Racism in the Digital Age. – Priscilla Dixon – Often on the Edge
I like to be clear on terms at the onset of a discussion and require the definition of terms for the purpose of the discussion.
By RACISM – Racism describes patterns of discrimination that are institutionalized as “normal” throughout an entire culture. It’s based on an ideological belief that one “race” is somehow better than another “race”. It’s not one person discriminating at this point, but a whole population operating in a social structure that actually makes it difficult for a person not to discriminate.
By Digital Age – Digital Age, is an idea that the current age will be characterized by the ability of individuals to transfer information freely, and to have instant access to information that would have been difficult or impossible to find previously. The idea is linked to the concept of a digital age or digital revolution, and carries the ramifications of a shift from traditional industry that the industrial revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on the manipulation of information, i.e., an information society.
That foundation laid, I want to discuss the sense murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman and the failure of the Sanford Florida Police Department to arrest and charge George Zimmerman for that murder from February 26, 2012 to the present.
My thesis – Racism has not caught up to the digital age.
Years ago before the information superhighway or the ‘InterWeb’ as I like to call it, Racism existed and thrived within certain areas of society as it does now.
Let us compare how the perpetrators of the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church were brought to justice to the current facts know in the Martin matter.
In the early morning of Sunday, September 15, 1963, a box of dynamite with a time delay was planted under the steps of the church, near the basement. At about 10:22 a.m., twenty-six children were walking into the basement assembly room to prepare for the sermon entitled “The Love That Forgives,” when the bomb exploded. Four girls, Addie Mae Collins (aged 14), Denise McNair (aged 11), Carole Robertson (aged 14), and Cynthia Wesley (aged 14), were killed in the attack, and 22 additional people were injured, one of whom was Addie Mae Collins’ younger sister, Sarah.
On the morning of the bombing, a white man was seen getting out of a white and turquoise Chevrolet car and placing a box under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. A witness identified Robert Chambliss, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, as the man who placed the bomb under the steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. He was arrested and charged with murder and possessing a box of 122 sticks of dynamite without a permit. On October 8, 1963, Chambliss was found not guilty of murder and received a hundred-dollar fine and a six-month jail sentence for having the dynamite.
The case was unsolved until Bill Baxley was elected attorney general of Alabama. He requested the original Federal Bureau of Investigation files on the case and discovered that the organization had accumulated a great deal of evidence against Chambliss that had not been used in the original trial. In November 1977 Chambliss was tried once again for the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing. Now aged 73, Chambliss was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Chambliss died in an Alabama prison on 29 October 1985.
On 18 May 2000, the FBI announced that the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing had been carried out by the Ku Klux Klan splinter group, the Cahaba Boys. It was claimed that four men, Robert Chambliss, Herman Cash, Thomas Blanton and Bobby Cherry had been responsible for the crime. Cash was dead but Blanton and Cherry were arrested and Blanton has since been tried and convicted.
The first murder conviction took place 14 years after the act. So one can appreciate why the Zimmerman family and friends see this as a waiting game. But unfortunately, this game has been begun in the digital age. It is fair to surmise that the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church would not have taken 14 years to proceed through the criminal justice system had the Civil Rights movement had the INTERWEB. Not just a bunch of tubes the internet and social media shined and continues to shine a blinding light on the Murder of Trayvon Martin, and the murderer and the police department seem like deer in the headlights, silent but for the testimony of person who may have spoken to the killer but were not eyewitnesses to the event and departmental leaks.
As I listen to the various and sundry stories of events from the perspective of George Zimmerman, his friends, family, colleagues and support group, the stories and theories flown by the Sanford Florida police department, police chief, mayor and city manager… I am reminded of Byron De La Beckwith.
Yes, the very Byron De La Beckwith who In the early morning of June 12, 1963, just hours after President John F. Kennedy’s speech on national television in support of civil rights, shot Medgar Evers in the back with a bullet fired from an Enfield 1917 rifle; the bullet ricocheted into his home. Evers staggered 9 meters (30 feet) before collapsing. He died at a local hospital 50 minutes later. Evers had just pulled into his driveway after returning from a meeting with NAACP lawyers. Emerging from his car and carrying NAACP T-shirts that read “Jim Crow Must Go,”. His wife and family were in the home.
De La Beckwith worked as a salesman for most of his life, selling tobacco, fertilizer, wood stoves and a variety of other goods. He attended the Greenwood Episcopal Church of the Nativity and became a member of the White Citizens’ Council in 1954. The White Citizens’ Council was founded in 1954 following the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education that school segregation was unconstitutional.
The state twice prosecuted De La Beckwith for murder in 1964, but both trials ended with hung juries. The jurors were all male and all white. Mississippi had effectively disfranchised black voters since 1890, and they were thus prevented from serving as jurors, who were limited to voters. In the second trial, the former Governor Ross Barnett interrupted the trial to shake hands with Beckwith while Myrlie Evers, the widow of the activist, was testifying. In the 1980s, the Jackson Clarion Ledger published reports of its investigation of the trial, which found that the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, supported by residents’ taxes, had assisted De La Beckwith’s attorneys in his second trial by using state resources to investigate members of the jury pool during voir dire.
According to Delmar Dennis, who acted as a key witness for the prosecution at his 1994 trial, De La Beckwith boasted of his role in the death of Medgar Evers at several KKK rallies and similar gatherings in the years following his mistrials. In 1967, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party’s nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi.
In 1973, informants alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigations of Beckwith’s plans to murder A.I. Botnick, director of the New Orleans-based B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League. Following several days of surveillance, Beckwith’s car was stopped by New Orleans Police Department officers as he crossed over the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge. Among the contents of his vehicle were several loaded firearms, a map with directions to Botnick’s house highlighted, and a dynamite time bomb. On August 1, 1975, Beckwith was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder; he served nearly three years in the Angola Prison in Louisiana from May 1977 until his parole in January 1980. Just before entering prison to serve his sentence, Beckwith was ordained by Rev. Dewey “Buddy” Tucker as a minister of the Temple Memorial Baptist Church; a Christian Identity congregation in Knoxville, TN.
In the 1980s, the reporting of the Jackson Clarion Ledger of the Beckwith trials stimulated a new investigation by the state and ultimately a third prosecution, based on new evidence. De La Beckwith was convicted of murder on February 5, 1994., The 1994 state trial was held before a jury of eight black and four white jurors; it ended with De La Beckwith’s conviction of first-degree murder for killing Medgar Evers. New evidence included testimony of his having boasted of the murder at a Klan rally and to others over the three decades after the crime. The physical evidence was essentially the same as was used during the first two trials.
The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 1997. The court said the 31-year lapse between the murder and De La Beckwith’s conviction did not deny him a fair trial. He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder.
Yes – I am asking you to compare the smooth confident untouchable demeanor of De La Beckwith with that of George Zimmerman and Joe Oliver and Bill Lee and the rest of the cast of character in this scenario and to surmise, would it have taken 31 years to convict De La Beckwith if every home had a computer and every phone had a camera. How long will it take to arrest and charge Zimmerman and hold bold can the opponents to justice be in the face of social media and the 24 hour news cycle.
How long will it take for racism and racist who would obstruct the judicial process to develop a new play book, one that compensates for the digital age.