The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands)

Pho­to­graph from past shows a shock­ing par­al­lel: We seem to have learned noth­ing

- David Knight Crime · Minnesota · United States of America · Glasgow · Birmingham, Alabama · Beirut · Lebanon · Handsworth

An ar­chive photo of a crowd scene was dis­played on my mo­bile phone and I zoomed in to study one of the faces – yes, it was def­i­nitely me. My wife agreed. I was a lot younger, but the mous­tache (all the rage in the ’80s) and an over­sized grey win­ter coat clinched it. I re­mem­ber that nei­ther fit­ted me very well. I was one face among hun­dreds milling around in a street, most look­ing anx­ious or an­gry.

A tragic and bru­tal in­ci­dent was about to un­leash pub­lic anger fol­lowed by protest and vi­o­lent dis­or­der.

Po­lice de­fended the en­trance to a cloth­ing store against a grow­ing group of an­gry black men who were be­sieg­ing it.

In this mo­ment, frozen in time, you could see I was trans­fixed by the un­fold­ing drama. I was a re­porter who had just ar­rived on the scene.

A young black man called Clin­ton McCurbin was ly­ing dead in­side the store af­ter al­legedly be­ing put in a stran­gle­hold by po­lice of­fi­cers.

I was on the edge of an ugly stand-off out­side. Word had spread fast. Po­lice re­la­tions with black com­mu­ni­ties in the re­gion had been sim­mer­ing for months.

The pic­ture does not give any clue as to what I did next, but I re­mem­ber it vividly. Like any re­porter, in­stinct drove me for­ward into the thick of it.

Not the wis­est move on this oc­ca­sion as I found my­self thrust eye­ball to eye­ball with a thin blue line hold­ing back the crowd un­der an en­trance canopy.

The at­mos­phere was ex­plo­sive.

I glanced up and nod­ded to a col­league who had se­cured a good ob­ser­va­tion point on the up­per floor of a shop next door and was star­ing down at me.

I looked back quickly as a fe­male po­lice of­fi­cer fac­ing me was re­spond­ing ro­bustly to one of the crowd rag­ing at her.

Sud­denly a fist shot out and smashed her in the face. I was shocked and sick­ened.

Some­how I dragged my­self out of this hell hole in one of Wolver­hamp­ton’s busiest shop­ping streets as fists and ba­tons flew.

Par­al­lels with the Ge­orge Floyd tragedy in Min­nesota have been flood­ing into my mind. This is why I was look­ing so closely at ar­chive ma­te­rial on the day of Clin­ton McCurbin’s death, but did not ex­pect to see my­self.

Mr Floyd was as­phyx­i­ated by a po­lice­man’s knee, throt­tling him for al­most nine min­utes, af­ter be­ing ar­rested for al­legedly us­ing a coun­ter­feit note.

Clin­ton McCurbin was also as­phyx­i­ated in min­utes. He was ar­rested af­ter be­ing ac­cused of us­ing a stolen credit card. The sim­i­lar­i­ties were ob­vi­ous, but there is a gap of 33 years be­tween the two events.

So has any­thing truly changed in the in­ter­ven­ing three decades de­spite lay­ers of

The sim­i­lar­i­ties were ob­vi­ous, but there is a gap of 33 years be­tween the two events

gloss from politi­cians about our “tol­er­ant and di­verse” coun­try?

I looked at re­veal­ing univer­sity re­search into pub­lic at­ti­tudes in the US af­ter vi­o­lent antiracist protests against white su­prem­a­cists.

It showed anti-racists suf­fered more in terms of pub­lic dis­ap­proval af­ter be­ing in­fil­trated by vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists. It was ex­pected of the white su­prem­a­cists, but not them.

If peo­ple won­der about its rel­e­vance to Scot­land, in­tol­er­ance and prej­u­dice have no bor­ders – as re­cent vi­o­lent and racist scenes in Glas­gow showed.

About 18 months be­fore Clin­ton McCurbin’s death I cov­ered a riot in the black com­mu­ni­ties of Handsworth in Birm­ing­ham.

As we stum­bled late at night over piles of rub­ble, and passed over­turned cars and build­ings in flames, I re­mem­ber say­ing to a col­league, “This is more like Beirut”.

It was a ref­er­ence, of course, to the shock­ing state of Le­banon at the time. We passed a burn­ing post of­fice. We didn’t know that two broth­ers who ran it were dead in­side.

We edged into an­other street and a ram­pag­ing mob were all around us. We were scared and trapped. We shielded our­selves near a house. Sud­denly, the front door opened and a hand beck­oned us in.

An Asian fam­ily of­fered us safe refuge from the riot out­side.

There was some­thing al­most Bi­b­li­cal about it: Just like the Good Sa­mar­i­tan who helped an in­jured man from an­other reli­gion whom he was con­di­tioned to re­gard with con­tempt.

We were in their home for some time, hear­ing shrieks and things smash­ing out­side and doors and win­dows be­ing bat­tered.

The storm grad­u­ally passed into an­other street and we slipped qui­etly away in the dark.

I was in­debted for­ever to th­ese warm­hearted strangers who res­cued us in des­per­ate mo­ments.

The milk of hu­man kind­ness, a phrase cre­ated by Shake­speare, can be found in the dark­est sto­ries.

But their tol­er­ance and ex­em­plary be­hav­iour, and that of many oth­ers to­day, was tram­pled un­der­foot by those who hi­jack le­git­i­mate “jus­tice” protests for their own vi­o­lent ends.

Top­pling or even “de­fend­ing” stat­ues, might seem like ex­er­cis­ing demo­cratic free­doms, but tak­ing the law into their own hands ac­tu­ally chips away at them.

The old pic­ture was a warn­ing from the past, but one which is still be­ing ig­nored.

 ??  ?? EIGHT­IES UN­REST: Po­lice of­fi­cers min­gle with crowds in in Dud­ley Street, Wolver­hamp­ton, fol­low­ing the death of Clin­ton McCurbin in 1987, an event David wit­nessed as re­porter
EIGHT­IES UN­REST: Po­lice of­fi­cers min­gle with crowds in in Dud­ley Street, Wolver­hamp­ton, fol­low­ing the death of Clin­ton McCurbin in 1987, an event David wit­nessed as re­porter
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