An Unbroken Line of Violence
In ten years of blogging, much of my writing comes down to telling stories, and stitching them together into a bigger context. It’s been my thing, for a while now, because it just made sense to me. Individual words combine to make sentences. Sentences combine to make paragraphs, and paragraphs combine to create full-fledged stories. Stories that seem separate from one another are linked together through time by recurring themes.
After the Michael Brown was shot to death by officer Darren Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, I began gathering similar stories of unarmed black men killed by police officers. Eventually, I began putting them into a timeline to put them in chronological order. Each story I came across lead me to several more I hadn’t heard of before, until I found lists of such deaths going back several decades. Each time I came across a new story, I researched it, and added it to the timeline.
At some point, my timeline reached all the way back to the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis. Neither was killed by police officer, but by private citizens acting as vigilantes — as a law unto themselves. I couldn’t leave their deaths out of my timeline, because I saw them in the same context as the deaths of Michael Brown, John Crawford, and Eric Garner. With them, I began including extra-legal killings in the timeline.
Opening the door to extra-legal killings raised a question. How far back would this timeline go? Around that time, I came across this quote by Angela Davis.
“There is an unbroken line of police violence in the United States that takes us all the way back to the days of slavery, the aftermath of slavery, the development of the Ku Klux Klan. There is so much history of this racist violence that simply to bring one person to justice is not going to disturb the whole racist edifice.”
Extra-legal and extra-judicial killings of black men and women goes back centuries. I’d started the timeline with the most recent police killings. Eventually, I expanded the timeline to include a number of lynchings — extra-judicial killings that often took place with the implicit approval or explicit participation of law enforcement, and for which few participants were ever punished.
I started with lynching victims whose deaths were included on Wikipedia. As I came across more names, I started researching stories, and entered into the timeline those for which I could find information. I poured over stories that had a familiar ring. The “black brute” stereotype haunted the stories of lynchings going back to Reconstruction, all the way up to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and others.
Adding lynchings to the timeline brought me to the murder of Emmet Till, where the story of lynching in America overlapped with the murders of civil rights activists. I started with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of Civil Rights Martyr’s.
I soon realized the enormity of the project I’d started. I came across a partial list of African-American lynching victims that contained 2,162 names. Meanwhile, every week seemed to bring new stories to add to the timeline. I learned that the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project had a of 122 Civil Rights-Era cold cases, concerning victims whose deaths may have been racially motivated. The Southern Poverty list, “The Forgotten, ” includes the names of 74 men and women who died between 1954 and 1968, whose deaths may have been racially motivated.
As I continue to review these lists and add the cases for which I find information, my hope will be to add names and faces to the“unbroken line of violence.” Davis spoke of.