In America the 'Terrorists' All Too Often Are the Police
Two acts of ugly terrorism occurred in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963.
One act was widely abhorred. The other act ignored.
Many across America know about the 9/15/63 Birmingham murders of four little girls slain in the bombing of a black Baptist church 18-days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his stirring “I Have A Dream” speech.
However, few know about the Birmingham murder of Johnny Robinson, a 16-year-old shot in the back by a policeman hours after that church bombing.
If the deaths of those four children inside that Birmingham church catalyzed the 1960s-era Civil Rights Movement contributing to the racial progress America now praises itself for achieving, the death of Johnny Robinson represents yet another instance of the regression across America on the issue of effectively addressing lawlessness by law enforcers – lawlessness that most often evades legal accountability.
Historically, America has a history of downplaying brutal behavior by police.
Police abuses – from fatal shootings through false arrests to the gratuitous use of foul or threatening language – are dismissed as isolated acts of a ‘few bad apples’ instead of as an endemic scourge historically impacting minorities and increasing impacting non-minorities. Top policy-makers and even much of the public embrace this dismissal dynamic.
The policeman who fatally shot Johnny Robinson during disturbances that erupted in the wake of that murderous church bombing never faced criminal prosecution because all-white grand juries (state and federal) excused his shotgun slaying of the boy.
That Birmingham policeman who blasted Robinson with a shotgun, like the men who bombed that city’s Sixteen Street Baptist Church, staunchly opposed eradicating America’s system of legally sanctioned racial segregation. Officer Jack Parker, then the head of Birmingham’s police union, publicly opposed integrating that city’s police department.
“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” Dr. King declared during his iconic 1963 speech, during which he twice decried police abuses.
Today most Americans extoll the vision King articulated during that speech while continually ignoring the nightmares he detailed as injustices that drove the need for his ‘Dream.’ Police abuses remain core elements of the nightmare that too many people across America encounter daily.
A dozen years before King’s ‘Dream’ speech a black union leader criticized police brutality during his keynote address at labor convention in Cincinnati. “We are horrified to hear of the many police killings of Negroes from New York City to Birmingham, Alabama,” William R. Hood said in October 1951.