Rewrite History, Fuel Racial Tensions

By | August 15, 2013 | 0 Comments

In the Soviet Union, when people fell out of favor with Stalin, not only were they eliminated, but even their photos were eliminated. In the photo shown here, Stalin’s rivals were eliminated one by one, until only Stalin remained.
We have not yet reached that point. But any tendency to rewrite history must be rejected as budding totalitarianism. If we don’t know what actually happened, how can we know how to react appropriately?
“Eulia Love was shot over an unpaid gas bill.”
In 1979, Eulia Love, a 39-year-old African American mother, failed to pay her gas bill. The gas man came to shut off the gas. The climate in Los Angeles is hardly such that lack of heat can be dangerous. Nevertheless, Ms. Love hit the gas man with a shovel.
The gas man called police. If I hit a man with a shovel, I would be arrested and charged with assault with a deadly weapon. But the two officers – one of whom was black – took pity on Ms. Love, and merely stood by to protect the gas man. At this point Ms. Love brandished a carving knife. One of the officers risked his life to approach Ms. Love and knock the knife out of her hand with his baton. But Ms. Love stooped down, picked up the knife, and lunged at the officers.
The officers shot and killed Ms. Love. But news stories, and eventually history books, recorded that Eulia Love was killed by police in a “dispute over a $22.09 gas bill.” The shovel and the carving knife disappeared from memory, as surely as Stalin’s rivals disappeared from the picture.
“Motorist Rodney King was beaten while handcuffed.”
In 1991, the California Highway Patrol gave chase to a car going over 100 miles per hour. Eventually the car stopped and the driver, Rodney King, exited. Two passengers, also African American, complied with police orders and were not mistreated. So much for “police racism.”
A female CHP officer exited her patrol car, while her partner remained in the car using the radio. The officer pointed her pistol at King and ordered him to lie on the ground. Instead, he wiggled his behind at her, then advanced towards her. If the LAPD had not arrived, the officer would have had to shoot King, and there would have been no video, no riot, and 53 people would still be alive, and a billion dollars of damage would not have been done.
King was on parole for strong-arm robbery and domestic violence. He was driving drunk and did not want to go back to prison. He was six-feet-three-inches tall and “buffed” from his time in the prison exercise yard. The LAPD swarmed him, but he threw them off. They tased him twice, to no effect. Then he rushed at Officer Powell, a smaller man. If Powell had not felled him with a skillful baton blow, Powell would have been flattened. Then King would have had access to Powell’s baton and pistol, and the other officers would have had to shoot King.
At this point, the portion of the tape shown hundreds of times on worldwide TV begins. But the complete tape, showing King rushing at Powell, was shown only once, during live TV coverage of the trial. If I had not happened to be off work that day, I would never have seen the full tape. Even well-informed people were unaware there was more to the tape. When I told them, some doubted me. After all, they had seen “the King video” with their own eyes, hadn’t they?
The officers were forbidden to use head strikes or choke holds. So they had to use less effective methods, which took longer to work and looked worse on video. This, not “racism,” was the cause of the prolonged beating.
The officers repeatedly struck King on the legs with batons. Each time he did as he was told and placed his hands behind him to be handcuffed, the blows stopped. But each time King moved his hands again, the blows resumed. This was clear when the tape was shown frame-by-frame at the trial.
Finally, King allowed himself to be handcuffed, and the blows stopped. But recently, the Los Angeles Times again claimed that King was beaten while handcuffed. This false claim was repeated until it entered history books.
The four officers were tried in state court. Three were acquitted, but the jury “hung” on Powell, who was to be retried. Then the feds intervened. Two of the officers were sentenced to 30 months in prison for violating King’s civil rights. The other two were acquitted – again – but fired from the police department.
The sentence “The four white officers were acquitted by an all-white jury” contains three errors: (1) One of the officers was Latino. (2) The jury “hung” on one officer. (3) The jury contained one Latino and one Asian. Nevertheless, this false claim is in history books.
I believe that the TV personnel who edited out the first part of the tape were responsible for at least some, and perhaps all, of the 53 deaths and billion-dollar damage of the 1992 Los Angeles riot. Altering history isn’t just dishonest – it’s dangerous.
“Latasha Harlins was killed over a bottle of juice.”
Shortly after the King videotape was aired in 1991, 15-year-old African American Latasha Harlins entered a convenience store run by Soon Ja Du, a diminutive Korean American grandmother. Ms. Harlins put a bottle of juice into her backpack and approached the counter, presumably to pay for it. But Ms. Du tried to grab the backpack. Harlins, who weighed 152 pounds, hit Du the face, knocking her to the floor. The entire episode was recorded on security video.
Du got up and was knocked down again. This time she got up with a revolver in her hand. Harlins turned to go, and Du shot her in the back of the head, killing her. The revolver had been altered to give it a “hair trigger,” and Du claimed she didn’t mean to shoot.
Du was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The judge sentenced her to five years probation, 400 hours community service, and a $500 fine. The sentence seemed lenient, and it evoked as much anger as did the King beating. During the 1992 riot the store was burned down, though it was now owned by others – Du had returned to Korea. Still, one may ask how many times a grandmother must be hit in the face before she reacts. She was a storekeeper, not a punching bag.
The Los Angeles times recently published an article claiming that Ms. Harlins was shot “over a bottle of juice,” just as Ms. Love was said to have been shot “over a gas bill,” and King was a “motorist” who was “beaten while handcuffed.”
“Trayvon Martin was killed because of ‘stand-your-ground.’”
Pundits including the president claim that Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law “encourages violent encounters.” On the contrary: (1) Many other states and nations have similar laws. (2) “Stand-your-ground” is a principle we copied from centuries-old English common law. (3) This law was not raised by the defense and played no part in the Zimmerman trial. As a graduate of Harvard Law School, President Obama should know this. If he does, he is being demagogic. If he does not, he must have fallen asleep in class.
Besides, what does a “duty to retreat” mean when Zimmerman was flat on his back, with Martin bashing his head against a concrete walkway? How do you “stand your ground” when you are lying on it? The idea is absurd. Zimmerman’s defense claimed, and the jury accepted, that he acted under the standard concept of self-defense – he reasonably believed he was in danger of death or great bodily injury.
Regardless of the verdict, George Zimmerman will go into the history books as having “stalked” teenaged Trayvon Martin, then shot him “over a package of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea.” But it wasn’t iced tea, and Trayvon wasn’t a “child.” He was a six-feet-tall football player, while Zimmerman was a pudgy five-feet-eight-inches. And history will likely record that Zimmerman “profiled” Martin because Martin was black, while omitting the fact that Zimmerman is half Latino and one-eighth black himself.
In short, if the story doesn’t fit the facts, change the facts, not the story.
Like Love’s carving knife, King’s charging the officer, and Harlin’s punches to the grandmother’s face, Zimmerman’s broken nose and lacerated scalp will disappear down the memory hole. Just as surely as Stalin’s rivals, they will be edited out of the picture.
Reporters report the news. Commentators comment on the news. Propagandists fabricate and alter the news to further their own agenda – in this case, to increase their audience by fomenting racial strife, and to portray America as a hotbed of racism. Edward R. Murrow would be ashamed, but Stalin would be proud.
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