Without the proper context, it is impossible to understand the mushroom cloud of uprisings that are exploding across the country in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others.
To contextualize the anger, frustration and desperation that forced protesters to recreate the lawlessness and chaos that black people experience on a daily basis, The Root has created a timeline of some of the events that led up to black people across the country collectively saying:
- August 1619: The White Lion, a 160-ton Dutch privateer ship flying a British flag landed at Comfort Point in Virginia loaded with “20. and odd negroes” to be exchanged for food and the “best and easiest rates...”
- 1636: Boston creates the “Night Watch” which would become the first police force in America.
- June 1640: Virginia’s General Court created what many are calling the nation’s first slave when the court condemned John Punch, an African, to a life sentence of servitude because he was black. Punch, one of the original White Lion Africans, had run away from his master along with an indentured Dutch servant and an indentured English servant. When they were found and brought back to their master, a judge ordered the three absconders to be whipped 30 times apiece. The Dutchman and the Englishmen were sentenced to a one-year extension on their indentured servitude contract. But John Punch received a different sentence:
...and that the third being a negro named John Punch shall serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural Life here or elsewhere.
- 1669: Virginia’s legislature passes “an act about the casuall killing of slaves.” According to the new law, masters who kill their slaves in the act of punishing them are held not to be responsible of murder.
- 1704: South Carolina creates the first modern-day, public police force. Called “slave patrols,” these publicly-funded organizations served three functions: 1) to chase down, apprehend, and return runaway slaves to their owners; (2) to provide a form of organized terror to deter slave revolts; and, (3) to maintain a form of discipline for slave-workers who violated rules.
- Sept. 9, 1739: “Jemmy” a literate, enslaved Kongolese warrior in South Carolina organizes an uprising against whites that results in 25 colonists and 35 to 50 Africans being killed. The Stono Rebellion was the largest revolt in the British Mainland colonies.
- April 1740: After the Stono Rebellion, South Carolina passes The Negro Law of 1740, making it illegal for enslaved Africans to leave the US, assemble in groups, grow food, earn money, and learn to write. The law also gave slaveowners permission to kill rebellious slaves and it remained in effect until 1865.
- March 5, 1770: America’s first police brutality protest turns into a riot when British troops charged with policing colonists open fire on Boston residents. Crispus Attucks, a black man, is killed during what we now call the “Boston Massacre.”
- December, 1791: Congress ratifies the Second Amendment to the Constitution, giving Americans the right to bear arms. James Madison created the amendment to allay fears of armed black uprisings.
- March 6, 1857: Supreme Court issues a verdict in Dred Scott v. Sanford, in which Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote:
[Black Americans had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.
- Apr. 12, 1861: 11 state governments unite to form a white supremacist nation, deciding they’d rather stop being Americans than stop enslaving humans. The Civil War is still the bloodiest war in American history.
- Apr. 9, 1865: White supremacist nation admits it got its ass kicked.
- Dec. 24, 1865: A group composed of former Confederate soldiers, slave patrollers and law enforcement officers form the “Circle of Friends,” also known as the Ku Klux Klan.
- July 9, 1868: US ratifies the Fourteenth amendment, making former enslaved Africans citizens of the United States... kinda.
- July 9, 1868 - 1877: Ku Klux Klan and whites organize a national terror campaign that massacres tens of thousands of black people across the country.
- Jan. 1877: Following mass violence against African Americans and widespread voter fraud, a group of US senators and congressmen agree to settle the result of the 1876 presidential election. In exchange for installing Rutherford B. Hayes as president, the cabal’s compromise allowed Southern States to subjugate black citizens, or, as the History Channel notes:
The end of federal interference in southern affairs led to widespread disenfranchisement of blacks voters. From the late 1870s onward, southern legislatures passed a series of laws requiring the separation of whites from “persons of color” on public transportation, in schools, parks, restaurants, theaters and other locations. Known as the “Jim Crow laws” (after a popular minstrel act developed in the antebellum years), these segregationist statutes governed life in the South through the middle of the next century, ending only after the hard-won successes of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
- Summer, 1919: Widespread “riots” break out across the US when black veterans return from World War I with notions of equality. Many of these riots involve police officers and few of the participants of the white lynch mobs were convicted.
- Aug. 28, 1955: 14-year-old Emmett Till is kidnapped, tortured, killed, wrapped with barbed wire and thrown into the Tallahatchie River in Money, Miss. after Carolyn Bryant tells a white lie. His murderers are never convicted, even after publicly confessing to the crime.
- May 14, 1961: Birmingham Ala. police commissioner Bull Connor along with Ku Klux Klan co-conspirators, coordinate an attack on Freedom Riders. Klansmen and recruited racists beat, firebombed, and hospitalized peaceful protesters in Anniston, Ala.
- Aug. 12, 1963: Martin Luther King delivers his “I Have a Dream Speech” at the March on Washington, saying: “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
- Sept. 15, 1963: White supremacists, one of whom was an FBI informant, bomb the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., killing 14-year-old Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley and Carole Robertson and 11-year-old Denise McNair as they were putting on their choir robes.
- Feb. 18, 1965: Alabama State Troopers shoot Jimmie Lee Jackson, a nonviolent protester.
- March 7, 1965: Alabama State Troopers and the Ku Klux Klan attack 300 nonviolent protesters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala.
- March 3, 1991: A video camera captures four Los Angeles Police Department officers beating Rodney King in one of the first viral police brutality videos.
- April 21, 1992: A jury acquits the four officers who beat Rodney King. Riots ensue.
- Feb. 23, 1999: Four NYPD officers shoot and kill 23-year-old Amadou Diallo. The officers were acquitted on all charges.
- Nov. 26, 2006: Seven undercover NYPD officers fire more than 50 rounds of ammunition at unarmed Sean Bell at a bachelor party. The officers were acquitted on all charges.
- February 26, 2012: 17-year-old Trayvon Martin is stalked, chased and shot by George Zimmerman after 911 operators tell Zimmerman to leave the teenager alone. Six weeks after the shooting, Zimmerman was arrested and subsequently acquitted of murder.
- March 21, 2012: Chicago police officer Dante Servin shoots unarmed Rekia Boyd. He is acquitted on all charges.
- July 17, 2014: NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo kills Eric Garner. Pantaleo has never been convicted of a crime.
- Aug. 9, 2014: Ferguson, Mo. officer Darren Wilson shoots and kills 18-year-old Mike Brown Jr. Wilson was not charged with a crime.
- Nov. 22, 2014: Cleveland Police Officer Timothy Loehman kills 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Loehmann is not charged with a crime.
- April 4, 2015: A bystander captures North Charleston, SC police officer Michael Slager shooting unarmed Walter Scott as Scott runs away during a traffic stop. Slager plead guilty to federal deprivation of rights under the color of law and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
- April 12, 2015: Baltimore resident Freddie Gray was arrested for carrying a knife and died from injuries while being transported to jail. No one involved was convicted of a crime.
- July 19, 2015: University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing shot and killed Sam DuBose during a traffic stop. Tensing was not convicted of a crime.
- July 13, 2015: Sandra Bland is found hanged in a jail cell after a dashcam captures her brutal arrest by State Trooper Brian Encina, who is never convicted of a crime.
- July 2, 2016: St. Anthony, Minn. police officer Jeronimo Yanez shoots Philando Castile during a traffic stop in which Castile was not driving or committing a crime. Yanez was acquitted on all charges.
- July 5, 2016: Baton Rouge, La. officers shoot 37-year-old Alton Sterling as he lays on the ground, restrained by officers. No one is charged with a crime.
- Aug. 1, 2016: Moments after authorities coerce Facebook and Instagram to shut off the live feed for 23-year-old Korryn Gaines’ standoff with police, Baltimore County police officers burst into her home and shoot her dead as she holds her son in her arms. No one is convicted of a crime.
- Sept. 16, 2016: Tulsa, Okla. police officer Betty Shelby shoots unarmed Terrance Crutcher as a news helicopter records the footage. She is acquitted of first-degree manslaughter.
- March 18, 2018: Sacramento police officers open fire on 23-year-old Stephon Clark, striking him eight times, six of which were in his back. No one was ever charged with Clark’s death.
- Sept. 6, 2018: Officer Amber Guyger enters the home of Botham Jean and shoots him dead. She is convicted of murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
- Oct. 12, 2019: Fort Worth, Tex. police officer Aaron Dean shoots through the window of 28-year-old Atiatana Jefferson, killing her. Dean is fired and charged with murder.
- February 23, 2020: A vigilante mob in Brunswick, Ga. chases down and shoots 23-year-old Ahmaud Arbery, killing him. Travis and Gregory McMichael have been arrested for his death after more than 2 months of freedom. A third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, has also been charged after filming the crime.
- March 13, 2020: Louisville, Ky. police officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison and Myles Cosgrove entered the apartment of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor to serve a “no-knock warrant” on her boyfriend and shot Taylor dead. No one has been charged with a crime.
- May 25, 2020: Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneels on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds; 2 minutes and 53 seconds of which occurred after Floyd was unconscious. Floyd Dies. Chauvin is charged with third-degree murder after four days of freedom. Three officers who were present — Tou Thao, Thomas K. Lane and J. Alexander Kueng, have not been charged.
- May 27, 2020: Minneapolis residents say: “Fuck this.”
- May 29- present: America says: “Damn right, fuck this:”
- Now: America reaps an infinitesimally microscopic fraction of the racist chaos, violence and lawlesness it has sown.