- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 5, 2015


Nothing like the events in Selma, Alabama, on Sunday, March 7, 1965, had ever been witnessed before nationwide.

In those days, Americans had seen and heard tell of the bloodied hands of a ruthless racist named Adolf Hitler. They had heard returning soldiers relate chilling tales of World War I and II, the Korean War and the fledgling Vietnam War. And on film, they had seen their favorite movie stars re-enact the good and the bad guys of those wars.

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In fact, on that fateful March 7, ABC News interrupted its broadcast of “Judgment at Nuremberg,” Hollywood’s retelling of the Holocaust, to break in with the racist goings-on in Selma.

What Americans saw and heard were armed American white men giving a beat-down to unarmed wailing Americans who were crossing a bridge named for Edmund Pettus — a Confederate veteran, a Democratic U.S. senator and a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.

If that doesn’t meet your definition of irony, try this: Within days of that nationally televised brutality, another Democrat, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, spoke to both houses of Congress, and punctuated his speech with a familiar refrain of the civil rights movement:

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“What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it’s not just Negroes, but really it’s all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.

“And we shall overcome.”

Of course, “we” have yet to overcome.

Now don’t jack up your britches.

You don’t even have to be a fan of Eric Holder, the outgoing U.S. attorney general, to find a measure of respect and appreciation for the report he released this week on Ferguson, Missouri, America’s latter-day flash point in civil rights.

Released Wednesday, the Justice Department’s 102-page report probed into the Ferguson Police Department revealed officers’ use of dogs on blacks (Selma), racial bias (Selma), “punitive and retaliatory” actions (Selma) and blacks treated “less as constituents to be protected than as potential offenders and sources of revenue” (again, Selma, where the same bigoted Americans who controlled the state apparatus also ran the local government apparati and commerce, including the courts).

The report also mentions racially biased and stereotype-laden emails making the rounds of the Ferguson police and courts. One, for example, depicts topless, dancing black women and has a caption that says “Michelle Obama’s High School Reunion.” Another, suggested black women use abortion to control crime. Muslims were the butt of emails, too.

Innocent attempts at humor?

Public safety foreplay is more accurate.

We do not yet know what the Justice Department’s next steps will be or whether Loretta Lynch, nominated to replace the outgoing Mr. Holder, will follow his lead.

Some folks are paving their own bridge.

For months, people of various races and ethnicities, different economic and gender backgrounds, and a multitude of faiths have been participating a spiritual awakening in Ferguson, and business leaders are partaking as well. Of course none of that happened during the years leading up to the civil rights movement and the centuries leading up to Selma.

“We” was a joke.

Thousands of “us” are expected to pour onto the Pettus Bridge on Saturday, the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” as it now is called, and the commemoration is likely to be as diverse as the weekly faithful in Ferguson. That’s a given.

What remains undone is the disrobing of racists and bigots, the very Americans who fear the word “we” — the “we” referenced by Johnson in 1964 and the “we” cited in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution:

“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.”

It is obvious, is it not, which “we” is most inclusive?

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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