Police shootings of black and brown men in Minneapolis continue. There has been no Truth and Reconciliation process as in South Africa or public accounting of America’s continuing original sin of racism like the post-World War II German national reckoning. Sending cops to prison doesn’t change our zeitgeist.   

George Floyd Square, 38th and Chicago Ave. So.,  Minneapolis

By Susu Jeffrey Original to Rise Up Times  February 28, 2022

Free at Last!

Dred Scott

On January 12, 1850, four years after their emancipation case was filed, Dred, Harriet and the two Scott daughters won their freedom. In March 1852 that freedom was revoked by the Missouri Supreme Court with Mistress Irene Sanford Emerson’s appeal. Although she was remarried to Massachusetts widower Charles Chaffee who was comfortable enough to provide for her, her daughter and his two sons and she no longer needed the Scotts’ wages, the parsimonious Sanford habit of holding onto their human property prevailed.

The Missouri Compromise precedent of freedom for slaves after residence in a free territory was reversed. It was the state’s right to enforce its own law rather than recognize the law of a “foreign” state government. After six years the rules had changed not just for Dred’s family but for all slaves who expected to use the free territory argument.

Freed slaves were discouraged from moving into Missouri, as well as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa. A flood of German and Irish immigrants was replacing house servants and slaves’ cash value was declining.

Attorney A.P. Field left the state and David Hall was deceased. The Scotts had no representation. However St. Louis circuit Judge Alexander Hamilton issued a stay of the decision until the Scotts could exhaust any federal remedy so the re-enslaved family could not be sold.

A lawyer friend of Judge Hamilton, Roswell Field (not related to A.P. Field), filed a federal case for Dred’s freedom, not against Mistress Irene Sanford Emerson, now Chaffee, but her brother John F.A. Sanford of New York, son-in-law of the area’s richest resident. Mistress Irene owed her brother for support during her between-husbands years but upper-class women never appeared in court

Sanford was a wheeler-dealer moving from the American Fur Company into banking, railroads and lobbying in Washington D.C. He was wealthy and litigious. Sanford never actually owned Dred, Harriet, Eliza or Lizzie and also never whipped and detained the plaintiffs but at the federal level the case moved into the symbolic realm.

The Scott case was heard in spring of 1854 without witnesses or testimony. Field submitted a written statement for the Scott family to which Hugh Garland, the Sanford attorney, stipulated as to the facts. The jury found for Sanford against Dred and family. The Scotts hid their daughters so they would not be seized and sold. Garland died the following fall.

A new Missouri law rumored to make it more difficult to emancipate slaves resulted in a flock of 39 freedom cases settled in late 1855. Slaveholders were supposed to furnish room, board and clothing (once a year) and to care for their sick or elderly human property.

The Dred Scott appeal went directly to the U.S. Supreme Court as there was no court of appeals yet. Henry Geyer, a prominent St. Louis attorney took the Sanford’s case pro bono. He claimed the Scotts were not “citizens.”

Montgomery Blair was pressed to represent the Scotts whom he probably never met. He was a Kentuckian, West Point graduate, and former St. Louis mayor and judge who lived in Washington D.C.

The case was heard in February 1856. Instead of a decision the court ordered the case re-argued in December—after the presidential election. At the home of Mistress Irene, now wife of Springfield, Massachusetts congressman Charles Chaffee, a fundraiser was held for John Brown who was leading anti-slavery raids in Kansas-bloody-Kansas.

Dred nearly died over the winter of consumption which would have rendered his case moot. However Dred rallied while John F.A. Sanford imploded and was moved to a sanitarium where he died two months after the Dred Scott decision. The former Indian agent-cum-tycoon is forever linked to the Scott v. Sandford case even though the legal papers consistently misspelled his name.

Democrat James Buchanan won the 1856 election; the pro-slavery party was divided on how to hold the country together. Buchanan had avoided most of the fractious slavery intra-party debate by living abroad as U.S. ambassador to England.

On March 6, 1857 the Scott family was found to have no right to bring a case into federal court as African descendants, slaves or former slaves. This finding by the Supreme Court of the United States was ridiculed inside the country and abroad.

No Rights that White Men were Required to Respect

Writing for the majority Chief Justice Roger Taney (pronounced Taw-ney) reasoned that Dred Scott was stateless because he was descended from imported ancestors and had “no rights that white men were required to respect” whether slave or free. Taney, who had freed his slaves in 1818 believed slavery to be a state’s rights issue.

Dissenting from the majority, Justice John McLean asked “why confine our view to colored slavery?…white men were made slaves. All slavery has its origin in power, and is against Right [sic].” He noted that free black persons in New York and Louisiana were citizens. Also dissenting was Justine B.R. Curtis who quit the high court in protest after the decision.

The Scott case re-legalized slavery four years before the Civil War, six years before the Emancipation Proclamation, and denied personhood rights to a huge class of birthright citizens whose labor built Washington D.C., the wealth of the South, and the foundation of American fiscal might.

Mistress Irene’s Massachusetts husband was embarrassed by his wife’s ownership of Dred Scott. Congressman Chaffee sold the family to Taylor Blow, son of Dred’s original owner, who emancipated the Scotts on May 26, 1857. It was a paperwork “sale”; nevertheless Mistress Irene’s legal representative collected the money earned from the Scotts’ labor, held by jail authorities during the year’s-long trial.

Photo: National Park Service

Dred died free on September 17, 1858. Putting pennies displaying the face of President Lincoln on Scott’s headstone in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis is a tradition.

Harriet lived until 1876. Historians consider her the staying power behind the Scott family’s eleven-year fight for personhood. One reporter noted that Dred’s master was Harriet.

Getting the Vote (not including Getting to Vote or Getting Your Vote Counted)

Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation did not include Missouri, which was nominally a Union state.

The 13th Amendment, ratified 1865, abolished slavery in the United States. The 14th Amendment, ratified 1869, granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the country and granted all those persons “equal protection under the laws.” African Americans were no longer legally considered “beings of an inferior order.”

Jim Crow laws or “black codes” began with the 13th Amendment as local and state legal restrictions and lasted on paper or in-practice ever since. “Jim Crow” was a black minstrel figure.

In 1920 women got voting rights. In 1924 Native Americans were granted citizenship rights.

Plessy v. Ferguson

 Homer Plessy’s 1892-96 Supreme Court case challenged post-Civil War amendments abolishing slavery and guaranteeing equal protection under the laws. Like the Scott and Brown cases at the federal level it was designed to test the equality provisions of the Constitution, call it nonviolent judicial political theatre.

Plessy was a 30-year-old New Orleans shoemaker and member of the city’s Citizens Committee, a group pushing against Jim Crow. Seven of his eight grandparents were white and Plessy could “pass” so he was selected to test the railroad whites-only car law. In 1887 Plessy as vice president of the Justice, Protective, Educational and Social Club failed to call into question the city’s defunded public schools which were due to so many private white schools.

To test the local Separate Car Act in June 1892 Plessy paid for a first-class rail ticket , and when the train was under way a conductor asked if he was “colored.”  Plessy replied “yes” but refused to move. The conductor stopped the train and called in a detective who arrested Plessy and dragged him off the train. Plessy spent one night in jail.

The Citizens Committee posted his bond and four months later he appeared before Judge John H. Ferguson. Plessy’s lawyers presented a series of arguments in his defense: his arrest was unconstitutional because it violated the 13th Amendment which prohibited slavery; it denied him equal protection of the laws (14th Amendment); and “race” was too complicated a matter to be decided by a railroad conductor.

Plessy lost in Judge Ferguson’s local criminal court. The case was appealed to the Louisiana state Supreme Court where Plessy lost again. At the federal appeal level the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of the Louisiana Separate Car Act in May 1896. The federal justices reasoned that the law did not reimpose slavery and each race was offered equal accommodations.

The single dissenter in the seven-to-one federal decision was Justice John H. Harlan, of Kentucky, a former slave owner who fought on the Union side in the Civil War to preserve the Union but not, at that time, to prohibit slavery. The day after Plessy v. Ferguson was announced in 1896, The New York Times quoted Harlan stating that  “no power in the land had the right to regulate the enjoyment of civil rights upon the basis for race. It would be just as reasonable and proper for States to pass laws requiring separate cars to be furnished for Catholics and Protestants…” (New York Times Company).

“Separate but equal” apartheid became the American standard. On January 5, 2022 Homer Plessy was posthumously pardoned by the governor of Louisiana.

 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka [Kansas]  

Separate prima facie cannot be equal. Two distinct concepts cannot be one.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas was an amalgam of five examples of public school enrollment based on color. Of the cases that leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) considered from South Carolina, Virginia, Delaware and Washington D.C., the Kansas school was the most obvious educational institution that was equally equipped compared with white schools.

Third grader Linda Brown attended Monroe Elementary School, a well-kept school with good teachers and adequate books but it was further from her home than the local white school just blocks away. The Warren Court under President Eisenhower found that the Equal Protection guaranteed by the 14th Amendment was violated by causing a detrimental effect of inferiority among non-white children.

Topeka’s Monroe Elementary is now a National Historic Site staffed with knowledgeable National Park Service (NPS) interpreters. During its 2016 centennial year the NPS bragged that national parks were our country’s best idea. Nonsense. Universal public education is America’s best idea.

The Brown case rocked the nation. It was a unanimous Supreme Court decision that forced citizens to acknowledge the harm “inherent” in condemning Indian, black and brown Americans to a lesser status. Racism remains unreconciled in our population, although today we realize that “race” is a fabricated and toxic fiction.

In the Dred Scott decision, the free territory that became Minneapolis served as the genesis in the cultural battle against slavery in the United States, pitting money against justice. Currently corporations are considered “persons” under the law. The personhood confusion contaminates and leaches into the character of our population and citizenship and voting practices around the nation.

U.S. history from Dred Scott to Linda Brown is not taught in Minneapolis schools. A museum has not been built. America’s original sin of racism continues with each generation to the present with Darnella Frazier’s video of the 2020 police murder of George Floyd.Wall Art, 3700 block of Chicago Ave So., Minneapolis  Photo: Susu Jeffrey

George Perry Floyd

October 14, 1973, Fayetteville NC—May 25, 2020, Minneapolis MN

The man the world knows as 46-year-old police murder-victim George Floyd was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of sprawling Fort Bragg. His mother Larcenia Floyd separated from George Perry and moved back to Houston when George was two. He is the oldest of five siblings and the father of five, with two grandchildren.

“Big Floyd” was 6’6,” a talented athlete in football and basketball. He went to South Florida Community College for two years on a football scholarship where he also played basketball and then transferred to Texas A&M University in Kingsville briefly.

Back home in Houston Floyd got into the local music-rap scene. He ran into trouble with the law on drug, robbery and trespass charges. In 2009 he was sentenced to five years for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was paroled in 2013.

Upon release at nearly 40, George Floyd turned to religious and community work. In 2014 he decided to relocate to Minneapolis where he completed a 90-day drug rehab program and worked in a variety of private security jobs. He battled through periods of drug use and sobriety. In March 2020 with bars closing due to COVID restrictions he lost his security job, experienced financial woes, and was hospitalized for overdose. In April he suffered a bout of COVID but recovered.

On May 25, 2020 as he was being arrested for attempting to pass an alleged counterfeit $20 bill for cigarettes, Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis police officers, led by Derek Chauvin. The 19-year-veteran policeman was found guilty in state court of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. He was sentenced to 22.5 years. Judge Peter Cahill determined that Chauvin acted with “particular cruelty” in sentencing him to longer incarceration than the 12.5-year state guideline. The initial police report, pre-autopsy, had cited “medical incident” as cause of death.

Photo: Newark NJ Statue,
Yahoo! Sports

Murder is Not a Medical Incident

In December 2021 Chauvin pleaded guilty to federal civil rights violations against George Floyd and also against a 14-year-old juvenile, whom he held by the throat, struck in the head with his flashlight and knelt on the boy’s neck for about 15 minutes on September 14, 2017. Federal sentencing is still pending.

Three ex-Minneapolis police were found guilty in federal court on February 24, 2022 of violating George Floyd’s civil rights because “they chose to do nothing.” Tou Thao was also charged with failing to intervene. Thao was named in a 2014 lawsuit resulting in a $25,000 settlement where the man claimed Thao handcuffed him without cause, pushed him to the ground where he was punched, kicked and kneed.

Ex-officer Thomas Lane has a varied work record as a telemarketer, restaurant server, bartender, security guard, sales associate, and in 2017-18 juvenile corrections officer and assistant probation officer. In addition to a number of traffic violations, Lane was convicted of obstructing legal process and damaging property as an 18-year-old. He dropped out of high school but got a GED and bachelor’s degree in Sociology of Law at the University of Minnesota. He started as a police officer at age 37. The Floyd murder occurred on Lane’s fourth shift as a full-time policeman. Lane was found guilty of indifference to Floyd’s medical needs as he knelt on his legs while Floyd lay face down and handcuffed until he expired.

Ex-officer J. Alexander Kueng, 26 and on his third shift as a full-time Minneapolis officer the day Floyd was murdered, identifies as black with a white mother and absent Nigerian father. He has four adopted black siblings and reportedly joined the police force to change it from within. Kueng, who knelt on George Floyd’s back while he died, was found guilty of two federal charges.

Federal sentencing is pending for Thao along with Lane and Kueng. Their state trial on aiding and abetting murder and manslaughter is scheduled for June 2022 unless they plead guilty.

George Floyd Square, 38th and Chicago Ave. So., Minneapolis, May 30, 2020
Photo: Susu Jeffrey

In response to George Floyd’s murder, Dr, Timmen L. Cermak wrote in Psychology Today:

Do not pay any attention to those who disparage George Floyd for using fentanyl and amphetamine. He was flawed, as are all of us. He is a human who was murdered by police officers whose duty is to protect the public George Floyd was a member of that public they were duty bound to protect.. They stigmatized him and put themselves above him, literally. Because they stigmatized him for being a black man, in the process they destroyed themselves as well.”

Even before trials against the four policemen began George Floyd’s family received $27-million to settle a wrongful death suit. Named in the March 2021 lawsuit were the City of Minneapolis and officers Chauvin, Thao, Kueng and Lane for “excessive use of unjustified, illegal, and deadly force.”

Police shootings of black and brown men in Minneapolis continue. There has been no Truth and Reconciliation process as in South Africa or public accounting of America’s continuing original sin of racism like the post-World War II German national reckoning. Sending cops to prison doesn’t change our zeitgeist.

When people enter the city limits of Minneapolis no sign acknowledges Black history: Dred Scott lived here. George Floyd lived here. Until we un-prison our hearts and minds we are condemned to repeat our deeds. Where are the school texts? Where is the world class museum?

Endnotes

Cermak, Timmen L. “George Floyd’s Toxicology Report Causes Toxic Stigma and Prejudice.” Psychology Today, 2 June  2020.

Edited by New York Times Company Editorial Staff. Race Relations. Google Books ed., New York, NY, New York Times Educational Publishing, 2019, p. 53, Name of article quoted: “Louisiana’s Separate Car Law” as published on May 19, 1896.

Recommended videos

George Floyd “I can’t breathe” original full video by Darnella Frazier

Police raw body-camera video from Thomas Lane, 34-minutes

Sources

The main source for Dred Scott’s life was Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier, Lea VanderVelde, Oxford University Press, 2009. Additionally every person, location, war and social reference had to be cross checked and verified.

Regarding Plessy v. Ferguson, there are a rich variety of entries on the web.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka:  I researched at Monroe Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas, since 1992 a National Historic Landmark and now a National Park Service site dedicated to educating the public about the Brown landmark case. Monroe Elementary has a plethora of exhibits and very knowledgeable NPS interpreters. It is a good model for a Minneapolis site on Dred Scott and George Floyd.

I found the George Floyd story at 38th and Chicago (Avenue South in Minneapolis) in Cup Foods—yes they have pens that react to counterfeit dollar bills but apparently did not use one on Floyd’s alleged phony bill. The story has been in the news on radio, television, in newspapers, magazines, at street demonstrations and on the web.

Regarding Chauvin, Thao, Lane and Kueng, the web has a multitude of entries about the Minneapolis ex-police officers found guilty of federal civil rights and state murder violations. Additionally national and local print and electronic news sources have reported on the George Floyd murder since May 25, 2020.

Susu Jeffrey

Related

George Floyd Statue Finds a Newark Comfort Zone 


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