Herman Tucker didn’t do anything.
In 1964, when members of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan abducted and murdered James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner (pdf) for the egregious crime of registering Black people to vote, many of the residents of Philadelphia, Miss., knew the names of the people involved but did not consider themselves white supremacists.
Klan organizer Edgar Ray Killen openly bragged about masterminding the murders but wasn’t convicted until four decades later, at the tender age of 80. In 1964, Killen was arrested and charged with the murders. But his first trial ended in a hung jury when one of the all-white jurors said she couldn’t convict a preacher.
Philadelphians assumed Neshoba County Sheriff Lawrence Rainey was involved in the deaths of the civil rights workers. He was elected after campaigning on his racist credentials after he got away with shooting and killing a Black motorist in 1959. He was also acquitted by an all-white jury.
Seventy-one-year-old Philadelphia, Miss., police officer Otha Burkes was known to have a “evil disposition” toward Black people and was already indicted in another civil rights case. Three Mississippi state troopers helped detain the deceased activists. At least two other Neshoba County deputies helped hunt the victims down before 26-year-old Alton Roberts shot the Freedom Summer volunteers in the head.
According to a Department of Justice report, when the Klansmen were trying to decide what to do with the bodies, Olen Burrage, a Klansman who was building a pond on his large farm nearby, said: “Hell, I’ve got a dam that will hold a hundred of them.” Burrage contacted his buddy Herman Tucker, who owned and operated the heavy machinery used to build the pond. Tucker was accused of using his bulldozer to dig a hole to bury the three deceased voting advocates and volunteering to drive the victims’ car to Alabama to burn it.
On August 4, 1964, 44 days after they disappeared, authorities found the bodies buried in a dam on the Old Jolly Farm, where Tucker’s bulldozer was the lone piece of earthmoving equipment. Of the 151 witnesses who testified at Tucker’s trial, not one person accused him of being present at the slayings. All of the available evidence suggests that Tucker was not even a member of the Ku Klux Klan. At least one of the victims (Goodman) had enough dirt and clay in his lungs to suggest he was buried alive, but a jury ruled that Tucker was not legally responsible for the deaths of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.
Even though he allegedly helped racist murderers cover up a racist murder, we can’t legally call Tucker a murderer. He is just a white man who owned a bulldozer. But he did commit one of the most egregious offenses imaginable: Herman Tucker didn’t do nothing.
Although some people are critical when it comes to cultural appropriation and artistic theft, white people have repeatedly proven their artistic superiority in the field of spontaneous caucasity. From “moon cricket” to—perhaps my favorite racial slur of all time—“niggerpotamus,” Caucasian America is the undefeated world champion of mouth shittery, including a relatively new racial slur: Dindu:
/Dindoo:/ Offensive) noun: dindu; plural noun: dindus
an underhanded term for Nigger.
ORIGIN: America late 20th century, Europe Early 21st century, taken from English Slang of “Didn’t Do Nothing” which sounds like Dindu Nuffin if one struggles to pronounce the phoneme “th” in “nothing” or the “t” of the English contradiction of Didn’t of “Did Not.” Commonly used by poorer Americans, notably when met by figures of authority. The term gained popularity after many images of Black American encounters with Law Enforcement and is now used to mock Black Americans who have police encounters.
While the term is somewhat hilarious in its unabashed offensiveness, I don’t actually consider it a racial slur because I know that it is actually white people who didn’t do nothing.
White people aren’t Islamophobic. But 57 percent of white voters voted for the man whose campaign promise was fulfilled with Executive Order 13769, banning foreign nationals from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen from the US. White people didn’t call Mexicans “rapists”; they just elected a president who promised to build a wall to keep Mexicans out of their beloved country. Most white people have never alluded to majority-Black nations as “shithole countries”; they just kept their mouths closed when their president said it. Few MAGA-muffins have the power to charge Black protesters with treason but they remained silent when Attorney General Bill Barr suggested it could happen. Most white people don’t own a boat or an airplane that could send Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn) “back” to Africa but they will chant it at Trump rallies. They don’t have the authority to kick non-white people out of their neighborhoods; they just applaud the notion of ethnically cleansed suburbs.
According to Gallup, Trump’s job approval among whites has not dipped below 50 percent since June and has remained consistently above that low-watermark for most of his presidency. Even though most white people don’t support Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 disaster, his taxes, his lies or most of his individual policies, Trump still has a realistic shot at reelection because he knows one thing is true:
White people don’t ever do nothing.
And doing nothing is white supremacy, too.
According to Pew Research, less than half of white people support the Black Lives Matter movement—not the organization, just the idea of Black lives mattering. Seventy-five percent of white Americans believe police treat “all racial and ethnic groups equally.”
That’s why, despite Black America’s incessant pleas for authorities to arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor, no one was specifically charged with her death. For months, the public was told that bodycam footage didn’t exist and ballistics experts couldn’t prove which cop fired the round that killed Taylor. So, legally, there was no way of knowing what actually happened.
Except there was.
Contrary to the Louisville Metro Police Department and Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron’s public statements, body cameras captured hours of police footage. The video showed the three officers who fired into Taylor’s apartment breaking department rules by trespassing on the crime scene. Other officers seemed to intentionally turn their body cameras off.
The footage, which was obtained by VICE News and documents what was seen by officers who responded to the scene after the shooting, has not previously been made public. It shows officers appearing to break multiple department policies and corroborates parts of Taylor’s boyfriend’s testimony. It also raises questions about the integrity of not only the crime scene but also the ensuing investigation into what happened that night.
The footage was captured by 45 different body cameras and included as part of the investigative file compiled by the LMPD’s Public Integrity Unit and shared with the Kentucky attorney general’s office. (No footage from the raid itself has been released, and for months, LMPD has insisted that none exists, saying that officers in this unit often operate in plainclothes and were not required to wear body cameras. VICE News has previously reported that crime-scene photos contradict initial statements by the LMPD claiming that the officers involved, who work narcotics, do not wear body cameras. Photographs of officers taken from that night clearly show Tony James, one of at least seven officers present for the raid, wearing a body camera over his right shoulder.
And, according to the Courier-Journal, FBI investigators looking at the case concluded that Officer Myles Cosgrove fired the shot that killed Taylor. Furthermore, ballistics evidence does not support the narrative that Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, shot Officer Jonathan Mattingly, precipitating the barrage of bullets. Walker admitted he fired a single warning shot, which the police said hit Mattingly in the thigh. But a Kentucky State Police report declared that it could not rule out the possibility that Mattingly was injured by friendly fire from Hankinson’s weapon. Apparently, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron hid the fact that Hankinson, who allegedly fired “wantonly and blindly” during the incident, also had a 9mm handgun.
The fact that dozens of police officers, state attorneys and local officials were able to keep evidence detailing the death of a Black woman a secret for months isn’t just the literal definition of a conspiracy, it is reminiscent of 1964 Neshoba County, Miss.
They didn’t do nothing.
Or, look at the Supreme Court.
Along with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), only 50 white people are needed to make Amy Coney Barrett the newest Supreme Court justice. While most media outlets have focused on Barrett’s religious advocacy from the bench, The Nation’s Elie Mystal writes that the Trump nominee dissented from a federal appeals’ court decision that shooting prison inmates constituted cruel and unusual punishment because —in her opinion—the prison guards may have just been trying to “maintain discipline.” Barrett was also the only judge to agree with the Trump administration policy of banning immigrants who might possibly need public assistance.
Like the cops and officials whose memory lapses helped Louisville police officers escape punishment for Breonna Taylor’s death, Barrett is just a judge whose opinions help a white nationalist administration institute white nationalism.
Black people, on the other hand, are always doing something—and not just for Black people. John Punch, the first African American sentenced to a lifetime of slavery helped white indentured servants escape. After Black women marched alongside white women to help secure the right to vote, the women’s suffrage movement told their fellow Black freedom fighters to kick rocks. Martin Luther King Jr. did not just fight for Black rights; he fought for civil rights, even though the majority of white people disapproved of his demonstrations. The Black Panthers formed a “rainbow coalition” with poor and oppressed people of all colors, unaware that the Asian American they welcomed into their ranks was an FBI informant.
Nikole Hannah-Jones isn’t advocating for Black history; she wants the world to know about American History. Dr. Yashica Robinson fought for the rights of the 53 percent of white women who supported a president who is about to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Because there is no way of knowing what white people will do when they close the privacy curtains in voting booths, we are left to dissect polls, ponder political theories and speculate that the white voters will finally reach a tipping point with Trump’s incessant lies, cheating, collusion and downright roguishness and they will vote them out.
I, on the other hand, would like to remind you that the man whose bullet killed Breonna Taylor is free and the man in charge of bringing them to justice lied about who killed her. Meanwhile, the attorney general of the United States publicly floated the idea of the death penalty to the only people who are willing to do something.
More than 200,000 people are dead because white people guesstimated that a dimwitted, vagina-grabbing reality-show host might be good at international geopolitics. When he failed, instead of slipping on a mask to abrogate the effects of a global pandemic, white people grabbed their long guns and stormed state legislatures to argue that they have a right to do nothing.
A white supremacist judge brazen enough to go on record to say that poor immigrants should be rounded up for being poor immigrants is about to become a Supreme Court justice. And all that needs to happen for the Supreme Court to seat a white supremacist who bases her legal opinions on the dictates of an invisible sky god is for white people to do nothing.
The ahistorical notion that a few years of tax returns or an appeal to decency will spark a political uprising that rejects the whimsy of white supremacy doesn’t even require rewinding back to 1964. All you have to do is go back to eight minutes and 46 seconds on the day of May 25, 2020:
We watched them kill a man.
And then, the people whose past and current actions rightfully earned them the title of Dindu Supremes did the most egregious thing of all:
When James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner drove down to Philadelphia, Miss., they knew the Mississippi Klan wasn’t suppressing the Black vote; it was white people. If white Mississippians were so concerned about a surge of Black political power, they could have just registered more white people to vote. They argued, however, that their resistance to dismantling Jim Crow was just about “states’ right.”
But their complicit silence about the rampant racial terrorism had nothing to do with Black suffrage or the prospect of their own diminishing political power. They just supported whiteness. That’s why they did nothing.
How can I be so sure?
Well, in 1964, Mississippi’s registered voters were 92 percent white. Seventy percent of eligible white Mississippians were registered to vote, one of the highest in the nation. In the 1964 presidential election, Mississippi had the lowest voter turnout rate in America.
Fifteen years later, On August 3, 1980, a Republican presidential hopeful was searching for a place to make a political statement. Instead of speaking in his home state of California, he chose a place that was sure to rile up his base of angry white Southern supporters.
Most people thought it was a stupid idea to make a 33-paragraph, dog-whistle-filled speech about the dangers of welfare and “outsiders” in a small town for which he had no political connection. But that man knew what he was doing by conjuring up the worst elements of whiteness. He believed that he could employ Nixon’s “Southern strategy” and recapture the South for the Republican Party.
Fifteen thousand people showed up.
“I believe in state’s rights” explained the man who would become the Conservative Messiah. “And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.”
Three months later, that candidate, Ronald Reagan, enjoyed one of the biggest presidential landslides in American history.
The “States Right Speech” address would become part of political history. Republican strategist and race-baiting hall of famer Lee Atwater would later say the speech was an open signal from the GOP to George Wallace Democrats. While some people believe the location was a literal devil’s workshop stained with black blood spilled by idle white hands, Reagan’s speech also turned that rural Southern venue into a political kingmaker for Republican candidates. In fact, after the last Republican primary in 2016, Donald Trump received an invitation to speak there on one of the most coveted political stages in America…
The Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Mississippi.
This is the legacy of the insidious acid that gnaws at this country’s soul while white people feign innocence. But they aren’t white supremacists, they just help white supremacy. White silence is a bulldozer that buries us alive, but technically, they aren’t murderers.
No, they didn’t do nothing.