that might end up on YouTube and the evening news. It’s also become fashionable in certain circles to simply demand police do less, and then blame society and racism for any increase in violence.

In the year following the 2015 riots, indicators of normal policing plummeted. Arrests dropped by a third. Arrests for numbers’ sake aren’t desirable, but officers have reported a dramatic decline in car stops and field interviews, as well. As the saying goes, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” On the plus side, excessive force and abusive language complaints are down. So are police-involved shootings. But homicide and violence are up. And it’s not just Baltimore. Nationwide from 2014 to 2016, murders rose 23 percent, and increased in 55 of the top 72 cities.

As elsewhere in America, racial inequality has deep and racist roots in Baltimore. Discussions of violence too often turn to society’s inequities, which are indeed important, but not so much to day-to-day policing. Officers on patrol cannot wait for a more just or equitable society before responding to a citizen’s complaint. Police must deal with society’s cards as they are dealt. Every measurable socioeconomic variable reflects a very real racial disparity. And yet somehow, we act as if these inequalities appear only the moment police show up. Police can indeed work to end racial bias; society needs to lesson racial disparity. But in a society plagued by structural racism, violence, too, is racially disparate. Over the past 10 years, fewer than 6 percent of murder victims in Baltimore have been white. Calls for police assistance reflect this disparity, as does police response.

Contrary to a police-are-the-problem narrative, a nationwide poll found that more African Americans want more police in their neighborhoods than whites do. Just 10 percent of blacks want fewer police. And two-thirds of nonwhites have “a great deal” of respect for police in their area. Of course, “more police” and “better police” are not mutually exclusive, but the answer to bad policing isn’t less policing. Calls to remove police from the streets or scale back proactive policing are tone-deaf to those who live in high-crime minority neighborhoods. Residents of poor minority neighborhoods deserve the same level of police service and public safety that wealthier, often whiter, communities simply take for granted.

It’s both easy and essential to note what we don’t want in policing: don’t be racist; don’t be brutal; don’t violate laws and the Constitution. But this is only part of the picture. We need to tell police what we want them to do, and some of that involves forcing wrongdoers to stop doing things they really want to do. On a recent day in Baltimore, as is typical, more than one-third of patrol shifts were staffed by overtime. An understaffed police force is tired. Toward the end of a mandatory double shift, patrol officers will do little but answer calls for service.

We know what works in policing — focused deterrence, targeted enforcement on gun-carrying criminals and proactive policing that listens to community quality-of-life concerns, the so-called broken windows. What is falling by the wayside is proactive get-out-of-the-car policing that confronts known criminals and solves problems before a serious crime is committed.

Until 2015, policing and Baltimore had been getting better. After an excess of zero-tolerance policing in the early 2000s, Baltimore saw a sustained decline in both murder and arrests. From 2004 to 2011, murders declined from 278 to 197 while arrests dropped from 42 percent. People even began to move back to the city. After six decades of decline, the population increased. These civic and public safety gains reversed in 2015. Last year 343 people were murdered in Baltimore City, and the population and tax base is falling once again.

This year the police scandal is yet another black eye for a bruised city. Mayor Catherine Pugh, in a statement she later walked back, said she was too busy to follow the trial. The acting and presumed next police commissioner, Darryl De Sousa, is well-respected but will have his hands full. Corrupt police officers deserve special blame for committing crimes while in the public’s trust. But for a wounded Baltimore to rise again, city leaders, both elected and appointed, must accept their responsibility and get things done.

By Peter Moskos/Wapo

Posted by The NON-Conformist

THE SHOT THAT ECHOES STILL

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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, fifty years ago this April, marked a blow to the struggle for racial equality from which the nation has still not healed. In an essay published in Esquire in April 1972, James Baldwin reflected on attending the funeral, and how King’s death signaled the end of civility for the civil-rights movement. At turns heartbreaking and hopeful, Baldwin’s words are as powerful—and urgent—as ever.

This year marks the 85th anniversary of Esquire. To commemorate this historical moment, each issue of the magazine in 2018 will feature a classic Esquire story written by an iconic Esquire author that feels as timely today as the year it was originally published.

An Introduction By Michael Eric Dyson

On April 9, 1968, thirteen hundred people filed into Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta for the private funeral of a man who, like his father before him, had once served as its pastor: the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Attendees included Thurgood Marshall, Wilt Chamberlain, Marlon Brando, Dizzy Gillespie, Stokely Carmichael, and Robert F. Kennedy, who’d be killed less than two months later. The choir, 160 strong, sang sorrowful hymns. Ralph David Abernathy, cofounder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, officiated. A lone singer performed a devastating rendition of “My Father Watches Over Me.” But the most memorable speaker that morning—a haunting baritone piped out of tinny speakers that left his four children startled—was King himself.

James Baldwin

Getty

“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral,” King pleaded posthumously in a recording from his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon given two months earlier and played at the behest of his widow, Coretta. He didn’t get his wish: The service lasted two hours, followed by a public, nationally broadcast funeral held that afternoon at King’s alma mater, Morehouse College. Such pageantry was a too-familiar vessel into which black pain was stuffed at moments like this, moments when suffering made no sense, moments for which we had no words. Yet the writer—especially one whose fiery style was forged in the pulpit of his church-bound boyhood—must have words. In “Malcolm and Martin,” as the essay was titled, James Baldwin recalled King’s funeral “the most real church service I’ve ever sat through in my life” and then grappled with the national undoing set loose by his death. Baldwin knew that America could survive only if it underwent an extraordinary social transformation—equality for all, hatred for none—that echoed the most noble ideals set out by our founding fathers. (That is, when they set aside their blinding bigotry.) But he also knew that King’s death, and Malcolm X’s in 1965, were signs the nation refused to acknowledge that the key to its salvation was held by those very people whom it had enslaved. The former quickly embraced pacifism; the latter was an advocate for black freedom at any cost. But the daily battles took a toll on both men, and their views had begun to converge—Malcolm mellowed; Martin grew more radical—so that, as Baldwin wrote, “by the time each met his death there was practically no difference between them.” Not that the country much cared about the particulars; the American experiment had once again bet against its redemption by black moral genius and lost.

America, Baldwin believed, was split in two—not between North and South but between the powerful and the disenfranchised. Racism, that scourge that beclouded our democracy, remained—remains—the nation’s greatest peril. But the powerful maintained the status quo by sowing discord among the disenfranchised. Poor white folk, rather than uniting with their socioeconomically oppressed brothers and sisters against the rich, trained their targets on poor black folk. They channeled their anxieties into a vengeance against blackness.

In this way, Baldwin predicted the forces that would one day lead to the return of xenophobic white nationalism, to the rise of Donald Trump. But to say Baldwin was ahead of his time is to miss his point: America will always need a prophet—a Malcolm, a Martin. The powerful will always seek to silence that prophet, instead trying to achieve the nation’s redemption on the cheap—not through self- correction but through crimson-stained violence that sacrifices the Other, whether black or brown or queer or immigrant. Fifty years after one lone prophet who didn’t make it to forty gave up the ghost on a bland balcony in Memphis, this essay is proof that King’s legacy, and Baldwin’s words, remain vital.


Since Martin’s death, in Memphis, and that tremendous day in Atlanta, something has altered in me, something has gone away. Perhaps even more than the death itself, the manner of his death has forced me into a judgment concerning human life and human beings which I have always been reluctant to make—indeed, I can see that a great deal of what the knowledgeable would call my life-style is dictated by this reluctance. Incontestably, alas, most people are not, in action, worth very much; and yet every human being is an unprecedented miracle. One tries to treat them as the miracles they are, while trying to protect oneself against the disasters they’ve become. This is not very different from the act of faith demanded by all those marches and petitions while Martin was still alive. One could scarcely be deluded by Americans anymore, one scarcely dared expect anything from the great, vast, blank generality; and yet one was compelled to demand of Americans—and for their sakes, after all—a generosity, a clarity, and a nobility which they did not dream of demanding of themselves. Part of the error was irreducible, in that the marchers and petitioners were forced to suppose the existence of an entity which, when the chips were down, could not be located—i.e., there are no American people yet. Perhaps, however, the moral of the story (and the hope of the world) lies in what one demands, not of others, but of oneself. However that may be, the failure and the betrayal are in the record book forever, and sum up and condemn, forever, those descendants of a barbarous Europe who arbitrarily and arrogantly reserve the right to call themselves Americans. The mind is a strange and terrible vehicle, moving according to rigorous rules of its own; and my own mind, after I had left Atlanta, began to move backward in time, to places, people, and events I thought I had forgotten. Sorrow drove it there, I think, sorrow, and a certain kind of bewilderment, triggered, perhaps, by something which happened to me in connection with Martin’s funeral.

King at a press conference in Birmingham, 1963.

Magnum​

 

When Martin was murdered, I was based in Hollywood, working—working, in fact, on the screen version of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. This was a difficult assignment, since I had known Malcolm, after all, crossed swords with him, worked with him, and held him in that great esteem which is not easily distinguishable, if it is distinguishable at all, from love.


There is a day in Palm Springs, shortly before I left there, that I will remember forever, a bright day. Billy Dee Williams had come to town, and he was staying at the house; and a lot of the day had been spent with a very bright, young lady reporter, who was interviewing me about the film version of Malcolm. I felt very confident that day—I was never to feel so confident again—and I talked very freely to the reporter. (Too freely, the producer was to tell me later.) I had decided to lay my cards on the table and to state, as clearly as I could, what I felt the movie was about, and how I intended to handle it. I thought that this might make things simpler later on, but I was wrong about that. The studio and I were at loggerheads, really, from the moment I stepped off the plane. Anyway, I had opted for candor, or a reasonable facsimile of same, and sounded as though I were in charge of the film, as, indeed, by my lights, for that moment, certainly, I had to be. I was really in a difficult position because both by temperament and experience I tend to work alone, and I dread making announcements concerning my work. But I was in a very public position, and I thought that I had better make my own announcements, rather than have them made for me. The studio, on the other hand, did not want me making announcements of any kind at all. So there we were, and this particular tension, since it got to the bloody heart of the matter—the question of by whose vision, precisely, this film was to be controlled—was not to be resolved until I finally threw up my hands and walked away.

As the original assignment card shows, Baldwin was living in Palm Springs, California, at the time.

Ben Goldstein

I very much wanted Billy Dee for Malcolm, and since no one else had any other ideas, I didn’t see why this couldn’t work out. In brutal Hollywood terms, Poitier is the only really big, black, box-office star, and this fact gave me, as I considered it, a free hand. To tell the bitter truth, from the very first days we discussed it, I had never had any intention of allowing the Columbia brass to cast this part: I was determined to take my name off the production if I were overruled. Call this bone- headed stupidity, or insufferable arrogance or what you will—I had made my decision, and once I had made it nothing could make me waver, and nothing could make me alter it. If there were errors in my concept of the film, and if I made errors on the way to and in the execution, well, then, I would have to pay for my errors. But one can learn from one’s errors. What one cannot survive is allowing other people to make your errors for you, discarding your own vision, in which at least you believe, for someone else’s vision, in which you do not believe. Anyway, all that shit had yet to hit the fan. This day, the girl and Billy and I had a few drinks by the swimming pool. The man, Walter, was about to begin preparing supper. The girl got up to leave and we walked her to her car and came back to the swimming pool, jubilant.

The phone had been brought out to the pool, and now it rang. Billy was on the other side of the pool, doing what I took to be African improvisations to the sound of Aretha Franklin. And I picked up the phone.

It was David Moses. It took a while before the sound of his voice—I don’t mean the sound of his voice, something in his voice—got through to me.

He said, “Jimmy? Martin’s just been shot,” and I don’t think I said anything, or felt anything. I’m not sure I knew who Martin was. Yet, though I know—or I think—the record player was still playing, silence fell. David said, “He’s not dead yet”—then I knew who Martin was—“but it’s a head wound—so—”

Top, left: Members of the press corps stand on a crane-held platform to better photograph King’s casket at Morehouse. Top, right: Coretta King and Harry Belafonte at the service. Middle: A small group of the more than 150,000 people who lined the four-mile stretch from Ebenezer Baptist Church to Morehouse College, where a public ceremony was held. Bottom, left: Coretta King consoles their daughter Bernice. Bottom, right: James Baldwin and Marlon Brando.

Ben Goldstein

 

I don’t remember what I said; obviously I must have said something. Billy and Walter were watching me. I told them what David had said.

I hardly remember the rest of that evening at all, it’s retired into some deep cavern in my mind. We must have turned on the television set if we had one, I don’t remember. But we must have had one. I remember weeping, briefly, more in helpless rage than in sorrow, and Billy trying to comfort me. But I really don’t remember that evening at all. Later, Walter told me that a car had prowled around the house all night.

I went to Atlanta alone, I do not remember why. I wore the suit I had bought for my Carnegie Hall appearance with Martin. I seem to have had the foresight to have reserved a hotel room, for I vaguely remember stopping in the hotel and talking to two or three preacher-type-looking men, and we started off in the direction of the church. We had not got far before it became very clear that we would never get anywhere near it. We went in this direction and then in that direction, but the press of people choked us off. I began to wish that I had not come incognito and alone, for now that I was in Atlanta I wanted to get inside the church. I lost my companions, and sort of squeezed my way, inch by inch, closer to the church. But directly between me and the church there was an impassable wall of people. Squeezing my way up to this point, I had considered myself lucky to be small; but now my size worked against me for, though there were people on the church steps who knew me, whom I knew, they could not possibly see me, and I could not shout. I squeezed a few more inches, and asked a very big man ahead of me please to let me through. He moved and said, “Yeah. Let me see you get through this big Cadillac.” It was true—there it was, smack in front of me, big as a house. I saw Jim Brown at a distance, but he didn’t see me. I leaned up on the car, making frantic signals, and finally someone on the church steps did see me and came to the car and sort of lifted me over. I talked to Jim Brown for a minute, and then somebody led me into the church and I sat down.

Esquire’s October 1968 cover captures the fatal outlook of a country rocked by a half-decade of assassinations.

Esquire

The church was packed, of course, incredibly so. Far in the front, I saw Harry Belafonte sitting next to Coretta King. Ralph David Abernathy sat in the pulpit. I remembered him from years ago, sitting in his shirt-sleeves in the house in Montgomery, big, black, and cheerful, pouring some cool, soft drink, and, later, getting me settled in a nearby hotel. In the pew directly before me sat Marlon Brando, Sammy Davis, Eartha Kitt—covered in black, looking like a lost, ten-year-old girl—and Sidney Poitier, in the same pew, or nearby. Marlon saw me, and nodded. The atmosphere was black, with a tension indescribable—as though something, perhaps the heavens, perhaps the earth, might crack. Everyone sat very still. The actual service sort of washed over me, in waves. It wasn’t that it seemed unreal; it was the most real church service I’ve ever sat through in my life, or ever hope to sit through; but I have a childhood hangover thing about not weeping in public, and I was concentrating on holding myself together. I did not want to weep for Martin, tears seemed futile. But I may also have been afraid, and I could not have been the only one, that if I began to weep I would not be able to stop. There was more than enough to weep for, if one was to weep—so many of us, cut down, so soon. Medgar, Malcolm, Martin: and their widows, and their children. Reverend Ralph David Abernathy asked a certain sister to sing a song which Martin had loved—“Once more,” said Ralph David, “for Martin and for me,” and he sat down.

The long, dark sister, whose name I do not remember, rose, very beautiful in her robes, and in her covered grief, and began to sing. It was a song I knew: My Father Watches Over Me. The song rang out as it might have over dark fields, long ago, she was singing of a covenant a people had made, long ago, with life, and with that larger life which ends in revelation and which moves in love.

He guides the eagle through the pathless air.

She stood there, and she sang it. How she bore it, I do not know, I think I have never seen a face quite like that face that afternoon. She was singing it for Martin, and for us.

And surely He

Remembers me,

My heav’nly Father watches over me.

At last, we were standing, and filing out, to walk behind Martin home. I found myself between Marlon and Sammy.

Top, left: In 1956, King was arrested for his involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It’s unknown who scrawled the notice of death, or when. Top, right: King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to 250,000 people during the March on Washington in August 1963. Bottom: Newspapers around the world led with the news of King’s death. Meanwhile, riots broke out in dozens of cities throughout the country; 58,000 soldiers from the Army and the National Guard stepped in to quell the uprisings.

Ben Goldstein

 

I had not been aware of the people when I had been pressing past them to get to the church. But, now, as we came out, and I looked up the road, I saw them. They were all along the road, on either side, they were on all the roofs, on either side. Every inch of ground, as far as the eye could see, was black with black people, and they stood in silence. It was the silence that undid me. I started to cry, and I stumbled, and Sammy grabbed my arm. We started to walk.

I don’t think that any black person can speak of Malcolm and Martin without wishing that they were here. It is not possible for me to speak of them without a sense of loss and grief and rage; and with the sense, furthermore, of having been forced to undergo an unforgivable indignity, both personal and vast. Our children need them, which is, indeed, the reason that they are not here: and now we, the blacks, must make certain that our children never forget them. For the American republic has always done everything in its power to destroy our children’s heroes, with the clear (and sometimes clearly stated) intention of destroying our children’s hope. This endeavor has doomed the American nation: mark my words.

This photo, published in Esquire’s August 1968 issue, shows mourners at King’s burial.

Ben Goldstein

Malcolm and Martin, beginning at what seemed to be very different points—for brevity’s sake, we can say North and South, though, for Malcolm, South was south of the Canadian border—and espousing, or representing, very different philosophies, found that their common situation (south of the border!) so thoroughly devastated what had seemed to be mutually exclusive points of view that, by the time each met his death there was practically no difference between them. Before either had had time to think their new positions through, or, indeed, to do more than articulate them, they were murdered. Of the two, Malcolm moved swiftest (and was dead soonest), but the fates of both men were radically altered (I would say, frankly, sealed) the moment they attempted to release the black American struggle from the domestic context and relate it to the struggles of the poor and the nonwhite all over the world.

To hold this view, it is not necessary to see C. I. A. infiltrators in, or under, every black or dissenting bed: one need merely consider what the successful promulgation of this point of view would mean for American authority in the world. Slaveholders do not allow their slaves to compare notes: American slavery, until this hour, prevents any meaningful dialogue between the poor white and the black, in order to prevent the poor white from recognizing that he, too, is a slave. The contempt with which American leaders treat American blacks is very obvious; what is not so obvious is that they treat the bulk of the American people with the very same contempt. But it will be sub-zero weather in a very distant August when the American people find the guts to recognize this fact. They will recognize it only when they have exhausted every conceivable means of avoiding it.

In the meantime, in brutal fact, all of the institutions of this nation, from the schools to the courts to the unions to the prisons, and not forgetting the police, are in the hands of that white majority which has been promising for generations to ameliorate the black condition. And many white Americans would like to change the black condition, if they could see their way clear to do so, through the unutterable accumulation of neglect, sorrow, rage, despair, and continuing, overriding, totally unjustifiable death: the smoke over Attica recalls the bombs of Birmingham and the liberal Mr. Rockefeller reveals himself as being even more despicable than his openly illiberal confreres further down.

But it is not important, however irresistible, to accuse Mr. Rockefeller of anything. He is just another good American; one of the best. It is unlikely that any Western people, and certainly not the Americans, have the moral resources needed to accomplish the deep and mighty transformation which is all that can save them. Such a transformation involves unimaginable damage to the American ego; would reduce all the American religious ceremonies, including the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, to the hypocritically bloody observances many of us have always known them to be; and would shed too unsparing a light on the actual dimensions and objectives of the American character. White Americans do not want to know what many nonwhites know too well, e.g., that “foreign aid” in the “underdeveloped” countries and “anti-poverty” programs in the ghetto are simply a slightly more sophisticated version of the British policy of Divide and Rule, are, in short, simply another means of keeping a people in subjection.

Since the American people cannot, even if they wished to, bring about black liberation, and since black people want their children to live, it is very clear that we must take our children out of the hands of this so-called majority and find some way to expose this majority as the minority which it actually is in the world. For this we will need, and we will get, the help of the suffering world which is prevented only by the labyrinthine stratagems of power from adding its testimony to ours.

Baldwin’s first Esquire story ran in 1960; his ninth, and last, ran in 1980. In an interview for the July 1968 issue, conducted two days after King’s funeral, Baldwin grapples with the growing violence in the fight for equality.

Esquire

No one pretends that this will be easy, and I myself do not expect to live to see this day accomplished. What both Martin and Malcolm began to see was that the nature of the American hoax had to be revealed—not only to save black people but in order to change the world in which everyone, after all, has a right to live. One may say that the articulation of this necessity was the Word’s first necessary step on its journey toward being made flesh.

And no doubt my proposition, at this hour, sounds exactly that mystical. If I were a white American, I would bear in mind that mysteries are called mysteries because we recognize in them a truth which we can barely face, or articulate. I would bear in mind that an army is no match for a ferment, and that power, however great that power may consider itself to be, gives way, and has always been forced to give way, before the onslaught of human necessity: human necessity being the fuel of history.

If my proposition sounds mystical, white people have only to consider the black people, my ancestors, whose strength and love have brought black people to this present, crucial place. If I still thought, as I did when Martin and Malcolm were still alive, that the generality of white Americans were able to hear and to learn and begin to change, I would counsel them, as vividly as I could, to attempt, now, to minimize the bill which is absolutely certain to be presented to their children. I would say: if those blacks, your slaves, my ancestors, could bring us out of nothing, from such a long way off, then, if I were you, I would pause a long while before deciding to use what you think of as your power. For we, the blacks, have not found possible what you found necessary: we have not denied our ancestors who trust us, now, to redeem their pain.

Well. Baby, that’s it. I could say, and they would both understand me: Don’t you think Bessie is proud of Aretha?

Or: Do you think that Americans can translate this sentence both out of and into the original? My soul is a witness for my Lord.

By James Baldwin/Esquire

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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