Lots of Black people thought it was good news when a grand jury in Douglas County, Ga., indicted a bunch of Confederate flag-waving White boys who spewed racial abuse and threatened Black guests outside a child’s birthday party, this past summer.
It’s hard not to celebrate on those rare occasions when your enemies are getting hammered by the state. The White marauders in Douglas County, which has gone from just eight percent Black 25 years ago to 44 percent African-American today, carried banners demanding that the Confederate flag be “respected” – their response to the image problem that Johnny Reb has been having since the Charleston church massacre.
However, Black folks should not be celebrating the Douglas County prosecutor’s decision to indict the White supremacists for participating in “criminal gang activity,” in addition to charges of making terroristic threats. This is the first time that Georgia’s Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act has been used in such overtly political circumstances.
If we have learned anything from the modern mass Black incarceration regime that has been in place since the early 1970s, it is that every law that can be abused for political purposes will be disproportionately deployed against Black people.
The Georgia gang statute was designed to circumscribe the movements and constitutional liberties of Black and Brown youth, as are similar statutes and gang injunction laws in effect all across the country. It was conceived as an anti-Black law, and its one-time use against racist Whites does not change the nature of the law as an instrument of mass Black incarceration.
The gang statutes are throwbacks to the Black Codes imposed on ex-slaves after the Civil War, when freedmen were not to allowed to gather in groups of more than three people at a time.
One isolated circumstance of racist White boys getting caught up in a law designed to ensnare Blacks is not a sign of progress. In fact, it is a very dangerous precedent.
The Douglas County prosecutor argues that the gang law can be applied to “any type of activity that occurs with a group that’s organized that commits a crime.” This legal formula is similar to the way the RICO anti-racketeering laws have been used to swallow up whole neighborhoods of Black teenagers, as happened last year when 100 young people at two neighboring housing projects in New York’s Harlem were charged with conspiracy to murder – largely based on postings in Facebook.
Douglas County prosecutor Brian Fortner, a White Republican, says he will continue to use the gang law against people who don’t “respect the rights of all of the citizens to feel safe and secure.” The Southern Poverty Law Center thinks the prosecutor acted appropriately – but the Center also classifies Min. Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam as a “hate group.”
How would the law be applied to Black activists marching or congregating and waving Red, Black and Green flags and shouting “Killer Cops Out of Our Community!” – and maybe using the word “pig”? Would that be a criminal conspiracy, punishable by 15 years in prison? And if flags are indictable signs of criminality, what about leather jackets and black berets?
Think about that, while you’re applauding the prosecutor for coming down on some low-life Georgia White boys.
Glen Ford is executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. E-mail him at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.