Dr. David J. Childs, Ph. D.
Northern Kentucky University
Introduction: An all too Familiar Story in My Life
“This is all too familiar.” This is the phrase that comes to my mind when I think about yet another slaying of an unarmed black man by the hands of law enforcement. I was a young man right out of high school when Timothy Thomas was shot in the back by a police officer in downtown Cincinnati. I remember back then in 2001, our city was torn up and rioting ensued for several days. Some folks were afraid to go outside, and even then, just like now, curfews were implemented. I was one of the angry black youths that were in disbelief because of the injustice and racism that was all too familiar in our city. I was frustrated with the treatment of black youth as thugs, criminals and inhuman in my city. As a young man I had been harassed by law enforcement, had my car searched for non-existent drugs and apprehended because “I fit the description.” As a poor African American young adult, racism was just a part of the backdrop of my life that I accepted. When I went on to college I began to find the words to describe what was going on and how to better fight against discrimination.
Here We Go Again
Here we are again, yet another death of one of my black brethren at the hands of the so called authorities. But this time seems different with George Floyd’s death. The racist authority figures seem to be getting emboldened, covering up, lying, unabashedly using excessive force, being protected by both the higher ups and by laws of officer immunity. The situation here in the US seems to be at a tipping point. Floyd’s death is a part of a long history of violence against African Americans. The protests are different and there is a sense of desperation mixed with hurt in the air that is very unsettling. It was difficult for me to write about this topic, I could not find the words. I did not feel I would do the situation justice. But to pay homage to my slain brothers and sisters and in my own form of protest I must write.
A few months before Floyd’s death, Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down by two white men who chased him while he jogged in his own neighborhood in South Georgia. This was among other high profile slayings of black men and women in recent past. With the recent string of African American deaths by the hand of law enforcement we must understand that violence against African Americans has always been an ugly part of US history.
Police Shootings as Modern Lynching
Systematic violence against African Americans is nothing new. In fact, it has been a staple in the US since the early days of African American history. Since slavery became widespread in the late 1600’s violence was used to quell the freedom and movement of African Americans. Indeed slave masters, slave ship captains, slave catchers and slave patrollers used unrestricted and unrestrained violence as a matter of course to control and instill fear in the black community. Slaves had hands cut off and various other body parts mutilated to keep them from escaping. Whippings were the method of punishment often used to maintain order on plantations. Slaves often were killed with no due process or punishment implemented by law against slave masters. Perhaps one of the most terrorizing forms punishment for blacks both slave and free during antebellum times was hanging (commonly called lynching). Between 1877 and 1950 there were 4,084 African Americans hanged. But historians have come to see the term lynching as being a term that encompasses more than just hanging. That is (In a historical sense) lynching is any form of capital punishment against blacks without due process, including shooting, burning, torturing or hanging. In this way, all of the slayings by the hands of law enforcement and other authorities can be properly called lynchings. Thus, the killing of Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling, Botham Jean, Eric Garner, and Ahmaud Arbery are a part of the long history of lynching in the United States. Below I have included some references and more resources for students, educators and the general public to learn more information about the history of violence against African Americans by law enforcement.
Teaching Ideas and Resources to Help Students Make Sense of the George Floyd Protests
Teaching the Legacy of Lynching in the United States
Domestic Terror: Understanding Lynching During the Jim Crow Era
Racial Violence in America: Lynchings, 1877 to 1920
Teaching “America’s National Crime”
15 Classroom Resources for Discussing Racism, Policing, and Protest
Teaching about Race, Racism and Police Violence
Youth and Police
Lesson Plan: Police, Race and Unrest in America’s Cities
Lesson Plan: Every Mother’s Son
References and other Resources
History of Lynching
Minneapolis Police Use Force Against Black People at 7 Times the Rate of Whites
Police killed more than 100 unarmed black people in 2015
Young black men killed by US police at highest rate in year of 1,134 deaths
Number of U.S. Blacks Killed by Police Hard to Pin Down with No Official Figures
Slavery and Violence in the Old South: An Interview with Jeff Forret
Treatment of slaves in the United States
Conditions of Antebellum Slavery
Dr. David J. Childs, Ph. D.