Human Rights Team Finds US-Backed Haitian Government Culpable in Lasalin Massacre
Download Report here
The report is co-authored by Judith Mirkinson, President of the San Francisco chapter of the NLG, and Seth Donnelly, a member of Haiti Action Committee. Other members of the team include Margaret Prescod, an investigative journalist based in Los Angeles and producer of the Sojourner Truth radio program nationally syndicated on Pacifica, as well as Ramiro Funez, assistant producer of the Sojourner Truth program.
On April 1, 2019 our team went to Lasalin and interviewed survivors and eye-witnesses of the November massacre. The report demonstrates that the Lasalin massacre – rather than simply an example of “gang violence” as portrayed by the Haitian government and some US media sources – was in fact an attack facilitated by government officials and directly conducted by Haitian National Police [HNP] officers working closely with paramilitary elements logistically supported by the PHTK. Lasalin was targeted because it is a base of protests and opposition against the Moise government. Perpetrators of the massacre destroyed homes, burned people alive, hacked people to death, fed body parts to pigs and dogs, and raped women. People of all ages, including a 10 month old child, were systematically butchered
The report examines how the US government has continued to diplomatically and economically support the Moise government, despite clear evidence of its human rights violations. US support for the Moise government includes millions of US tax dollars to fund and train the HNP, despite its well-documented participation in brutality, killings of unarmed protesters, arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial killings, and massacres such as the Lasalin massacre. The police and Moise government have also been politically, economically, and logistically supported by the United Nations occupation forces in Haiti, MINUJUSTH. The report concludes: “As the toll mounts from the atrocities committed in Lasalin, it is time for both the United States and the United Nations to be held to task for their continued support of the repressive and illegitimate regime now in power in Haiti. The people of Haiti deserve the right to live without the daily threat of state-directed violence.”
amerikan crime: Case #18: The LAPD—150 Years of Murder, Brutality, Racism and Repression
The LAPD, with its slogan of “To Protect and Serve,” is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. But what is its actual history—from beginning to today? And what does it say about the actual history of this country and the role of the police?
1950-1966: Chief Parker and the Watts Rebellion—A More “Professional” and More Brutal LAPD
William Parker, who became police chief in 1950, was hailed as a modernizer. But there was nothing “modern” about his stone-cold racism. When he was sworn in, he declared, during a period when tens of thousands of Black people were migrating to LA, that “Los Angeles is the white spot of the great cities of America today. It is to the advantage of the community that we keep it that way.”
A decade later, Parker told the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights that Blacks and Latinos were more likely to commit crimes than white people, and that the barrios had a high crime rate because people there were a step removed from “the wild tribes of Mexico.”
In between, Parker, who called the police the “Thin Blue Line” protecting civilization (i.e., white supremacy), unleashed a reign of terror against Black and Brown people. “The policing of the ghetto was becoming simultaneously less corrupt but more militarized and brutal,” writes Mike Davis. Previously, LAPD officers often “shook down” the interracial, Black-owned nightclub scene on Central Avenue for bribes. Now Parker’s police shut it down—even blockading Black-owned stores and warning white customers away.
This police terror escalated in the 1960s. In April 1962, some 75 LAPD cops shot up a Nation of Islam Mosque, killing one and wounding six others. Why? Some cops had gotten in a beef with two members of the Mosque after they accused them of having a “suspicious amount of clothes in their car.” It turned out the two owned a dry cleaning business. After the assault Malcolm X came to LA and condemned Parker for “filling his men with hatred for the Black Community.”
1965: The Watts Rebellion
Between 1963 and 1965, thousands of young Black men were harassed or brutalized, and 60 Black people were shot by the LAPD—27 in the back. Then an incident of this kind of everyday harassment turned into something else.
According to various accounts, on the evening of August 11, a California Highway Patrol (CHP) cop stopped Marquette and Ronald Frye on suspicion of drunk driving. Ronald, who was a passenger, went to get their mother, as a crowd began to gather. When Ronald and his mother came and the crowd had grown to several hundred, Marquette exploded in rage, “cursing and shouting at the officers [saying] they would have to kill him to take him to jail.” An altercation ensued and all three Frye’s were arrested and taken to jail.
But the growing crowd wasn’t having it. They cursed the CHP. The pigs decided to assert their authority and waded into the crowd to arrest one agitator and a woman who supposedly spit on them. A rock hit the CHP cruiser as it was leaving, and when word circulated that a bad bust had gone down and a pregnant woman had been abused, the community rose up.
Black people stood up in anger and defiance—an estimated 75,000 people took part—rocking LA and sending shockwaves around the world. A feeling of freedom and liberation surged through the Black community as the hated pigs had been driven out—and it took them nearly a week to regain control. The LAPD was forced to put 46.5 square miles of the city under military-enforced curfew, mobilize 21,000 cops and National Guard troops, and lock down and retake one neighborhood after another. More than 30 Black and Latino people were unjustly shot to death by pigs who were totally rampaging, and 5,000 were injured or arrested—but it still took the authorities six days to bring the Watts Rebellion to an end.
The 1960-1980: Spying, Suppressing, and Murdering Radicals and Revolutionaries
The Watts uprising was a turning point in the 1960s, helping to usher in a period of massive upheaval and rebellion in cities across the country. The LAPD under Parker protégés Edward M. Davis (1969-1978) and Daryl Gates (1978-1992) responded with paramilitary assault units, including SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, and stepped up spying aimed especially at radical and revolutionary forces.
The LAPD’s Murderous Assaults on the Black Panther Party
On December 8, 1969, four days after the Chicago Police Department and the FBI assassinated Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton, the LAPD launched a predawn assault on the LA Panther headquarters at 41st and Central. Inside their sandbag-fortified office, 11 Panther members, including Vietnam vet Geronimo Pratt, engaged in a five-hour shootout with 350 cops, SWAT teams, and LAPD helicopters, that rained bullets and tear gas into the Panther house in Watts. Five thousand rounds of ammunition were exchanged. Masses of people from the area turned out in support, along with student radicals, and this helped to prevent the police from unleashing an even worse barrage.
Roland Freeman got buckshot in his legs from a police shotgun, and a single shot shattered the bone in his arm. A police sniper’s bullet tore through the legs of Tommy Lewis, one of the two women there. Not being able to stop the bleeding of some of their comrades, the Panthers called an end to the exchange. When it ended, four Panthers and four SWAT cops were wounded but no fatalities.
In the 2006 documentary by Gregory Everett, 41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers, Wayne Pharr recalls what he felt during that intense standoff facing overwhelming murderous police firepower: “That was the only time as a Black man in America that I ever felt free, was the five hours that I was in the shootout…. For those five hours, I was in control of my destiny…” Millions of people also saw the LA-BPP self-defense action as heroic and took inspiration from it.1
The 1970 Chicano Moratorium and the Murder of Ruben Salazar
The LAPD and other law enforcement agencies had the burgeoning Chicano liberation movement in their crosshairs since March 1968, when some ten thousand Chicano students in East LA walked out of their predominantly Mexican-American high schools in protest of the inferior education available to them.
So on August 29, when over 25,000 Chicanos marched in East LA in the Chicano Moratorium, demanding an end to the Vietnam war and to the oppression they faced as a people, the LA County Sheriffs and the LAPD came out in force. Toward the end of this largely peaceful march, some youth allegedly shoplifted drinks from a nearby store and ran into the crowd. The LA County Sheriffs seized on this to declare an illegal assembly and Sheriffs and LAPD stormed into the crowd, shooting tear gas and swinging their batons. People did not disperse, but courageously stood their ground and fought back. At one point, a Sheriff’s deputy shot a tear gas canister through a shop door that hit prominent Chicano journalist Ruben Salazar in the head killing him. Two others were also killed before the day was over. Salazar had given voice to Chicano demands, and many demanded an investigation feeling the Sheriff’s Department may have targeted Salazar for assassination, an investigation that an inquest jury found was warranted. Yet DA Evelle J. Younger refused to proceed.
Militant Chicanos held three other major protests over the next five months which were attacked by the LA Sheriffs and LAPD, including on January 31, 1971 when one demonstrator was killed and thirty-five were wounded.
May 17, 1974: The SLA Massacre
On May 17, some 500 LAPD cops surrounded and laid siege to a small house in Compton where they suspected members of the small radical group the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) were hiding out. Then they opened fire. The SLA had carried out a series of actions—including the highly publicized kidnapping of ruling class heiress Patty Hearst, demanding her family distribute food to poor people in California, which the family did.2 (Other SLA members, not present, were later arrested and sent to prison for murder, bank robbery, and kidnapping.)
The LAPD fired some 1,200 rounds of ammunition into the tiny home as six SLA members shot back. Teargas containers thrown into the house ignited a fire, but the SLA refused to surrender and all six were killed by burns and smoke inhalation.
April 22, 1980: The Murder of Revolutionary Communist Damian Garcia
On April 22, 1980, Damian Garcia, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, was building for May First in the Pico-Aliso Housing Project in East Los Angeles. A month earlier Damian and two other members of the “May Day Brigade” had scaled the infamous Alamo, lowered the flag of Texas and raised the red flag of revolution. This powerful internationalist statement made the front page of newspapers in many countries of Central and South America—and made Damian a “dangerous individual” in the eyes of this system and its political police, and the LAPD.
As Damian and his comrades moved through the housing project, he was confronted by a man who said, “You hate the government. I am the government. Your flag is red. Mine is red, white and blue.” He and others jumped the Brigade in what at first appeared to be a fistfight. But suddenly Damian fell to the ground and died—slashed in the neck, abdomen and back.
The LAPD quickly claimed it had been a gang killing, and that the gang member responsible for Damian’s murder had himself been killed six weeks later—case closed. But two years later, an ongoing investigation revealed that a police agent—“Ernie Sanchez”—had been assigned by the LAPD’s Public Disorder Investigation Division (PDID) to target Damian.
The PDID had been formed in 1970 and it had infiltrated, spied on, and disrupted over 200 groupings and kept files on 50,000 people—including the LA Times, the National Organization of Women, Students for Democratic Society at UCLA, the Peace and Freedom Party, and the Black Panther Party (BPP). They also spied on members of the City Council, the Police Commission, and at least one judge.
One week after Damian and his comrades scaled the Alamo, “Sanchez” had infiltrated the May Day Brigade. He was with Damian daily and fed the PDID information about Damian’s schedule, including the day he was murdered. And Sanchez was standing five feet away when Damian was assassinated.
In 1983, an ACLU lawsuit accused the PDID of illegally spying on 131 social movement activists and organizations. This revelation of the extent of LAPD spying and its targeting of political activists—including Damian—caused a major social uproar and forced the Police Commission to disband the PDID. (It was replaced by the anti-terrorism division ). Adding to the outrage, it also came out that one PDID cop, Jay Paul, had defied a 1976 order by the Police Commission to destroy the unit’s confidential intelligence files on revolutionaries, radicals, members of the City Council, the Police Commission, and at least one judge and instead stored them in his garage and shared the files with a private, fascist intelligence dissemination operation called Western Goals.
The Gates Years, 1978-1992:
The LAPD sets the standard for state-sponsored racist terror and suppression
The Murder of Eula Love. Daryl Gates took over the LAPD in 1978 and quickly became infamous for his sneering, open racism, and his war-like approach to policing Black and Brown people. Gates ushered in his tenure with, among other horrors, the murder of 39-year-old mother of three Eula Love on January 3, 1979. Love was recently widowed and struggling to raise three kids on a limited income in her small home in South Central. That day she was upset because a utility man had come and tried to turn off her power. They got into an altercation and he called the police. When the police arrived Eula came out of her home while her children stayed inside. The cops talked to her for two to three minutes before opening fire, hitting her with twelve 38-caliber slugs from eight to twelve feet away. They claimed she’d advanced on them with a knife in her hand, but it turned out she was moving away.
After they murdered Eula, the cops rolled her lifeless body over and handcuffed her on the grass in her own front yard. There was a major outpouring of protest after her murder, but Gates responded by mocking and assaulting her—and all Black people again—declaring the white pig who shot her was “just as much a victim of this tragedy as (she was).”
With LA’s Black Mayor Tom Bradley and other Black “leaders” remaining silent as the so-called “war on drugs,” launched by Ronald Reagan in 1982 escalated, Gates was emboldened to openly insult and taunt Black and Brown people as part of the terror the LAPD was raining down on them. In 1982, after a string of young Black men were killed by LAPD ”chokeholds,“ Gates claimed their deaths were caused by being Black: “We may be finding that in some Blacks when [the carotid chokehold] is applied the veins or arteries do not open up as fast as they do on normal [sic] people.”
The “War on Drugs” and Operation Hammer 1988-1990. The “war on drugs” was not about bringing down crime; it was a war on oppressed people aimed at ramping up suppression and social control—a counterinsurgency before the insurgency. And the LAPD under Gates was in the vanguard of waging, expanding, militarizing, and brutally carrying it out.
By 1987, with crack spreading and violence surging among the youth of different gangs and sets —and hysteria about the situation fanned by the media, Democrats, and Republicans—the LAPD launched the so-called Gang Related Active Trafficker Suppression program (GRATS) which targeted “drug neighborhoods” with 200-300 police ordered to stop anyone “suspected” of being a gang member based on “criteria” like clothing and hand gestures. Gates announced that full manpower reserves of LAPD would be thrown into super-sweeps called Operation HAMMER.
Author Mike Davis describes Operation HAMMER’s first action on April 9, 1988:
A thousand extra-duty patrolmen, backed by elite tactical squads and a special anti-gang taskforce, bring down the first act of “Operation HAMMER” upon ten square miles of Southcentral Los Angeles between Exposition Park and North Long Beach, arresting more Black youth than at any time since the Watts Rebellion of 1965… Kids are humiliatingly forced to “kiss the sidewalk” or spread eagle against police cruisers while officers check their names against computerized files of gang members. There are 1,453 arrests; the kids are processed in mobile booking centers, mostly for trivial offences like delinquent parking tickets or curfew violations. Hundreds more, uncharged, have their names and addresses entered into the electronic gang roster for future surveillance.
Daryl Gates called it “war.” The Chief of LAPD Hardcore Drug Unit said, “This is Vietnam here.”
The Dalton Street Raid. One of the infamous operations during Operation HAMMER was the Dalton Street raid on August 1, 1988. Eighty-eight cops from the infamous Southwest Division swooped down on a group of apartments on Dalton Avenue near Exposition Park. They wielded shotguns and sledgehammers and shouted racist slurs and insults. The LA Timesreported:
Residents… said they were punched and kicked by officers during what those arrested called “an orgy of violence….”
They also accused the officers of throwing washing machines into bathtubs, pouring bleach over clothes, smashing walls and furniture with sledgehammers and axes, and ripping an outside stairwell away from one building.
[They] destroyed family photos, ripped down cabinet doors, slashed sofas, shattered mirrors, hammered toilets to porcelain shards, doused clothing with bleach and emptied refrigerators. Some officers left their own graffiti: “LAPD Rules.” “Rollin’ 30s Die.”
Damage to the apartments was so extensive that the Red Cross offered disaster assistance and temporary shelter to displaced residents—a service normally provided in the wake of major fires, floods, earthquakes or other natural disasters.
At Southwest Division, 32 people arrested were forced to whistle the theme from the Andy Griffith TV show as they had to go through a gauntlet of pigs beating them with fists and flashlights. After all the lives and homes devastated, the result was two minor drug arrests.
Gates institutionalized the HAMMER sweeps as semi-permanent occupations of neighborhoods of the oppressed, including the largely immigrant neighborhood of Pico Union, later the site of the infamous Rampart scandal, which Gates claimed was “a veritable flea market for drug dealers.”
By 1990, the LAPD and the LA County sheriffs together had detained or arrested some 50,000 suspects—roughly half the entire population of 100,000 Black youth in Los Angeles at the time! In many of these highly publicized sweeps, more than 90 percent were released without charges —but their innocence didn’t necessarily keep them out of the LAPD’s growing gang database.
All of this was facilitated by support from the media, which fanned horror stories about the masses. Leading Democrats, including Black politicians like Senator Diane Watson, whose press secretary said, “when you have a state of war, civil rights are suspended for the duration of the conflict,” also joined in. Reformist Black “leaders” like the Urban League and SCLC started arguing that the problem was “too little policing” —not police brutality. “Progressives” like Ishmael Reed and Harry Edwards joined in denouncing Black youth as beyond hope, and demanded they be locked up to protect the rest of the Black community (i.e., better-off working, middle, and upper class Black people).
Meanwhile, California state laws were being passed—with Democratic backing as well as Republicans—targeting Black and Latino youth in the name of a “war on gangs” and “war on drugs.” One was the 1988 “Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act” (STEP), which made alleged membership in a “criminal gang” a felony. Such laws, along with the much harsher punishment for crack as opposed to powder cocaine, led to ensuring people of color and the poor were locked up much more frequently and for longer than white people—and all this was a big part of the explosion of mass incarceration, disproportionately targeting Black and Latino youth. To this day, with an average population of 17,000 to 20,000, the LA County Jail is the largest jail system in America.
1991-92: The Rodney King Beating and the LA Rebellion3
The night of March 3, 1991, Rodney King, a young Black man, was pulled over for speeding. LAPD and Highway Patrol officers flooded to the scene and over the next few minutes, at least seven mercilessly beat and tased King, crushing the bones in his face, breaking his teeth and ankle, and causing numerous lacerations and internal injuries. Over a dozen other cops stood around laughing and encouraging the beating.
A resident across the street videotaped the whole assault, and the tape was repeatedly shown on TV. Despite police claims that the video didn’t tell the real story, public anger was so intense that prosecutors were forced to charge four of the white officers with excessive force to try to contain things.
A year later the four officers went on trial. The trial had been moved to the virtually all-white Simi Valley. There was a widespread feeling that this time the brutality and the treatment Black people continually faced was caught on tape for all to see, and that the officers had to be found guilty. But on April 29, 1992, the Simi Valley jury verdict acquitting them of all charges was broadcast on live TV.
Within minutes, people began gathering all over LA, hundreds at LAPD headquarters. Protests erupted in many neighborhoods, but the gathering at Florence and Normandie became a flashpoint that propelled the whole uprising. By that evening, fires were burning throughout LA and protests were jumping off across the country. Over the next three days, the authorities mobilized the largest domestic military operation since the 1960s, with nearly 20,000 police, National Guard troops, federal military troops, FBI, Border Patrol, and others on the streets. By the time it ended, the 1992 LA Rebellion had become the largest urban rebellion in U.S. history. Some 63 people had been killed, 10 by law enforcement—nearly 80 percent Black and Latino. Some 12,000 people were arrested.
From 1992 to Today: Cosmetic Changes, Same Racist, Murdering LAPD
Over the 27 years since the LA rebellion, various commissions, different police chiefs, and many calls for and declarations of change, the LAPD has continued to be the same savage machine of murder, brutality and repression. A few examples:
- Stolen Lives: Killed by Law Enforcement, published in 1999, was able to document 197 police killings in the LA area in the 1990s (some by LA Sheriffs and other smaller police departments, but most by the LAPD.)
- 1999 Rampart scandal. In 1999, it came to light that the Rampart Division of the LAPD and its elite “anti-gang” CRASH unit (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) had been terrorizing the residents of Pico Union, a largely Spanish-speaking area. This included murder, attempted murder, brutality, robbery, extortion, drug dealing, and routinely framing and convicting thousands of people based on lies, planted “evidence,” and trumped-up charges—including Javier Francisco Ovando, a 19-year-old Honduran immigrant who was wantonly shot four times, paralyzed for life, then convicted of attempted murder! Over 70 CRASH cops were involved, but only four were put on trial. The trial exposed some of their gruesome crimes and the jury found them guilty. Instead of carrying out the verdict, LA Superior Court Judge Josephine Connor threw out the verdict and exonerated the pigs!
- 2002: When former NYPD head William Bratton became chief he brought “Stop and Frisk” from NYC to LA with a vengeance. The number of stops went from 587,000 in 2002 to 875,000 in 2008.
- 2009-2018: Charlie Beck and more police murder. Beck was featured as a “reformist” chief by Obama at a White House meeting. In reality, on his watch from 2015 to 2017, the LAPD had the highest number of people killed by police in any city in the whole country.The LAPD killed 19 in 2015, 20 in 2016, and 17 in 2017.
- Political persecution of revolutionary and anti-fascist activists: 11 members of Refuse Fascism and the Revolution Club were criminally charged for engaging in or supporting nonviolent civil disobedience and political protests from September 2017 through March 2018. This included holding banners across the 101 Freeway saying “Trump/Pence Must Go!” and disrupting Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at UCLA. Some of the dangerous elements of the prosecution include two Refuse Fascism activists being singled out for “criminal conspiracy; involvement of LAPD’s “Major Crimes/Anti-Terrorism Division,” which has history of targeting progressive and radical movements; use of a “confidential informant” to spy on and illegally record members of Refuse Fascism and Revolution Club.
THE CRIMINALS: The entire LAPD, from 1869 until today, all the cops listed above, and all the politicians—Democrats and Republicans—and media who backed them.
THE ALIBI: See “In Their Own Words” sidebar
THE ACTUAL MOTIVE:
All in all, the LAPD is a textbook illustration of Bob Avakian’s point in BAsics:
The role of the police is not to serve and protect the people. It is to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. To enforce the relations of exploitation and oppression, the conditions of poverty, misery and degradation into which the system has cast people and is determined to keep people in. The law and order the police are about, with all of their brutality and murder, is the law and the order that enforces all this oppression and madness.
SOME KEY SOURCES:
Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (Verso 1990), in particular chapter five, “The Hammer and the Rock”
“A History of the LAPD, 1900-1965: Historic Racial and Class Repression throughout the 20th Century Leading to the Creation of SWAT by the LAPD following the Watts Unrest of 1965,” Clinton Clad-Johnson, Senior Thesis for Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
“The Raid That Still Haunts L.A.,” Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2001
Edward J. Escobar, “The Unintended Consequences of the Carceral State: Chicana/o Political Mobilization in Post–World War II America,” Journal of American History, June 2015
American Crime Case #66: The “War on Drugs,” 1970 to Today, revcom.us, March 6, 2017
John Johnson, Jr., “How Los Angeles Covered up the Massacre of 17 Chinese,” LA Weekly, March 10, 2011
American Crime Case #67: 1848-1900: Brutal Exploitation and Ruthless Oppression of Chinese Immigrants, revcom.us, February 13, 2017
1. During the subsequent trial of the Panthers arrested, it was revealed that two undercover LAPD informants (Melvin “Cotton” Smith and Louis Tackwood) had been in the BPP headquarters and had given the LAPD the layout of the office and fabricated “intelligence” than military weapons were being stored there, which was used to justify the assault.
The LA chapter of the Black Panther Party was subjected to more police assaults than any other chapter nationwide. They included:
- The January 1, 1969, murder of Captain Franco (Frank Diggs) in Long Beach.
- On January 9, 1969, John Huggins and Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, BPP leaders in Los Angeles, were gunned down by members of the US Organization (United Slaves), a reactionary nationalist group led by Ron Karenga, during a meeting at UCLA to discuss forming a Black Studies Department. Their assassinations were a result of COINTELPRO actions against the BPP. It is not known if the LAPD played a role. See, American Crime Case #42: COINTELPRO—The FBI Targets the Black Freedom Struggle, 1956-1971, revcom.us, April 30, 2018
- In May 1969, the LAPD carried out 56 arrests of 42 Panthers.
- On September 8, 1969, an armed LAPD unit raided the Panthers’ free-breakfast-for-children program in Watts.
- Panther Bruce Richards was wounded and Panther Walter Toure Poke was killed in a shoot-out with the LAPD on October 10, 1969.
- Geronimo Pratt was arrested in 1970 and then convicted for the murder of a Santa Monica schoolteacher on trumped up charges, based on a testimony of an LAPD informant, and held in prison for over two decades.
- In November 1970, the LAPD raided the LA BPP’s childcare center, holding guns on the children and beating up the Panther in charge. [back]
2. Then-California governor Ronald Reagan said he hoped there would be an outbreak of botulism among the poor who received the food. [back]
3. The LA4. In the aftermath of the rebellion, one of the main ways the authorities tried to go after it was the prosecution of the LA4—four young Black men charged with the attack on white truck driver Reginald Denny at Florence and Normandie. While the judge, prosecutor and mainstream media tried to railroad them to prison, the jury would not go along and delivered not guilty verdicts on nearly all of the charges. In a heroic development, when Denny himself took the stand he called for no jail time and expressed some real understanding of what led to the rebellion. The Los Angeles Times quoted Denny: “Everyone needs respect…. And as soon as you take a group of people, and put them on a shelf and say they don’t count. Let me tell you, they count in a big way…. It’s hard saying what those guys have gone through.” The RCP joined with a wide range of people to mount a campaign to defend the LA4. “Free the LA4+! Defend the Los Angeles Rebellion!” and “No More Racist Pig Brutality!” were two of the slogans. “20th Anniversary of the Los Angeles Rebellion—It’s Right to Rebel Against Injustice!“ revcom.us, April 22, 2012 [back]
source: READ ABOUT THESE CRIMES
Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin White Masks and the Social Sickness of Racism
by Miguel Morrissey
Objectification is achieved literally. Beginning with the most personal, Fanon points out “In the white world the man of color encounters difficulties in the development of his bodily schema. Consciousness of the body is solely a negating activity. It is a third-person consciousness.”[i] The external stimulus of a child who says “Look, a Negro!” has compelled a physical reaction for the objectified person. One becomes disoriented, and one has to evaluate one’s own “bodily schema.” Most importantly, one sees their own body as an object, free floating in space, a separation between self and world. This hyper-awareness of one’s body produces traumatic effects. It produces a self-objectification, where one feels oneself as an object, and the more this is repeated the more objectification seems an acceptable thing. This is the daily ontological crisis experienced by bodies lacking ‘presence.’ In Fanon’s situation, the experienced lack is of whiteness. As a parallel, for the woman, the experienced lack is of the penis. The significance of this lack is completely imagined. But for the traumatized object, it is felt as a reality. “Look, a Negro!” is akin to saying ‘Look, a monster!’ or better yet ‘Look, a funny picture!’ In being forced to confirm his own bodily presence, Fanon is forced to ask himself, ‘Am I really here?’ Yes, one sees oneself as present, yet one concurrently feels empty of the qualifications to experience being through others. One is stripped of everything but a bodily schema.
Furthermore, when one seeks a psychoanalyst for treatment, the method is to trace the symptom back to the trauma. But Fanon shows us the reverse. He shows us trauma that produces a symptom that reproduces more trauma. Objectification is thoroughly achieved, inside and out. Fanon continues: “…assailed at various points, the corporeal schema crumbled, its place taken by a racial epidermal schema. In the train it was no longer a question of being aware of my body in the third person but in a triple person.”[ii] His play on words is important here. There is a difference in experiencing oneself in the third person and experiencing triple consciousness. The traumatized object is not only objectified literally but is broken into different modes of being. Consciousness is split. One must exist in a sense for oneself, yet differently in another sense, as seen by an opposing world. And, thirdly, one must exist to fulfill the other’s idealization of them. One can imagine the dissociative effects of this daily double-trauma. How can one know oneself if one has to constantly relive a shattered existence? To see oneself as a broken object in the distance, to begin to accept this position of nothingness, is the tremendous accomplishment of a psychotic society whose obsessive compulsion is domination.
Rationalization in a sick society can only be a failed attempt. Fanon confesses the cyclic series of psychological self-realizations he encounters. Faced with the task to defend himself against hate, he rationalizes but soon realizes he faces the insurmountable. He writes: “I had rationalized the world and the world had rejected me on the basis of color prejudice. Since no agreement was possible on the level of reason, I threw myself back toward unreason.”[iii]Rationalization is met with the irrationality of racism, and the colonists in this situation will go through pseudo-intellectual and pseudo-scientific hurdles to defend themselves from an intellectual attack and from any level of self-critique. The racists are irrational as a means of defense against their own inhumanity. One cannot argue with an other that cannot argue. Regardless, rationalism cannot triumph an ignorance of self-infliction, a repression on the side of the oppressive psychotics. Further, through Fanon’s heartfelt “regression” to unreason, Fanon finds himself reinforcing “the Negro Myth.” Now, he functions as the exotic, poetic, spontaneous, emotional child for the white man to savor and to save. Now, the white man’s reason triumphs unreason. A ridiculous cycle of domination, where the traumatized object, both intellectually and ethically, can never be right. Fanon continues: “Thus my unreason was countered with reason, my reason with ‘real reason.’ Every hand was a losing hand for me. I analyzed my heredity. I made a complete audit of my ailment. I wanted to be typically Negro—it was no longer possible. I wanted to be white—that was a joke.”[iv] Through a more profound and multi-faceted achievement of rationalization, Fanon seeks to carve out his own space for activity, to come into being and to resolve the ontological crisis of what it means to be a black man. But every victory is met with laughter. Even the empowerment through historical material, is met with “real reason.” The racism of colonial presuppositions is not founded on any history but its own. And now we return to the terrific irrational defense against the reality of colonized people. It is a lose-lose scenario for the traumatized object. Every stroke of brilliance is met with collective hysterical laughter. Too loud to be heard.
Sublimation is prohibited. The empowerment of a creative realization of self for the traumatized object is met with profound resistance. Fanon quotes Sartre: “negritude as an antithetical value is the moment of negativity…that it is intended to prepare the synthesis or realization of the human in a society without races. Thus negritude is the root of its own destruction, it is a transition and not a conclusion, a means and not an ultimate end.”[v] To hear this from a revered ally is nothing short of devastating for Fanon. Today, with the advantage of living a number of decades after this statement was written, the proposition of the universal as the answer is suspect. Does blackness have to connote a passive negative component in a larger process of history? Or is there room for an active difference, with agency, where one’s conclusion does not have to be “overdetermined?” The black person by this logic is overdetermined. As an antithesis, s/he does not get sublimation. And s/he does not get an existential crisis. S/he does not become anything. But best case scenario, the world does not care about race anymore. Viewing negritude and such movements as this “negative moment” is in direct opposition to creating a liberating space for a different type of human being, to the sublimating empowerment of a different self-knowledge. This logic is a product of the very same sickness of self-affirming sameness and othering. Is the utopian ideal of a universal “world without races” not an impossible tyrannical nightmare?[vi]
To close the chapter, Fanon invokes an example of an amputee who advised him to accept his victimhood. He writes: “I am a master and I am advised to adopt the humility of the cripple. Yesterday, awakening to the world, I saw the sky turn upon itself utterly and wholly. I wanted to rise, but the disemboweled silence fell back upon me, its wings paralyzed. Without responsibility, straddling Nothingness and Infinity, I began to weep.”[vii] Blatantly and perhaps subconsciously, Fanon rejects functioning as an object of sympathy, castrated into an overdetermined, fixed objecthood. Standing at the edge of a cliff, in losing oneself to the ‘night of the soul,’ one realizes something beautiful. The future has yet to be decided. The traumatized object’s attempt at a liberating sublimation is met with the utmost resistance. Perhaps such a resistance signals a frantic anxiety. A step towards the psychotic society’s treatment. “…straddling Nothingness and Infinity,” Lack and Presence, Destiny and Freedom, one thing is absolute: the idea of a differently empowered human cannot be tolerated.
The social sickness begins with repression. Fanon elaborates on the infantile dimensions of the phobic: “In the phobic, affect has a priority that defies all rational thinking. As we can see, the phobic is a person who is governed by the laws of rational prelogic and affective prelogic: methods of thinking and feeling that go back to the age at which he experienced the event that impaired his security.”[viii] By “prelogic,” Fanon is commenting on the irrational presuppositions of racism that are produced through the regression to childish modes of thinking and feeling. The psychotic racist is confronted with a body that is different from oneself, and in the colonial situation, s/he repeats the “prelogic” of a traumatic infantile state. The colonizer returns to a state before repression as a defense because racism is not rational. If the family unit is a model for the social, that is to say, if the authority of the father is transferred to the authority of the country, an impairment of security and a repression at an early age must manifest in some way in the presence of others. Here, the black man becomes the object of a transfixed phobia due to a repression at a ‘prelogical’ phase. But what is the nature of the repression? In a chaste, white patriarchal society, perhaps it is oedipal. The father’s prohibition against incest is an unnecessary and traumatic “discourse-desire”[ix] that continues as a vicious cycle through generations. This fantasy recreates itself through the collective unconscious. Fanon continues: “The white man who ascribes a malefic influence to the black is regressing on the intellectual level…Is there not a concurrent regression to and fixation at pregenital levels of sexual development? Self-castration? (The Negro is taken as a terrifying penis.) Passivity justifying itself by the recognition of the superiority of the black man in terms of sexual capacity?”[x] The stereotype concerning penis size undoubtedly remains today. The evoking of imagined attributes is not as simple as a mere scapegoat complex for an early impairment of security. A level of guilt is involved. Fanon points out the paradoxical masochism from the oppressor who participates in “self-castration.” In other words, the white man regresses to a state of submission, quite possibly a repression concerning the fear of castration from his father. Whatever the origin of this genital fixation, a sexual repression is realized in the regression to a ‘prelogical’ absurd and imagined drama of penis-envy.
The cathartic symptom of repression manifests as the projection of “the Negro myth.” Fanon writes: “The civilized white man retains an irrational longing for unusual eras of sexual license, of orgiastic scenes, of unpunished rapes, of unrepressed incest…Projecting his own desires onto the Negro, the white man behaves as if the Negro really had them…the Negro is fixated at the genital; or at any rate he has been fixated there.”[xi] The meaning of this absurd genital drama becomes clearer. The black man and woman are hyper-sexualized. They function as props, substitutive objects of a certain symbolic impotence that is merely imagined. The black man is a giant penis, and the white man’s desire to create a drama of penis-envy is projected on the black man’s body to validate a collective phobia of merciless othering. The exotic fantasies the colonist projects onto bodies functions both as a defense to sexual trauma and a defense to their own ruthless inhumanity.[xii] Furthermore, the colonial collective catharsis of projected and reinforced fantasy goes deeper. Fanon continues: “…without thinking, the Negro selects himself as an object capable of carrying the burden of original sin. The white man chooses the black man for this function, and the black man who is white also chooses the black man. The black Antillean is the slave of this cultural imposition. After having been the slave of the white man, he enslaves himself.”[xiii] The consequences of cathartic projection become palpable. It produces an infernal cycle of self-renunciation and self-loathing. ‘To be white is to be good; to be black is to be bad.’ becomes ‘To be good is to be white; to be bad is to be black.’ This is the violent force of collective catharsis. Something deeply repressed explodes with the impulse to recreate, to force a traumatic situation. Half-aware of the devastating effects, horrified yet unsatisfied. The result is not just for the black man and woman to embody lack but to embody evil itself. By means of a violent projection, the psychotic phobic creates a psychotic society.
More specifically, the projection of “the Negro myth” is an unconscious repetition automatism to recreate a master/slave relation; mimesis is the means of domination. Fanon writes of the white man: “As soon as possible he will tell me that it is not enough to try to be white, but that a white totality must be achieved. It is only then that I shall recognize the betrayal.”[xiv] The betrayal of which Fanon speaks is the promise of the colonizer—bearer of enlightenment, beauty, purity of the soul, becoming—that assimilation is possible, and if one submits, one can have these things too. The colonized person must live like the colonizer, but one is never fully assimilated and respected by the homogenous group. There is always a discrepancy that distinguishes who is master and who functions as ‘naturalized’ slave, serving as the mirrored lack to affirm white identity, to affirm presence, presence of whiteness. ‘I have it and you don’t.’ What is disguised as a dependency complex is only a falsely ethical defense towards the repetition automatism to recreate this traumatic domination scenario. Fanon writes:
‘Nature’ justifies ongoing white supremacy. It justifies cathartic projection. With the black athlete, the smart asian, it is easy to say, ‘They are like so by nature.’ If one seeks to find the most blissful ignorance, look to the many misconducted scientific revelations. Fanon continues: “[In Jung’s view] the myths and archetypes are permanent engrams of the race. I hope I have shown that nothing of the sort is the case and that in fact the collective unconscious is cultural, which means acquired.”[xviii] There is nothing natural about our so called ‘human nature.’ There is nothing biological about domination. There are only creatures exposed at the onset to a preexisting contagion. Further, there is nothing inherently aggressive about the libido. It is not a ‘sexual’ drive to dominate but to grow and to exist. This misinterpretation of a ‘natural’ aggressiveness of the libido is an elaborate defense to the paralyzing fact of a traumatic origin that is altogether unrecoverable. Traumatized by the psychotics, enacting the repetition of an imagined relation, an imaginary and presupposed law to the order of things, the winner-loser dream can only destine guilt and discontent.
As his final example in the chapter entitled “The Negro and Psychopathology,” Fanon remarks on one particular instance of neurosis. A young woman experiences certain spasmodic tics due to a trauma during childhood. Her father “an old-timer in the Colonial Service,” a notable detail, would listen to black music involving the playing of the tom-tom drum and percussion past her bed time. As a child, she imagined being surrounded by black savages, and her siblings would tease and scare her for it, reinforcing trauma at the level of the family unit. As a defense mechanism, she imagined vivid circles expanding and contracting as part of her hallucinations. Fanon writes: “…the defense mechanism had taken over without reference to what had brought it on…My presence on her ward made no perceptible difference in her mental state. By now it was the circles alone that produced the motor reactions…”[xix] And so the destructive symptoms remain, ghosts of a traumatic origin, an origin of an infantile and obscured nature, one from the family unit that omens catharsis in the social body. Collectively, a toxic fission, we birth our own destruction.
Is domination and submission not a compulsion that reproduces itself through tics in everyday life, such as walking faster on the sidewalk for no apparent reason, or the physical act of talking over someone? To concede, it seems absurd that the father, by nature, dominates the child whom rightfully experiences the fear of castration from him. If we continue, the Oedipus complex would seem an impressive and notable elaboration of such waking-dream-work.[xx] But we continue to make such nightmares real. Racism’s impulse to oppress, and the impulse of oppression itself, are not by ‘nature’ and are not by choice; but by the reality of an inherited illness. Perhaps confronting this social sickness, speaking of it in the harsh terms of domination, fearlessly, without illusions of empty humanism, and with the utmost critical view of ourselves, is the first step to healing.
There is truth to the simplicity of self-work. And perhaps work in this precise sense is my only answer. The phantom of an anxious master who dominates in fear of being dominated will continue to haunt us, so long as we are traumatized at first contact with the structures that cradle us. So long as we forget the embarrassing figure on a news outlet is a mirror of the self. So long as I forget to tell myself “That is me.” And so long as we forget to remind ourselves that our world is sick.
[iii] Ibid. p. 93.
[iv] Ibid. p. 101.
[v] Ibid. pp. 101-102.
[vi] Today, the vision of our founding fathers[?] here in the United States is honored with the utmost reverence. But, of course, the question arises: democracy for whom? Simply put, there is always an excess to the populace that remains excluded on the basis of difference. Does the adherence to the transcendental beauty of such an ordered, uniform society not seem like a product of the age-old self-justified tyrannical universal, that defends itself against its own injustice with a symptomatic amnesia? A dream of democracy with the nightmare of enslavement?
[vii] Ibid. pp. 107-108.
[viii] Ibid. p. 120.
[ix] Luce Irigaray elaborates on the “seductive function of law itself” as introduced by the father as a “desire for a discourse.” (Irigaray, Luce. Speculum of the Other Woman. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U, 2010. Print. pp. 37-40.)
[x] Fanon, p. 136.
[xii] For a contemporary example, the projection of xenophobic myths onto bodies exhibited particularly by certain white working class populations is a similar double-defense. ‘They’re stealing our jobs and are lazy’ implies a level of insecurity towards one who may do a ‘better job.’ This symbolic impotence is projected both as a defense to insecurity and as a defense to the cruelty of xenophobia. And, the same is the case with homophobia. ‘The way they have sex is wrong’ and better yet ‘Marriage is between a man and woman,’ is a projection of the symbolic impotence, of having sex the ‘right’ way and perhaps of the tradition of marriage itself. Does “Till death do us part” not sound like a terrifying prospect? A repressive contract, to be sure.
[xiii] Ibid. p. 148.
[xiv] Ibid. p. 149.
[xv] Ibid. pp. 156-157.
[xvi] Ibid. p. 157.
[xvii] Ibid. p. 145.
[xviii] Ibid. p. 145.
[xix] Ibid. 162.
[xx] Freud in his early masterpiece includes a number of dreams by children concerning death-wishes for their parents. Though these dreams can be agreed to containing oedipal jealousy, one can also interpret them much more simply as containing a frustration towards a parent’s excessive desire to prohibit. Perhaps seeing an oedipal drama where one does not exist is Freud’s own ‘elaboration.’ (Freud, Sigmund, and James Strachey. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Basic A Member of the Perseus Group, 2010. Print. pp. 266-288.)
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