If you can remember when “segregation forever” was the mantra of southern white supremacists, then you’ve been around long enough to experience the national systemic shift to “law and order” as white backlash to the Civil Rights Movement. Law and order is white America’s latest system for controlling its black and brown population. It replaces “Jim Crow.”
Law and order spawned the birth of mass incarceration. White politicians and law enforcement officials, especially throughout the south, deemed civil rights activities criminal because direct-action tactics were used in non-violent demonstrations to desegregate public places. They politicized such activities as a breakdown in law and order.
Southern white nationalists used liberal support of civil rights legislation to paint them as supporting lawbreakers. Such propaganda prevailed through the 1960s. White America was inundated with negatives about civil rights legislation while being fed calls for law and order. White nationalists derided federal courts as lenient toward lawlessness, which contributes to the increase of crime. They also called civil rights protests criminal not political.
While the Movement was unmistakably a southern thrust, mass heroin addiction, high unemployment, rebellions or riots, and a sharp increase in the “baby boom” generation, and other factors, besieged mostly urban black and brown neighborhoods generally in the northeast, mid-west and California. Concomitant with civil rights gains came a spike in America’s crime rate and, therefore, the door flung wide open for white nationalist law and order advocacy.
The problem of black leadership not having a cohesive game plan became so glaringly pronounced as some black activists took on conservatives (white nationalists) who wanted to come down hard on poor black neighborhoods because of the spike in crime.
“Negro” leaders joined the conservative’s law and order thrust of being tough on crime. Leaders including Percy Sutton, Charlie Rangel, Basil Patterson and Rev. William James in Harlem, New York, helped get the unrighteous Rockefeller drug laws and other tough sentencing laws passed!
In her best selling book The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander comes down hard on those leaders that sided with white nationalists. “Wittingly or unwittingly,” she writes, “they found themselves complicit in the emergence of a penal system unprecedented in world history.”
Sister Alexander follows that with astounding clarity: “Black support for harsh responses to urban crime – support born of desperation and legitimate concern over the unraveling of basic security in inner-city communities — helped provide political cover for conservative politicians who saw an opening to turn back the clock on racial progress in the United States.”
And here’s the kicker from Michelle Alexander, the Stanford Law School graduate, professor and civil rights lawyer. “Conservatives could point to black support for highly punitive approaches to dealing with the problems of the urban poor as ‘proof’ that race had nothing to do with their ‘law and order’ agenda.”
By Reagan’s successful presidential campaign, white nationalists everywhere, liberals, conservatives, socialists and fascists all had learned the new “race neutral” language whereby “welfare queens” mean poor black lazy women hustling on the public dole and “criminal predators” refers to young, unemployed or marginally employed poor black men and teenagers.
To crack down on the euphemistically labeled “others” – those considered undeserving (blacks) — Reagan instituted the War on Drugs in October of 1982. Drugs were nowhere near the horizon of American importance as an issue. A media offensive was waged to justify the so-called war.
Alexander writes, “Central to the media campaign was an effort to sensationalize the emergence of crack cocaine in inner-city neighborhoods – communities devastated by deindustrialization and skyrocketing unemployment. The media frenzy the campaign inspired simply could not have come at a worse time for African Americans.”
There were no jobs and crack suddenly became plentiful to sell and use in America’s inner cities. Although mammoth amounts of federal funds, equipment and supplies were expended on law enforcement under Reagan, mostly small users and sellers went to prison – most of them were black.
Things got worse for blacks under Bush, Sr., but under Bill Clinton’s eight years in the White House, law and order took on a new meaning as prisons swelled primarily with black males and prison construction soared.
Al Calloway is a longtime journalist who began his career with the Atlanta Inquirer during the early 1960s civil rights struggle. He may be reached at Al_Calloway@verizon.net