50 Shots, 50 Years: Historical Rages of Racism

Michael Richards and the New York Police Department -- 50 shots, 50 years.

Fifty shots were fired by NYC police upon a vehicle of unarmed African-American men leaving a bachelor party in Queens this weekend.

The man who was killed was to be married later that day.

This horrific incident happened within days of actor Michael Richards' racist taunts.

There is a historical relationship between the rages of racism that lead to unprovoked death for black men.

Richards' chilling provocation brought the past present in resurrecting the image of lynching.

Hate speech disguised as improvisational comedy readily accessed a threatening white supremacy to provoke fear for the hecklers.

If it wasn't the hecklers, what else could have easily set Richards off?

Richards' racist tirade created an instant atmosphere of hate, the same hate of 50 years ago that Richards referenced in order to position his rage toward African-American men.

America has a history of applying senseless accusations to justify lynching black men, from "looking" at white women to any type of behavior that made white men feel impotent.

Black men were punished and routinely made entertainment fare by public torture and hanging. The white audience witnessing the neighborhood lynching would be jovial and purchase pictures of the terrorized bodies to send as postcards, a souvenir.

Listening to Richards commanding the black male hecklers signaled to the audience that white Richards was in control of putting black men in their place of "no voice."

The black men simply challenged his social norm, his required white pedestal to be looked up to in order to "perform."

Richards was made impotent. The unspoken boundary was disrupted on Sunset Boulevard at the Laugh Factory by the hecklers, and Richards insisted on maintaining control at all costs.

Black men would pay for laughing at him.

But let's substitute Richards' white taunt of referencing lynchings of 50 years ago to the 50 shots by the New York City police this weekend.

Yes, there is a relationship between Richards and the excessive shooting of 50 bullets by police upon African-American men in their vehicle after leaving a strip club, and the history of lynching.

The police authorized a reason to kill as self-defense. This is done in a rage, a rage that is all too familiar.

A national rage that is based on a national history of racism.

Karen Finley is an artist, author and performer. She is a visiting professor in art and public policy at the Tisch School for the Arts, New York University.

I seriously doubt that if a group of white men at a bachelor party was leaving a strip club, that there would be an overreaction to attack to kill.

Fifty shots is not diplomacy, it is not multiple warnings, but only an intention to shoot to kill.

These black young men were unarmed. And what was their crime?

All we know is that the black men were leaving a strip club looking, yes, looking at women. Fifty years ago, this could have been reason enough to be lynched.

Supposedly, the police officers were in the strip club as well.

Emmett Till was lynched for looking at a white woman.

Richards reminded his audience: "Fifty years ago, they'd have you hanging upside down with a f--g fork up your a--."

You have it wrong, Michael. You don't have to look in the past. Look at today. New York Mayor Bloomberg asks us not to rush to judgment.

Why didn't the police? If only things were different, the young man would have been married this weekend.

Now, instead of being on his honeymoon, he is attending his own funeral.

Karen Finley is an artist, author and performer. She is a visiting professor in art and public policy at the Tisch School for the Arts, New York University.