“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” The Preamble to the United States Constitution
The ‘Reconstruction’ was basically a formal reconstituting and restructuring of white power to give the appearance of social change and a smokescreen under which the injustices, discrimination, disenfranchisement and terrorism of BIPOC could continue without any real cost to the white power system or any real loss of white privileges.
The U.S. Supreme Court complemented the violence perpetrated by vigilantes, and tolerated and abetted by the state, by assaulting the legal architecture of the Reconstruction. Between 1865 and 1872 the Court thirteen times struck down congressional Reconstruction acts as unconstitutional and their decision in the “Slaughterhouse Cases” of 1872 relegated the adjudication of black people’s civil and human rights to state level, courts that were controlled by white elites and universally hostile to blacks. While the federal government had adopted Reconstruction amendments like the Enforcement Act — which criminalized any conspiracy to deprive a citizen of their constitutional rights and provided a means for federal prosecution of any crime committed during such a conspiracy — the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated their practical impact and destroyed any practical capacity for BIPOC to seek redress for the injustices — e.g. terrorism — they suffered.
In United States v. Cruikshank, decided March 27, 1876, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt the fatal blow to the Enforcement Act. Following the Cruikshank decision, some 179 prosecutions of white perpetrators of Enforcement Act violations were dismissed in Mississippi alone. After that, terrorism spread even more wildly, and attacks against blacks occurred in broad daylight and were committed by undisguised men. The Supreme Court continued to vacate all reasonable means by which BIPOC could seek any relief from the terrorism exacted by white supremacists, who by the late 1880’s had become mainstream in their views, attitudes, positions and power.
After Reconstruction, everything got worse, and by 1900 the southern states had re-written their laws and codified racial injustice to effectively usher in the era of “second slavery” where “Jim Crow” laws subordinated and separated black people by a strict color line that — through codification, customs, habits and social norms— dictated all aspects of black people’s lives.
Lynching began in the 1830s, and it began on the great western frontier, but southern lynching evolved to include horrible brutality and mutilations, including burning and decapitations of the victims. Bodies (or body parts) were typically placed on display or left hanging in public places as warnings to terrorize communities and, importantly, it became a tool to protect white interests and control where BIPOC suffered egregious economic, political and cultural exploitation. White mobs frequently attacked black people and black communities, burned down churches, and retaliated against even the slightest demonstration of resistance or personal sovereignty with obscene violence that evolved into state-sponsored structural terrorism that was systematic and routine. Lynchings turned into public spectacles, celebrations where crowds of white people — mobs, perpetrators and bystanders alike — participated in the gruesome festivities, and they were righteously justified in government publications and the white-controlled mass media.
A 2015 report by the Equal Justice Initiative “documented 3959 lynchings of black people that occurred in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia between 1877 and 1950.” Northern and federal officials “who failed to act as black people were terrorized and murdered enables this campaign of racial terrorism.”
With the official abolition of slavery, the white power system turned to criminalization and increasing incarceration of BIPOC, often on false pretenses, for minor offenses or for violating the unwritten social mores and expectations of the color line. Prisoner labor was extracted from state and local black prisoners by selling them to private enterprises.
As early as 1866, convict leasing was enabled by discriminatory criminal laws passed to criminalize blacks for trivial and frivolous offenses like ‘vagrancy’ or ‘loitering’ — or stepping off the sidewalk — and blacks were arrested and imprisoned. Unlike most all white prisoners, these black convicts suffered inhuman and brutal tortures, including starvation, beatings and rapes, and countless black men, women and children lost their freedoms and their lives.
Convict leasing as a system of forced labor evolved into chain gangs and prison farms, and the state took control and custody of inmates. The forced labor of black prisoners continues in states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Texas, and to this day BIPOC continue to receive inequitable and outrageous sentences for even the most minor offenses. The states where this routinely and systematically occur are mostly in the south and their populations are mostly black. The penal system today is slavery.
In many cases, people were chased from their homes or places of employment. Whites in the United States exploited, attacked and disenfranchised blacks and people of color, including Mexican Americans, pursuing a very clear but hidden history of racial cleansing premised on murdering, terrorizing and dispossessing them of their families, their lands, and their lives.1 “In a brutal environment of racial subordination and terror, faced with the constant threat of harm, close to six million black Americans fled the south (USA) between 1910 and 1970.”2
In parallel with the systemic criminalization, incarceration and overt terrorism against blacks enacted in these Southern states and enabled by Northern whites was the rise of organized crime syndicates that involved the U.S. government intelligence apparatus, criminal justice agencies and the Mafia. At the international level, these syndicates involved the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its precursor the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), powerful corporate and private enterprises — and America’s duplicitous and criminal war on drugs.3 These corrupt politicized institutions serve deep political interests and they have routinely engaged in foreign interventions, including assassinations, coup d’états, and covert wars.
1– On the extreme violence and discrimination of Mexican Americans, see, for example: Balderrama and Rodriguez, Decade of Betrayal: Mexican Repatriation in the 1930s, University of New Mexico Press, 2006; Carrigan and Webb, “The Lynching of Persons of Mexican Origin or Descent in the United States, 1848 to 1928,” Journal of Social History, Oxford University Press, Vol. 37, No. 2, Winter 2003, pp: 411-438; and Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, 2015
2- Equal Justice Initiative, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, 2015: p. 52.
3- The sections of this report dealing with the criminal operations of U.S. agencies draws heavily on the following: Douglas Valentine, The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs, Verso, 2004; and Douglas Valentine, The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World, Clarity Press, 2017.