On May 4, 1886, a contingent of police marched into Haymarket Square in Chicago, bent on dispersing a peaceful labor rally. Someone (it was never determined who) threw a bomb into the midst of the police squad, killing half a dozen men.
Seven men were condemned to death on account of the bomb-throwing. Four of them were eventually hanged. But no evidence was ever presented showing that they had planned the bombing or knew who did. They were hanged for having exercised their supposed right of free speech. In spite of the manifest injustice of the convictions, an appeal to the Supreme Court did no good.
In the course of a wonderful, if rather hefty, book called The Rise of Industrial America, Page Smith discusses the Haymarket affair and numerous other atrocities. In the chapter on immigration, he describes the vicious treatment of Jews in Russia during that period. He lifts the lid on the sheer terrorism unleashed on former slaves in the South, the murders and beatings and robberies carried out, with impunity, by white men determined to retain their pathetic power and pitiful prerogatives.
When I was a kid, my father had some highball glasses with cartoons inked on them. The caption beneath one of the cartoons (by now I can’t recall the image itself) said, “People are no damn good.” That’s about the sum of it, I think. For every Shakespeare, a hundred demented monsters. For every Mozart, a hundred vile fools. For every Monet or Van Gogh, a hundred policemen swinging their billy clubs.
And you think you’re special?