It’s time to Break It Down!
Several months ago, July 13th to be precise, I penned a post entitled, Black Lives Matter: Of That I Am Certain! In that post I opened with a statement affirming the sensibilities of a certain segment of Americans. Here is what I wrote 5 months ago:
Fact. There are many Americans who simply refuse, under any circumstances, at any time, in any place, to consider the prospect their country in general, and especially themselves in particular, ever tolerate even the hint of a suggestion that they harbor the most remote scintilla of racist thought, deed, or action in exercising their life’s functions. In fact, if you happen to suggest that one of these people is racist, that person will deny it quickly and robustly, and then just as speedily and fervently, insist that by the mere introduction of such an idea, you, in fact, are the racist.
Over the course of that blog, I briefly examined the 1857 Dred Scott Decision. In that case Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the Opinion. Speaking about the clause in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal,” Taney wrote:
“It is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration.”
Taney went on to say the following:
“The negro has no rights which the white man is bound to respect”
The bottom line, in the eyes of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) was, Mr. Scott had no right to sue because as a black man he was never intended to be an American. In the course of human events, as the phrase goes, it’s easy to contend now that something that unfolded 159 years ago when our country’s social norms were so clearly framed by different values than widely accepted today, has no correlation to contemporary norms and behaviors. That may sound like a completely rational and in fact documentable fact pattern. Well, it is…in some instances…but definitely not in others.
As I mentioned in the July post, while defending Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis’s refusal to issue marriage licenses out of her religious opposition to same-sex marriage, Mike Huckabee said:
“The Supreme Court’s 1857 ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford – which held that all blacks, free or enslaved, could not be American citizens – is still the law of the land even though no one follows it.”
“I’ve been just drilled by TV hosts over the past week, ‘How dare you say that, uh, it’s not the law of the land? Because that’s their phrase, ‘it’s the law of the land.’ Michael, the Dred Scott decision of 1857 still remains to this day the law of the land, which says that black people aren’t fully human. Does anybody still follow the Dred Scott Supreme Court decision?’”
It’s 2016, and there are those among us whom for all practical purposes maintain the same view as that articulated by a SCOTUS Decision in which the sesquicentennial was observed nearly a decade ago. Last night at Texas A&M University, Richard Spencer, the self-proclaimed leader of the movement known as Alt-Right, which most objective observers refer to as white supremacists, brought his own unique message of “hope and change” to the campus. Sort of.
He was not an invited guest of any student, faculty member, or campus group. The University rents space for groups and individuals, and Spencer’s appearance fell under the broad rubric of free speech. Due to First Amendment rights, there was no viable means to block him from coming to speak at the school in College Station.
Another white nationalist, Preston Wigington, secured the space and invited Spencer to appear. Wigington, who reportedly attended Texas A&M for a year, was crowned “Strongest Skinhead” in 2005 at Hammerfest, a neo-Nazi gathering, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. He had tried with little success to host other Alt-Right events at A&M over the years. While they consistently attracted small crowds, Spencer was expected to change that. This time he has gained national attention, including an interview by a CNN reporter Monday, prior to Spencer’s visit yesterday. In one exchange, the reporter, Gary Tuchman posed this question:
“By saying that all Somalis shouldn’t come here, isn’t that being a bigot?”
After a long pause, Mr. Wigington responded by saying:
“Um, sometimes maybe being a bigot is wise.”
At A&M, Mr. Spencer was even more direct. Although he denied being a white nationalist, he said during his remarks (which did meet with campus protests):
“At the end of the day, America belongs to white men.”
All of this brings me full circle and back to the shooting death of Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC, April 4, 2015. In summary, Officer Michael Slager shot Mr. Scott (5 times…in the back), during a traffic stop. The shooting was caught on tape by a by-stander. The video revealed the officer appeared to drop his Taser near the decedent’s body after shooting him. He then proceeded to handcuff Mr. Scott…instead of calling for an ambulance. He did, however, announce “shots fired” into his radio after he shot the Mr. Scott.
During the trial Officer Slager stated (the National Get Out of Jail Free Card Code for Police Officers) that he feared for his life. He maintained this despite the video showing Mr. Scott fleeing, and estimated to be 18 feet away when he shot him. Slager said Scott had taken his Taser. This could not be confirmed by the video, although…as noted above, Slager could be seen dropping something near Scott’s body. Presumably the Taser that Slager alleged Scott had taken from him. When asked if Mr. Scott, while fleeing, and 18 feet away was far enough away for him not to fear for his life, he said no, he believed Scott could still turn around (with no weapon it appears) and attack and kill him. That is, after all, the threshold for fearing for one’s life, right?
News accounts emerged last Friday indicating that one member of the jury was unable to vote to convict Officer Slager. Not for murder, and not for manslaughter. The video was clear and compelling enough to convince 11 of the 12 jurors. Keep in mind the jury was composed of six white men, five white women and one black man. The identity of the lone holdout was not revealed. I am inspired to go way out on a long thin limb and venture that with 11 out of 12 odds, the recalcitrant juror was one of the white members.
The defense blocked nine potential members, seven of whom were black. Asked about that, Judge Clifton Newman, who is black, responded, “They…(said) that they could be fair and impartial,” speaking of the white jurors. That is their duty and obligation. That is what we should expect. In fact, there is a good chance 10 of 11 did. The only problem is, this was not a game of horseshoes; close does not count, nor is it good enough.
So, with all due respect, because of Roger Taney, because of Mike Huckabee, because of Preston Wigington, because of Richard Spencer, and because of the lone unnamed holdout juror in Charleston, South Carolina, I am left with one totally inescapable conclusion…“The Walter Scott Mistrial: This is Why #BlackLivesMatter is Necessary!”
I’m done; holla back!
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Most often when people discuss Antebellum history from an Afrikan-centered perspective there is a lot of focus on Vesey, Walker, Turner, Tubman, Douglass, Truth, a few others like Delany and Garnet. In my opinion Dred and Harriet Scott belong in that discussion. They are key figures in the struggle to end Chattel Slavery.
By fighting for their freedom in the courts, Dred and Harriet Scott literally forced white people into a civil war. Without the legal challenge by the Scott’s, there’s no Supreme Court majority opinion by Roger B. Taney, and it is debatable whether or not Abraham Lincoln would have been elected in 1860 without Taney overturning the Missouri Compromise . The Republican candidate only won 33 percent of the presidential vote in 1856.
Historically, most of our Dred Scott Decision focus has been on Taney’s statement: “They (the negro African race) had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it.”
Certainly the overwhelming majority of the white people in the United States in 1857 had no objection to that part of Taney’s opinion. The basic position of the Republican Party at that time was that slavery could continue to exist where it has existed, but they were exposed to the expansion of slavery into new states and territories.
Historian Eric Foner “argues that the Republican Party’s ideology centered on the concept of ‘free labor’ and ‘the creation and articulation of an ideology which blended personal and sectional interest with morality so perfectly that it became the most potent political force in the nation.’”
“Foner treats ideology as pervasive, a systemic feature of nineteenth-century politics. By examining the way Republican ideology posed a threat to the very foundations of Southern society and economy, Foner suggests, we can see the root causes of the Civil War. Free labor, Foner contends, was so important to Republicans because it defined the right of white, laboring, productive citizens to enter the market with their skills, an ideology in direct confrontation with slavery. Free labor ideology helped bring conservatives closer to radicals in the party, as over time they came to see free labor linked inextricably to free soil and free men.”
In overturning the Missouri Compromise, Taney said that a slave is property, and an owner can take any of its property anywhere. Furthermore, he declared that the US Congress had no constitutional authority to bar states and territories from allowing slavery.
That part of the ruling galvanized those who were already incensed by the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act. How could white (wage) laborers ever progress if they had to compete with slave labor everywhere. Although the average white laborer in the North opposed the abolition of slavery, the Dred Scott Decision moved them to believe that slavery had to be eliminated in order for them to progress economically.
The Scott’s legal challenge and the responding majority opinion by Taney helped to push the United States towards civil war.
As regards Huckabee, the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment overturned the Dred Scott Decision, however the spirit of Taney lives within some sectors of the law and order system, and within some sectors of American society.
Richard Spencer obviously has some influence, but institutionalized white supremacists like Taney, J. Edgar Hoover, and their ideological heirs within the power structure are the primary problem.
Exquisite analysis & commentary; thank you!