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January 21, 2008


Rick Perlstein, in a piece from last year, remembers the reaction to the assassination of Martin Luther King:

Upon King's assassination, The Chicago Tribune editorialized: "A day of mourning is in order"--but this was because civil disobedience had finally won the day. "Moral values are at the lowest level since the decadence of Rome," the editors argued, but only one of their arguments was racial: "If you are black, so goes the contention, you are right, and you must be indulged in every wish. Why, sure, break the window and make off with the color TV set, the case of liquor, the beer, the dress, the coat, and the shoes. We won't shoot you. That would be 'police brutality.'" Another was: "At countless universities, the doors of dormitories are open to mixed company, with no supervision."

This is from the short story "The Policemen's Ball," written around the same time by Donald Barthelme:

Twenty thousand policemen of all grades attended the annual fete...Police colonels and generals looked down on the dark uniforms, white gloves, silvery ball gowns...

The Pendragon spoke. "I ask you to be reasonable with the citizens...I know it is hard. I know it is not easy. I know that for instance when you see a big car, a '70 Biscayne hardtop, cutting around a corner at a pretty fair clip, with three in the front and three in the back, and they are all mixed up, ages and sexes and colors, your natural impulse is to—I know your first thought, All those people! Together! And your second thought is, Force!

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at January 21, 2008 09:19 PM

It would have been more accurate for you to write, in the first line, "a reaction" or "this reaction." There were other reactions to the assassination, even among thoe cursed Caucasians.

Posted by: donescobar at January 21, 2008 11:27 PM

I hope that this works in comments:

Posted by: Krinn DNZ at January 22, 2008 12:16 AM

Not funny, Krinn.

Here's American reporter Webb Miller, describing one example of Indian civil disobedience (May 5, 1930):

...The famous Indian poetess Mme Naidu called for prayer before the march started and the entire assemblage knelt. She exhorted them, 'Gandhi's body is in gaol but his soul is with you. India's prestige is in your hands. You must not use any violence under any circumstances. You will be beaten but you must not resist; you must not even raise a hand to ward off blows.' Wild, shrill cheers terminated her speech.

Slowly and in silence the throng commenced the half-mile march to the salt deposits.... The salt deposits were surrounded by ditches filled with water and guarded by 400 native Surat police in khaki shorts and brown turbans. Half-a-dozen British officials commanded them. The police carried lathis -- five-foot clubs tipped with steel. Inside the stockade twenty-five native riflemen were drawn up.

In complete silence the Gandhi men drew up and halted a hundred yards from the stockade. A picked column advanced from the crowd, waded the ditches, and approached the barbed-wire stockade, which the Surat police surrounded, holding their clubs at the ready. Police officials ordered the marchers to disperse... The column silently ignored the warning and slowly walked forward.

Suddenly, at a word of command, scores of native police rushed upon the advancing marchers and rained blows on their heads with their steel-shod lathis. Not one of the marchers even raised an arm to fend off the blows. They went down like ten-pins. From where I stood I heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on unprotected skulls. The waiting crowd of watchers groaned and sucked in their breaths in sympathetic pain at every blow.

Those struck down fell sprawling, unconscious or writhing in pain with fractured skulls or broken shoulders. In two or three minutes the ground was quilted with bodies....

Then another column formed while the leaders pleaded with them to retain their self-control. They marched slowly toward the police. Although every one knew that within a few minutes he would be beaten down, perhaps killed, I could detect no signs of wavering or fear. They marched steadily with heads up, without the encouragement of music or cheering or any possibility that they might escape serious injury or death. The police rushed out and methodically and mechanically beat down the second column. There was no fight, no struggle; the marchers simply walked forward until struck down. ...

I counted 320 injured, many still insensible with fractured skulls, others writhing in agony from kicks in the testicles and stomach....Scores of the injured had received no treatment for hours and two had died...

I was the only foreign correspondent who had witnessed the amazing scene -- a classic example of satyagraha or non-violent civil disobedience.

Posted by: Carl at January 22, 2008 03:33 AM

Tim Wise: 'in 1963, three-fourths of white Americans told Newsweek, "The Negro is moving too fast" in his demands for equality '

Posted by: Non Nato at January 22, 2008 09:29 AM

Carl, it's satirizing the powerful, so I happen to think it is in fact funny. Lighthearted, it ain't.

Posted by: Krinn DNZ at January 22, 2008 06:23 PM

Carl, it's satirizing the powerful, so I happen to think it is in fact funny. Lighthearted, it ain't.

Posted by: Krinn DNZ at January 22, 2008 06:24 PM