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The Waco biker riot and the lexicon of racism

LEE A. DANIELS | 6/1/2015, 1:01 a.m.
Question: When men (and a few women) belonging to gangs known to law enforcement agencies for criminal behavior explode in ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

The phenomenon isn’t new, of course. Once, the lexicon of anti-Black collective guilt helped justify the actual chains of Negro slavery and the legalized racism that followed. Now, it’s usually employed in more subtle ways.

Except when it’s not: As in the revealing discoveries over the past two months of racist, sexist and homophobic tweets and e-mails by cops in the police departments of San Francisco, Miami Beach and Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

In each case, all are still in early stages of investigating police officers, some with long years on their force, were found to have exchanged from dozens to hundreds of social-media messages disparaging with vile slurs against Blacks, Hispanic-Americans, women, gays and lesbians, Muslim Americans and, of course, President Obama. Law enforcement co-workers and innocent civilians alike were denigrated along with Black criminal suspects. The bulk of the messages in all these instances, which cover from 2010 to the present, focused on Black Americans.

The discoveries have led to the resignations of some of the officers, and disciplinary actions, including firing, against the others. Even more important, prosecutors and police officials in the three cities are reviewing cases of defendants in which the officers were involved either as arresting officers or witnesses at trial. In San Francisco, prosecutors have already dropped eight cases connected to some of the officers there.

One Miami Beach cop tried to excuse his behavior by describing it as just part of the police department’s longstanding culture. Unfortunately, the same could be said for the mainstream and conservative media’s refusal to use the most accurate descriptions for the Waco biker riot.

It’s those similarities that are worrisome.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur, appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at http://www.amazon.com.