Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Guest Post: The Dallas Police Shootings, the Right-wing Media, and the Haymarket Riot

Friend of the website Werner Herzog's Bear is like a great independent wrestler or underground band that folks in the know appreciate and love. I keep telling him to write up a submission for the New York Times. He is modest. Smart people often have that quiet confidence. This recent essay on the tumult and troubles of America in the era of Donald Trump, Black Lives Matters, and the second Gilded Age is essential. It is very timely and on point, a wonderful contrast to the mess written by too many among the so-called "smart people" chattering classes who lack any substantive training and expertise on American history, politics, life, and society.

I kneel before Zod. What follows is some on point and smart analysis and writing.


As I feared, the horrible murder of five police officers in Dallas is being exploited by Fox News and the right wing media to delegitimize and tear down the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a golden oldie from the reactionary playbook, whereby an incident of violence by a lone extremist is used as justification to crush movements for social change.

One example from the past is quite constructive in this regard. In 1886 workers were pushing for an 8 hour day, in the United States through the fast-growing Knights of Labor. They chose May 1 as their day of action, the reason why that day honors labor around the world (though not officially in the United States.) In Chicago striking workers at the McCormick Reaper Works clashed with strike-breakers, and the Chicago started shooting, killing some of the workers. In response to this police brutality, a protest was organized at the Haymarket in downtown Chicago on May 4th. As that protest was breaking up, someone threw a bomb at the police, who then started firing wildly. After the smoke cleared, seven police officers and a handful of protestors were dead (some from the bomb, some from the bullets.)

The so-called "social question" had been a burning issue in Gilded Age America, with many clashes between workers and the authorities. The bombing presented the reactionary elements with the perfect opportunity. Immediately local governments started cracking down on and harassing the Knights of Labor, pretty much breaking an organization that had grown to over half a million members. The nation's first national labor organization was now in ruins, and not just because of government action. The press fanned the flames, painting the entire movement for workers' rights as merely a vehicle for radical anarchists. The picture at the top of this post is a good example of the propaganda that misrepresented the event in order to stir up fear.

Soon enough too the police rounded up eight Chicago anarchists and they were charged and convicted for the bombing with scant evidence. Four were put to death, one killed himself in jail. Governor John Altgeld, in an act of true political bravery, pardoned the last three due to the shoddy nature of their conviction, and in the process knowingly doomed his chances at re-election. That would not bring the five dead back, of course. In the hysteria after the bombing, anyone with a leftist political bent was considered guilty.

Flash forward to today, and similar things are afoot. A bloody attack on police at a political protest is being used to damn the entire protest movement itself by reactionaries who are just waiting to find an excuse to ignore the problem of racist policing and crush the movement against it. Dan Patrick, the radical conservative lieutenant governor of Texas, went so far as to say that the protestors themselves were to blame for the shooting, and that they were "hypocrites" for running from the bullets. (I guess he thought they should have died.) Those sentiments were all over the media yesterday, and not just on right wing outlets. On supposedly liberal MSNBC, Rudy Guiliani blamed the Black Lives Matter movement for the shooting in Dallas. On Fox, as expected, this message was being relayed over and over again yesterday. Hannity even tried to get his reporter on the scene to troll a Black Lives Matter protest. On Fox several shows linked the Black Lives Matter movement to president Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Loretta Lynch, hoping to smear their political opponents. On talk radio things have been turned up a notch, with Limbaugh calling Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization.

This same work has been done more subtly by less partisan outlets. For example, media keeps bringing up 9/11, saying this event is the worst attack on police since 9/11, etc, when the scale is obviously so different. Also, we didn't hear 9/11 comparisons after Charleston or Orlando, which is telling about their use in this case. Implicitly, the notion would be that those supposedly responsible for Dallas must be treated like those responsible for 9/11. The witch hunters have their torches ready.

It took years for the labor movement to recover from the Haymarket Affair. We cannot afford a similar hit to the movement against racist policing, because lives will be lost. It's time to sound the alarm and get out there and combat the false narrative of Dallas before it's too late.

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