Printer Friendly

Black fear: law and justice in rural Georgia.

While liberals may have romanticized criminals, they were profoundly right to understand that the law can be a tool of oppression in the hands of racist or abusive police Taylor Brunch's new book, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963, is a meticulous and sweeping account of the fight Jbr racial justice. Here he dissected for Washington Monthly readers some of the racial fears that once regularly stalked the South. This piece appeared in 1970.

"All right, get the money off the table," said Bubba-doo Wiggins, the proprietor of The Big Apple in Cuthben, Georgia, as he jumped from his perch with a can of Colt 45 and a fistful of jousecut dollars. In what resembled the routine panic of a grammar-school fire drill, he herded all the card players across the hall into a small closet on the mysterious side of the shack. The younger people scattered. The white man, a graduate student visiting the town, followed the pack, disoriented, and was the last to squeeze into the tiny room.

"What the hell is going on?" he whispered to his fellow loser.

"Beer truck," he replied, obviously amused at the other's perplexity.

Through a crack in the door, the stranger could see Bubba-doo behind the bar. He saw the proprietor put down his Colt 45 to greet two uniformed white men who ambled up and began some small talk.

"Who's that, the sheriff." whispered the white man to the loser.

"No, the police," he They go around with the beer truck every Friday."

The screen door closed again, and a rotund white man soon came into view, wheeling a half-dozen cases of beer up to the bar. He was wearing a Schlitz uniform and smoking a cigar. He left for another load.

Bubba-doo soon rapped on the door with the allclear sign, and the poker players tumbled out into the hallway. The white man ran to a window in time to watch the beer truck stir up the red dust, with the police car right behind.

Unfortunately, the poker game had evaporated. As the others filed past on their way home for supper, the stranger decided that their interest in him was directly related to whether or not his pockets were full.

"No more game here, man," observed his fellow loser.

The two losers walked across the room, past the juke-box, and out into The Big Apple's front porch, where the strains of a twilight hymn from the revival floated on the summer air.

"Whatchew doing down here in niggertown?" came a voice from the police car, which had drifted back down the road, evidently having finished its beer run.


"I said whatchew doing down here in niggertown?"

"Im, you know, I'm doing a manpower survey for the university. Uh, I'm seeing about the kind of jobs these people have around here."

"You what?"

The stranger walked down the steps and over to the passenger side of the police car, experiencing all the physical symptoms of acute fear-shaking, sweating, burning skin, gulping, pounding heart, dry mouth, cold hands, wobbling knees, cloudy, swirling bain.

"You ain't down here trying to stir up our niggers,

are you?"

"No, sir'"

"We treat our niggers real good around here, so we ain't had no riots or anything, and we aim to keep it that way. Do you know you could get knifed down here easy as that?"

"No, sir," said the accused, looking surprised and hoping that the policeman would take him for a bumbling student, which seemed accurate enough.

From the white people's point of view, the operation of the law is a distinctly informal business in southwest Georgia. Few local whites are ever arrested, other than a drunk or two, and the main concerns of the law are traffic tickets and the maintenance of calm among the black people. Neither task draws much attention from most white people, and keeping the lid on the black parts of town seems so easy that it produces boredom. Consequently, police officers are often picked up off the street or garbage truck. Tales abound of the illiterate officer who spends years perfecting a routine that will induce motorists to fill out their own traffic tickets without suspecting his illiteracy.

If policemen seem rather overlooked by the white people, the negroes act in compensation, for black people see them as the symbol of white power. The policeman represents more than violence or the fact that whites inevitably win any interracial legal battle. The man who rose from the pool room to the police car symbolizes the unpredictability of law enforcement for blacks. Lacking the restraint and formality of school-book law, he uses his badge as he sees fit and is often governed by an ornery mood.

Only a dramatic, violent abuse of a black person bears much risk for the law officer, and such incidents have declined markedly in the past decade. Many counties have found that the emotion of a police murder unites the black people in a brief outburst of angry action with enormous potential for organization and contagion.

In a rural setting, few incidents occur in which large groups of black people are harmed. The result is that when John sees Sam get beaten, he says, "Sam got beaten and I didn't," rather than "a black man named Sam got beaten because he is black like me.'" Black people tend not to see white violence in collective terms, even though the racial pattern is obvious; and the idea of a rural black community is therefore largely a myth. Perhaps this perception is due primarily to the nature of violence itself, in that the threat of immediate violence excludes everything from the individual's mind except himself and the threat. Anyone who has even been momentarily afraid knows how fear totally dominates the environment and makes one focus entirely on the threat. Fear is a highly individual emotion, and it appears to atomize black people in the rural setting. This atomization, in tum, appears to facilitate a high level of conflict among black people, as group loyalties are too weak to contain frustrations.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Washington Monthly Company
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Crime
Author:Branch, Taylor
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Feb 1, 1989
Previous Article:Busting our mental blocks on drugs and crime.
Next Article:Somoza Falling.

Related Articles
Court goes a-hunting gerrymanders.
Law enforcement gerontology.
Improving minority relations.
Property offenses, social tension and racial antagonism in post-Civil War rural Louisiana.
DVERTing domestic violence: the Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters