So-called hate crimes have been on the increase. The most lurid example in recent months was the lynching of James Byrd Jr., who was dragged to death behind a pickup truck by white racists in Jasper, Texas.
But a more common indication of the problem was the disk jockey on a Washington, D.C., radio station who, after playing a cut by rap artist and Grammy winner Lauryn Hill, exclaimed: “No wonder they drag these people behind pickups!”
Hate crimes are a byproduct of the drive to overthrow the gains of the civil rights movement of the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. Attempts are being made throughout the nation to abolish or water down affirmative action, school desegregation, and other civil rights reforms.
Both Republicans and Democrats-including the president of the United States-have spurred these attacks. Their rationale is that whites are now suffering discrimination due to civil rights laws. But this myth encourages racist resentments-which inevitably lead to violence.
Furthermore, violence against Blacks has been tolerated-if not encouraged-by U.S. society for centuries. After the Civil War, the relative freedom that Blacks had won from slavery was overturned by violence waged by government authorities (police, courts, and prisons) together with the Ku Klux Klan. Lynchings were carried out to intimidate people from fighting back.
Nor was this violence limited to the South. Blacks “Up North” have been subjected to many lynchings and massacres over the years to keep them “in their place.” As in the South, these atrocities were carried out-more often than not-by police and other officials seeking to uphold the “law and order” system.
Today, the “legal” violence against Black people continues in the guise of cop programs like Zero Tolerance in New York and Code Four in Minneapolis.
When police shoot down Black people at will-and get away with it-racists everywhere can smugly conclude that it is “open season” once again for lynching.