Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Racist violence in Wilmington’s past echoes in police officer recordings today

Crystal R. Sanders writes:

In Wilmington, N.C., three city police officers were fired Wednesday after being caught on camera making racist and disparaging comments about a fellow black officer, a black magistrate and a black arrestee. As the officers discussed the nationwide protests sparked after George Floyd’s killing, one remarked that he believed a civil war was on the horizon. He went on to admit that he planned to buy a new assault weapon because “we are just going to go out and start slaughtering them f—— n——. I can’t wait. God, I can’t wait.” In his own words, the officer threatened harm to black Americans rather than protecting them, as he was employed to do.

The vile and disturbing comments from a public employee whose salary is paid in part by the tax dollars of the very people he wants to slaughter is even more egregious when we consider that white people in Wilmington have already slaughtered African Americans once. Indeed, the only successful coup d’etat, or violent overthrow of a duly elected government, in U.S. history occurred in the port city in 1898 when the state failed to protect black Americans. Wilmington demonstrated that many white Americans had no qualms about responding to progress and interracial democracy with violence and undemocratic practices.

Today, as people take to the streets in defense of black Americans’ civil rights and their very lives, it is imperative that the nation not stand idly by and allow white backlash to once again derail the fight for racial equality.

Wilmington in 1898 was the largest city in North Carolina and had a black majority. An interracial political alliance between black Republicans and white Populists resulted in black elected officials across the state but especially in Wilmington, where three of the city’s 10 aldermen, the justice of the peace and the deputy clerk of court were African American. Black people also served as policemen, postal workers, the coroner and the collector of customs.

The leaders of this interracial “fusion” movement called for popular control of local government, meaning officials would be elected rather than appointed — to the chagrin of Democrats. White supremacists opposed the change because it was more democratic and promoted black participation in electoral politics. [Continue reading…]

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