Outbreaks of violence last month in street protests in Portland, Oregon, Kenosha, Wisconsin and Rochester, New York reflected the anger of some African Americans over the disproportionate use of deadly force by police against blacks.
But the feeling of most African Americans seems more like the bone fatigue borne by more than a century and a half of waiting for the unfulfilled American promise of equal protection to come true.
That fatigue was expressed in an emotional statement by Doc Rivers, the Los Angeles Clippers coach, after his team decided to suspend the remainder of the NBA season in protest against racism in law enforcement. "All you hear is Donald Trump and everyone is talking about fear," Rivers said. "We are being killed! We are being shot! … It is amazing why we continue to love this country and this country does not love us back. It is really so sad."
The father of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old black man who was shot seven times in the back by a white Kenosha patrol officer and left waist-down, expressed a similar sentiment: “What gave them the right to do something take that wasn't hers? I am bored of it. I'm bored of it. "
The unfulfilled pursuit of equal protection by African Americans can be aptly summed up in the phrase to which Mark Twain is (probably incorrectly) attributed: "History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes."
To understand their fatigue, you need to study the underlying history, because what happens today rhymes with the past, even if it isn't exactly repeated.
During the Civil War (1861-1865) and during the postwar period known as Reconstruction (1865-1877), the fate of African American slaves was the central theme. Yet few in the white church, north or south, really had their best interests in their hearts. Black people were largely viewed as a means of achieving political and economic ends, and their interests were often jeopardized by white political negotiations.
Abraham Lincoln went down in history with a somewhat undeserved reputation as the "Great Emancipator", the president who led the Union through the bloody Civil War to end slavery.
While Lincoln viewed slavery as a moral evil, throughout most of his career he opposed its total abolition. Instead, he campaigned for the presidency to limit the expansion of slavery into federal territories that had not yet been admitted to statehood, and maintained gradual solutions such as emancipation over half a century, paid the owners who voluntarily freed their slaves and Ex-slaves resettled overseas receive financial compensation.
Even less did Lincoln regard liberated blacks as equal to whites. During the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858, he said to an audience: "I have never been in favor of establishing social and political equality between the white and black races in any way."
Lincoln's main goal during the Civil War was to prevent the Union from falling apart. Hence, he resisted the urging of abolitionists within his own Republican Party to ban slavery entirely, as this could lead to secession by border slave states such as Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and Delaware, which had remained loyal to the Union.
When Lincoln issued the Declaration of Emancipation on January 1, 1863, it was justified as a measure of the necessity of war and not as a moral imperative. The proclamation only freed slaves in areas that were still in uprising and beyond federal control. One of its main goals was to encourage the emigration of slaves from these regions and thereby deprive the Confederation of an important war resource – manpower for the production of food and logistical military support.
It was not until 1865, after around 150,000 slaves fled the south and heavily supported the Union's war effort as soldiers and workers, that Lincoln finally decided that full emancipation was appropriate and supported the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Abolition of Slavery. However, there were all indications that after the end of the insurrection he intended to set a low bar for the re-admission of the secessionary southern states into the Union (namely, accepting the abolition and swearing oath of allegiance to the Union) and surrender The treatment of freed slaves is largely at the discretion of these states.
Lincoln's assassination on April 14, 1865, just five days after the surrender of the Virginia Army at the Appomattox Courthouse, placed the fate of the ex-slaves in different hands.
Over the next 12 years a multi-faceted political struggle took place between different geographic sections, political factions and branches of government, all of which sought to exploit the freed slaves for their own ends.
Wealthy businessmen and planters from the south (usually former Confederate leaders) sought replacements for slavery (tramp laws, detention, oppressive labor contracts, artificial electoral barriers, and campaigns against violence and intimidation) to make their ex-slaves cheap, dependent, and dependent to maintain docile workforce and to keep them politically powerless. The poorer southern whites, who feared that free blacks might question their economic and social status, worked zealously in this exploitative system known as Jim Crow segregation.
Republican abolitionists, acting under the protection of the federal forces that originally occupied the former Confederation, established the Freedmen & # 39; s Bureau to provide education and economic support to the newly freed slaves.
They also managed to pass the 14th Amendment (1868) and the 15th Amendment (1870) that guaranteed civil rights and the right to vote for ex-slaves, and enabled them to briefly play an active role in civil life in the South. Although these abolitionists were often idealists, they also had practical motives. They needed Republican votes in the solidly democratic south, and the ex-slaves offered them a large potential bloc to win elections and maintain control of Congress.
The rest of the Republican Party was more cynical. This faction was aware that the public was growing weary of the continued federal military occupation of the south and that their working class constituencies in the northern cities viewed free blacks as a potential source of labor competition. She wanted to finish rebuilding and get on with the money.
In the presidential election of 1876, a coalition of anti-black interests won the day. An agreement was reached in Congress that allowed Republican candidate Rutherford Hayes to emerge victorious in a close, competitive election in return for promises to end reconstruction and withdraw the last federal occupation forces in the south.
From 1877, when Hayes took office and kept that promise, the south remained firmly in the grip of segregation until the early 1960s, and whites, both in the south and north, employed different strategies to gain access to blacks to refuse better neighborhoods, good schools, higher paying jobs and electoral offices.
The civil rights movement of the 1960s revived hope for equal protection, but while making great strides, the movement has not fully achieved its goals.
The dream of equal protection remains unfulfilled to this day, and African Americans are rightly fed up with waiting for it to come true.
Elliott Epstein is a litigator with Andrucki & King in Lewiston. His rearview mirror column, which has appeared in the Sun Journal for 10 years, analyzes current events in a historical context. He is also the author of "Lucifer's Child," a book about the infamous child murder of Angela Palmer in 1984. He can be contacted at (email protected)
When the police stop black men, the repercussions affect their homes and families