Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Group Photo Essay: What Do You See? From George Stinney in 1944 to Tamir Rice in 2014

I would like to thank all of the kind folks who donated to WARN's fundraising drive. Their generosity is very heartwarming to me. Thank you. Again.

I planned to post a new episode of The Chauncey DeVega Show today.

I will share that great conversation with Tim Wise on Monday of next week as a holiday treat of sorts.

[My conversation with Jason Colavito about fringe history and race can be found here. If you have not listened to it yet, I do think you will be pleasantly surprised. Jason does some great teaching and sharing.]

I have also been busy with what is planned as a 2 part essay for Alternet where I ask some necessary, and for some, quite uncomfortable questions about the worshipful culture that insulates American police from accountability for their murder, harassment, and brutal treatment of black and brown people.

Police fetishists and Right-wing authoritarians will not be pleased...but then again are they ever pleased by truth-telling about racism and the culture of cruelty?

Several years ago I posted some photos of former black human chattel as compiled in the WPA archives. The photos of human beings who were owned as property was so evocative, powerful, disturbing, and moving, that I observed how "their eyes are watching us".

I had that same feeling earlier today.

In 1944, a 14-year-old child named George Stinney was killed by the state of South Carolina because he supposedly killed two white girls. Stinney was so short that he had to sit on a pile of books so that the electric chair could fry him:
James Gamble, whose father was the sheriff at the time, told the Herald in 2003 he was in the back seat with Stinney when his father drove the boy to prison. 
“There wasn’t ever any doubt about him being guilty,” he said. “He was real talkative about it. He said, ‘I’m real sorry. I didn’t want to kill them girls.’ “ 
Indeed, just 84 days after the girls’ deaths, Stinney was sent to the electric chair. Today, an appeal from a death sentence is all but automatic, and years, even decades, pass before an execution, which provides at least some time for new evidence to emerge.
Stinney was barely 5 feet tall and not yet 100 pounds. The electric chair’s straps were too big for his frail body. Newspapers at the time reported he had to sit on books to reach the headpiece. And when the switch was flipped, the convulsions knocked down the large mask, exposing his tearful face to the crowd.
He is still dead. He cannot be brought back to life. He has been posthumously exonerated:
George Stinney was arrested, convicted of murder in a one-day trial and executed in 1944 — all in the span of about three months and without an appeal. The speed in which the state meted out justice against the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century was shocking and extremely unfair, Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen wrote in her ruling Wednesday. 
“I can think of no greater injustice,” Mullen wrote.  
It took Mullen nearly four times as long to issue her ruling as it took in 1944 to go from arrest to execution.  
Stinney's case has long been whispered in civil rights circles in South Carolina as an example of how a black person could be railroaded by a justice system during the Jim Crow era where the investigators, prosecutors and juries were all white. 
The case received renewed attention because of a crusade by textile inspector and school board member George Frierson. Armed with a binder full of newspaper articles and other evidence, he and a law firm believed the teen represented everything that was wrong with South Carolina during the era of segregation.  
“It was obviously a long shot but one we thought was worth taking,” said attorney Matt Burgess, whose firm argued that Stinney should get a new trial. 
Mullen went a step further by vacating Stinney's conviction. Her 29-page order included references to the 1931 Scottsboro Boys case in Alabama, where nine black teens were convicted of raping two white women. Eight of them were sentenced to death.
12-year-old Tamir Rice is dead in the immediate present. The video evidence of his murder by cop clearly demonstrates that he was shot with extreme prejudice. The police thug union still defends the actions of a known incompetent who was fired from his previous job because of sub-par performance.

Tamir and George are united in death through their murder by the state and the dual processes of adultification and white supremacy.

Their images are flanked on the left by an editorial cartoon from the October 28, 1876 edition of Harper's Weekly where a white man has murdered a black child under the banner of "self-defense".

The subheading? "Ef I hadn't er killed you, you would hev grown up to rule over me."

The image on the right is of Darren Wilson, the cop who killed Michael Brown. In his grand jury testimony, Wilson spun a white supremacist fantasy/nightmare tale in which Brown was a giant negro, one that who was demonically possessed, and had the superhuman ability to run through a fusillade of bullets as he tried to kill the innocent, white, and vulnerable police officer.

A group project:

1. What do you see when you look at these images?

2. How would you caption/narrate this series of images for a photo essay?

3. Are you like me? Do you also feel the eyes of Tamir Rice and George Stinney on you? 


Myshkin the Idiot said...

I think about that Chris Rock quote, "these are the nicest white people America has ever had."

If we think of history as a linear progression (which it isn't) then we can say at the time of George Stinney's execution, those were the nicest white people of the time.

Those whites were patient. They waited three months to execute him.

I'll try to answer the questions some time today.

kokanee said...

1. (a) I see evil. I also see the second period of American history where the north allowed the south to subjugate people of African origin. If the civil war was really about ending slavery, would this have happened? Of course, not.

(b) A boy with sad haunting eyes. Aside: The picture is distorted though. In cartoons, the villain's face is often elongated to make him look more evil. I know this was unintended but a much better picture can be found here.

(c) A innocent, happy go lucky boy.

(d) Terminator VI.

2. American progress.

3. It's incredibly soul breaking to look at their pictures knowing that their lives were so violently and needlessly snuffed out.


Why do the police feel so desperate to "solve" a brutal murder?

Why is it that any black man, woman or child can be sacrificed (literally) to "solve" such a murder?

Where are the comparisons of Nazi Germany to America today?

Now the other thing that we've gotta come to see now that many of us didn't see too well during the last ten years -- that is that racism is still alive in American society, and much more wide-spread than we realized. And we must see racism for what it is. It is a myth of the superior and the inferior race. It is the false and tragic notion that one particular group, one particular race is responsible for all of the progress, all of the insights in the total flow of history. And the theory that another group or another race is totally depraved, innately impure, and innately inferior.

In the final analysis, racism is evil because its ultimate logic is genocide. Hitler was a sick and tragic man who carried racism to its logical conclusion. And he ended up leading a nation to the point of killing about 6 million Jews. This is the tragedy of racism because its ultimate logic is genocide. If one says that I am not good enough to live next door to him, if one says that I am not good enough to eat at a lunch counter, or to have a good, decent job,or to go to school with him merely because of my race, he is saying consciously or unconsciously that I do not deserve to exist.
Nobody can doubt the need if he thinks about the fact that since 1963 some 50 Negroes and white civil rights workers have been brutally murdered in the state of Mississippi alone, and not a single person has been convicted for these dastardly crimes. There have been some indictments but no one has been convicted. And so there is a need for a federal law dealing with the whole question of the administration of justice.
video; transcript

chauncey devega said...

Have you seen Top 5 yet? If you get a chance check it out...or wait, not too long, for it to be at Red Box or on Itunes. His whole interview is great. I would love to see a discussion with Rock and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

chauncey devega said...

MLK was so wise and prolific...even he gets rewritten to be sold by McDonald's or by Nike or Apple.

The larger picture wouldn't fit on the site, thus the distortions. The picture with the proper ratio is so real, so real.

Sandy Young (Corkingiron) said...

What do I see?

Have you by chance read the 1951 document "We Charge Genocide" ? The Civil Rights Congress tried to submit it to the UN in 1951, but the UN has never formally acknowledged receiving it.

I was required to read it in my one and only undergrad course on Black History at a Canadian University in 1972. As a young undergrad, I thought it was over-the-top and hyperbolic at the time.

"I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now."

Gina said...

“He was real talkative about it. He said, ‘I’m real sorry. I didn’t want to kill them girls.’ “What have they done to George Stinney, that he said this? His deeply saddened eyes reach me deep inside. They express an unspeakable sorrow of what had happened to the two little girls & of what had happened to him. Three kids brutally killed.

kokanee said...

I think —although I can't find where —that we've shared this already:
Tim Wise:
In short, and though I know it won’t strike you as, well, nice: fuck
nice. And if you’re more disturbed about my language here than the death
of black men at the hands of police, then know that you are the
problem, and you’ve made it clear what side you’re on. It will not be
forgotten. —The Nice White People Who Stick Their Heads in the Sand and Perpetuate Murderous Injustice

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Chris Rock and Coates would be great together. I have not seen Top 5.

I have listened to your recent podcast and it really is a great conversation on pop culture, Ancient Aliens, and contemporary iterations of white supremacy.

1. In the first picture I see a conservative's lament for the modest outcome of the Civil Rights Era. How many mouth-breathers wish that baby had been Obama or Eric Holder?

2. In order of your pictures left to right:
a) The Education
b) The Offering
c) The Life
d) The Maker

3. Tamir! He was so young! Look at his face and then that of Darren Wilson.
What the Cleveland Police chief said... what a fuckface!
Brittney Cooper wrote a piece recently wondering about some advice she had been given, "people are not likely to change very much." She wondered how much white America had really changed from the 1950's to now.
Not very much if a 12 year old can be shot in less than 2 seconds and America stands up for his murderer.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

thanks. I've been thinking about the idea of the "banaity of evil" since Devega's piece about Darren Wilson not as an outlier, but as a normal person.

What about the banality of goodness?

How far can you go by just being a good person while not being active about social injustices?

kokanee said...

I agree. Yes, the banality of goodness --to walk down the street and not see injustice everywhere --to be conveniently naive --to not see POC as Equal People --to not see Others' struggles as their own.

If you know what we know then not to do or say anything is the banality of evil. Speak truth to everyone that it is safe to do so. Support activism everywhere. No less than the future depends upon it.

Gina said...

the banality of evilOh, the decent & righteous people ...& add to this crotchety ...

Society is a boot camp.

Gina said...

P.S.: In the meantime I read the articles which are linked in the above text, & came to the conclusion that George Stinney didn't say what I quoted above, because the family of only one girl is opposing George's rehabilitation, which I find very strange because all circumstances of George's conviction underline his innocence. If a little girl is murdered, I would with all my force oppose that an innocent person would be sacrificied for the deed while the murderer is running free.

The sheriff's son simply fits into this context.

Gable1111 said...

That picture of Stinney is definitely haunting. Its seems less fearful as it does a sad, weary of the violence and hatred of the time. The look seems to say, why are they doing this to me?

I would caption that series a continuum of racist violence and hatred, then and now.

The first picture brings to mind those horrific pictures of lynching, with white ghouls standing around smiling in front of bloodied and burned bodies. Looking at those pictures it made me wonder, what kind of people could stand in front of these bodies, swinging from trees or burned at the stake in a celebratory mood as if they are at the state fair.

This was made real for me several years ago when a coworker, during a discussion of the discriminatory practices that were going on in the office, told me that one of her relatives had been lynched. The next day she brought in family pictures, including news clippings of the incident. Her relative was Jesse Washington:

"Black on black crime" as a stereotype has to be mentioned loud and long, as it is, in a pathetic attempt to drown out the history of white savagery and violence such as this.

Gina said...

1. What do you see when you look at these images?

Three kids, defenseless & vulnerable as all kids are. The adults on these images not only fail at their task to nurture & love kids but use their superior strength to wipe these young lives out.

2. How would you caption/narrate this series of images for a photo essay?

Nowadays the killings of black teens by white people are getting blatantly institutionalized.

3. Are you like me? Do you also feel the eyes of Tamir Rice and George Stinney on you?

Especially George's eyes. The deep sadness in his eyes conveys us also the empathy which makes this sadness possible. I see the sensitive boy he was.

Tamir's eyes radiate his youth & the youthful openness - now extinguished forever.