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Criminalizing Black protest – and Black people

LEE A. DANIELS | 9/19/2015, 9:42 a.m.
Is #BlackLivesMatter a criminal organization that advocates attacks on and murder of White police officers?
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

(NNPA) – Is #BlackLivesMatter a criminal organization that advocates attacks on and murder of White police officers?

That’s the snake-oil pitch the conservative echo chamber is making these days – even as news accounts every week bring new proof that neither Black law-abiding citizens nor, frankly, Black criminals, nor anyone else are preying upon the police. Washington Post columnist Radley Balko’s Sept. 10 column offers a must-read examination of the data that shows that assaults on and murders of police officers have fallen to dramatic lows in recent years, and there’s no indication they’re about to increase. Balko emphasizes, the so-called war on cops,“just isn’t true.”

Instead, what continues to be true is that a significant number of individual cops and prison guards continually seek the slightest excuse – or no excuse at all – to brutalize Blacks and other people of color.

Look at the video released last week by the Fairfax County, Virginia, sheriff’s office of five officers wearing biohazard suits, gas masks and rubber gloves taking Natasha McKenna, a 5-foot-4-inch mentally unstable Black woman, from her cell – apparently completely nude – last February and shooting her with a stun gun four times while she lay face down on the floor outside her cell. She died days later.

Read the Sept. 10 New York Times account of the death in April of a Black mentally ill inmate at New York’s Fishkill state prison, Samuel Harrell, allegedly at the hands of a so-called “Beat up Squad” of prison guards, and their subsequent efforts to intimidate inmates who witnessed the killing into silence.

Watch the video of a bully-boy New York City undercover cop jumping retired Black tennis star James Blake in front of a Manhattan hotel Sept. 10, and read of this dirty cop’s record of assaulting innocent people.

These three terrifying examples don’t begin to indicate the scope of the reality so many Black and Hispanic Americans face from the front-line “troops” of America’s criminal justice system. But they are enough to show up the “criminalization gambit” as just another rotting plank of the structure of American racism.

Criminalizing Americans of color, especially Black Americans, has long been a constant of American society. Racists have often tried to diminish Black protest movements, and Black achievement itself, by characterizing them that way – be it the pre-Civil War abolitionist movement, the post-Civil War achievements Blacks forged during the Reconstruction Era, or the mid-twentieth-century Civil Rights Movement. Revealingly, it was after the massive March on Washington of 1963 that arch-racist F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover called Martin Luther King Jr. – not Malcolm X – “the most dangerous Negro in America.”

Today, the striking success of Blacks in marshaling their voting power has provoked the Republican Party’s national campaign to block Blacks’ access to the ballot under the smokescreen of preventing voter fraud. And conservatives have constantly attacked President Obama himself as “lawless.” For example, in October 2008, when his victory over the McCain/Palin ticket seemed assured, conservative pundit Michael Barone wrote a column bemoaning the “coming liberal thugocracy” his administration would be. Naturally, his phrasing was rapidly picked up by the conservative confederacy.