Tarris Woods is to be thanked for his service as a police officer, but his grasp of history, the Constitution and economics is flawed.

He reflects the “reality” of his experience as a man of color. I reflect mine as well. While Woods, without doubt, had slave ancestors, I have none. I have no ancestors who fought to free Woods’ ancestors. My ancestors migrated to the United States from the Grand Duchy of Finland in the 1880s.

They moved west from New York to Michigan and eventually settled in West Central Minnesota, where diversity was Protestant and Catholic white folks living next to each other. Does either Woods’ experience or mine make one of us more virtuous than the other? I doubt it.

The 13th Amendment outlawed slavery, but there was no specific “exception clause” as Woods writes (“Congress must repeal deadly ‘citizen’s arrest’ law,” The Daily News, Dec. 25-26). The wording I believe Woods refers to simply says “ … except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted … .”

Anyone with a knowledge of the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction South — unfortunately, too few people — knows that the convict leasing system was a problem in the South. The system was used throughout the country, being written by Unionist politicians, not Southern Democrats, then excluded from Congress, however.

The problem continued into the middle of the 20th century as seen in Paul Newman’s movie “Cool Hand Luke,” which famously illustrated prison farm abuse. Convict labor wasn’t just a Black problem.

By the way, prison labor continues to this day.

We find the concept of citizen’s arrest in English Common Law. It has no specific antecedent in Jim Crow racialism. That an ancient practice was misused in a racialist manner doesn’t mean it’s racist, per se. If Woods desires citizen’s arrest to be abolished, advocate for that outcome using present experience, not the past.

To paraphrase what Jefferson unwisely said, “the present belongs to the living, the dead have no claim on the present.”

As for present-day experience, the Ahmaud Arbery case isn’t the ideal case on which to build. Arbery, now dead without claim to the present according to Jefferson, had trespassed in building sites previously.

What the guilty parties in the case did had no excuse, but because the case was presented as a case of racialist animus, many people will reflexively reject the outcome as an example of “racial payback,” when it was an excellent example of the American justice system working as designed. Justice was “colorblind” in this case.

Finally, Woods conflates what seems to be Black Lives Matter anti-capitalist sentiment with past racial injustice is economic foolishness. That poor people of all races and ethnicities exist isn’t proof of the so-called evils of capitalism. It’s just the opposite.

No sane person of African descent would move to the United States if the nation were irredeemably hostile to people of color without hope of economic advancement. Please explain that to the Haitians, desperate to move here.

Joseph A. Pelto lives in Texas City.

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(12) comments

George Laiacona

If the black citizens of America would only get together at voting time legislators who really care about their fate could make the difference in just how they are treated. Unfortunately history has showed us that they are swayed easily by clever politicians.

Bailey Jones

What a ridiculous apologia of the Ahmaud Arbery murder, and by extension, the 1000's of similar murders committed by similar white supremacists against similarly innocent POC throughout our history.

If we're going to talk about Ahmaud Arbery, we must talk about the fact that his murderers nearly got away scot-free. Far from being "an excellent example of the American justice system working as designed" this was a case of cold-blooded murder, known to local law enforcement authorities, and covered up by them. The ONLY reason this case came to trial was the video that one of these racist morons leaked. That's not colorblind justice - that's justice blinded by racism. This story is newsworthy, not because of the murder, but because the murder was actually prosecuted.

As for the assertion that the Jim Crow laws were written by unionists - this is another distortion. Jim Crow, and the monstrous practice of peonage that it created, came about not immediately after the civil war (when Union soldiers were stationed in the south to enforce racial equality) but after the end of reconstruction in 1875, when southern whites regained total control over southern legislatures and southern law enforcement and wrote new Jim Crow state constitutions which essentially re-enslaved black Americans.

This is well documented in Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II by Douglas A. Blackmon, and well attested to by the dozens of bodies of "convict" laborers worked to death in the sugarcane fields of the Imperial State Prison Farm - an adjunct to the Imperial Sugar corporation, the economic driver for one of Galveston's great founding families.

None of this is unknown history, nor the least bit controversial among historians. I don't know whether the author's ignorance is accidental, willful, or simply the whitewash that those of us of a certain age were taught in school, but - as the author has indicated an interest in history in previous letters - I hope he will avail himself of the considerable historical research that exists on this topic.

Ed Buckner

Mr. Jones beats me to the punch once again. Blackmon's fine book is well worth reading: https://www.pulitzer.org/winners/douglas-blackmon . Thanks, Bailey Jones.

Walter Dannenmaier

"scot-free"???? Racial slur!

Bailey Jones

I wish. Then I could exercise my Scotch-Irish privilege.

Dan Freeman

Mr Pelto asserts convict leasing system was used throughout the country. If Mr. Pelt checked his facts he would have learned the state of Louisiana leased out convicts as early as 1844, and the system expanded all through the South with the emancipation of slaves at the end of the American Civil War in 1865. While it occasionally occurred in the Northern states, the system was developed during reconstruction as a means of replacing the labor of the formerly enslaved. It reached its widest usage after reconstruction.

The pernicious practice was extraordinarily lucrative. In states where the convict lease system was used, revenues from the program generated income nearly four times the cost (372%) of prison administration. In 1898, some 73% of Alabama's entire annual state revenue came from convict leasing. It was not completely abolished in the South until Alabama officially ended the local practice in 1928 and North Carolina prohibited it in 1933

Mr Pelto uses the movie ‘Cool Hand Luke’ to document his argument than “The problem continued into the middle of the 20th century as seen in Paul Newman’s movie ‘Cool Hand Luke,’” He further argued convict labor wasn’t just a Black problem. What kind on nimrod uses a fictional movie from 1967 to prove anything? ‘Cool Hand Luke’ was notable for having almost no Blacks on the screen, while they made up most incarcerated prisoners in the Alabama correctional system.

Raymond Lewis

What Dan said.

Bailey Jones

Then there's the whole blaming the victim thing - claiming that Arbery "had trespassed in building sites previously. Even if that was true, you can't make a citizen's arrest of someone you think might have committed a crime in the past. You can make a citizen's arrest if you see someone commit a crime - or if you see someone with evidence of a crime - stolen property, for instance. (No evidence was presented during the trial that Arbery had committed any crime more serious than walking through a home under construction, nor was there any evidence that the racists told Arbery that they were trying to place him under arrest.)

And, as the judge noted, a person who’s the target of an unjustified citizen’s arrest “has the right to resist the arrest with such force as is reasonably necessary.”

The state's citizen's arrest law was repealed as a result of the incident. At the time, Georgia was one of only four states with no hate crime statutes. Hate crime legislation has since been passed into law.

Ted Gillis

Dan, I love using the word “nimrod” too. It was one of my favorite out on the construction sites.

Good post.

And Walter, it seems that you and I have a similar sense of humor, but I’ve also been told that mine is at times totally inappropriate. Just sayin.

Carlos Ponce

Does Ted know who Nimrod was? He was he son of Cush, a great-grandson of Noah who commissioned the Tower of Babel. He commissioned the Tower as an act of rebellion against God. Someone reminds me of Nimrod....[innocent]

Ted Gillis

I could care less, Carlos.

Carlos Ponce

You could? Then go ahead, make my day.[beam]

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