In school they told me that America was a "melting pot" where varied cultures from many lands and peoples merged into a single "American culture." Wrong!
In reality, we are a stewpot of unique communities and subcultures surrounded by a rich brown gravy of shared values and experiences. The "Blues" are one of those distinct subcultures — the law-enforcement community of police, prosecutors, judges, prison wardens and security guards. The tightly-knit, Blue subculture is deeply imbued with an "Us versus everyone else" attitude, a trait that precludes Blues from testifying against, effectively prosecuting, or seriously punishing any of their own.
Like a cancer embedded within the Blue community there is an historic tolerance of the explicit white racism that some Blue individuals manifest. That racism, it seems to me, is itself the largest single component of a more extensive pathology I refer to as "blue-bigotry." In over-simplified essence, blue-bigotry divides society into two distinct groups: Citizens (and their property) who law enforcement serves and protects. And those who are perceived as threats from whom they must defend citizen-society. Nonwhites form the largest segment of these potentially dangerous undesirables, but they are not alone. Other segments include the poor and homeless whose very existence seems to threaten the property of the affluent, dissidents of all kinds such as union strikers and street protesters who challenge or question the status-quo, gays and others who defy citizen-society's cultural norms, and weirdoes, oddballs, & the mentally ill who make the good citizens uncomfortable.
Through the lens of this deeply entrenched culture of blue-bigotry, a minority in the law-enforcement community habitually view all undesirables as "suspicious until proven innocent," and sometimes as potential enemies or dangerous threats who must be controlled — and if necessary, suppressed. White officers are most susceptible to this cultural cancer, but nonwhite Blues may also be affected, and at times they too shoot or brutalize as their first, rather than their last, response. A young, unarmed Black man shot by a Latino security guard is as much a victim of this blue-bigotry as a child with a toy gun who is killed by a fearful white cop. And the general us-versus-them attitude within the Blue community as a whole means that blue-bigots are almost never held accountable for their actions, even when their abuse is clearly documented for all to see on video recordings and eye-witness testimony.
So how do we change the culture of blue-bigotry? As it turns out, this is something we Freedom Movement veterans have had some experience in. We changed the culture of overt, socially-sanctioned, explicit racism in the white South and the nation as a whole. Not as thoroughly as we wanted to, but change it we did. We didn't do it by sensitivity-training, or cultural-encounter groups, or other talky-feely stratagems. We did it with an organized, disciplined, three-prong attack. We used nonviolent protests (sit-ins, Freedom Rides, pickets, marches, etc) to expose, to educate, and to boldly defy entrenched white racism. We used local and national boycotts to impose a financial cost on racist acts. And we built mass political power to force through legislation and influence court rulings that coerced changes in racist behavior. By forcing changes in behavior, we eventually changed the culture.
The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) campaign in Bogalusa Louisiana exemplified these three elements — protests, economics, and political power. The Ku Klux Klan ran rampant in Bogalusa, so much so it was known as "Klantown USA." In Bogalusa, large, defiant, nonviolent protests (backed by community self-defense against KKK terrorists) confronted and challenged both Klan and cops. An economic boycott of white merchants and a national boycott of Crown-Zellerbach, the town's main employer, organized locally by the Bogalusa Voters & Civic League and nationally by CORE, imposed a significant financial cost on continued segregation and job discrimination. And overwhelming political pressure — local, state, and national — finally forced the Johnson administration to begin enforcing federal law against the KKK. To quote Deacons for Defense leader Robert Hicks:
Overnight, Washington crushed the white supremacist coup in Bogalusa and forced local authorities to uphold the law. In retrospect, what is remarkable was how little was required to destroy the Klan and force local authorities to protect citizens' rights and liberties. The Federal government did nothing more than threaten city officials with modest fines and light jail sentences."
As exemplified in Bogalusa, the Southern Freedom Movement clearly understood that a complaint is not a demand. Complaints are diffused and smothered by talk, demands present specifics that must be addressed. In Bogalusa, all three of these strategic elements — nonviolent defiance, economic retaliation, and organized political pressure were focused on demanding specific changes to specific behavior and specific acts — ending all forms of overt segregation, employment equality, and ending KKK terrorism.
Copyright © Bruce Hartford, 2014
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