Above: “Haitian Surprise, Welcome to America” (1967). The painting, the artist’s interpretation of a real life incident in Boston at the time, depicts the vicious reaction by American white supremacists, from ‘average’ citizens to government officials to Haitian immigration in the 1960s. Haitians came to America fleeing the brutal Duvalier regime only to face ferocious racism here. In this case, “TPF” stands for “Tactical Police Force” and this officer was called in to quell the violence atainst this victim, not attack him. However, immigrants of color to America have faced racial violence since the founding of the country, including from police.
Chandler’s Art: Past as Prologue
Prof. Dana C. Chandler, Jr. is most well-known for his protest art of the 1960-1980s and continued to produce new activist art on different themes of inequality and injustice into the 21st century. And, while the calendar has moved swiftly forward, the issues about which the venerable artist painted are still in the headlines today. That’s particularly true of police brutality and other racial violence against African Americans. And, that makes his art as significant today as it was when he created his works.
“I’m highly relevant because America has turned back to the 1940s, 50s and 60s in the brutalization of black people,” says Chandler of his importance today. “The most profound part of that new brutalization is that [whites] feel so comfortable about it,” he continues. He says that in the 1960s, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement when he was a young revolutionary and artist, white racists, particularly police, felt less comfortable using dehumanizing violence on blacks.
But, today, the legal system seems to protect their “right” to commit mayhem against blacks while abrogating the rights of blacks to defend themselves. Laws today allow police and other whites, he says, to say “I felt like my life was threatened as they were running away from me” and kill us with immunity from prosecution, except rarely.
“I’m highly relevant because America has turned back to the 1940s, 50s and 60s in the brutalization of black people,” says Chandler of his importance today.
Chandler’s statements are supported just by recent events. From the Charlestown massacre to organized acts of violence against African Americans and other people of color, rabid racism and the white supremacy that drives it, particularly against African Americans, is still evident in routine acts of racial brutality. But, as his 1966 sculpture, “Police Brutality” (20 x 12 x 8, basswood), depicts, white police and vigilantes “policing” black bodies and lives with savage attacks are nothing new in America.
Now, however, we face more than vicious beatings by police welding a baton as shown in Chandler’s sculpture. Now, we’re more likely to be shot to death by police.
No Home Advantage for America’s Blacks
For most African Americans, the dreamys safety whites depict at home is a fantasy. “Even at my age, I don’t feel safe in my own home,” says the 77-year-old artist about the growing danger police and racist vigilante brutality pose to black Americans.
Chandler’s fears are validated by the reality that regardless of our age, 50 years after he created this piece, we’re not only more likely to be shotby police, it often occurs in our own homes. Like occupying armies, primarily white law enforcement commit regular and frightening acts of terror in black communities, including homicide. Some statistics calculate the number of black men murdered by police or vigilantes to be one every 28 hours in the US.
Black American women also are victims of police and vigilante violence at such an alarming rate, the hashtag “#SayHerName” was created shortly after the homicide of Sandra Bland while in police custody. Chandler sees that event as among the most egregious police atrocities in recent U.S. history. “Here’s a beautiful young lady and they just offed her,” he reflects with sadness in his voice.
Yet, like the pieces above show, Chandler’s art has regularly dealt with brutality against black bodies, including black women’s, since he saw black women, some of them pregnant, brutally beaten by police at a welfare rights protest in 1967 Boston.
Many of the works in his “Urban Weaponry Series”, depict common household items that women can use to protect themselves from attack in their homes. Those colorful pieces, which are also attractive, were inspired by the history of white men raping black women in their own homes. “Black and Native American women are still the most molested, least protected women in the country,” Chandler states.
More generally, nearly 50 years after those 1967 beatings in the Grove Hall section of Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, Chandler finds the apparent rise in homicides of blacks by police disturbing.
So pervasive have the events become in the era of social media, the names of black Americans killed by police have become ubiquitous hashtags. Social media is flooded with nearly daily events, including Chandler’s own Facebook Page and Twitter accounts, where he still participates in the discussion.
“Stand Your Ground”—The White Racist’s Stand Against Black Life
Out of that ongoing violence committed under color of law, a modern civil rights movement, “Black Lives Matter“, rose to prominence in 2012 after George Zimmerman, a racist vigilante acting as neighborhood patrol, was acquitted of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s homicide.
The movement aggressively addresses police and vigilante brutality and the white supremacist system of racial injustice that undergirds law enforcement.
Chandler’s art always has focused on this theme, “black lives matter” and he is thrilled to see a new generation take up a cause he and his contemporaries led for several decades.
“MAGA”: White Supremacy and Domestic Terrorism Rises Again
The image below reflects Chandler’s role in the civil rights activism in of the 1960’s through 80s. It shows two of Chandler’s paintings entitled “The Beast” (1967) and the “The Beast Revisited,” (1987) which, unfortunately, still resonate today. The pieces, inspired by anti-black protesters attending black-led civil rights events, got painted 20 years apart to show that white power ideology and the violence that it spawns is passed from one generation to the next.
Nearly 30 years after the 1987 piece was painted, the the existence of that kind of intergenerational racial hatred in America is still evident as white supremacists become increasingly strident in the United States. The clearest example of that is the violence committed by racist supporters of equally virulent racist, Donald Trump against black protestors at his political rallies. Trump, while the GOP front-runner in the 2016 presidential election, was flagrant with his racial animus going as far as inciting racial violence with his rally speeches. His supporters responded with rising brutality against protesters of color, especially black Americans.
One highly visible example of that hostile response to Trump’s racialized speech came from Trump supporter, 78-year-old John McGraw. McGraw, sucker-punched 26-year-old black protester, Raheem Jones, in the face as Jones was being escorted out of a Trump rally in North Carolina by local sheriffs. Initially, those sheriffs wrestled a justifiably angry Jones to the ground, cuffed him, and dragged him out of the venue while allowing McGraw to remain, unmolested by police, at the event.
But, McGraw, who was subsequently arrested and charged with assault, initially remained unrepentant about the assault, declaring, “Next time we see him, we might have to kill him.” Trump, who announced in one speech he would pay legal fees for supporters committing acts of violence against protesters, declined to pay McGraw’s after he committed the assault.
Trump has continued to instigate racial unrest and brutality as president and has managed to codify much of it in his first 18 months in the Oval Office. He’s also turned his back on many who voted for him, enacting policies destructive to their lives.
The ongoing exploitation of racial fears, mob mentality and racially-violent mindset has long been reflected in Chandler’s protest art.
Criminalizing Immigrants: As American as Jim Crow
White supremacy and racial violence in America continues to be so pervasive that it has become both an international scandal and embarrassment to this country. Just as they always have, America’s racists continue to brutalize people of color who were born in this country and those who come here from other countries.
Chandler’s 1967 piece shown to the right (as well on on the front page of the site), entitled “Haitian Surprise, Welcome to America” is based on one such incident. It represents the true story of a Haitian immigrant who was on his way to work at what was then Boston City Hospital when he was jumped and beaten by a mob of white anti-bussing protestors.
Though Haitians have been immigrating to this country since the early 19th century, this gentleman is thought to be one of the influx of Haitian immigrants who had fled the brutal dictator, Duvalier, by coming to the U.S. in 1963. Like many Haitians and other foreign-born blacks, he may have believed he was protected by not being African American. It was a “surprise” to the Haitian man when he wasn’t.
He was treated like many of the other Haitians that immigrated to the US during this volatile time. Most were met with rejection, aggression and attempts to deport them back to Haiti immediately.
It shows that immigrants of color who come to America to escape dire conditions in their countries of origin, like those today, have almost always faced racial and ethnic violence. Even ethnic Europeans did when they first arrived on U.S. shores. But, those Irish and Italian immigrants who once faced such discrimination and violence now have fully embraced whiteness.
They have assimilated in every way into white American culture, including in the perpetration of violence against black Americans both as civilians and under the color of law. White-skinned Hispanics and Latinos like George Zimmerman, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, are often rabidly racist against browner Latinos and black Americans.
The Precipitous Upsurge in Racial Brutality Under Trump
Sadly, all this racial, ethnic and religious animus against people of color in America not only continues but seems to be escalating. It is a genuine reflection of the reality that America hasn’t become a post-racial society with the election of its first black President of the United States in 2008.
Trump has gotten enacted into law the right to ban African and Middle Eastern Muslims from entering the U.S. and has used existing law to indefinitely detain Latinx immigrant families. That was only after there was widespread uproar over his policy of separating even the smallest children from horrified parents at the US-Texas border.
It is a fact that Chandler laments today after having been hopeful that he would not have to reach 77 years old and see history seeming to repeat itself as a new generation of white supremacists as those in his generation, like McGraw, continue to commit racial violence. But, Trump seems determined to keep turning back the clock to a time when savage white supremacy seemed unquestioned and normal—like lynching picnics.
As both activist and artist, Dana Chandler always has addressed police brutality against black men and women through powerful artwork that represents the white supremacist rage that continues today. That makes his art as relevant in contemporary America as it ever was. His protest also resonates around the globe as white imperialism has brought with it white supremacy-driven racial violence to every corner of the planet.