America on Fire - Well Worth Reading

Elizabeth Hinton's - America on Fire:  The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960's is a fascinating, well-documented, detailed book that I highly recommend!  Hinton tells the story of how, despite documentation of systemic racism and laying out how things needed to change was made in things like the 1968 Kerner Report, little has changed for Black People's safety from the police.    White politicians, police unions and the active and passive resistance of white people have strongly kept racism alive over the past 50+ years.   Since the 1960's there has been a massive buildup of powerful weapons as part of a militaristic strategy that has resulted in Black incarceration rates soaring. huge financial investments, while white racist actions are excused and police over-reactions are justified as being the right path.

Police killings of Black People as well as blaming Black People sustains Black resistance and makes bad situations much worse.   While significant parts of what is said were known to me in bits and pieces, Hinton puts things together in a most impressive way!

Quotes from the book follow:

It can be difficult to imagine the children and teenagers who threw rocks at police or who looted local businesses as political actors, and this bias has influence the writing the history of this era.   Even scholars and activists who focus on resistance to systemic racism have been reluctant to take seriously the political nature of Black rebellion. (p.14)

The history of Black rebellion across regions and decades demonstrates a fundamental reality: police violence precipitates community violence.  (p.15)

Violence, in this sense, is best understood as any action that challenged white supremacy , including nonviolent demonstrations or armed self-defense.  (p.88)

(note: referring to the 1967 riots in Newark) Did the snipers truly exist? "I think a lot of the reports of snipers was due to the, I hate to use the word, trigger-happy guardsmen, who were firing at noises and firing indiscriminately at times."(12) (p.99)

Fatal shootings by police were treated by officials as isolated events, unrelated to the expansion of police force in targeted Black neighborhoods.  But the idea of the Black sniper became a national phenomenon. It led to more calls for "law and order" and made it easier to criminalize the post-civil rights Black freedom struggle.  (p.103)

The belief that sniping or simply Black self-defense was part of a larger revolutionary conspiracy or an expression of community pathology prevented those in power from imagining alternatives to further escalation of the crime war.  The cycle of violence and rebellion could be broken, but not by the application of more violence.  (p.120)

(relating to police/Black community relations, two Black Harrisburg, PA police officers stated:)  Both Dickey and Pitts made clear that the problem was not in the community, but in the police.   "We have found that we can relate to the community," Dickey said.  "If we are going to work effectively, the police department has got to clean up its own backyard."(32) (p.188)

In 1965 and in 2020, unemployment and poverty rates among Black Americans were roughly twice that of their white counterparts.  Today, three-quarters of white families own their own homes, while less than half of Black families do.  Disinvestment over the last fifty years has left urban public schools in shambles and, as a result a disparate proportion of low-income Black and Latinx children remain undereducated.  Although the incarceration rate for Black Americans has dropped in recent years, it is still six times that of white Americans.(8 )  These grim figures underscore the ongoing fact of racism and its consequences, a reality that sits uncomfortably alongside the progress made by some Black people in the half century since the legislative victories of the mid-1960s.  (p.292)

Most of the looting in 2020 took place in upscale neighborhoods, and it targeted high-end retailers like Gucci and Tiffany & Co. on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, not the white-owned mom-and-pop stores along Central Avenue in South Los Angeles, as it had in 1965.  Confrontations between protesters and police were most intense and protracted in cities like Portland and Seattle, among the whitest cities in America.  (p.294)

Acknowledging the reality of structural racism, renaming a Robert E. Lee High School to a John Lewis High School (as happened in Fairfax County, Virginia), making donations to social justice and anti-poverty organizations, and using the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on social media-these are insufficient substitutes for the structural transformation that Black Americans have been calling for.  (p.297)

As in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when blame was laid on "outside agitators" and "Black revolutionaries," Cotton, Trump, and other officials attributed the violence to Black Lives Matter and to the loosely affiliated groups of anti-fascist activists collectively known as  "Antifa". (p.299)

If Nothing Else, this book has striven to show that what were being assumed to be urban, Black, "riots" were, in fact, rebellions - political acts carried out in response to an unjust and repressive society. (p.304)

If anything, embracing policing and incarceration as a policy response to racial and economic inequality appears to function as a crime promotion program.  (p.305)

The last quoted line seems to best summarize the best of this book!




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