social construct

Reconstruction 2 of 2

This time Hollowell starts off with Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit,” which becomes meta-strange as we hear the audience clap and whistle at her performance. Yes, she’s an amazing singer, but this sentiment is nothing to applaud. He lets the applause go just long enough to make it feel weird; either that, or I’m feeling sensitive. Probably a little of each.

A long and solemn cadence:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth

Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck

For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Billie Holliday, Strange Fruit

I’m a little surprised that Holloway felt motivated to explain that the song is about lynching; I can’t imagine a more obvious statement – I mean, what else could it be about? But fair enough: maybe the lyrics are illegible to a new ear, and it’s possible it’s for a freshman class – heck, even a senior class is still under 25. In any case, there’s a level of self-reflection in this song that always gets glazed as entertainment (which I foresee will be a topic of investigation later in this course).

The theme of this lecture is Redemption. Hollowell questions: who shall be redeemed?

Hollowell begins with the diaspora of voter suppression tactics: threats of physical harm, destruction of what little property black voters might have had, or at least been responsible for; gerrymandering (still very active); poll taxes; the grandfather clause; literacy tests. I mean, in every possible way to prevent a black from voting, those in power employed it.

What free person doesn’t have the right to have a say in his freedom? I mean, fundamentally, that is not free at all: that sounds more like the prison system – or, not all that oddly, the slave system in a different costume.

The most upsetting of this lecture, though, was the last half. Hollwell went into detail about the lynchings, and made a really good point that during slavery, if one destroyed another’s property, he was held responsible. Once blacks were free, their bodies held no monetary value to an owner, so lynchings went haywire. He makes such a good point that while he doesn’t defend slavery, slavery offered a sort of protection from lynching that “freedom” unveiled.

Some data:

When combined with the new Tolnay-Beck data (Beck 2015), we record 4,467 total victims of lynching from 1883 to 1941. Of these victims, 4,027 were men, 99 were women, and 341 were unknown gender (although likely male); 3,265 were black, 1,082 were white,6 71 were Mexican or of Mexican descent, 38 were American Indian, 10 were Chinese, and 1 was Japanese (see Figure 2).

73% of the lynchings that took place over 58 years were of black men, and an additional 341 of whose bodies are presumably mutilated so severely that their gender is unknown. Now this data set is five years post-occupation. This doesn’t quantify the data before 1883, which is disturbing at best. If you click on the source link, you’ll see a color-coded data map, and it should be fairly obvious that the lions-share of black lynchings appear in the South. It reads as a war on black men, to be honest.

I think it’s important to note two things about lynchings and their data: first, these are only the recorded lynchings, and second, that lynchings are extrajudicial.

These are situations where there is no trial, no jury, no judge: that’s what makes them extrajudicial. It almost doesn’t matter how gruesome and barbarian these lynchings are in the light that they are performed outside of a court.

It’s not a terribly distant leap to find one asking herself about the extrajudicial murders of citizens by police today; these are, no doubt, lynchings by definition. People might cry: “but cops kill white people, too!” to which I always would respond, “how is it okay for cops to kill anyone?”

Like lynchings of yesteryear, it’s very difficult to nail down statistics of police killings. It was only within the last decade or so that police have been required to keep record (absurd, honestly), and then there’s classifications around the killings.

The Bureau of Justice’s Arrest-related Deaths indicates that

  • A total of 4,813 deaths were reported to the Arrest-Related Deaths program from January 2003 through December 2009.
  • Of reported arrest-related deaths, 61% (2,931) were classified as homicides by law enforcement personnel, 11% (541) were suicides, 11% (525) were due to intoxication, 6% (272) were accidental injuries, and 5% (244) were attributed to natural causes.
  • State and local law enforcement agencies employing 100 or more full-time sworn personnel accounted for 75% of the 4,813 arrest-related deaths reported during 2003-2009.
  • Among reported arrest-related deaths, 42% of persons were white, 32% were black, and 20% were Hispanic.

Using the data above, 32% of 2,931 is 938. That makes 134 black people per year, on average, the target of police killings, predominately male.

Now, I know the argument is usually: But there are 42% of that number that are white. Yes, that’s true, and it comes down to about 175 people per year; however, it is important to remember that the rate of 175 in a population that is on average 80% of the population is much, much lower than 134 people on 13% of the population.

My question is always: why do we allow even one? Here we have an average of over 400 police killings per year, 134 of which occur on a people who make up fewer than 13% of our population. And that’s only the people who have been killed: It doesn’t even quantify the arrests. This is modern-day lynching.

The lynching propaganda was thicc, if I can use such a term, and I can. There are sectors of the public in favor of lynchings in the 19th, 20th, and (dare I say) 21st centuries. Hollowell cites a Christian woman who believes the sin is so rampant in her community that lynchings are the only cure. Today, we might see television shows (C.O.P.S. or Live PD) that condition viewers to somehow justify excessive force because criminals “deserve it” for “resisting arrest.”

Resisting arrest, talking back, even running away, is no excuse for extrajudicial murders. Please allow me to be extremely clear: there is no such thing as extrajudicial justice because justice can only occur (and maybe not even then) in a court of law.

The rest of the lecture is just brutal. Hollowell shows image upon image of many types of lynchings: hangings aplenty; body mutilations: stolen, photographed, and sold as memorabilia; burnings; crucifixions. It lends even the simpleton to plainly understand the symbolism used in 20th century hate-speech.

I have difficulty in empathizing ideals where actual people could support such barbarity. To me, this behavior is categorically far more savage than the supposed uncivilized so many of them claimed to denounce.

I am disgusted to the marrow that any of them could sully my name under the guise of race. May every supremacist statue topple and be thrown to the sea.

Cited for further study: A Community Concern: Police Use of Deadly Force

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