Noel Ignatiev's Blog

How Many?

By Noel Ignatiev

How many of those condemning the shooting of the police in Dallas and equating Micah Johnson with the cops in Baton Rouge, St. Paul and elsewhere who routinely kill people for being black mean what they say, and how many are just saying it because they think they are supposed to? (I am referring to ordinary people, not to the politicians and civil rights leaders who are paid to tell the victims how they should resist their oppressors.) There must be millions in this country whose hearts leaped up at the news that some cops in Dallas got a taste of what they’ve been handing out to others—and they include not only young black people in the cities but whites in the suburbs with a sense of decency who read the news.

In 1969, a black worker at a Los Angeles aircraft plant, Isaac (“Ike”) Jernigan, who had been harassed by management and union and then fired for organizing black workers, brought a gun to work and killed a foremen; then he went to the union hall and killed two union officials. The political group I belonged to, the Sojourner Truth Organization, published a flyer calling for workers to rally to his defense. Not much came of it until… the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in Detroit reprinted our flyer in their paper. A Chrysler worker, James Johnson, responding to a history of unfair treatment including a suspension for refusing speedup, killed two foremen and a job setter, and was escorted from the plant saying “Long Live Ike Jernigan.”[m1] 

The League waged a mass campaign on Johnson’s behalf, including rallies on the courthouse steps, while carrying out a legal defense based on a plea of temporary insanity. The high point of the trial came when the jury was led on a tour through Chrysler; it found for the defense, concluding that working at Chrysler was indeed enough to drive a person insane. (This was Detroit, and many people already knew that to be true.) Johnson was acquitted and sent to a mental hospital instead of to prison; as an added insult, Chrysler was ordered to pay him workmen’s compensation.

Micah Johnson will not have his day in court. The police, after “negotiating” with him for three hours, blew him up with what the papers are calling a “remote-controlled explosive delivered by a robot” (presumably the same as the drones used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan). Even though they claim to have kept him on the phone for three hours, the only statement of his they have seen fit to release was that he was “upset about the recent police shootings” and that “he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”

Even those few words will be enough to allow decent people (and others) to answer the most important question of all: Which side are you on?

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