Racism in the Modern USA

If any of us in this country were asked about racism or racist activities, most of us probably would recall the violent images in black and white that have transcended the media from the 1950’s and 60’s. As with so many other things, these images are nothing more than mental ‘links’ to other times and other places.

We have similar referential ‘icons’ to such things as the Holocaust, the bombings of a myriad of causes in different places and times, executions and the scenes of atrocities, singular and massive, public and political, which have found their way into the public eye. And then, there are images of the many natural catastrophes, all of which have happened to other people, in other places and other times.

Because these images are kept under covers, such as book covers, or magazines, or photo albums, or because they are enclosed in a box, or they can be displayed, clearly and sharply, on a screen – we are able to remain detached from their implications.

The names and dates and other details in the following paragraphs have been gleaned from the archives of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In 1981, members of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), armed and trained in guerilla tactics, cruised Galveston Bay, looking for Vietnamese-American fishermen to terrorize, by burning their boats and threatening their lives.

In the mid-1980’s, the White Patriot Party Militia was the most militant Klan group in the South, with more than 1,000 armed members.

The United Klans of America (UKA) was a group in Alabama that was responsible for a vicious assault on the Freedom Riders, in the 60’s. The Freedom Riders was an out of state group that was trying to right violations of racism, which were being committed on local and state levels and ignored at the federal level. The UKA was found responsible for blowing up the Sixteenth Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four little girls. They abducted, murdered, and hung from a tree the body of a 19-year old black man, Michael Donald, in 1987.

In 1990, the White Aryan Resistance, of Oregon, brutally murdered an Ethiopian student, Mulugeta Seraw, who left behind a son.

The Church of the Creator, founded in Florida, in 1973, encouraged its followers to ‘purify’ the white race by eliminating ‘mud races’ and Jews from the earth, and to show loyalty by inciting the beginnings of a Racial Holy War. In 1994, they were found accountable for the murder of Harold Mansfield, a black Gulf War Veteran.

In the mid-1990’s, the Christian Knights of the KKK, were responsible for the burning of several black churches in S. Carolina.

In the year 2000, Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler was found to have held a 20-acre compound in Idaho, for decades, which had been a home and training camp for violent white supremacists.

2005 was marked by the existence of Ranch Rescue, a vigilante ‘border patrol’ that terrorized Latinos in general. Because of their methods, they were entangled in legal battles with Texas and Arizona until they were finally disbanded, and one of their leaders sent to prison.

In July of 2006, members of the Imperial Klans of America beat up Jordan Gruver, a 16-year old of Native American descent, at a Kentucky county fair.

In 2007, four young white men in Linden, Texas, received a slap on the wrist for the racially motivated beating of a mentally challenged black man, Billy Ray Johnson, who was left with permanent brain damage. How that translates is that the charges of ‘aggravated assault’ were reduced by the jury to ‘misdemeanor assault’ and ‘injury to a disabled person by omission’ (failure to render aid), with suspended sentences recommended (no time served); in the interest of justice, the main assailant served 60 days and the other three served 30 days each.

In June of 2011, 49-year old James Anderson was murdered in Mississippi, just because he was black. His attackers had sought out an African American ‘for sport’, and James was beaten in a parking lot in full view of a security camera. After being beaten, James was run over with a truck, of which the driver bragged about later.

I am able to write about these cases only because they have been resolved, or they are being resolved as I write. The various branches or offshoots of the Ku Klux Klan have been forced to break up by sheer onslaught of costly suits; but it should be noted that these groups are never completely broken up� the concept of racial disparity just will not die, and its dynamics of fear, suspicion, and hate will continue to draw together people of like minds.

It should also be noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center has been the main advocate in these resolutions; accepting no legal fees from clients and without any government funding, they pursue justice where there might not otherwise be any, and they provide the new links and icons and images, which are now in color, some of them in motion. The only question is, “Are they making any difference?”

There is a current article in one of the local papers about the conviction and sentencing of a 19-year old woman who rolled her vehicle over, which resulted in serious injury for her and in the death of her passenger. Alcohol was involved, but we don’t know to what extent; the vehicle was moving at over 100 mph, and she was texting. A great deal of sympathy has been expressed for this woman, and the matter of ‘accident’ has been emphasized.

All parties, including the deceased passenger’s family, agree that this young woman will have to live with this tragic moment for the rest of her life; and so, 4 years of probation, with some stipulations, has been deemed appropriate. The stipulations include 200 hours of community service, speaking to other students about the accident. By law, her drivers license is suspended for 1 year; and when she does drive again, an ‘interlock device’ on the vehicle will be required. She will also spend 24 hours in jail on the date of the crash, on the victim’s birthday, and on Christmas Day, every year; it isn’t clear if that means every year for life or just for the years of her probation.

I do see a certain fairness, an appropriateness, perhaps a rare exampling of justice, in all this, unique and even novel, especially since all parties seem to be in agreement. And it is obvious that the community and the system do not want to see this young woman’s life ruined because (and we are assuming here) of one tragic accident.

I am left with two questions after reading the article. 1) Would not anyone, any of us, have to live with such a tragedy for the rest of our lives if it happened to us? Isn’t it one of life’s lessons that all our choices and actions have consequences (good or bad) that affect the courses of our lives?

And 2), would this have had the same outcome if the young woman had been a Latina, a Native American, or Black (or a young man)? In other words, would it be just as notable that anyone else might have to live with it for the rest of their livesâÂ?¦ and would it matter that somebody else’s life might be ruined by a more punishing sentence?

Believe it or not, in the here and now, some parents are quite comfortable and feel secure in the knowledge that their children are not running around with children of other races. And the seeds of suspicion, fear, and hatred are cultivated in their own children and planted in others.

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