It seems logical that every American, regardless of political affiliation/philosophy, race, religion or creed, would be concerned about the revelations concerning domestic spying on the part of the NSA. If the Obama administration can spy on and mistreat the Tea Party and other right wing causes, the next Republican administration could spy on and mistreat Occupy Wall Street and other left wing causes.
As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case. According to an article by David A. Love, the black community has largely greeted this news with a shrug and a yawn.
Is this lack of concern because many blacks do not want to be critical of the first black* president? This might account for some of this shrugging but Love suspects that there is something much deeper at work here:
The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government […]
African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.
The mistreatment of blacks did not end when slavery was abolished, of course. Love goes on to describe several other atrocities such as the Tuskegee experiment, J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and others.
Tragic chapters such as Tuskegee have been cited as a reason why African-Americans distrust the medical establishment and are hesitant to participate in clinical research. One study found that 67 percent of black parents distrusted the medical profession, compared to half of white parents.
As I read this, I wondered why there isn’t a similar distrust of the government as the medical establishment by blacks in general. The Tuskegee experiments were done at the behest of the U.S. Public Health Service, after all!
After finishing the article, I decided to read through the comments section (this is a blog that is dedicated primarily with concerns of the black community; the comments can sometimes be very illuminating). The very first comment by a user with the handle “Blackheywood Heywood” did not disappoint:
The US government began spying on Black folks before this government was created, yet it was no outrage.Give me a break, it seems slowly mainstream America is discovering how it feels to be thought of as suspicious or guilty before being accused, never mind arrested. Welcome to the world of the American Black male.
Heywood has a valid point. The answer to the question why the lack of outrage by the black community concerning the NSA and IRS scandals could just as easily turned against what Heywood called “mainstream America.” Indeed, where was the right (for lack of a better term) on these outrages? Where has the Tea Party been on the question of “stop and frisk,” in New York in which minorities are especially targeted to be searched, supposedly at random? Is this simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind?”
I believe there’s also another phenomenon at work: the memory hole. Near the close of the article, Love mentioned an event that took place in Philadelphia in 1985 I was completely unaware of:
On May 13, 1985, following a standoff, a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped a bomb on the house on Osage Avenue occupied by the black “radical” group known as MOVE. Police reportedly fired on MOVE members as they escaped the burning home […]
The 1985 bombing—which killed 11 people, including 5 children and destroyed an entire neighborhood of 61 row homes in West Philadelphia—marked the first such attack on U.S. citizens by government authorities. The survivors and victims’ families received $5.5 million in compensation from the city of Philadelphia.
I try my best to be informed about historical events as well as current events. How is it that this is the first I had ever heard about the Philadelphia Police dropping a freaking bomb on a neighborhood in an American city?** I must have been sick that day in American History class (I also didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments until well into my twenties; maybe I was sick on that day as well).
Maybe MOVE was a radical organization maybe it wasn’t*** but nothing could justify the police dropping a bomb on a neighborhood. Perhaps this atrocity is well known by people in the black community, both young and old but not so much outside the black community (or maybe I’m one of the few Americans who never heard about this but I doubt it).
MOVE probably wasn’t the first group the government described as “extreme” to a point where government officials ordered and used military force against its members; it certainly wasn’t the last. How many people out of a hundred know about what happened at Ruby Ridge? The Weaver family, why they were “extremists” after all and therefore, why should anyone care about their rights? How many people out of a hundred know about the conflicting accounts of what really happened at assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? (Here’s a hint: a great deal more than what the MSM reported at the time). I suppose because these people were part of some sort of cult, their rights didn’t matter either!
This is where the real problem of indifference lies. I’ve heard far too many people with the attitude “it’s not my problem” or “it doesn’t affect me”. Even more disturbing is the attitude some people have that they are happy when someone of an opposing view has his or her rights of life, liberty, and/or property trampled on (i.e. “Screw them, they are ‘extremists’”). Far too often, concerns about civil liberties depend on whose ox is being gored at that particular time.
I would like to humbly suggest that if you are not as upset when its someone else’s ox, even if it’s the ox of your opponent’s, one day it will be your ox that will be gored. Perhaps Martin Niemoller said it best in his very short work “First they Came” describing how the Nazis took freedom away from the whole population, one group at a time. By the time the Nazis got around to taking freedom from what remained of the population, Niemoller concluded “there was no one left to speak for me.”
To be clear, I am not comparing the U.S. government to the Nazis. Such hyperbolic comparisons are not constructive and minimize the very crimes against humanity the Nazis committed. I am making a comparison about how populations respond to encroachments on liberty, however. As demonstrated in Love’s article, there are plenty of examples of injustice from American history.
Here are just a handful more:
- The Indian Removal Act
- The internment of Japanese Americans
- Jim Crow
And many, many more.
Each of these policies were permitted to happen because the majority apparently felt that curtailing freedoms of these minorities would somehow not affect their own freedoms. We should acknowledge that these injustices occurred and try to learn the right lessons (rather than pretend the U.S. government or the American people have committed no wrongs ever) and move on.
Every injustice and every violation of rights of life, liberty, and property must be answered by all of us as if it’s our own liberty that is at stake.
*Yes, I’m aware that Obama is actually half black. However, if a man of his description was accused of committing a crime and at large, he would be described as a black man.
**In light of this, Rand Paul’s questions about government using drones to attack Americans on American soil no longer seem so far fetched, unfortunately.
***All I know is what I read in the cited article.