This Slate article about Dylann Roof, where he was quoted saying “You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” debunks the myth of Black on white violence.
Behind the myth of black rapists was an elemental fear of black autonomy, often expressed by white Southern leaders who unhesitatingly connected black political and economic power to sexual liaison with whites. “We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men, and we never will,” said Sen. Benjamin Tillman on the Senate floor in 1900. “We have never believed him to be equal to the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”
We all know that during times of enslavement, the raping was being done by the slave owners. Ida B Wells and others debunked Jim Crow era allegations of Black rape against lynching victims. Genuine rapes of white women by Black men seem always to have been exceedingly rare or non-existent.
Nonetheless, this specter of Black violence against white people is still very much in existence. We see white politicians, like Jim Strickland, Kemp Conrad, Reid Hedgepeth, Bill Morrison and Worth Morgan harping on public safety, with coded references to the mythical danger posed to white voters by unrestrained and savage Black people.
Jim Strickland’s 2015 campaign.
Steven Reid, Jim Strickland’s 2015 campaign manager, wrote “How A Throwback Campaign Made History In Memphis”. The campaign did extensive polling and decided that Strickland’s Council public safety emphasis was the right strategy for the Mayoral campaign. They focused on the 70% of voters who were over 55 and used traditional media instead of electronic as that age group don’t use social media much. The article does not mention anything about encouraging racial vote splitting, which also helped Strickland greatly.
The article mentions some of the dog whistles in Strickland’s campaign, borrowed from his Council positions. “Strickland had long advocated for zero tolerance with violent criminals. And in the wake of a rash of juvenile crime in the city, including a high-profile attack on citizens at a Kroger store, Strickland had become critical of the mayor for failing to enforce curfew laws”. The linked article in Reid piece is a dead link. We substituted another similar media link. The campaign made a special effort to shore up white voters in the couple of weeks before the election.
The articles treat the public safety issue as a found phenomenon, failing to mention Strickland and his allies roles in stoking this fire, with help from the media.
Media Dog Whistle
The media, especially TV, have often been accused of dog whistling. This Commercial Appeal article which featured the third photo of the workers taking a break in the print version, was widely criticized for portraying negative racial stereotypes, by showing the Black youths taking a much needed hydration break, and by the selection of a quote from Mark Luttrell, one of the few white people in the article, using the loaded word “idleness” in the headline. CA Editor Mark Russell agreed that CA editorial policy was at fault in this instance, and the CA has since done a better job at avoiding racial coding.
This Channel 5 piece is typically coded, as was the Plaza Kroger piece we quoted in the Reid article.
The White Alliance on City Council.
Strickland had worked with members of the Caissa Seven in the 2015 council. The 2016 council is controlled by the Caissa Seven. Strickland is associated with Brian Stephens of Caissa Public Strategy, who had a prominent management role in Strickland’s Mayoral transition team. Philip Spinosa’s replacement, J Ford Canale, is expected to vote the Caissa Seven whip. He is closely associated with Strickland, Spinosa and Hedgepeth via the CBHS old boys network.
It is easy to see the Caissa Seven agreeing with “We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men, and we never will,” as per Sen. Benjamin Tillman. The Caissa Seven persuaded themselves that they are protecting Memphis from itself.
Council is gerrymandered to produce six white and seven Black councilors. This already under-represents Black voters by about 10%, and keeps the white delegation within one vote of control. By recruiting Berlin Boyd, they maintain a 7-6 vote lock. In addition, Joe Brown has always voted “law and order” with the white minority. Brown received a $5,000 donation from Memphis Police Association in 2015, and donated $500 in turn to Mike William’s (MPA President) mayoral campaign.
The Dog Whistles
- Zero tolerance, both for violent crimes and in-school infractions. This falls heaviest on Black people. School disciplinary problems are escalated to the juvenile justice system.
- juvenile crime is often a coded reference to crime by Black youths, including the example of the Kroger disturbance given by Stephen Reid above
- curfew is disproportionally used on young Black people.
- Memphis Shelby Crime Commission Youth Violence Plan (PDF). They are talking about Black youth violence and increased prison time.
The Case of CLERB
The current situation of CLERB is a well-documented history of how far Council members will go to protect the police force against transparency. In 2015, after a far-reaching campaign, Memphis United forced an ordinance on City Council to revitalize the long-moribund CLERB. The matter was eventually delayed until November 2015, when it was passed. Worth Morgan then introduced a new measure in 2016 to curtail CLERB’s subpoena powers.
- Bill Boyd, proposed an amendment to reduce the CLERB budget on 6/16/2015
- Kemp Conrad voted against the CLERB budget on 6/16/2015. He egged Berlin Boyd to ask for a November vote rather than an early approval of the CLERB ordinance on 8/4/2015. He also made vicious personal attacks on Memphis United’s Paul Garner and the pro-CLERB lobby from the council dais that day. He tried fear mongering, quoting an email from MPD Director Toney Armstrong saying that homicides would increase 20% if the ordinance is passed. (8/4/2015). Conrad also voted against the final CLERB ordinance on 11/3/2015.
- Jim Strickland, on the basis of an Allan Wade opinion, produced a last minute amendment on the third reading of the CLERB ordinance, removing CLERB’s subpoena powers, 7/7/2015.
- Berlin Boyd on 8/4/2015 asked for a four month delay in voting for the CLERB ordinance, after a phone call on the dais and calling MPD Director Toney Armstrong to the mic.
- Reid Hedgepeth also voted both to delay CLERB on 8/4/2015 and against CLERB reactivation on 11/3/2015.
- Also voting to delay CLERB on 8/4/2015 : Bill Morrison and Joe Brown.
In 2016, Worth Morgan introduced a measure to curtail CLERB’s limited subpoena powers, which passed on 8/9/2016. Voting for clipping CLERB’s wings: the Caissa Seven: Kemp Conrad, Reid Hedgepeth, Berlin Boyd, Bill Morrison, Worth Morgan, Philip Spinosa and Frank Colvett. Joe Brown also voted for.
Police directors Armstrong and Rallings and MPA president Williams also intervened in the CLERB dispute. After the August 2016 vote, Worth Morgan failed to attend every CLERB meeting. As he was the Council liaison on CLERB, this severed the direct connection between CLERB and the city, and introduced an additional obstacle for CLERB using its cumbersome subpoena process via Council.
The example of CLERB shows how the law and order faction on Council works closely with MPD to protect it from even the mild transparency that CLERB offered.
The voting patterns around the CLERB votes are typical of the other votes on Council involving police. The main exceptions were Berlin Boyd’s marijuana ordinance in August 2016 where Kemp Conrad was the lone nay vote in a generally popular measure, and in the negotiations around the 2017 budget when the police budget was marginally cut in sub-committee. The Caissa Seven seems to recognize that Berlin Boyd needs to play to his district and relaxes the whip on him occasionally.
MPD’s Institutional Interest
We have seen MPD steadfastly victimizing the Black population, from the early slave patrol days, through the 1866 Memphis Massacre, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era, the Crump regime and the extraordinary measures taken to suppress the Civil Rights movement under Chandler. Even now, MPD is actively pursuing activists, many of whom are Black.
I have always assumed that current MPD racial profiling is part of their institutional DNA, and they are being racist because they have always been that way. There’s plenty of evidence for that.
But the dog whistle politics of the Caissa Seven and their predecessors coupled with the way the Caissa Seven protect and enrich the police adds another motive for police behavior. They are operating in their institutional self interest by enforcing the Caissa agenda. They are rewarded for enforcing racist policies.
The Wharton era pension debacle created a large pro-police movement, with Mike Williams as their leader. Facebook groups like “Just the Facts” are an example. The Caissa Seven and Strickland tapped into this movement.
Between 2008 and 2017, the MPD budget has grown by about a third ($60M), at a time when other City budgets were being cut to the bone. It is the biggest share of the City budget.
Mayor Strickland, with the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, attracted private funding for police retention, and the administration has been emphasizing police training classes and police recruitment. Public safety employees were given additional wage increases in the 2017 budget.
The CLERB episodes gave the Caissa Seven another opportunity to show MPD that their interests are being looked after.
All this is not surprising. Machiavelli wrote in “The Prince” that rulers have to protect their security force, even when they do wrong. The Caissa Seven and Strickland need the police to protect their positions and the economic interests of their financial backers.
MPD has every reason to play along with the dog whistle politics. It enriches and protects them. They are actually being encouraged to double down on their repressive, racist history. It’s not a few bad apples. It’s the institution.
Dog whistle politics is a real thing. Its main function is to use traditional racist memes to make white voters afraid. The practitioners have also perverted community policing by using programs such as COP and neighborhood watches to recruit Black pastors and community activists to also gain police support in the Black community. Our recent post on the CCC’s misinformation campaign shows how MPD used a mailing list of supporters to get the word out.
It has been a successful strategy in preventing the 64% Black majority from controlling the levers of power. Or, if you like, keeping white minority control of the city.
Its consequence has been a protected, out of control police force which is motivated to profile the Black community, and the activist groups who are #woke to these issues.
This is the “Big Lie” in action.