Mass Media [UMass-Boston]
April 28, 1981
Racist violence: a pattern of official tolerance
by Michael Letwin
One myth about racist violence is that it is practiced by both blacks and whites. Boston Police figures, however, show that in the first half of 1979, 71 percent of ail crimes designated “racially motivated” in the city were perpetrated by whites against nonwhites (Racist Violence in Boston, draft pamphlet of the Boston PeopIe’s Organization, Fall 1980).
At least as widespread is the belief that white racist violence is the work of an “isolated fringe group.” An examination of the current situation, however, shows that racist violence is both tolerated and organized by all levelsl of government in this country.
One type of government tolerance where black victims are concerned is clear in Atlanta, where 24 black children have been killed in recent months. For a year after black parents saw a pattern in the murders, the Atlanta police refused to investigate the possible connections between the murders.
When the investigation did begin, police ruled out in advance the possibility that the deaths were “racially motivated,” and continued to downplay any connection between them (New York Times, 3/15/81). The investigation has been plagued by police carelessness, the destruction of valuable evidence and police refusal to mobilize black volunteers for meaningful action (New Yo/k Times, 2/2/81).
The Atlanta police have also adopted a clearly racist blame-the-vlctirn approach by suggesting that the black children were killed because of their alleged, but unproven, involvement in criminal activity (New York Times, 3115181). More recently, FBI agents announced, again without proof, that at least four of the children were murdered by their own parents (New York Times, 4/16/81).
The bottom line of police tolerance where black victims are concerned is that no suspects in any of the Atlanta murders have been arrested.
At times, government tolerance is hard to distinguish from actual complicity. When, for example, five leftists (four of them Third World), were shot to death by Klansmen and Nazis in Greensboro, NC in the Fall of 1979, white police made no effort to defend the victims, though police were stationed nearby. It was later revealed that a police informer and federal agent were involved in planning the racist attack (Militant, 8/29/80).
Taken before an all-white jury by a halfhearted prosecutor and sympathetic judge, the racists were acquitted of all charges, although TV news videotape clearly demonstrated their guilt. The federal government showed its concern by declining to prosecute itself, under federal civil rights legislation.
It’s not surprising, then, that local police around the country protect Klansmen and Nazis from anti-racist demonstrations, or that the federal government has taken no action against the multitude of legal military training camps operated nationally by the Klan and other racist groups for the open purpose of committing violence against non-whites.
And, despite the large and growing number of violent attacks on Third World people by Kiansmen, only 34 Klan members have been charged by the Department of Justice since 1977, and only two have received sentences of more than two years (The Boston Globe, 1/14/81).
In Boston too, organized racist violence goes unchallenged by the police and government. Investigations into the alleged role of the South Boston Information Center and South Boston Marshals in attacks on black people since busing began in 1974 have been made, but none have been released, and no arrests or prosecutions have been carried out against any of the leaders (Racist Violence in Boston.).
On the contrary, behind the Mayor’s annual sermon on the evils of racism, Kevin White has provided numerous city jobs for South Boston Information Center members, including one for its leader, James Kelly. Only public pressure forced White to reverse his approval of a $40,000 Community Development Block Grant to finance paramilitary training run by the South Boston Marshals in 1979. The racist movement, in turn, has turned out the votes for White (Racist Violence in Boston).
The government remains particularly threatened by efforts at black self-defense; the Atlanta police can’t catch child killers, but they are quite efficient in arresting black members of the self-defense patrol at Techwood Homes in Atlanta (Boston Globe, 3/23/81.) And Curtis Lee Robinson has the dubious distinction of being the first black person ever convicted by an all-white jury (on 10/2/80) of defending himself and his family against an armed, robed Klansman in Decatur, Alabama (New York Times, 9/30, 10/3/80).
The police themselves are a primary instrument in the terrorization of the black community, and the courts always back them up. Perhaps the most nationally we|l-known recent example was the beating death of unarmed Arthur McDuffie in fate December 1979 by Dade County and Miami police. Although officers admitted to murder, all the killers were acquitted by yet another jury (New York Times, 12/18/80.) The last officer acquitted, Charles Veverka, signed a book contract that will make him rich (Boston Globe, 12/20180).
Meanwhile, 3 black teenagers convicted of killing 3 whites in the uprising that followed the acquittal of McDuffie’s killers, recently received sentences ranging from 45 years to life (Boston Globe, 3/27/81).
The scene was replayed in Boston last summer when 14-year-old Levi Hart (also unarmed) met McDuffie’s fate at the hands of white cop Richard Bourque, who was not even indicted (Boston Globe, 10/17/80). In November 1979, the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) reported that of the 6,000 people officially killed by police in the US between 1967-77, 45 percent of the victims were black. (New York Times, 11/25/79). Many of the remaining victims were nonwhite.
The figures have led Amnesty International to report that in the US “police brutality ties, especially toward ethnic minorities, is widespread and severe, resulting in in death in many cases. (New York Times, 12/10/80).
It is clear that federal, state and local governments are not opponents of white racist violence against black people — they are among the main perpetrators of that violence, by their tolerance, complicity and own initiative.
(Next: Conclusion — What’s Behind White Racist Violence?)