The Pathos of Politics (112-2) Minorities


Racially motivated violence is a worldwide phenomenon. The police often contribute.

At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups. ~ FBI Director James Comey in 2015

 United States

The policing of black Americans is racial harassment funded by the state. ~ American law professor Paul Butler

The US civil rights movement, where blacks endeavored to overcome entrenched white racism, was often a bloody struggle, as the authorities violently strove to maintain oppression. The 7 March 1965 protest near Selma, Alabama was exemplary.

The demonstration was peaceful until 600 demonstrators crossed the county line, where they were met by a phalanx of local police, who immediately began beating the marchers. Unlike the Haymarket affair, the protesters were nonviolent. The black community termed the event the Bloody Sunday.

There were innumerable such encounters for those supporting civil equality for minorities in 1950s and 1960s – at times involving racist vigilantes whom the authorities tolerated.

Negroes must either submit to the heels of their oppressors or they must organize underground to protect themselves from the oppression. ~ Executive Board of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in the wake of Bloody Sunday


London has a long litany of riots, beginning with the Massacre of the Jews in 1189. Upon a false rumor that freshly crowned King Richard I was going to have all the Jews killed, the people of London took it upon themselves to do the dirty work. In the aftermath, Richard punished the perpetrators.

Though some violent protests were solely over economic or political grievances, many riots in London, and elsewhere in England, were racially motivated. One example is the 1958 Notting Hill race riot, where white working-class “Teddy Boys” attacked West Indian residents without provocation.

England suffered harrowing race riots across many cities in 1981: spontaneous outbursts incited by racial tension and urban deprivation, with an underlying distrust of the authorities.

Police violence sparked the 1981 riots. This has been a pattern throughout modern English history.

The 4 main riots in 1981 were in Brixton (London), Handsworth (Birmingham), Chapeltown (Leeds), and Toxteth (Liverpool). The affected areas had a history (from the 19th and early 20th centuries) of poor housing, chronic high unemployment, and racial tensions among residents.

The Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, elected in 1979, was squeezing the working class. The level of unemployment in the riot-affected areas was nearly as bad as during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Racial disadvantage is a fact of British life. ~ Lord Leslie Scarman in the official government report on the 1981 Brixton riots

Major riots erupted again in 2011, in many of the same areas as 1981. They illustrated how little had changed. But the 2011 riots were over economic repression and police oppression, lacking the element of racial strife among residents that had afflicted previous riots.

 Vietnam War Protests

Deterioration in relations between the American citizenry and the police was exacerbated by the many protests over the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago brought counterculture protest groups in direct contact with police. The results were sadly predictable. In his speech at the convention, Senator Abraham Ribicoff protested police “Gestapo tactics on the streets of Chicago.”

One of the more memorable war protests was the 4 May 1970 Kent State massacre, where Ohio National Guard troops unleashed a deadly volley of bullets at a peaceful protest of 500 people at Kent State University. 4 students were killed. 9 were seriously wounded.

In its wake, hundreds of schools closed through the nation as sympathetic students went on strike. 5 days later, 100,000 people demonstrated in Washington, DC, against the war and the massacre of unarmed student protesters.

Kent State was not the only such slaughter on campus. On 14 May 1970, police wantonly killed 2 students and wounded 12 during an anti-war protest by 100 people at Jackson State College in Jackson, Mississippi.