By Jim Linderman
Black gangsters from the past. Given the attitudes, practices and institutional racism of the time, these sharp-dressers might have just been walking to work when swept up. It appears there was something of a crackdown on the streets of Brooklyn. Things have changed, but hardly enough, and note the phrase we take for granted does not read “innocent unless proven guilty.” It reads until proven guilty. There is an inherent bias in even our most cherished legal dictum.
Insert the mandatory “it’s still the best system devised” here, or someone will in a comment.
Hapless vintage figures from one of the country’s largest industries, and one which continues to stack the deck against people of color. As what remains of our domestic labor engine moves overseas and we find global capitalism is truly colorblind, the statistics are becoming more equal. Yet still disparity remains. Despite sociological studies from the war on poverty to the last bloody weekend in Chicago, the lack of money is a significant cause of crime. I once had a professor tell me poverty was caused by a shortage of money. Go figure. Now THAT is a dictum, and we will learn one day.
Mugshots and crime photographs were handed back and forth from photographer to file clerk, cop to witness, detective to informer, lawyer to prosecutor and jury members. “Take your time and have a good look.” As municipalities and crime fighters go digital, photographs like these are being weeded and purged en masse. Black and white reminders that photographs were once physical objects used as tools. I am afraid there are thousands of file clerks working in police departments and morgues (the paper kind) who won’t be working there much longer. Whether they have money saved up or weapons in the closet is not a statistic readily available.
Today the police are far out-gunned by citizens bearing machine guns, though the document which allows it was drawn up during blunderbuss days. They do not sell muzzle-loaders at Walmart, and I do not hesitate to suggest while many of our agitated gun owners might easily pass a background test, no intelligence test is required. I have seen several “right to carry” advocates strutting around stores in my city just begging to be challenged… and all were white. One of them had a silver plated pistol stuck in his pants belt near the small of his back. The perfect height from the floor for a young child in a shopping cart seeking a shiny object. His wife had one too, but she had a holster. Not a “wild-west” holster, but a blue nylon contraption which looked like something from Patagonia. They were quite a team. I had trouble getting the event out of my mind and returned to tell the manager I was taken aback and concerned. He said they had no policy on weapons in the store, but that he would bring it up at the next regional meeting. I can tell you my friends at the prescription counter were aghast. THEY didn’t want guns in the store, nor did they want to serve anyone packing.
It is unlikely anyone would encounter a wild animal in my city, much less in a grocery store. It is also unlikely the witless couple will read this, or frankly much at all, so I am safe.
If our retailers are going to allow “carry” customers in, they better start increasing the life insurance on their employees. If I lost as much as a fingernail because some cowboy tripped without his safety on while I was pricing soda pop, I would sue the corporate pants off any store which allowed him in. Furthermore, if a retailer DOES allow in guns, it is to me an indication that they value me not.
Gun collecting is nothing new, as the sepia photos of prominent collector Big Bill Lawrence show. There was no radio personality telling him to do it and it was hardly a “wedge” issue then. Some folks just love their weapons. Like pornography collectors, the ones who do are voracious. It is not at all uncommon for a gun collector to own dozens.
The Congressional Research Service estimates there is one gun for every person in the United States, and every single one of them was manufactured and sold at a profit. Smith and Wesson’s sales have increased 86% since we elected a Black president. I do not know how many members of the NRA are African-American, but I do recall the last time Black citizens decided they had a “right to carry” and if you would like to study either the Black Panthers or the FBI’s Cointelpro campaign which targeted them, I will link to it in the notes. The FBI conspired with the police departments in many U.S. cities (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Philadelphia and Chicago among them) to encourage repeated raids on Black Panther homes—often with little or no evidence of violations of federal, state, or local laws (including gun laws) which resulted directly in the police killing members of the Black Panther Party. It could be said that a Black man’s “right to carry” is a right to commit suicide.
Frankly, the statistics on our criminal justice system are embarrassing. As of 2012, there were 6,937, 600 “offenders” under the supervision of the adult correctional system in our country. 1 in every 35 adults in the United States is either on probation, parole or in prison. That is a considerable market, and you can see why private companies are interested in taking over the industry. Think of a prison movie with a dozen inmates pounding their cups in unison as they bitch about the food. Multiply that by many, many times. There is a considerable market to be fed behind bars. The US system of incarceration is by far the largest in the world. 1/4 of the prisoners in the entire world are held in our prisons. Currently some 70 percent of the prisoners released eventually return to jail. It is no coincidence the photographs here depict African-American suspects, as statistics confirming racial injustice in the justice system are well-known. Jails could well be the last boom industry we have.
NOTES: How big is this industry? Go dig. Federal criminal justice system statistics are for the most part public, though in recent years, since the emergence of Homeland Security, some of the data is harder to find. Try HERE and HERE if you are at all curious or wish to compile your own market overview. Smith and Wesson became publicly traded when the Saf-T-Hammer company purchased them. Interestingly, Smith and Wesson has less than 1500 employees. I guess their automatic weapon production line is automated! In 2013, the President and CEO of Smith and Wesson reportedly earned over 5 million dollars. Mugshots are collectable but do not overpay. After all, there are millions and millions of them, and you can see them free at many post offices. The most notable project recently devoted to them is Least Wanted. How many African-American members does the National Rifle Association have? They don’t say. One site suggests that a recent NRA convention had some 12 African-Americans at a convention with 73,000 attendees. Historically, African-Americans have tended to avoid white people with guns. Cointelpro, which targeted American citizens of color who exerted their second amendment rights, is HERE. The Black Panther newspaper comes from the Robert Newman website, and not too long ago a major publication on their art and graphics was published by Rizzoli. Finally, some stats on the racial makeup of our Graybar hotels are HERE.
Original Photographs collection the author.
Jim Linderman is a Grammy-nominated collector, popular culture historian and author. His network of blogs is approaching 4 million page views, and his VINTAGE SLEAZE BLOG which tells a true story from the golden age of smut every day has over 500,000 Facebook followers. For several years he has been working on TIMES SQUARE SMUT which will tell the story of several long forgotten writers, illustrators and mob-connected publishers from the 1950s who ultimately influenced contemporary culture.