“Tough S*** [Racist Epithet Deleted]”: Lawandorder, Lake County, Florida, 1972/U.S.A., Today

Surely, great racial progress has been made in the U.S. since 1972. After all, the racial epithet is now deleted. Just looksee above. So, I get some credit, right?

Indeed, some of us grow as human beings, and that is to be valued and encouraged. In 1972 living in Lake County, Florida, raised to be an unquestioning Preacher’s Kid who considered conservative Republican politics to be synonymous with morality, and unquestioningly accepted that Richard M. Nixon, the One, was right on Vietnam and everything else, I never would have imagined that I would eventually grow to reject nearly everything I had been taught. Even my fundamentalist dad has grown, thanks in part to learning to accept the true selves of my lesbian little sister and her partner, although telling him I had become a Democrat a quarter century ago seemed like it would give him a heart attack. He even expressed some remorse last month with the prospect of voting for Rick Scott a second time, although I am so glad to still have him around and talking again (after thinking early this year that he was gone to us for good) that I can forgive him for his long-established rote voting pattern.

Certainly, when he reflects back on his ministry today, my dad expresses greatest remorse for the Southern Baptist church’s reactionary positions and actions on the matter of race. So, forgiveness is in order. And please dear Jesus, don’t let Dad find out that I am a frigging democratic socialist, that truly would kill him, especially with the Dolphins certain to not make the playoffs when they almost certainly lose to the Patriots later today. In our family, the only thing we loved more than conservative Republican politics was the Dolphins, so obsessively following the football team is the one theoretically enjoyable pastime we all still have in common. So, uh, Fins up, even though the 1972 “Perfect Season” seems not only long ago but also ironic given what was happening to the north of Miami in Lake County at the time.

Willis V. McCall, after 28 years of racist treachery, union busting, and anti-commie/liberal demagoguery as the lawandorder sheriff of Lake County, Florida, where I spent grades 7-9, did not grow as a human being. In 1972, he still had time in office to kick and beat to death in a Tavares jail cell Tommie J. Vickers, an intellectually-disabled African American prisoner who made the mistake of not having the self-control to avoid smarting off to a real southern lawandorder man.

The remains of Mr. Vickers, who apparently had roots in Georgia just like my “white” mother, lie forgotten in a historic cemetery affiliated with an African American version of the supposedly Christ-like fundamentalist denomination I was raised in. He would not have been at all welcome in the church my dad pastored in Leesburg in the early 1970’s.

The Dixiecrat Sheriff McCall was soon to be suspended by the progressive Democratic Florida Governor Reubin Askew. Meanwhile, between the time he was suspended and would lose reelection on the same day Nixon, the One, won big time over that hippie-loving McGovern, he would remain de facto in control. The evil man’s banality in the same county commission meeting that announced “Letter from Frank X. Gliozzo, Attorney, concerning the claim in regard to Tommie Vickers was referred to [the county attorney]” made it difficult to tell whether it was the acting or the suspended sheriff’s requests that were being respectfully rubber-stamped:

Sheriff Meech and a representative of Motorola were present and informed the Board the radio equipment in the Sheriff’s Department tis [sic] antiquated. Mr. Meech advised suspended Sheriff McCall had instituted a study of needed equipment, and the study had been completed. The Motorola representative described the necessary equipment including two closed circuit television cameras at a cost of $21,412 with 6 to 8 weeks delivery. Chairman Windram said this will be considered when the budget is finalized. The Sheriff also recommended that a security screen be installed over the windows in the Jail and requested permission to obtain a price for same. Request was granted.

I never knew Mr. Vickers or learned about his death. I doubt we would have prayed for his mourning family, although I can find no record that the matter of his unfortunate “passing” for the act of dissing the sheriff ever made it into the Leesburg Daily Commercial. But, that’s all in the past, right?

*****************

Certainly one knowing the history of Lake County, Florida with eyes to see may discern a less than subtle reminder when Darren Wilson fired his final kill shot directly into Michael Brown’s head. He was more successful as a lawandorder terminator than Deputy Sheriff James Yates, who, before he fired his single shot in support of the not fully effective bullets of Sheriff McCall, said, “This n***** is not dead. We better kill this son of a bitch.” It was “a miracle,” if only God so loved the black folk, that Walter Irving, the framed (in more ways than one) target, an Army veteran, attached by handcuffs to Samuel Shepherd, both from the same outfit, survived to reveal these words of Deputy Sheriff Yates under oath. Of course, to a grand jury (“back in the day”?), with the right lawandorder prosecutor, even that was not enough to indict.

We are all in this together in the U.S., and indeed in our world. But what if a large part of the “we” is being slowly but surely convinced to want a nationwide Apartheid America, protected by militarized police, AR-15’s, and concealed carry permits? I am here to tell you that we have been there and done that in the Deep South, and it was a disaster, and we are still paying for it, although not nearly enough. But Apartheid America is what those with the cultural megaphones on the right are trying to construct, where the southern ways become the northern ways.

We now see a large percentage of the “white” citizenry effectively endorsing a race-based (“exceptional” of course) nationalistic empire where “the other” is only used and not endowed with inalienable rights that to me are self-evident. Holy shit.

But what do we, the people who do give a shit, do? How do we prevent bigotry, or, where it is too late, confront bigots in a constructive manner?

I can’t really speak to Ferguson, New York City, or any other killer cop locale out of the Deep South. I see the photographs and videos of the injustices committed by “law” enforcement officers against African Americans in those places, and I am sickened and want to be in solidarity with the oppressed in those places. But if I cannot convince my own racist neighbors to consider the plights of the oppressed in my own town, after all we have been through in the Deep South, with more than a few Sheriff McCalls, not to mention an accumulated many millions of people who sported the white sheets and hoods, my credibility ain’t shit, I admit it.

I try to take a global approach to building a better world, but attitudes closely, and rightly, associated with my particular region continually assert themselves on my efforts. I live and have lived in the Deep South most of my life. Fanned by dog whistles and conservative media personalities, I see the fire of southern bigotry spreading not dissipating. And constantly the subtext is an old southern word, “lawandorder.”

I include rural Central Florida, where I spent part of my youth, in “the Deep South.” By reading this piece, I hope that you will agree with me that the categorization is appropriate. But less important than place is attitude. Why is the racist attitude spreading among large segments of “white America” that non-“whites” are, if not less human then at least by nature inhumane? Why would white people think that non-“whites” are less in favor of “law and order” than they are? What is it about “law and order” that causes bigots to salivate and turn three words into one?

Is it not because lawandorder is a synonym for “tough shit [racial epithet deleted].”

I have a pretty good education in “tough shit [racial epithet delete].” I grew up with it, inherited it from my Georgia-born “white” farm girl mother. I saw it regularly implemented during my Hispanic father’s Southern Baptist pastorates in several small southern towns between the early 1960’s and late 1990’s. And I still see it nowadays every single day in my current deeply-segregated town.

I am interested in a lot of things cultural, but none more than the continuing bigotry of southern “whites.” I cannot speak authoritatively about northern whites. But I have kept my eyes on southern whites for a long time and still pass for one when I do not consciously press my half-Hispanic identity to the forefront.

Who is it who inhabits, and will for the foreseeable future inhabit, most of the law enforcement uniforms and cars in the U.S.? As we see in Ferguson and around the U.S., the disproportionate employment opportunities “whites” have received in law enforcement are continuing:

How could a community that’s two-thirds black have a police force that’s almost entirely white? How could such divisions ubiquitous in the 1960s persist in 2014?

Across the country, this racial imbalance is not rare. Fifty years after the Civil Rights movement called attention to the under-representation of minorities in police departments, the pattern is still widespread. More than three quarters of cities on which the Census Bureau has collected data have a police presence that’s disproportionately white relative to the local population. Meanwhile, in more than 40 percent of cities, blacks are under-represented among police officers, a Washington Post analysis of Census data revealed.

(Washington Post, 8/14/2014.)

CLASS AND RACE

Issues of class and race were and are intimately-related, with racism a badge worn, if only secretly, to obtain economic advancement for members of the white working class who seek to join “law” enforcement at home and abroad, where U.S. lawandorder must prevail, by Gawd. Therefore, at least as long as we have poverty, high inequality, and a reserved army of the unemployed, racism in our democracy-lite will be a highly utilized tool of those who would divide and rule. In short, jobs and privileges will be doled out to the mercenaries for the ruling class like bones for dogs. The audacity of Romney talking about “the 47%” because of the paltry social safety net in the U.S. never ceases to amaze me! Even putting aside such little factors as enslaving, raping, killing, and stealing the labor of African heritage human beings for centuries and enslaving, killing, raping, and stealing the land of Native Peoples, what about the huge percentage of white folk who even today have privileged access to jobs at disproportionate numbers? Are they not mercenaries, especially when they are literally carrying guns as instructed by the powerful who control Congress and the state legislatures? Do we think that the jobs afforded disproportionately to whites in the law enforcement and prison industrial complexes are not sick but still rewards for loyalty in committing mass oppression?

I have haphazardly written before about the dazed and confused working class Southern Baptist experiences of my grades 7-9 spent in Lake County, Florida in the early 1970’s, and I guess I am doing it again, but now I am really pissed.

I recently strongly criticized President Obama’s use of “rule of law” rhetoric to describe the way forward after the Ferguson grand jury (when without “freedom from fear” the rule of law is inapplicable). Now I have finally read Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, which chronicles horrific racist acts in Lake County and the NAACP’s incredible decades-long response, not only by Mr. Marshall but also by such forgotten African American heroes as the Florida NAACP leader, the first in a long line of assassinated civil rights leaders and workers, the amazing Harry T. Moore, who was murdered along with his wife, the wonderful and brave Harriette V. Moore.

This story of African American resilience and fighting for justice in the face of white terrorism causes me to want to add a couple more personal notes that may shed light on why poor southern “whites” of the post-WWII era in Central Florida remained swept up in racism. And because I think it has lessons for today, including in an area that still has KKK infiltration into law enforcement, I generally reference you to, although they need no introduction, “recent events.”

THE UTTER SCIENTIFIC BULLSHIT OF “RACIAL” CATEGORIES

I hate to say it all you Sheriff McCalls out there but you came out of Africa, and not too long ago. We all did.

Thus, the first thing I want to point out is that the poor “whites” of post WWII Lake County were actually not at all monolithic “racially.” This to me is an Achilles heel of racism, the fact that it seeks to exclude by definition, and, over time, if enough people feel excluded from the definition, the racist domination of society may weaken. Hence the racists are always a tad upset when African Americans and “white” Americans start making babies together.

This crypto-fascist and gradually somewhat dated “purity” paranoia continued to be a major component of racism during this time period. I suspect there were many people like me (Hispanic American father/”Anglo” American mother) who could pass as white and had every incentive to do so, who actually harbored deep doubts about our own whiteness and the justice of race privilege.

This is not a liberal panacea, however. Among other things, a recent notorious semi-“southern” lawandorder killer of a young black male was of mixed Hispanic/white origins (gulp, similar to yours truly). We see a racist George Zimmerman in an urbanized part of Central Florida wanting so much to be an exemplar of “non-blackness” that he would recklessly wield a gun and kill for the lawandorder cause. His feelings of “racial” “impurity” may have affected his deep need for validation. It also probably did not help that he was often unemployed and felt largely useless to society. In any event, he is hardly “Anglo Saxon,” assuming that itself were not utter bullshit:

Zimmerman is the third of four children and his siblings include a brother, Robert Jr., and two sisters, Grace and Dawn. Gladys Zimmerman was born in Peru and has some black ancestry, through her Afro-Peruvian maternal grandfather. Robert Zimmerman Sr. is an American of German descent and served 22 years in the military working for the Department of Defense for the last 10 years of his military career. Before retiring to Florida in 2002, Zimmerman Sr. had served as a magistrate in Fairfax County’s 19th Judicial District. George Zimmerman had identified himself as Hispanic on voter registration forms.

But hopefully over time self-hating mixed-ethnicity Zimmermans will be outliers. They certainly might not like it if they too are excluded along with “the other.” In 1972, in a lengthy article on Sheriff McCall, Life Magazine described Lake County at the time:

Since taking office in 1943 McCall has ruled over Lake County as though he held a title to all of its 1,151 square miles of rolling, lake-strewn terrain, endless ordered orange groves and moss-draped live oaks and little plank churches and barnlike juke joints and, here and there, busy citrus products factories. Here in Lake County live 57,000 whites, 12,000 blacks and a handful of Indians and others of dark complexion; 40 or so percent of the county’s population subsists at the poverty level or below.
In 1909, in the hamlet where he still lives, McCall was born into poverty and a scratch-hard childhood he left behind at 21 when he married a local girl and started a dairy venture. Abandoning that in 1935, he became a fruit inspector—a job that for nine years let him know and befriend the big citrus men who ran the county. These same powers backed him in 1944 when he jumped into the race for sheriff, mainly, a friendly reporter writes, “because he thought he would like to be sheriff.” McCall’s wish was fulfilled amidst never-proved rumors that he had ties to local gambling interests. Early in his first term he won a reputation as a heavy-handed lawman sympathetic to the citrus industry’s need for cheap labor.

I am not sure if my dad, siblings, and I would have been counted among the “whites” or the “handful of Indians and others of dark complexion.” Hell, even my mother is rumored to have some of the blood of the Native Peoples whose land her Georgia “white” ancestors stole. We were just barely above the poverty level. A few years later, in my senior year of high school, when my dad lost his then church in another part of Central Florida, I know we felt the fear and sting of poverty due to his unemployment. Unemployment doth make socialists or at least “liberals” of us all.

It is “the other” in the form of the [racial epithet deleted] whom Sheriff McCall most wanted to exclude as much as possible from law enforcement, as well from schools and all other government institutions for that matter. And to be counted with “the other” was to be subjected to deprivation of liberty and justice for all, as well as other privileges afforded “white” people. This was plainly seen through the murderous sheriff’s harassment of the Platt family of part Irish, part Croatan Indian descent. The Platts had moved from South Carolina to Lake County so that the father could work in the orange groves. The good sheriff took it upon himself to inspect the Platt children’s hair and facial features. Upon his finding evidence of blackness in the year of Brown v. Board of Education, they were not allowed into the still segregated white schools. And that’s not all:

For the Platts, the case brought night riders to their homes, threats, and at least one attempt to burn them out. To this day, Platt’s children refuse to discuss the case, Platt said.

For another local Indian family, the case brought the Ku Klux Klan to their doorstep and a warning to get out of town, a warning they heeded.

***

”That segregation was wrong never occurred to us,” said Linda O’Connor, a Eustis High School cheerleader and prom queen at the time. ”We were more interested in our Capezio shoes and whether to roll our jeans into three cuffs or four cuffs. That case probably was the first time any of us really thought about things like that.”

(Orlando Sentinel, 2/10/1991.)

As much as one is outraged to learn that the Platts were treated in this manner, it is important to realize that “we” should have been outraged that the undeniable “others” were being treated in the manner in which they were treated. When my family and I moved to Lake County in the early 1970’s, I was not subjected to a physical inspection by the still sheriff McCall. But, why should the good sheriff’s personal scrutiny have been necessary to incite white outrage at the sheriff’s and all of white society’s conduct?

I guess in my family we were “just lucky.” Not only was my dad Hispanic (his father from the Canary Islands and his mother a Tampa born Cuban American cigar roller), but at least three families in the church my dad pastored had partial Native American ancestry. As far as I know, they were “just lucky” too. But these days, the “not lucky” other is expanding beyond African Americans to merely tan folk like me, so I guess over time, we might want to consider a little, uh, solidarity.

SOME WORKING CLASS “WHITES” WILL DARE TO THINK DEEP THOUGHTS LIKE “LOVE THY NEIGHBOR”

But what of the truly “white” skinned, flat haired, pointy nosed folks in our 1972 church, and their offspring of today? Are they destined to be racists, despite valuable concepts they were and hopefully are still being taught today in church, such as “God is frigging love, people”?

To me this somewhat comes down to where we are in the class struggle, and as long as the working class whites can find “work” killing and herding “the other” in domestic and foreign occupations, the working class whites will largely stay out of solidarity. But I am not completely giving up hope in the power of love. For, I did actually see love in action from time to time by the whitest folk I knew in our church.

Downtown Leesburg at the time had two thriving Southern Baptist churches, the First Baptist Church, which catered to the relatively well-off, including fabulously wealthy citrus families, public officials, and the professional classes, and, a few blocks away, our working class church within the same denomination. We certainly made the working class “whites,” of which we were part (economically if not entirely ethnically), feel at home. We were not at all uppity to working class whites. We did not call them hicks or make fun of their accents or make fun of their kids when their daddie came home drunk and started to beating the wife and they came to church upset and not particularly clean.

So, I ask us, Daily Kos friends, are we ready, aside from their potential racism, to make working class “whites” feel at home? I so hope so. In this regard, it would be nice if we could recruit a few famous country singers. It sure was cool and culturally significant when the Dixie Chicks told W to kiss off.

Back in Lake County, Florida in 1972, if we had had eyes to see, we could have seen classism, as well as racism, at work every day of rest. We sang from the same hymnals as the rich folk up the street, but they did not come to our church, and we knew we were not truly welcome there even if we were not “the other”/[racial epithet deleted].”

It makes me nauseous to recall it, but it was quite clear that African Americans were not welcome in our church, giving us a subculture to look down upon. But I proudly and distinctly remember one of my friends, a kind, smart, and surprisingly progressive opened-minded very pale-skinned blond-headed Southern Baptist teenager who was being raised by her single mother in a Jim Walter home near our cinder block “pastoreum.” She was awesome. She assertively questioned one of the racist “redneck” adults who worked with the youth in our church about what would happen if she invited her black friends to our youth group. He said that they would not be at all welcome and should go to their own churches and not cause trouble by coming to ours, and that he would leave the church if they ever were allowed in. He did everything but burn a cross right there in the youth room.

IN DAZED CONCLUSION

I will end this yet another too long and haphazard reflection with a pessimistic note. (They don’t call me buzzkill for nothing.) Never discount the right’s ability to morph, shuck, and jive. They are devious and smart. They are frigging really good liars and intimidators. We cannot beat them at their own game.

We must out love them not out war them. (Which DOES NOT mean we eschew direct action, which is an obligation of solidarity, as we learned when the NAACP, in the wake of the Moore assassination, announced that it was considering “a nationwide work stoppage if Florida failed to bring the parties responsible for Moore’s death to justice.” Devil in the Grove, p. 282.) The ruling class will change its approach through religion, the arts, or by any other means necessary to maintain divisions in the U.S. beneficial to divide and rule. Therefore, as much as we laugh at Sarah Palin, she still can pack ’em in any strip mall in rural and exurban “Amurrika.” Before it was the First Baptist Churches, today it is the mega churches and Pentecostalism.

I remember in the early 1970’s when racism was losing some of its sharper edges, so that [racial epithets] had to be [deleted] even in Lake County, an older friend excitedly telling me about a gay high school student who had been beaten up. As often happened with me, I was puzzled, speechless, and did not give any reaction. I never wanted to be bullied, but, sadly, I never stood up to those who were bullying others either. He also could not get off his mind the potential for taking advantage of, as in a form of unequal sexual exploitation, females who now strike me as being highly vulnerable in our rural milieu of small dreams and limited opportunities. So, at least at Leesburg High School in the early 1970’s, as racism slightly receded, homophobia and sexism readily seemed to take up any minor slack in the ugly rope of oppression.

I also remember a fine summer day, after smoking my first joint with that friend and a couple of tough guys who were siblings who lived on the south side of town near a power line easement, coming back to their dirty little house. The cool thing was to lie back on their bed while high and look up at their ceiling, where they had carefully tacked up a giant rebel flag. I lay on the bed and listened to some early version of southern rock and tried to understand the fascination with that flag by my “white” buddies. It never made any sense to me, but the joint was most excellent. I wonder if their daddie was not one of those hood-wearing thugs I am now aware still lurked (and still lurk) in the area–but nonetheless, his approving or at least not stopping his “good southern white” kids from smoking pot and spending enormous amounts of time staring up at the ceiling might seem odd in that lawandorder world. I had always thought pot was the domain of those with hippie or Yankee tendencies. Had it been, I guess I would have not gotten stoned until we move to the next pastorate, which was an area with “cooler,” as in less “redneck,” demographics.

So, maybe we should think about ending the drug war and laying off huge numbers of white cops, soldiers, and jail/prison guards. Then they could, if so inclined, get high* and be unemployed, and instead of looking up at the ceiling to the rebel flag, they too could be hopeless or even homeless. Then, they might not have any choice but to speak to the sky, instead of Moloch, in all their so-called whiteness. Never underestimate the solidarity value of a shared plight and herbal stress reduction. It might even stop some working class whites from saying “tough shit” to “the other.” Make peace not war brother/sister.

*Note: Galtisalie/Francisco Nejdanov Solomin prefers meditation to medication. He is not advocating marijuana usage and has not partaken in many decades, and has no intention of doing so, given his already declining brain action that far surpasses your average stoner. However, he notes the stupidity of the drug war on multiple levels.

Final Note: As a commenter at Daily Kos pointed out:

I would also add that schizophrenics w/paranoid tendencies should avoid using MJ.  It can exacerbate their symptoms.

I believe any brain cells I killed were d/t alcohol, IMHO.

I also do not believe developing brains need to marinade in THC either.

Beyond that, “Don’t bogart that joint….”

To which I responded:

Good point. I also failed to point out that for addicts, marijuana actually can be fatal because it can lower inhibitions and lead back to the hard drug of choice. So, please, if you read this and should not use marijuana, do not let me be a stumbling block!

In solidarity,

Francisco

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