Threepers & The Confrontational Politics of Black Activists
Part One of Two
Several years ago I was in a discussion about what it’s like for black police officers. This will be a public two part series. I’m going to back into it starting with a derivative question arising from one observation made by my brother Doc who is now a retired LAPD officer. Part Two will deal more directly with law enforcement.
Q. Can you elaborate on the “confrontational politics of 'black communities'”?
A. Sure. Every major city has a handful of people who go by the term ‘black community leaders’. You should know them in your town. Here in Los Angeles, the major dude was (is?) Earl Ofari Hutchinson. There’s also Najee Ali, the late Joe Hicks, Karen Grigsby Bates, Rev. Chip Murray. Most of these folks, speaking specifically about LA have never been elected to public office, but they are either on the staffs of the major newspaper or are absolutely on the goto list of the editors and journalists of the local media outlets. In short, when it comes to the ‘opinions of the black community’ nobody says the issue is spoken for unless and until one of these icons speak. Once they do get a paragraph out, the local establishment decides that to be black opinion, and the beat goes on.
So back in the days when there existed such a thing as the ‘digital divide’, you could count on these people having weekly or monthly meetings and town halls and sometimes a regular radio call in show. I used to hang out in Leimert Park and go to Earl’s joint every Sunday. I might have gone to Rev. Murray’s First AME Church on several occasions - I specifically recall one when CIA Director John Deutch personally showed up at that church to deny any CIA involvement in the trafficking of arms and drugs in Los Angeles. This was part of the Dark Alliance scandal of the mid 90s.
So basically you have a cadre of folks who are not interested, not competent or not funded or not popular enough to win a seat on the City Council who still want to have their say and claims on representing the opinion of ‘the black community’. I think both Hutchinson and Ali were fairly legit grass roots spokespersons, but that didn’t change the fact that within their meetings you could specifically identify the loudest voices and the sentiments - which was 75% of the time all about fighting City Hall, just on the principle of being oppositional. And most of the time they were anti-police.
I specifically remember when former [black] police Chief Bernard Parks showed up to ask for support for his run for mayor. He was essentially shouted down by ignorant people who literally resented him for wearing a suit and being ‘bourgie’.
As much as one can get a feel for the grass roots politics by attending these meetings, there was no formal organization or budgets. Year after year a new crop of undergrads would show up making the same emotional and unresearched arguments. Its actually something of a miracle that competent representatives get elected anywhere — meaning connections really matter.
I’ve stayed arms distance from all that business since ’03 or so. It’s a political circle jerk that rehashes the same gripes. I think a major part of the problem is the fact that black radio and newspapers were all but bankrupt by that time and reasonable professionals lost their livelihoods with no new generation to backfill them. If there are a dozen actual black owned radio stations in America I’d be mildly surprised. If there were that many newspapers I’d be shocked. Keep in mind that it was back in 1984 that more black students graduated from integrated universities than from HBCUs. The old neighborhoods have been de-gentrified by an educated class of black Americans and what remains in the same zip codes that rioted in 1968 are old heads like Hutchinson and young ghetto fabulous hipsters that strike a militant pose. It’s a sad old story.
Think about when Maxine Waters and Al Sharpton came to prominence. Nobody has replaced them. Recall that the late John Lewis served in Congress for 33 years. These people have had a headlock grip on political power and their ward heelers have always had the same messages since the 60s. So nothing from BLM comes as any surprise to anyone. You already know everything about their message, which of course now includes Burn Baby Burn.
It doesn’t take much effort to get a couple degrees of separation from these community folks. I’ve done so in Boston, Brooklyn, LA and Atlanta all to varying degrees. It’s not fun.
The Threeper Angle
If you have a fair bit of familiarity with what passes for conservative cultural dialog, then you know what a Threeper is. I’ll tell you anyway. They are people who wear a ball cap with the Roman numeral three and who are quick to point out that only three percent of the population defended the colonies in the Revolutionary War. I don’t know if that is accurate, but it’s accurate enough to give Threepers confidence that ‘just in case’ they will remain armed and dangerous.
Since I have a great deal of confidence that our current social issues are insufficient to warrant a second civil war, I pay little attention to such folks. Nevertheless, I do have a Threeper patch to wear when I feel spunky. You can easily find them at your local Army surplus.
Still it is the verbally and politically ‘armed and dangerous’ among us who are sufficient to keep radical ideas in play and somewhere is a game theoretical validation with the scientifically vetted proof of the squeaky wheel aphorism. Given what I’ve written above, it should be clear that BLM are the Threepers of ‘the black community’. Have no doubt that they will compare themselves to radical black liberators of yore. Take your pick. Black Panthers, Assata Shakur, Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Toussaint L’Ouverture - that whole parade in the Black Marvel Universe. Without disrespect to them, I’m hardly expecting much more than rhetoric from the postmodernists of Black Lives Matter. The reason is simple:
Black Americans simply aren’t suffering on any scale or proportion that compares to the environments and situations that created those they claim as predecessors.
If you haven’t heard me say it before, I reiterate. My lackadaisical attitude about racial solidarity springs genuinely (but only partly) from knowing the lives of my grandparents, none of whom gave me any reason to believe that I was inferior or that my virtues and talents would go unrewarded. If only for their praise and admiration, I would do my best. No police officer ever struck me, much less so hard that it knocked the sense or civility out of my head. I always had too much family to be overly concerned about the brotherhood of a virtual black nation. That was the task of my parents’ generation. How ever did they achieve Civil Rights legislation in the middle of the Cold War? Think about that for a moment. Why do you think the current Woke crowd needs to invoke 400 years of white supremacy as axiomatic to their racial theory? Because black Americans aren’t starving, whipped or indigent. With a few real exceptions, we’re all middle class here and we have political and social capital. To state the obvious, if black Americans were truly oppressed, nobody could possibly paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on a street in the nation’s capitol much less on Amazon Prime Video’s banner page.
Nevertheless there is always the narcissistic necessity for nesting in the nihilist nattering of black bombast. I can’t get with that orthodoxy, but surprising numbers succumb to it. Once upon a time Eldridge Cleaver got a book deal. The publishing industry is much more lucrative for middle class radicals in this new millennium. There are also more millionaires and billionaires these days. What’s 50 million bucks here or there? Enough to fund Threepers of any sort.
As it ever was, I’m still waiting for the BLM contingent to make frontline news, actual news, having taken the obligatory picture with the mayor of some large city police chief on having hacked out a new policy that works. As far as I know, no BLM officers have been elected to state legislatures and, you know, authored a bill or two worthy of consideration. It’s hard to program a Google alert with those conditions such that the news will be automatically delivered to my inbox, but I think my ear is close enough to quite enough ground to know, and if you know better, then please leave a comment below, specifically about Cori Bush.
The trick here is to find more stoic observers who know their ‘black leaders’ as well as I knew Earl Ofari Hutchinson and others of his league. But philosophically I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think the Old School is fading away and a great deal of face to face politics is being disintermediated by shallow populist [social] media. That’s frightening enough which is why I bother to gripe about Jon Stewart and his audience, but we ought to do better.
In Los Angeles, and noticeably in ‘southcentral’ I recall driving through the neighborhood of Florence and Normandie, that infamous intersection where the truck driver Reginald Denny was yanked from his vehicle and beaten half to death, marking the beginning of the LA Riots of 1992. It was night. It was also Christmas time, and the place was alive with decorations. People forget that these downscale black neighborhoods are filled with all sorts of people who have no interest in confrontational politics and demonstrate the joy of the season like everyone else. As rare as it is that one from such a place might become a muckraker in politics or journalism, they are still a minority and they do not fully represent black America. Nor do I. This needs to be repeated. Anyone can wear the Threeper patch in peacetime. Where I grew up that’s called ‘talking out the side of your neck’.