Letter #6: Exonerated, But Not Forgotten
Pandemic Fatigue | The Promise of Basic Income
Exonerations. These are the defining criminal justice stories of the week: The exoneration of the Groveland Four, and of the men who were fraudulently convicted of Malcolm X’s assassination. The only comment we have about a certain high-profile Wisconsin acquittal is that it’s an example of something that’s been going on in the Black community for a long time already: gang violence. White right-wing militias having gunfights with white leftists - despite what the participants may believe, this isn’t the Eastern Front in World War II. This is White America against White America. The continued immiseration of this demographic due to class inequality is getting worse, and thus the White community is doing what all impoverished communities do: turning against itself. This already happened to us in the 1980’s, so there’s not much new to say, honestly. Mainstream media attention on this is just an attempt to distract you from the bleak reality that domestic armed sectarian conflict (in the poorer, less-gun-regulated states) is here to stay.
The Groveland Four were four Black men - Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin - who in 1949 were falsely accused of raping a white woman named Norma Padgett and assaulting her husband in Lake County, Florida.
Thomas fled and was killed on July 26, 1949 by a sheriff's posse of 1,000 white men, who shot Thomas over 400 times while he was asleep under a tree in the southern part of Madison County. Greenlee, Shepherd and Irvin were arrested. They were beaten to coerce confessions, but Irvin refused to confess. The three survivors were convicted at trial by an all-white jury. Greenlee was sentenced to life because he was only 16 at the time of the alleged crime; the other two were sentenced to death.
Falsely accusing Black men of rape is a uniquely American form of false-flag attack, with a long, sordid history. It allowed white women who were in consensual relationships (or who were rapists themselves - during slavery and in paid situations of domestic servitude, white women were able to coerce Black men into sexual relationships against their will) to “get out of jail free” when discovered or impregnated - at the cost of some poor Black man’s life. The mere whiff of a Black man’s impropriety with a white woman was, in certain times and places, enough to send a mob of crazed thugs to terrorize entire Black communities. White rapists, of course, operate with impunity then as now.
White racial and psycho-sexual paranoia condemned these four young Black men, who might have gone on to do any number of important, socially-beneficial work, to having their lives and reputations cut short.
In 1949, Harry T. Moore, the executive director of the Florida NAACP, organized a campaign against the wrongful conviction of the three African Americans. Two years later, the case of two defendants reached the Supreme Court of the United States on appeal, with special counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund Thurgood Marshall as their defense counsel. In 1951, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a retrial after hearing the appeals of Shepherd and Irvin. It ruled they had not received a fair trial because no evidence had been presented, because of excessive adverse publicity, as well as because black people had been excluded from the jury. The court overturned the convictions and remanded the case to the lower court for a new trial.
In November 1951, Sheriff Willis V. McCall of Lake County, Florida shot Irvin and Shepherd while they were in his custody and handcuffed together. McCall claimed they had tried to escape while he was transporting them from Raiford State Prison back to the county seat of Tavares for the new trial. Shepherd died on the spot; Irvin survived and later told FBI investigators that McCall had shot them in cold blood and that his deputy, Yates, had also shot him in an attempt to kill him. Harry Moore called for the Governor of Florida to suspend McCall. On Christmas Night 1951, a bomb went off below Moore's house, fatally wounding both him and his wife; he died that night and his wife followed nine days later. The bombers were never caught.
We often speak about Jim Crow as this unique, abstract form of evil, but it was really rather simple, so simple we already have a name for it: terrorism. The United States’ criminal justice system has been used by terrorists for a long time to keep a captive Black population in a perpetual state of fear. This is why leaders like Malcolm X emerged, and why it was so important for the FBI to have one of their informants murder him, and then railroad Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam (two random Black Muslims at the scene) into prison for the crime. Their exonerations, alongside those of the Groveland Four, and the ongoing debate over whether it’s okay to murder Black men while jogging (hint: it’s not), are emblematic of America’s attitude toward the lives destroyed by its blood-soaked institutional corruption. Kind of like a “my bad” sort of thing. Far too little, far too late.
Update: Malcolm’s daughter Malikah Shabazz passed away last night in her home in Brooklyn. She was 56 years old. May she rest in peace.
People are tired of COVID lockdowns. Like, really tired. Cases are starting to surge again as the winter months set in, affecting travel advisories - Germany has seen a 50 percent increase in new coronavirus infections in the past week, and Austria has gone back into full lockdown, joining other countries worried that reopening is happening too soon.
Not everyone agrees. In Guadeloupe, an “overseas territory” (colony) of France, new restrictions imposed by Paris have led to social unrest, prompting school closures. In the Netherlands, police have literally opened fire on anti-lockdown protesters with live ammunition. Countries like Germany, Austria and the Netherlands have a fraught history with authority, as many have certainly not forgotten the abuses of the Nazis and both West and East German governments during the Cold War.
Authoritarianism is on the rise in general in Western nations, emanating from both the “right” (Trumpism et al) and the “left” (Pandemic lockdown zeal which barely masks1 an affinity for keeping Black people out of restaurants). The state is more militarized than it has ever been, and civilian control is sort of a neat cover for what can only truly be described as a dictatorship of lobbyists and corporations.
We in America imprison more people than Stalin did at the peak of the Gulag system. All that incarceration keeps wages low (like slavery did) and removes entire communities of people from competing for white-collar jobs in technology and finance, which are increasingly the only industries that even pay a living wage in the first place. Then we sit back and wonder why there’s a racial wealth gap.
There are ways to combat systemic poverty without either killing all the poor people or killing all the rich people, as basically everyone seems to be proposing nowadays. It’s a lot easier to talk about a glorious revolution than to, you know, propose constructive solutions that give people a decent chance at a good life. For example…
Basic Income. Sounds pretty nice, right? Some people think it will cause runaway inflation. Others think - equally ridiculously, it should be added - it would destroy capitalism, with varying levels of enthusiasm for this possibility. The opposite is probably true, actually.
Politicians have bad reputations, deservedly so. Most of them don’t do what they promise; either because they can’t (overpromising to get elected) or simply don’t give a shit. There’s no such thing as a perfect politician, just as there’s no such thing as a perfect person. When one comes along that appears to be actually helping their constituents, it should be noted. Former Mayor of Stockton, CA Michael Tubbs is one of those people.
Tubbs’ story is remarkable. Unlike most elected officials, he actually grew up in poverty. His story shares commonalities with my own - we are even the same age. Have you ever heard the phrase “out of the frying pan, into the fire”? To be poor and Black in America is like starting life in the fire. Some become entertainers or athletes (or software engineers) and ascend to the frying pan. It’s a little cooler up here, but make no mistake - we are all still getting cooked.
While in office, Mayor Tubbs implemented a Basic Income program which offered 130 low-income Stockton residents $500 a month - and it was actually successful, as it helped these families afford necessities like food and improved mental health outcomes. Not surprisingly, helping poor people is bound to make you some enemies. Tubbs lost reelection due to a coalition of opposition from police and firefighters’ unions and a blog-orchestrated smear campaign alleging corruption without evidence, as is customary in today’s “post-truth” environment. Nonetheless, this example stands out as a clear indication that basic income, especially for the nation’s poorest and most vulnerable populations (working-class women of color), is a must-have for advancing the equality that we always seem to talk about more than actually act to bring about.
You can also help supplement our income by paying for a subscription to The Desk. Your money will go to a good home.
Also Worth Reading
Baby Keem’s “The Melodic Blue” has been out for a little while, and it feels like we’ve only just gotten the chance to really digest and process this album. Like, we knew it would be good, but honestly we weren’t expecting it to be this good. From beginning to end, there’s only a couple of songs worth skipping. Most of these tracks are fire though, especially the two songs with his cousin Kendrick Lamar. “durag activity” and “lost souls” were basically made to be played in a car at max volume. (Spotify / Apple)
Free Turkeys In NYC
Here’s a list of places in NYC where you can get a free turkey.
Catholic Charities – Turkeys
Tuesday, Nov. 23, at 10 a.m.
Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Community Center
34 W. 134th St.
New York, NY 10037
Union Settlement – Turkeys
Tuesday, Nov. 23, from 10 a.m. 4 p.m.
Union Settlement Community Garden
237 East 104th St.
New York, NY 10029
Food Bank for NYC – Groceries
Tuesday, Nov. 23, from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
252 West 116th St.
New York, NY 10026
Food Bank for NYC – Hot meals
Wednesday, Nov. 24, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
252 West 116th St.
New York, NY 10026