Monday, May 14, 2007

Last week I read Murder In The Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the redemption of a killer by Paul Bass and Douglas W. Rae. It follows the murder of Alex Rackley by fellow members of the Black Panthers who suspected he was an informant, their trials, and the life of Warren Kimbro, one of the gunmen in the case, as he turned his life around. The book attempts to clarify the facts of the case and clear away all the misinformation that has built up around it over the years and explains how the case exemplified the nation-wide recoil away from genuine social change by manipulating and using the Black Panthers to scare the middle class. The government successfully redefined liberalism as "a code word for cowardice in the face of demands by the black and the unwashed. To Nixon and his 'silent majority,' courage came to mean 'standing up' to black demands." It's easy to see the seeds sown then are still bearing fruit today: "Nixon... represented an ascending white middle-class and, eventually, working-class Republicanism. Spiro Agnew represented the self-seeking - eventually criminal - side of this invasion. They both played on hostility to elites. They echoed the idea that the Ivy League snobs, the liberal judges, egghead intellectuals, and scruffy upper-class rabble-rousers threatened America by weakening the nation's military resolve in Vietnam or by supporting upstart blacks who could steal white jobs, move into white neighborhoods and schools." Replace "Vietnam" with "Iraq" and "blacks" with "illegal immigrants" and it's just as relevant to our current political climate. Meanwhile, it's also a riveting account of a high profile trial and the surrounding media circus and a touching portrait of Kimbro, who has spent his life helping his community and trying to make up for what he did.

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