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Since 1669, Congress has centered most of the laws they pass around race. Laws that are soaked in bigotry and betrayal of the constitution. Laws that restrict the rights of Black breath and grant immunity to white people who kill any Black person they come in contact with are recorded in the statutes at Large.
Here is a timeline of 17th and 18th century laws that explicitly acquit any white person of killing a Black, or other race, person. After reading these laws, I am sagacious enough to understand why white supremacists still hold hatred and racism so close to their hearts. For years, it was written that they could kill Black people with impunity. And they did kill them. Perhaps all those years of at-will murder produced an addition, perhaps the Congress had a hand in white men being hooked on homocide and as the laws changed, the addiction remained.
If any slave resists his master…and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be accepted as a felony, but the master (or that other person appointed by the master to punish him) be acquitted from molestation…
September 1672 – ACT VIII: An act for discouraging Black people and Native Americans to join or group together.
…very dangerous consequence may arise to the country if either other negroes, Indians or servants should happen to fly forth and join with them; for the prevention of which…if any negroe, mulatto, Indian slave, or servant for life, runaway and shall be pursued by the warrant…it shall and may be lawful for any person who shall endeavour to take them…if it happen that such negroe, mulatto, Indian slave, or servant for life doe dye of any wound …the person who shall kill or wound… shall not be questioned…
… any lawful authority employed to apprehend and take the said negroe, that then in case of such resistance, it shall be lawful for such person or persons to kill the said negroe or slave…
April 1691 – ACT XVI: An act for suppressing outlying slaves. A systematic plan to gather a force of men to recapture “outlying slaves.”
…sherriffe is hereby likewise required upon all such occasions to raise … many forces … for the effectual apprehending such negroes, mulattoes and other slaves, and in case any negroes, mulattoes or other slaves or slaves lying out as aforesaid shall resist … it shall and may be lawful for such person and persons to kill and destroy such negroes, mulattoes, and other slaves or slaves by gun or any otherwise whatsoever.
CHAP XXII: An act preventing any non-white people to practice religion or prayer or any sort. This was passed four months after Nat Turner’s revolt in 1831.
…no slave, free negro, or mulatto, whether he shall have been ordained or licensed, or otherwise, shall hereafter undertake to preach, exhort or conduct, or hold any assembly, or meeting, for religious or other purposes, for every such offence, be punished with stripes, not exceeding thirty-nine lashes; and any person desiring so to do, shall have authority, without any previous written precept or otherwise, to apprehend any such offender, and carry him before such justice.
After the Civil War, the laws on the books were amended and the killing of Black people was no longer officially pardoned by the courts. In addition, the Enforcement Act of 1871 was passed, which dismantled the Klu Klux Klan. However, after three hundred years of supporting white murder against Black people, the courts had created terror machines of its white citizens, and that same year that KKK was outlawed, an organization called the National Rifle Association (N.R.A) was established.
Since then, the N.R.A has become one of the most powerful lobbying groups in American history. Politicians from both parties are terrified to cross the N.R.A, even though the organization is not shy about boasting it’s Klan affiliation. In August of this year Leticia James, the Attorney General of New York filed a lawsuit to dissolve the N.R.A based on findings from an 18-month investigation into the organization’s financial crimes.
Rationalizing Vigilantism Sans Written Laws
One stay-at-home movie night a few weeks ago in my Bronx apartment, I watched “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael Moore’s documentary on gun violence in America. Most of the movie asks the question: Why are there so many gun deaths in America and nowhere else in the world? The answer is because white men fear the Black man. In the very last scene of “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael Moore interviews the former director of the N.R.A, Charlton Heston.
Moore asked Heston, “You don’t have any opinion as to why we are the unique country that […] kills each other with guns?” Heston replied: “Well, we probably have more mixed ethnicity than some other countries.”
Heston was obviously using coded language. I heard him say we have so many gun deaths because we are the country stuck with all these niggers. No other country is stuck with them but us.
Moore continues and asks Heston if it’s because of ethnicity, to which Heston says: “I wouldn’t go as far as to say that. We had enough problems with civil rights in the beginning.”
Problems with civil rights. Problems for who? The fate of most Black civil rights leaders was imprisonment if they were not gunned down. Again, Heston uses codes to say the shooting and killing of a lot of Black men who were demanding their equal rights made a fuss in the news.
Let’s start with the era of the civil rights movement to show how white vigilantes are protected by the federal courts after killing innocent and unarmed Black people.
Byron De La Beckwith, the Klan member who murdered civil rights leader Medgar Edgars.
The New York Times reported, “Mr. Beckwith’s first trial opened. Absent was the smiling visage of Mississippi’s Governor at the time, Ross Barnett, who shook Mr. Beckwith’s hand and clapped him on the back in a show of support that was shared by much of white Mississippi.”
One of three of Beckwiths’ defense attorneys worked for Barnett’s law firm. Beckwith was acquitted largely because the all-white, all-male, Mississippi jury believed the testimony of two white police officers who lied under oath and testified that they saw Beckwith in Greenwood, Mississippi the night Medgar Edgars was murdered outside his Jackson, Mississippi home. Beckwith was tried twice in 1964, and both trials ended in hung juries despite him leaving his rifle covered in his fingerprints at the scene of the crime and driving off in his car. He boasted about murdering Edgars for thirty years, until 1994 when he was finally convicted at the age of 71, largely due to an independent investigation by Myrlie Edgars.
Bernie Goetz: The Subway Vigilante, Lionized by New York City.
Bernie Goetz detailed on camera a confession of how he shot four unarmed, Black male teenagers on a New York City subway before running through the tunnel. He claimed he was mugged three years prior and that instilled a deep fear in him. He had applied for a gun license but was denied, and the gun used to shoot the teenagers was purchased illegally. This case attracted hundreds of frustrated New Yorkers who showed support for Goetz. Throughout the entire trial, he had dedicated security in the Guardian Angels, who were a volunteer group that patrolled the subways and believed that Goetz was protecting himself. The Guardian Angels even raised money for Goetz’s defense with a grassroots fundraiser. The evidence proved that Goetz was under no threat. Goetz confessed to shooting the boys in the back, and when he realized one of the boys was still breathing, shot him again, paralyzing him for life.
In the taped confession in front of the Manhattan D.A and two detectives, a calm, unapologetic Goetz said,
“I’m not going to fight this. You understand. I am not going to fight this.”
“When I saw their look I immediately knew what their intentions were and I snapped and said I’m gonna waste them. It was attempted cold blooded murder I don’t deny that.”
“I was a monster, I don’t deny that.”
Bernie had support from a Republican Senator from New York, Alfonse D’Amato who said that if Goetz was tried on charges that he tried to murder four youths on the subway, he would be willing to testify as a witness on subway crime.
There is a clip in the Netflix series, “Trial by Media” where D’Amato also said on camera at a senate meeting, “I’ve been on the subway when these young thugs come in there and they don’t even have to approach you. When three or four of five come in and they start their messing around they are menacing by their presence.”
In the same episode of “Trial by Media,” lobbyist Richard Feldman of the N.R.A says, “The gun Bernie had, he obtained in Florida, he brought it to New York illegally.” Feldman still claims that after hearing about the shooting with an illegal firearm, Bernie would be the poster boy of the N.R.A— which at the time, wanted to change their public image from a hunting and sporting organization to an image that was hard on crime and supportive of self-defense.
Goetz was acquitted of all murder charges by a mostly white, mostly male jury.
White neighbors of Black Hurricane Katrina refugees. After the hurricane left them indigent, the houseless and hungry were villainized for trying to survive.
In a documentary film “Welcome to New Orleans,” white residents of the only white neighborhood in the section of Algiers, New Orleans, known as The Point, discuss their vigilantism after noticing Black refugees walking past their homes. The Point remained dry when the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina, causing the rest of Algiers to go underwater. The mostly Black residents walked after the storm to The Point to seek help. In the most desperate time in the city, their white neighbors decided to arm themselves and protect their homes from looters after a man who lived in The Point was hit in the head and his car was stolen.
After that, the white folx of The Point simply sat on their porches and shot any Black person dead who walked by. Anyone who was following the coverage of New Orleans at the time was fed stories on the news of thugs taking over the Superdome, but in all actuality, it was white New Orleanians who merrily murdered people, who they said were ‘looting grocery stores.’
ProPublica reported, “Most disturbing, one of the vigilantes, Roper, claims on videotape recorded just weeks after the storm that the shootings took place with the knowledge and consent of the police. “The police said, ‘If they’re breaking in your property, do what you gotta do and leave them [the bodies] on the side of the road,'” he says.”
No one has been charged with the deaths of Black gunshot victims post-Hurricane Katrina.
George Zimmerman, the case that inspired the Black Lives Matter Movement.
When Trayvon Martin was walking home, he noticed George Zimmerman following him. Zimmerman had called the police saying that he believed Trayvon looked suspicious. The 9-1-1 dispatcher asked him to stop pursuing Trayvon, however Zimmerman ignored them and ended up killing Trayvon.
Zimmerman was acquitted under the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law.
Jace Boyd, called in his confession to murdering an unarmed elderly Black man.
Danny Buckley, an unarmed Black man who was panhandling in a Trader Joe’s parking lot in Baton Rouge, was shot and killed by a young white man named Jace Boyd. Boyd apparently confronted Buckley after he got close to a woman and asked her for money. The woman has spoken out and said that she did not feel the confrontation was dangerous, and she even had to get in contact with the police herself to give them her statement.
After the murder, Jace Boyd called and confessed to law enforcement in Baton Rouge. Boyd was not arrested because he claimed self-defense. Days later after Buckley’s family demanded justice, Boyd was arrested.
He was released on $300,000 bail and remains free today.
What these stories of white vigilantism continue to do is reiterate two clear messages from the federal courts.
The first message is what it conveys to white men that if you kill a Black person we assure you that you will not face any consequences and that your service is appreciated.
The second message is to Black America. It says, fuck you and everyone you know who is Black.
When the threat of Black crime never nears the armed vigilante
In June of this year, The Washington Post reported, “the majority of the gun deaths in the United States are not homicides but suicides, and white men account for 74 percent of them. More than 288,000 white males fatally shot themselves between 1999 and 2018, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
I’m more than certain that the reasons for the suicide rate amongst white men are complex, mysterious and possibly unsolvable. However, I can’t help but theorize the idea of living in a constant state of panic, that somewhere an anonymous Black man salivates with intense anticipation to break into your home and separate you from your stuff, relates not only to the motive of white vigilantes but also to the shocking number of white men who commit suicide.
What’s most clear to me is that the class difference, historically and currently, between most white vigilantes and their Black victims is never too far apart — they are neighbors, they shop at the same grocery stores, they take the same form of transportation. Yet, I am still processing why.
Does the presence of the Black skin truly ignite the kill or be killed intuition, the fight or flight fear in white people? Or is the domestic terrorism based off of pure evil? Is the motivation man-made malice? Have white vigilantes been recycling the sins of their ancestors and pledging allegiance to the pistol by arming themselves with the hopes of killing off Black people who stepped out of line? Why are white Americans obsessed with keeping the Black man in his place?
The Black man’s place. A fictitious position, a fairytale setting where Black people remain in silent servitude and irrational inequality until the end of time.