Hearing that Jason Black had turned himself in made Roscoe Baker feel uneasy. He and his wife had been a part of the 1776 Patriot Movement since its 2008 inception, when Nelson Dupont, the United States’ first, Black president, was elected. He agreed with the organization’s founding principle – that White people founded the good ole’ US of A as a White nation in 1776, and, consequently, they are the main group entitled to its rights, privileges and freedoms. It didn’t matter to them that the land that their British ancestors settled on was already occupied by Native Americans, who in their eyes were viewed as savages. It also didn’t matter that their British ancestors essentially just came in and told them that this land is our land now. Baker, and others like him, believed in Charles Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest maxim. The fact that their White ancestors had the ingenuity and technology to subdue the land that would later become the 50 states known as the United States of America showed that these same White ancestors were stronger than all the rest.
But Baker also had reservations about seeing Jason again, in person, in a courtroom. The boy had stabbed him, and deep down he knew their physical altercation would have never happened if Jason had not been confronted by him on the street. Startling a White woman wasn’t a big deal. He also found it hard not to admit that Jason had a right to defend himself if he thought his life was in jeopardy. Hell, he was holding a gun to Jason’s head. Granted, Baker had only pulled his gun out to scare Jason; he had no intention of pulling the trigger. Had he known that Jason was carrying a sling blade knife, he wouldn’t have brandished his gun at all. He would have just talked with him, given him a warning.
Baker told all of this to his wife. Eunice just stared back at him with an emotionless expression on her pale face. Baker had seen this expression many times before, when she caught him doing stupid things and making idiotic statements. But this time, things were different, and she was quick to tell him why they were different. “Your incompetence will force the Movement to come to your defense. And while we will never shirk our responsibility to one of our own, it’s way too early for Mr. Stillwell to reveal where he stands in relation to the Movement’s founding principle, or on the question of you having the right to stand your ground as a law enforcement officer. The Movement’s focus must be on casting a cloud over this 1619 book, and convincing White parents that Critical Race Theory is being taught to their White children in public K-12 schools.”
The book that Eunice was referencing, 1619: The Year Black Lives Should Have Mattered, is a long-form journalism endeavor developed in August 2014 by Nicole Sinclair-Lewis, writers from The New York Times, and The New York Times Magazine, which aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at the very center of the United States’ national narrative.” The content of the book initially ran as a series of articles in both the newspaper and the magazine, and in early 2015, came out in book form.
Prior to the publication of Sinclair-Lewis’ book, college professors with ties to the 1776 Patriot Movement came together to craft a response to what they viewed as a big lie. When their week-long discussions had ended, they came out with their own book, 1776: The Founding Fathers’ Vision for America, and recruited neo-conservative writers, journalists and laypersons to inundate publications and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook with posts that debunked the assertion that Black Americans should be at the center of the United States’ national narrative. The leaders of the 1776 Patriot Movement also felt they had the White American electorates’ blessing, as the Democratic Party suffered major losses during the 2014 midterm elections. While the Democratic Party still controlled the United States presidency, the Republican Party controlled the House of Representatives and the Senate. They also maintained a six to three majority on the U. S. Supreme Court.
Critical Race Theory, or CRT, had nothing to do with Black Americans being at the center of the United States’ narrative. Even the leaders of the 1776 Patriot Movement knew that Critical Race Theory was only being taught on college campuses, to graduate students in law schools. But because Black Americans were seemingly gaining more prominence in American society, yet were routinely being subjected to police brutality at the hands of mostly White police officers, they hatched schemes that cast CRT as the proverbial boogey man.
These 1776 Patriot leaders felt White students were being put in positions were they had to feel uncomfortable about something (slavery and Jim Crow legislation) that they had nothing to do with. It never dawned on them that Black Americans remain in a perpetual state of discomfort because of the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow legislation. However, with less than 10 percent of the Black American electorate classifying themselves as conservatives, these 1776 Patriot leaders pressured Republican legislators in the House of Representatives and Senate to make this claim out loud, and rain verbal diatribes down on public K-12 superintendents who allowed their teachers to use the 1619 book and other diversity, equity and inclusiveness materials to teach students about prejudice, racism and discrimination. But little did they know that their efforts would run counter to enlightened Black Americans’ ongoing struggle to make schools more diverse, equitable and inclusive. They also failed to acknowledge that their efforts made it more difficult for Black Americans and other Americans of color to accuse prejudiced White Americans of making racist remarks, committing racist acts.
To say Baker was, and continued to be, a reluctant participant in the 1776 Patriot Movement would be an understatement. As a police officer, he had many run-ins with members of Knoxville’s local Ku Klux Klan chapter, and these run-ins prompted many heated discussions with his first partner, a Black man named Bobby Ford, in the police headquarter’s break room. The year was 1985, and Baker had only been with the KPD six months. Bobby, on the other hand, had been a 20-year Army veteran before joining the KPD. Bobby would often share stories about his duty assignments with Baker, and Baker would commend him often for his service. He gained a tremendous amount of respect for Bobby, especially when he noticed how Bobby would restrain himself when they were present during the arrest of Black suspects by other officers, White ones mostly. Bobby and he would watch as these other officers beat these Black suspects down first before letting them know why they were being pulled over or why they were knocking on their doors. One time when they were alone, Baker asked Bobby how the treatment of these Black suspects made him feel.
“Not much I can do about it,” Bobby replied. “These muthafuckas going to do what they do. But at the end of the day, it’s no skin off my back. Just want to do my twenty years without no drama, and then live off my pensions.”
But Bobby’s words didn’t match up with his actions. While he never saw Bobby mistreat any of his apprehended suspects, or confront his colleagues on their role in this mistreatment, he saw how Bobby served and protected his community both in and out of uniform. Most of the crimes that Knoxville police officers had to respond to occurred in East Knoxville, the Black part of town. Bobby opted to live in East Knoxville with his wife Mabeline and their fraternal twins Michael and Lisa. Bobby also volunteered as a coach during the winter and summer months with the East Knoxville Parks and Recreation Department, mostly to coach Michael’s basketball teams. Baker saw a man who was committed to helping all children, regardless of their race/ethnicity, discover both their athletic and scholastic gifts. So, when he agreed one year to help Bobby coach the youth basketball team that his then 13-year-old son Michael was on, he was amazed that Bobby made all of his players participate in a two-hour study hall before practice, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with adult tutors that he had recruited himself. When Baker asked Bobby why he did what he did, Bobby replied, “Because it’s all about outcomes. If we adults give them the time and attention that they need, help them keep their priorities straight, they will grow up to become responsible and competent citizens, the leaders we need them to be”
The more information Baker received about Jason Black, the more he realized how far he had deviated from Bobby’s lessons. He now knew that Jason was a sprinter on the University of Tennessee Track and Field Team. But Jason wasn’t your average sprinter; he had the second fastest time in the world. In 2016, Jason would be vying for a gold medal, repping the USA, at the Rio Summer Olympic Games. The fact that Jason had achieved this amount of success let Baker know that Jason was one of the fortunate few Black males to overcome difficult circumstances, and was well on his way to becoming the responsible and competent citizen that his friend and colleague Bobby Ford had dedicated his life to helping build firmer foundation for success.
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