In the '40s, '50s and '60s, many black people in the southeast portion of the U.S. were murdered, usually via lynching. Their murderers were often never brought to justice because the part of our society that investigates murders--our police forces--so often agreed with the motivations of the murderers and indeed were often among the murderers. Police not involved showed solidarity with police that were involved. It took massive public outcry followed by federal investigations to start bringing such murderers to justice. The reputation of the white southern cop may never recover.
The reputation of the California cop may never recover from the Rodney King beating. The reputation of "New York's Finest" may never recover from the killing of Amadou Diallo and the violation of Abner Louima. Indeed, so low is public opinion of the New York City police force that they are having trouble recruiting new police officers.
In the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s, a woman, demonstrating the wonderful power of a committed individual, managed to find common ground between environmentalists concerned with the destruction of the forests and the loggers hired to cut down those very forests. She was targetted for murder with a bomb planted in her car in 1990. She survived, but was disabled for life (and died of cancer a few years later). Suspicion pointed to the logging companies. Her attacker(s) were never brought to justice and the part of northwest society concerned with investigating her murder, the police force, has shown that they agree with the motivation of the attacker(s).
There is bound to be print and broadcast articles and editorials for months to come about the actions of the Seattle police during the World Trade Organization demonstrations. I've already heard quite a few.
A steelworker who was a guest of WBAI's Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade (Tuesdays, midnight) said the police were peaceful when his union marched in Seattle that week, but were violent when the environmentalists marched. He had marched with Pacific Northwest environmentalists before because the company that had locked out his union was also involved in clearcutting old growth forest. He related a tale of a policeman who just couldn't understand why a union worker would be allied with an environmentalist, no matter how he tried to explain his presence there. It was almost funny.
A radio editorial on WCBS-AM (one of New York City's two all-news radio stations who have often referred to Republicans as "we" and Democrats as "they") blamed the environmentalists for the looting even while acknowledging that the police were ignoring the looting and that the environmentalists themselves were not doing the looting. How did he place blame? Well, he said that although the police didn't stop the looters, neither did the environmentalists. Never mind who was being paid by the people of Seattle to stop crimes such as burglary--how were people that were being tear-gassed supposed to stop the thieves? What I took out of that editorial was that at least people who were, shall we say, unsympathetic to the environmentalists' causes acknowledged that the environmentalists were not actually committing the crimes. (I think he might as well blame the media for the looting, if he doesn't want to blame the looters, because they filmed the looters without stopping them.)
On my own show, we had WBAI reporter Amy Goodman, reporting live from Seattle, lead off an episode of 'Nuff Said! with a bulletin on what was happening there. She interviewed a man who lived right above a store that was being looted. He told us that he watched a group of environmentalists march by, then after they passed, a small group of people dressed in black appeared and started breaking the windows of the store and helping themselves to the merchandise. He also said the police watched this happening, turned their backs and left the area, presumedly following the environmentalists!
Late-night stand-up comics have been using California, southern and New York City cops as fodder for routines for quite a while. I predict the comedians will add the Seattle Police to their routines, then stop naming specific police forces altogether and just say "cops" in general.
I hope in relating these events I've shown why I began an article on the Seattle "riot" talking about the lynchings in the southeast all those decades ago.
Ken Gale, editing by Bill Weinberg, 12/3/99
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