Friday, January 4, 2013

Questions of Black Murder and Revenge: Please Teach Me Something about the "Zebra Murders"

For six months, straddling late 1973 and early 1974, the city had 14 random killings. Most of the victims never saw it coming, shot in the back or the back of the head, execution-style, in what came to be called the Zebra murders. 
The shootings were racially motivated and usually happened at night along the Divisadero Street corridor. Here are three that were out of the norm but crucial to the case. 
On the evening of Oct. 19, 1973, Quita and Richard Hague came out of their four-story Victorian apartment building at 399 Chestnut St., at Stockton Street. They went west, downhill toward North Beach, maybe in front of Francisco Middle School one block down, when a white van pulled alongside with three men inside. The body of Quita Hague, 28, was found the next day on the railroad tracks across town. Her husband survived. The spree had begun. 
Two months later, on Dec. 13, 1973, the killer struck again, at the corner of Wisconsin and 23rd streets, on Potrero Hill. Social worker Art Agnos, 35, had left a meeting and was walking to his car when people started fleeing from a loud popping noise. The future mayor tried to calm them before realizing he had been shot twice in the back. 
On Jan. 28, 1974, Jane Holly, a 45-year-old Wells Fargo clerk, went into the Lightning Coin Launderette at 1440 Silver Ave., just off San Bruno Avenue. Her back was to the door. She was pulling clothes out of the dryer as a gunman walked toward the rear of the 24-hour wash-and-dry.
In our recent discussions about gun violence, Django Unchained, and America's gun culture, I have learned a great deal. Several commenters have offered up interesting bits of information, such as this reference to Robert Charles, a black man who shot 27 white people in the year 1900 during the height of Jim and Jane Crow.

I have also had an interesting discussion about black mass shooters and the argument that such crimes by African-Americans are somehow under-reported. Such a claim is fascinating because of how it stands against volumes of evidence about the racialized nature of crime reporting in the United States, and how stereotypes about black criminality are integral to the prison industrial complex, and the school to prison pipeline.

I may not always agree with folks here on WARN--which is part of the fun of our honest conversations--but I always learn something from the exchange.

In the spirit of seeking new information and knowledge, I also enjoy reading white nationalist websites. As I have said many times before, one must understand their enemies as not to be ambushed by them. Their waters are toxic and befouled; they are pure to the supplicants and white nationalist troglodytes.

During the Right-wing media's online fit about Django Unchained, and the prospect that a black man may actually want to kill white slave owners and other white racists during the 19th century (and Hollywood may dare to present such a fantasy in the form of a major motion picture), I came upon repeated references to the "Zebra Murders."

These were common White deflections where white racists search high and low for examples of black "racism," criminality, or violence in order to balance the centuries-long historical record of white supremacy's barbarisms against people of color--and also against white folks who did not follow the dominant script. The false equivalence is glaring; nevertheless, it is still instructive.

As a person of a certain age, I had never heard of the Zebra Murders. As a child of the hip hop generation and the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area who was born in the 1970s, I was too young and geographically distant from California to have ever encountered any information about a murder spree that was supposedly committed by Nation of Islam members against whites (and others) in the Bay area from 1973 to 1974.

Color me fascinated by this tale of interracial murder, police corruption and racism; resentment towards Earl Sanders, the black Police Chief of the San Francisco police department; and what is a fascinating story that has been optioned for a movie by Brad Pitt and starring Jamie Foxx and Will Smith.

Here are some details about the Zebra Murders:
The murders lasted 179 days and traumatized San Francisco in ways that few cities have experienced before the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The killings were random, carried out by a faction of Black Muslims associated with the Nation of Islam and calling themselves the Death Angels. They were out to kill white people with the intent of starting a race war.
The first victim, Quita Hague, was abducted while out for a stroll with her husband near Telegraph Hill. She was hacked to death with a machete; he survived. Another victim, a male whose identity was never determined, was butchered so badly that police referred to him as the Christmas Turkey victim. His torso was found on the beach near the Great Highway on Christmas 1973. 
All of the other murder victims were shot to death — by various assailants using the same .32-caliber pistol. 
The mayhem didn't end until an accomplice-turned-informant named Anthony Harris, motivated by a $30,000 reward, came forward to give up the names of several fellow members of the Nation of Islam. By then, the harm could be measured beyond the violence. At the peak of the killing spree,Mayor Joseph Alioto issued stop-and-search orders that made almost every black male over 6 feet tall a possible suspect. A federal judge declared the sweeps to be unconstitutional only after hundreds of innocents were detained. 
By consensus, it was an ugly time.
These paragraphs/observations are widely cited by white nationalists and their allies, I am not willing to vouch for the veracity of their claims or interviews:
The increased police presence had the effect of angering the black community. Twenty years before the Los Angeles riots and O.J. Simpson trial, blacks were already making statements to the press that showed a stunning lack of remorse for what was happening to their white neighbors. Howard quotes from interviews conducted by the San Francisco Examiner in 1974. Among the responses by blacks were, "I don’t feel comfortable with all the police around. But then, I never have felt safe around them." 
A young housewife stated, "I’m really glad the police are concerned for a change. I just wonder if they would be as much concerned if it were black people getting killed." A black lawyer added, "I commend the police for their beefing up of the force, but I hope it’s not just directed at blacks. I hope blacks aren’t being harassed." 
Still other blacks blamed "unemployment" and "oppression" for the attacks. One man said, "the madness that drives black men to kill innocent people . . . involves a sickness that is as American as apple pie." Black Panther leader Bobby Seale declared, "every black man in the Bay area is in danger of losing his life." The Reverend Cecil Williams claimed that the entire black community was "under a police state that could erupt into a racial war." Howard observes, "although they were responding only to a question about Operation Zebra, it was curious that none of the blacks interviewed took the occasion to condemn the unknown street killers or express sympathy for the victims."
We have a wide readership here at We Are Respectable Negroes. What really went down? What is the evidence? Do you have any links to reliable reporting on the subject? For those of you alive during that time period, or from that area, what is the vibe like on the ground?

In my writings about white masculinity and mass shootings I have never suggested that there is something unique to Whiteness and White Men that leads to these types of outcomes. I am interested in how race as a social construct, may over-determine why certain cohorts are more likely to be over-represented among such murderers and what this tells us about gun violence.

Race, power, and violence are intimately related. Black Americans never formed our own revenge possies or guerilla groups to take a pound of flesh from whites who benefit materially, personally, and psychologically, from slavery, Jim and Jane Crow, or contemporary colorblind racism.

While we were "niggerized," black Americans have only sought our rightful freedom, civic inclusion, full fruits of citizenship, and yes the right to be left damn well alone if we so chose, in the United States. Given the scale of our historic suffering at the hands of White America, our peaceful nature and yearning to only be loyal and fully valued citizens in this country has been a historical anomaly of sorts. We have asked little from the United States; yet, Black Americans have given everything.

Black people like the Zebra Murderers are, in the African-American folk tradition, best described as "bad niggers." As such, they are important--and symbolically powerful--outliers in the African-American cultural and historical tradition. For that reason, such men are imminently fascinating and worthy of discussion. Do teach me something about them if you would, and are so inclined.


freebones said...

the stop and search policy of black males over six foot is particularly interesting.

as liberal and loud as i am known to be here at WARN, i can't really condemn that policy in the wake of those murders. because a clear description of the suspect(s) was/were available, and because other methods were not working, it only made sense, such as when all white cars leaving a certain highway are stopped during an amber alert for a white car, for example.

i can see how such a policy, when applied to black males of a certain height, has racial connotations, and i can sympathize with the concerns of the black community leaders over it, but is it really such a foolish idea? i think it makes sense, personally.

" was curious that none of the blacks interviewed took the occasion to condemn the unknown street killers or express sympathy for the victims."

the above quote, however, is the biggest pile of horseshit i have ever read. so at least there's that.

awol said...

a clear description of the suspects would not have left most black men over 6ft at risk because, to much disbelief, all black men do not look the same and a height does not constitute a clear description.

also, i can't remember a time after a mass murder (where the suspect was white, of course) when a stop and search policy was targeted at any substantial chunk of the local white population, but maybe you can?

chaunceydevega said...

@free. why don't we stop and frisk white men who fit a certain profile? "we" don't. I wonder why. As seen in NY such policies are bad police work, and let the perps off the hook while inconveniencing honest citizens. In NY as has been well documented blacks and latinos are much more likely to be harassed and whites are much more likely to actually have drugs on their person.

@awol. i do love how vague descriptions are of black criminals and how they end up with folks from 2 feet tall up to 8 feet...if you get the joke.

freebones said...

as a white male, i've BEEN stopped by police in maryland before. i was rather intoxicated and walking back to my hotel and two police officers proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions. apparently there were looking for a roughly 6-foot caucasian male in shorts and a t-shirt, with brown hair and glasses. they let me go because i have a huge beard and the description said nothing about that.

does that justify bad police work? no, but we don't know what their full description of the individuals said in my case OR in the case of the men you wrote about.

stop and search, in its limited capacity, CAN be a good thing, when authorities are looking for a specific criminal in a specific crime with a specific description. that's all i'm saying.

The Sanity Inspector said...

OT: Meanwhile, on Twitter, a liberal author hurls a racial epithet at a Republican black woman, and gets dumped by his publisher.

nomad said...
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Cavoyo said...

What I found interesting about Django was how many white people enjoyed the film. I'm confused as to why white people would cheer the slaughter of their ancestors. I think it's because time (and for northern whites, region) allow the whites in the theater to "other" Django's victims.

Tarantino claimed that the prison-industrial complex is America's 21st century version of slavery. This makes me think that Tarantino could have produced a modern version of Django. Imagine [SPOILERS]a bounty hunter who pays a black man's bail and then takes him across the US to collect bounties. Along the way they kill a white sheriff and a group of Tea Partiers who are after them. Modern Django even snipes a nice middle class white man in front of his son. Later, with his newfound money, he travels to reunite with his long lost love, but on the way things go awry. The bounty hunter murders the woman's white employer and then the bounty hunter himself is shot. Modern Django fights valiantly for his life in the aftermath, killing dozens of white men, including some policemen. He's given the death sentence but it's later commuted to life in prison. While being transported to prison he tricks the policemen transporting him into giving him a gun, which he uses to swiftly murder them. He then escapes to the white employer's penthouse, where he slaughters the white employees male and female, kneecaps the employer's incredibly subservient black assistant, then blows the whole workplace up. Modern Django and his love drive off into the sunset and live happily ever after.[/SPOILERS]

Something tells me that if this movie were ever made in America, it would not be sold as a "postmodern revenge flick," but a horror movie. White people would certainly not be cheering Modern Django.

makheru bradley said...

Robert Charles was defending himself against a lynch mob. He knew the history of post-Reconstruction America all too well.

[Hair described one such horrible injustice that perhaps had an effect on Charles' relentless stand. After a black man by the name of Sam Hose was suspected for rape and murder, he "was slowly tortured and then burned alive, before a huge crowd.. Afterward, his half- consumed body was pulled up from the fire, he was cut open, and slices of his heart and liver were sold as souvenirs". Robert Charles heard the news of this savage tragedy and the reality of it stuck with him during the race riot. The horrible execution of Sam Hose was a reminder of how brutal white people were becoming in order to hold down African Americans. This incident reminded Charles that he was powerless against the law.]

Charles' actions were justified under white supremacist tyranny, and with his Winchester he was not exactly powerless.

Colin Ferguson's lawyers were planning to use "Black Rage" as his defense before he fired them. I can understand his rage, but I cannot justify randomly killing innocent people.

The Zebra Murders were carried out by serial killers driven by a fanatical racist philosophy, no different from the KKK or Neo-Nazi’s. If this had occurred in any city other than San Francisco the killers and everyone at their workplace would probably have been executed like Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

If these murders happened in today’s fascist environment the NOI—guilt by association—would be labeled a terrorist organization and its leaders would be indefinitely detained, if not subjected to extraordinary rendition.

makheru bradley said...

Off subject, but interesting. Tarantino says his mom was one of Wilt Chamberlain's 20,000.

“Black culture is my culture growing up,” Tarantino explained. “Yeah, it was almost like a sitcom the way we lived in the ’70s. She was in her 20s, she was hot, alright, she was a hot white girl and her best friend named Jackie was a hot black girl and her other best friend, Lillian, was a hot Mexican girl. And they lived in this swinging singles apartment with me.

“It was the ’70s. I lived with these three hip single ladies, all always going out on dates all the time, dating football players and basketball players … my mom dated Wilt Chamberlain. She was one of the thousand.”

The host then asked Tarantino if it affected his sense of sexuality, knowing that his mother and her friends were engaging in sexual activity basically right under his nose. Unsurprisingly, Tarantino said he was perfectly cool with it and that it was fun always having the boyfriends try to win him over by buying him footballs and taking him places.

I would love to hear Dr. Welsing's psychoanalysis of this dude

nomad said...
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makheru bradley said...

Tarantino exposed.

nomad said...
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Invisible Man said...

"These were common White deflections where white racists search high and low for examples of black "racism," criminality, or violence in order to balance the centuries-long historical record of white supremacy's barbarisms against people of color"

Seems like your guest Dr. Ann Little pulled the same deflection and false equivalence with her description of the original first nation people in your podcast. She basically said the colonist arrived to a particularly violent world and just jumped in with the flow and that the colonist learned how to build forts from the the original tribes, She then put them both in the same category in terms of gender oppression. It was a great podcast first one I ever listened too there was a lot of ducking and dodging going on on her part, yo.

Tom said...

Cavoyo said...
What I found interesting about Django was how many white people enjoyed the film. I'm confused as to why white people would cheer the slaughter of their ancestors. I think it's because time (and for northern whites, region) allow the whites in the theater to "other" Django's victims.

Cavoyo, People who think that way are & will remain irrelevant to society. It's a fantasy that white Americans as a group side with our ancestors the slaveholders.

Racism is a serious issue, but it's only taken seriously if we don't act like crazy people when we discuss it.