The Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has indicted six police officers for the murder of Freddie Gray. These indictments came down after the state government ordered the National Guard to Baltimore. Many city residents were outraged at the fact that police officers murdered another Black man and there had been no arrests. Only after these rebellions did the Baltimore District Attorney issue her indictments.
In the summer of 1967 I was fourteen years old and another rebellion took place in my hometown of Newark, New Jersey. The issue that sparked that rebellion was also police brutality. At the time, the government also ordered the National Guard to Newark in an unsuccessful effort to stop the rebellion.
We might consider the fact that at the same time as National Guard tanks rolled down the streets of Newark, other soldiers from this country were at war in a place called Vietnam. Politicians as well as the press labeled these rebellions as “riots.” President Barack Obama and Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake labeled many of those who had been enraged by the murder of Freddie Gray, “thugs.”
Recently, I read an old interview with the late James Baldwin where he was asked to comment on the numerous rebellions that erupted in 1967 and 1968. Baldwin spoke about a hypothetical young Black man who broke into a store and took a television set. Baldwin argued that this young man didn’t really want that TV. What this person wanted was to be recognized that he, in fact, existed.
In the past several years, we have seen many Black men who were murdered by police officers, where the police never served jail time. This state of affairs begs the question: Do Black people have the right to the due process of the law? If Black people are citizens of this country, then, when they are murdered, those who commit the crime must be prosecuted.
When this doesn’t happen, the anger generated from the community is clearly understandable. So, a young person who might break the law wants to make the point that he is a human being who should be entitled to equal protection of the law.
The point here is that when official efforts fail to defend the rights of the people, then other methods of struggle oftentimes have erupted throughout history. The main purpose of this column is to introduce readers to some of the events that have changed history and involved the destruction of property.
The revolution of the thirteen colonies
The nation known as the United States of America came into existence because of a revolutionary war of independence. Every year there is a national holiday on the Fourth of July. On this day in the year 1776 revolutionaries met to sign the Declaration of Independence. This declaration was a list of grievances against the British royal government.
The declaration argued that governments should not be pushed aside for “transient causes.” However, when there are a “long train of abuses” that results in “despotism,” the people not only have a “right” but a “duty” to push aside that government and establish “new guards for their future security.”
The British labeled those who took part in the revolution to be “rabble,” and they called their leaders “rabble rousers.” Today the history books call those who were once known as rabble to be heroes.
On December 16, 1773 Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty boarded three ships in Boston Harbor. They were protesting the onerous tax the British had placed on the tea in the hulls of these ships. It took three hours for the Sons of Liberty to throw 342 chests of tea into the water.
The Civil War
While the Revolution of the thirteen colonies ended British rule in this part of the world, the horrendous institution of chattel slavery continued to exist. In all, human beings kidnapped from Africa as well as their descendants endured slavery for over 300 years.
Indeed, the most lucrative way to make money in the first years of the United States was from a slave labor camp. The immense wealth of the slave owners and their creditors gave these people enormous power. We might argue that before the Civil War, slave owners controlled all the branches of the federal government.
Eventually, there was a growing consensus of those who opposed slavery that this institution was a roadblock to any future progress. This is why the Civil War erupted.
In all, there were about 350,000 deaths of union soldiers in the Civil War. Thousands of soldiers might be killed in a single day. However, there was also a growing resolve that slavery needed to be permanently outlawed.
General William Tecumseh Sherman marched about 60,000 soldiers from the west all the way to Atlanta, Georgia. After a long siege, Sherman’s forces were able to take Atlanta. This was one of the turning points of the war.
While Sherman was taking Atlanta, General Phillip Henry Sheridan was turning Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley into a “barren waste.” This valley was a source of food for the Confederacy and by completely destroying everything in the valley, the union army worked to starve their enemy into submission.
Then, after General Sherman took Atlanta, he marched his army to Savanna and then north to South Carolina. In South Carolina Sherman ordered the union army to literally burn down every building in their path. Sherman was conscious of what he was doing and gave the following reason for torching South Carolina. “My aim then was to whip the rebels, to humble their pride, to follow them to their inmost recesses, and make them dread us.”
Both Generals Sherman and Sheridan received cabinet positions in the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant after the war.
The war against the Indians and workers
While the defeat of the confederacy was a huge victory for working people, this would be the last time that the government in this country made any progressive initiatives. Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan used the military to carry out a genocidal war against Indians.
In the year 1830 the U.S. government instituted the Indian Removal Act. This law attempted to remove Indians from their homelands east of the Mississippi river. They endured a forced march to the new Indian Territory that is now the state of Oklahoma.
After the Civil War, the U.S. government went to war against all the Indian nations west of the Mississippi River. General Sheridan made his famous statement that “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” Clearly, the entire administration of President Grant agreed with this sentiment.
Generals Sherman and Sheridan used their strategy of total war to steal the land Indians had lived on for centuries. When they failed in these efforts, they signed treaties with Indians that they had no intention of honoring.
After the hundred years of war against Indians ended in 1877, the Union army left the former confederate states. The army had been defending the reconstruction governments that attempted to bring some degree of democracy to the former slave states. When the Union army left their posts in the south, the Ku Klux Klan waged a counter revolution to strip Black people of citizenship rights. They called the new discriminatory laws “Jim Crow.”
Also in the year 1877 the army was sent to crush a strike of rail workers that was taking hold throughout the country. During the Second World War President Franklyn D. Roosevelt ordered federal troops against workers in several locations where they chose to go on strike.
The rebellions of 1967 & 1968
In the years 1964 and 1965 the U.S. government ratified the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. The ratification of these laws clearly came about because of the determined organization of the civil rights movement. These laws effectively outlawed Jim Crow segregation.
However, the passage of these laws changed little in the north. As was stated before, police brutality was the primary issue that sparked rebellions in hundreds of cities throughout the country.
We might speculate as to the discussions of people who have power in this country during those years. Their primary objective is to reap in profits. Uprisings in hundreds of cities clearly was an obstacle to their drive for profits.
We know that after those rebellions, corporations, the government, as well as universities expanded their affirmative action programs. This meant that many Black people attained jobs and educational opportunities they never had before.
Barack Obama was the beneficiary of one of those affirmative action programs at Harvard Law School. In other words, President Obama may have been admitted to Harvard partly because of the rebellions of the 1960s. Yet today Obama labels those who took part in the Baltimore rebellions, “thugs.”
There is something clearly wrong in this country when the government routinely fails to defend the rights of working people. This is why the words in the Declaration of Independence continue to ring true. If this government has no interest in defending the rights of working people, we need “new guards for their future security.”
One day there will be a more organized and disciplined resistance to the madness the government routinely exposes us to. Yes, Black lives matter as well as the lives of working people and farmers all over the world. We indeed have the potential to put in place a government whose top priority is human dignity for all.