Writing by P.L. Thomas for radicalscholorship.wordpress.com
One of the defining moments of my first-year writing seminar is my reading aloud the first few paragraphs from A Report from Occupied Territory by James Baldwin.
This essay in The Nation from July 11, 1966, offers students dozens of powerful examples of compelling and purposeful writing, Baldwin at his best. But the circumstances of the essay are what first strike my students.
“There was a great commotion in the streets, which, especially since it was a spring day, involved many people, including running, frightened, little boys,” Baldwin writes. “They were running from the police.”
We note that Baldwin uses “police[men]” five times in the first paragraph, which focuses on people in the Harlem “in terror of the police” because “two of the policemen were beating up a kid.”
Students immediately noted that Baldwin was addressing exactly the same racism grounded in policing that has been the source of social unrest in the U.S. throughout 2020.
In other words, racism in policing in the U.S. is not a recent crisis, but a historically systemic fact of policing.
The more things change, we noted, the more they stay the same.
Read more here.
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