Wednesday, January 6, 2021

From Thelonious to Felonious

The genius jazz musician Thelonious Monk once drove down to Baltimore from New York for a gig. He asked his friend Nica driving the car to stop for a moment at a motel in Delaware because he was thirsty. Here is the account Robyn Kelley gives of the incident in his book Thelonious Monk: pp. 253-54:)

“…Thelonious entered the motel and asked for a glass of water. The owner’s wife demanded that Monk leave immediately. Her husband called the police, who arrived in minutes. Nica intervened and they physically escorted him to the car without arresting him. (But seeing) a white women and two black men driving around in a $19,000 Bentley was enough to pique the trooper’s suspicions. As soon as they left the parking lot and headed toward Route 40, the same state troopers pulled them over and ordered Thelonious out of the car. Monk refused, asking Officer H. Thomas Little, “Why the hell should I?” Little had called for backup, so now several troopers appeared in patrol cars with handcuffs and weapons. 


According to Nica, 'Thelonious was so mad, he wouldn’t move. He took hold of the car door and couldn’t be budged until one cop started beating on his hands with a billy club, his pianist’s hands.' Nica jumped out of the car and pleaded with the police not to beat him mercilessly with night sticks. He was finally dragged to the ground, handcuffed behind his back, and thrown on the floor of a patrol car…several officers continued to pummel him while he lay handcuffed. They beat him severely… 


All of this happened the man who had recently performed at Carnegie Hall and won the Downbeat Poll as Best Jazz Pianist of 1958. The beating was for the crime of asking for a glass of water in a Jim Crow motel and having a white woman as a friend. Not only did this send him spinning off into a deep depression , but it resulted in the third time the NYPD took away his Cabaret Card, both of which affected his livelihood and his ability to support his family. 


Now look at today’s news. Hordes of white supremacists break through police barriers in the middle of a Congressional session, vandalize the offices and interrupt a sacred tenet of Democracy. And what did the police do? 


Not much. 


Compare those two crimes (well, one crime—Thelonious did nothing illegal) and the responses to those two crimes and if you tell me that you still don’t understand how white supremacy works and how the police, an institution that grew out of the old slave patrols, have consistently supported the rich and powerful and abandoned “law and order” whenever it applied to people of color, then I don’t really know what to say to you. 


Of course, one needn’t go back into history to find such stories. Right after reading that passage from Monk’s bio, I saw the headline “Kenosha officers won’t be facing charges in Jacob Blake shooting.” Shot seven times in the back by officers of the law with no consequence. 


But now this is new territory. The President of the United States telling the traitorous and treasonous terrorists that “he loves them and they are special” while police take selfies with them is beyond anything this country has experienced. And some Republicans can’t help but notice. Finally. 


In the face of it all, I do believe the tide is turning and this is the last gasp scrambling of heartless brainwashed white folks desperately trying to hold on to a privilege and identity they never earned and didn’t deserve. Their time is done. And hopefully that time for the assaulters will be spent doing time in jail. Right next to the deposed President.

P.S. The day began with the remarkable Georgia victories, but this quickly rained on that parade.

But we should still have that parade!



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