[Vision2020] 1965: The Year Federal Troops Were Needed (podcast)
ngier006 at gmail.com
Sat Aug 1 14:09:42 PDT 2020
This is the long version of the column that appeared in Moscow-Pullman
paper. I assumed that you were just as moved as I was about Lewis' memorial
service with its amazing music and speakers.
I'm re-dedicating my energies to police reform and racial justice.
May we have peace and justice,
*1965: The Year Federal Troops Were Needed A Tribute to Civil Rights
Activist John Lewis*
*He never threw a brick. He never lit a match.*
—Rep. James Clyburn on John Lewis
*Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America
by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. *—John Lewis
*I want to thank the BLM protesters who decried the white supremacists
once they were identified. *—Richmond’s Police Chief Gerald Smith
Let me begin with these words from Martin Luther King’s acceptance speech
for his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. He told his audience in Oslo that the use
of violence “destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves
society in monologue rather than dialogue.”
In 1965, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, King counseled that, before any
protest march, those involved had to “undergo self-purification.” They
would also have to take Gandhi’s vows: “Are you able to accept blows
without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?”
Gandhi always told his followers not to resist arrest and not to seek bail.
Furthermore, showing ultimate respect for existing laws (even though
unjust), one should plead guilty and offer to serve a full sentence.
Gandhi’s tactics were a form of moral and political *ju jitzu*. Some of
Gandhi’s judges felt as if they were the ones charged and convicted for
their unjust laws.
*Police Brutality at the Edmund Pettus Bridge*
On a beautiful Sunday afternoon, March 7, 1965, peaceful protestors, led by
the late John Lewis, attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma,
Alabama. Pettus was a Confederate army officer, senator, and Grand Dragon
of the Klu Klux Klan.
There is now a petition to rename the bridge after Lewis, and Caroline
Randall Williams, a Pettus descendant and Writer in Residence at Vanderbilt
University, supports that move. She warns us, however, that after that
symbolic gesture, we should all get to work eliminating racial injustices.
The 600 marchers, well dressed and walking silently for the cause of voting
rights, were stopped at the bridge by local police (some mounted on horses)
and Alabama state troopers. Well trained as ordained Baptist minister in
spiritual “self-purification,” Lewis proposed that they all kneel and pray.
Before the word got back to the other protestors, the police ran roughshod
over them, just as armed federal agents did in Portland just recently.
In the ensuing melee 90 marchers were injured, some seriously, including
Lewis with a fractured skull. Even though Lewis begged his attacker to
stop, the state trooper kept hitting him with his club. In his
autobiography Lewis, who survived many previous police beatings, wrote:
“This is it. People are going to die here; I’m going to die here.”
*National Outrage about “Bloody Sunday”*
Even though angry white by-standers attacked the reporters and camera men
present at the Pettus Bridge, video of the attack was released to the
national media. There was national outrage about yet another example of the
brutality and murder against blacks before and after the march until this
day. A long list of killings, including Jimmie Lee Jackson, Emmet Till, and
four girls at a Birmingham church, were fresh in the marchers’ minds.
*Selma Marchers: “Disciplined, Somber, Subdued”*
Just days before this “Bloody Sunday,” Martin Luther King was in personal
dialogue with then President Lyndon Johnson. They were discussing the
Voting Rights Act that was signed into law on August 6, 1965. In stark
contrast to our current president, Johnson federalized national guard
troops to protect protestors as they marched from Selma to Montgomery,
arriving on March 25, 1965.
John Lewis remembered the marchers at the Pettus Bridge as “more
disciplined, more somber and subdued, almost like a funeral procession.”
The previous 1963 March on Washington involved about 250,000 people and
there was not a single arrest. The 23-year-old Lewis spoke just before
King, and he vowed to “splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces
and put them back together in the image of God and democracy.” Would that
be so today.
*Violence Splits Civil Rights Movement*
Lewis was once the chair of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee,
but in 1966 he was removed because he was considered too moderate. H. Rap
Brown, one of the leaders who followed Lewis, was notorious for the chant
“Burn Baby Burn” in support of the 1967 riots.
Congressman James Clyburn claims that this turn to violence “destroyed our
movement,” but, more accurately, it impeded it. Lewis had to admit that
“the road to non-violence had essentially run out.” The backlash caused a
split in the Democratic Party and racist George Wallace won five southern
states and paved the way for Richard Nixon’s victory in 1968.
*Police Violence in Portland*
On July 11, Donavan La Bella, a 26-year-old non-violent leader of the
Portland protests, was shot in the head by an unidentified U. S. Marshall.
The “non-lethal” bullet left him hospitalized where he is in stable
condition but suffering from migraine headaches. La Bella will require
facial reconstruction surgery.
On July 18, Navy veteran Christopher David decided to join the Portland
protests. Standing peacefully with a Navy sweater and cap, David was
attacked by federal agents, who had formed a phalanx and began clubbing,
tear gassing, and pepper spraying protestors indiscriminately. David will
undergo reconstructive surgery in one hand.
These actions have brought critical response even from conservative
legislators. Rand Paul contends, rightly, that federal intervention has
only escalated the conflict. In a memo obtained by the press, the
Department of Homeland Security confessed that their forces were not
trained for riot and crowd control.
Portland mayor Ted Wheeler declared that the presence of federal agents “is
actually leading to more violence and more vandalism. They're not wanted
here. We haven't asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.” On July
28, an agreement was reached between DHS and Oregon’s governor, and state
troopers will now take over as federal agents are being phased out.
*A Problem with “Non-Centralized” Protests*
One Portland protester describes the events as “organic and
non-centralized,” and that, unfortunately, has allowed some to set fires,
otherwise destroy property, and, in a few instances, attack police and
One Portland resident declared to those assembled: “This is not peaceful.
This is a war against the federal government. This is what Trump wants. He
wants to label Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization.”
*Most Violence from the Right, not Antifa*
Seth Jones from the Center for Strategic and International Studies has
reviewed 14,000 arrests in 140 cities, and he has concluded that “most of
the violence was committed by local hooligans, sometimes gangs, sometimes
just individuals that are trying to take advantage of an opportunity.” Very
few of these agitators come from outside their own cities.
Black Lives Matter protesters routinely report these criminals to the
police. On July 25, Richmond police arrested six white supremacists, who,
while carrying BLM signs, broke windows and painted hateful graffiti. The
Richmond police chief thanked BLM for their help. In late July, a
32-year-old man, later identified as a member of the Hell’s Angels and the
Aryan Cowboy Brotherhood, was turned in by BLM protesters in Minneapolis. A
police warrant described him as person who “wanted to sow discord and
racial unrest by breaking out the windows and writing what he did on the
double red doors.”
Of the 80 federal charges that have been brought during the protests, no
person identified with the amorphous group antifa was among them. The FBI
reported that it found “no intel indicating antifa involvement” in the May
31 protests in Washington, D.C.
Trump has claimed that all the violence at the protests have been committed
by antifa and left-wing hooligans. When his administration was asked for
evidence of this conspiracy, no response was forthcoming. As *Washington
Post* fact checkers gave Trump four Pinocchios for this falsehood, they
stated: “There has not yet been a single confirmed case in which someone
who self-identifies as antifa led violent acts at any of the protests
across the country.”
Three men associated the racist “boogal0” movement were arrested by federal
marshals for a plot to bomb protesters in Las Vegas. The “Boogalo Bois”
have also participated in anti-police violence. One was an Air Force
sergeant who shot two federal agents (one fatally) in Oakland, California.
Many others of this ilk have also been arrested.
*Trump’s Race Baiting Will Fail*
Donald Trump is running a “law and order” campaign much like Nixon’s in
1968, but three major polls show that nearly two-thirds support the
protests despite the scattered violence. I’m convinced that race baiting
will not work this time.
I’m also confident that ex-president Trump will not attend the
re-dedication of the John Lewis Bridge in Selma, but former presidents
Clinton, Bush, Obama, and newly elected President Joe Biden will definitely
Nick Gier of Moscow is professor emeritus at the University of Idaho. Read
all his columns on civil rights at
www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/CivilRights.htm. Read all his columns at
http://nfgier.com. Email him at ngier006 at gmail.com.
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they
shall never sit in.
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.
Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance
from another. This immaturity is self- imposed when its cause lies not in
lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without
guidance from another. Sapere Aude! ‘Have courage to use your own
understand-ing!—that is the motto of enlightenment.
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