The so-called "New Black Panther Party" in Dallas, now trying to exploit the James Harper shooting in Dixon Circle, always leaves me with the same dilemma. Don't know whether to laugh or cry.
I felt like this when they were doing their half-assed ineffectual protest last winter at a South Dallas Shamrock gas station in an attempt to mafia the Asian owner into selling his business.
The price at which they thought the owner should sell? Zero, apparently, because that's how much money they brought. Maybe the money slipped their minds in all the excitement.
So yesterday they show up in full costume at police headquarters to protest against police for shooting a fleeing suspect in the back, after a medical examiner's report comes out showing that the suspect, who ran from a dope house and beat on the cop who shot him with his fists, was shot in the front.
Not the back. The front. Here, do an experiment. Look down. You see your front, right? Now put your hand behind you and grab your ass. That's your back, right? It's not a complicated concept.
These guys are in Black Panther movie costumes. They've all got X for a last name. They have ranks like "Captain" somebody. Captain? Really? Can I meet the colonel? In fact, more to the point, where are your privates? Well, no. Don't show me.
Scott Goldstein on The Dallas Morning News crime blog said yesterday the "New Black Panthers" had vowed earlier in a press release they were going to present Dallas Police Chief David Brown with a list of grievances, like Martin Luther's list of theses nailed to the chapel door in Wittenburg. But unlike Luther, according to Goldstein, the "New Black Panthers" forgot their list.
Maybe they tried to do a list but they got tired.
"OK, what's first on the list? Who has an idea for the first thing on the list? Anybody? Nobody? OK, people, let's just go do this thing."
What thing? The get-on-TV-in-your-movie-costumes thing. Everything these guys do is like Halloween for the civil rights movement.
My own pet theory is that groups like this come about because we have so stupidly mis-taught the history of the civil rights movement. How many times have you heard the story -- an absolutely untrue concoction by high school text book fabulists -- about poor old bone-tired Rosa Parks, that sad and weary black lady who just couldn't get up out of her bus seat one more time in Montgomery in 1955, and so she didn't, and so the civil rights movement happened.
What utter crap. Rosa Parks was a life-long agitator and warrior for integration, trained by radicals at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, chosen for her role in the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott over a teenage girl who was arrested for the same thing before the staged Parks incident ever took place. The organizers chose Parks instead after they found out the teenager was pregnant -- not the image they wanted to convey.
They chose Parks and told her not to get out of her seat, to go get herself arrested, because she was steely, trained, loyal and unblemished -- a perfect case. The bus boycott that ensued was a masterpiece of intricate organization involving the creation of an entire parallel public transit system using automobiles of volunteers, black and white, who sympathized with the movement.
Social change, in other words, is hard work. You have to choose your battles. You choose your cases. If you want to protest against the cops for shooting people in the back, you can't grab a case in which they shot the guy in the front.
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Once more with feeling: front, back, front, back. Key concept.
The other thing is this. The shooting incident in South Dallas last week has been the occasion for some powerful expression by influential black leaders like Dwaine Caraway and the Reverend Gerald Britt, both of whom have said, yes, we do need to look at what happened here and we do need to think about the underlying problems of extreme poverty, extreme lawlessness and the ultimate form of segregation -- total alienation from mainstream society. So it's not like the so-called "New Black Panthers" are stepping into a void, speaking out where others feared to tread.
They're stepping onto television, doing what they always do, playing make-believe civil rights in their costumes with their X's and their captains, all so they can see themselves on the news later and feel like stars. And like I say, sometimes the temptation to laugh is almost irresistible.
One thing stops me. Dixon Circle. Nobody laughs at Dixon Circle.