The Police Chief Who Inspired Trump’s Tweet Glorifying ViolenceRoundup
tags: racism, civil rights, Miami, Police, 1960s, urban history
Julio Capó, Jr. is a history and public humanities professor at Florida International University.
President Trump sparked outrage by tweeting, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Twitter flagged the post as violating its rules against “glorifying violence.” Trump responded by claiming that he had been unfairly targeted by Twitter and then attempted to shift the conversation to the need to honor the memory of George Floyd, even as he continues to call for violence against black protesters.
Yet, the origins of the phrase that Trump tweeted reveal the call for racist violence embedded in it. Miami Police Chief Walter Headley, who was white, uttered the phrase in 1967. Like others before and after him, Headley and the police force he oversaw enacted policies to uphold white supremacy. The comment was not some sort of aberration, but rather reflective of the brutality and injustice with which authorities have historically treated black communities.
The ideas and language of Headley expose an anti-black agenda that has contributed to the very ideas and practices that have made George Floyd and so many other black people targets of police violence throughout American history.
Miami, like so many other American cities, was literally built by anti-black and colonial violence. Initially, some indigenous Creeks including the Seminoles managed to survive policies of removal and extermination by retreating near the Everglades. The United States, like most other colonizers in Florida before them, condemned these indigenous people for, among other things, harboring runaway slaves and having interracial relationships.
When the city was formally founded in 1896, it quickly transformed from what outsiders viewed as a frontier to a metaphorical playground. Miami became a place where would-be tourists and settlers could find endless variations of leisure, vice and entertainment. The main caveat was that it was intended solely as a white playground. The black communities that built much of the early city’s infrastructure and serviced much of its tourism industry had no real access to the leisure culture and lucrative enterprises they made possible.
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