The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
When George Floyd was murdered I drew a cartoon depicting the historic roots of American racial brutality beginning with a 17th-century white slaver, his knee on an African man’s throat, who in the next scene became a white plantation owner, whip in hand, with his knee on an African-American person’s throat, repeating this knee to the neck pattern through the post-Reconstruction rise of the Klan, through Jim Crow, up to my depiction of a Minneapolis cop with his knee on Mr. Floyd’s throat in the year 2020, with Mr. Floyd saying, “I can’t breathe.”
The good folks of Wylie, Texas, a very white suburb of Dallas, were so shocked by my assertion that whites have been oppressing blacks since before our nation’s founding that they could not catch their breath.
I feel for the poor, well-intentioned junior high school educators in Wylie who shared my cartoon in the classroom and made the dreadful mistake of asking students to interpret the meaning of the cartoon in a lesson about the freedom of expression, democracy and the Bill of Rights.
It didn’t take long for people to call for firing the teacher and right-wing media to mischaracterize my cartoon: “School assignment compares police officer to slave owners and the KKK.”
Persecuting, smearing and scapegoating public school teachers for teaching truth, civic dialogue, historical context and critical thought is beyond unacceptable. It’s un-American.
The national Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Joe Gamaldi tweeted, “I cannot begin to tell you how abhorrent and disturbing this comparison is, but what is more disturbing is that no adult within your school thought better before sending this assignment to children.”
And I can’t begin to tell you how abhorrent and disturbing this pattern of white cops killing black Americans is.
The school district groveled. “We are sorry for any hurt that may have been caused through a social studies lesson that included political cartoons that reflected negatively on law enforcement …”
The day after I saw Gamaldi’s indignant tweet, a Wisconsin cop shot a black father seven times in the back. In front of his children.
When asked about the Wylie uproar by Daryl Cagle, whose company syndicates my cartoon to news outlets across the country, I wrote:
“This cartoon was my response to the cold-blooded murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police officer. It diagrams the historic roots of our systemic racism.
“I’m impressed the National Fraternal Order of Police is directing its fury at an illustration revealing how our present horrors are mere echoes of our cruel past. Perhaps it requires too much moral courage, or honest clear-eyed reflection, for the National Fraternal Order of Police to funnel their fury at the few racist police officers who disgrace their oath and their badges by disproportionately murdering African Americans.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott got in on it, before realizing a number of teachers were involved, stating, “A teacher in a Texas public school comparing police officers to the KKK is beyond unacceptable. It’s the opposite of what must be taught. The teacher should be fired. I’m asking the Texas Education Agency to investigate and take action.”
Is anyone shocked a cynical politician, whose huffing morality has the aroma of political opportunism, is calling for an investigation, a show trial, a tribunal, a McCarthy hearing? Abbott is so enraged, and engaged, you’d think he’d heard a Black cop had shot a white man.
For years, I was a regular in schools, talking about freedom of the press. Hundreds of classrooms. Kindergarten to college commencements. Thousands. Not anymore. The oppressive chill is real. What school would risk a parental firestorm from the right?
The Wylie Independent School District noted the assignment was removed, sending out this apology: “We are sorry for any hurt that may have been caused by a lesson that included political cartoons that reflected negatively on LEOs (law enforcement officers). We value them and will do better. Thanks for helping us move forward.”
And what did we learn today, children? We must not criticize law enforcement. Ever. Ever! We must not teach history. And we must not question. Thanks for helping us move backward.
David Fitzsimmons: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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