TIME cities

Protestors Throw a Confederate Flag on the Grill in New Orleans

Demonstrators used the 2015 Essence Festival taking place in the city to draw attention to a movement

Just blocks from the 2015 Essence Festival, where civil rights leaders are gathering to discuss what’s next in the Black Lives Matter movement, a crowd of a nearly 100 protesters stood in the unrelenting New Orleans heat Saturday to demand action around a subject that’s been gaining steam in the wake of the Charleston church massacre.

Demonstrators burned a confederate battle flag in a charcoal grill beneath a towering statue honoring confederate general Robert E. Lee. The statue and other monuments to Confederate leaders that pepper the city, they demanded, must come down. “Down, down with the racist monuments. Up, up with the people’s empowerment,” the crowd chanted in unison.

At the base of Lee’s figure, which stands atop a 60ft column in a sprawling and immaculately kept circle also named after the general, two organizers of the protests ripped and burned a confederate battle flag that was purchased from the Confederate Memorial Museum, located just steps away.

The flag, according to an organizer who identified himself only as Quess, cost $22. As the flag crackled in the charcoal grill, local trumpeter Mario Abney performed a jazzy melody and the crowd jeered and hooted. It was a far cry from Fourth of July barbecues taking place elsewhere in the United States.

The national campaign to drive symbols of the confederacy out of the American mainstream was lent a sense of urgency by the shooting of nine black Americans in Charleston, South Carolina in June. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, posed with a confederate battle flag in images posted online alongside a racist screed.

In the wake of the massacre, the South Carolina legislature moved to remove the flag from outside its statehouse — a previously unthinkable act in a state where support for the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage still rides high.

It was a bitter-tasting victory for a decades-long movement that had been gaining traction even before the shootings. Activists in New Orleans have won a series of concessions over the years — the moving of a monument commemorating a bloody battle that many black residents felt glorified white supremacy; the removal of the names of confederacy figures from a handful of schools. And last week, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he wanted to rename Lee Circle and remove the statue. The change will likely coincide with the city’s tri-centennial celebration in 2018.

But the protestors at Saturday’s march and rally don’t want to wait that long. “We don’t need any more dialogue, we need demolition,” said Rev. Marie Ortiz, a veteran activist in the New Orleans area. Earlier, Ortiz told the crowd she’d been pushing for the removal of confederate symbols since her early 30s. She wants a figure of New Orleans Civil Rights leader Rev. Avery Alexander to replace Lee.

“If his words were sincere and he meant it, it doesn’t matter when he takes it down. Now is the time to do it,” the 75-year-old said.

Ortiz was among those who marched from New Orleans’ Canal Street Ferry Station to Lee Circle Saturday. The group trekked down New Orleans’ Convention Center Boulevard just past noon, occupying the same sidewalks and streets as cheerful tourists in town for the 21st annual Essence Festival. Many stopped to take pictures and chant along in solidarity.

The group later veered onto Magazine Street, which houses the National World War II Museum, weaving in and out of clusters of confused tourists. Once they reached the statue, the protestors sang, chanted, and signed a petition calling for the immediate removal of Lee’s statue and others found throughout the Big Easy, including a statue of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States.

“There are monuments like these all over the city and these symbols create the environment for police brutality and oppression,” said Quess, the organizer who led the flag-burning. “Black lives really don’t matter if there are all of these monuments to our former oppressors.”

TIME Spain

Spain’s New Security Law Meets Fierce Criticism From Rights Groups

Demonstrators with their mouths taped sit outside the Spanish parliament during a protest against Spanish government's new security law in central Madrid
Juan Medina—Reuters Demonstrators with their mouths taped sit outside the Spanish parliament during a protest against the government's new security law in central Madrid, Spain, early July 1, 2015

The new law prohibits everything from insulting a police officer to protesting outside the country's legislature

A new law that went into effect in Spain on July 1 has much of the country, as well as many human rights organizations, in an uproar. While proponents say the new public security law will reinforce civil liberties, opponents call it the “gag law,” saying it will do just the opposite and take the country a step backward toward dictatorship.

The law covers everything from internet surfing to drug trafficking, but opponents point specifically to portions targeting illegal downloading, habitual access of websites that allegedly promote terrorism, and violent protest, as problematic, saying they include too-loose language that could be abused for political purposes and will limit freedom of speech or even prevent reports of police brutality.

Under the law, citizens can be fined the equivalent of almost $700 for insulting an officer, over $33,000 for recording and disseminating images of police officers, and more than $664,000 for participating in an unauthorized protest outside government buildings, the New York Times reports.

El Pais adds that the law puts an “expiry date” on passive protest, by “granting the police the power to fine anyone who refuses to dissolve meetings and protests in public places.”

Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch told the Times the law presents “a direct threat to the rights to meet peacefully and freedom of speech in Spain.” But Ministers of the Interior and of Justice Jorge Fernández Díaz and Rafael Catalá told El Pais the new laws do not limit citizens’ rights and in fact are meant to reinforce them. Prohibitions on protest outside parliament will make sure “there isn’t excessive pressure on the legislative powers,” they explained.

Spaniards reacted fittingly—by staging a protest in front of parliament. Some held signs that referenced the country’s past, still a sensitive topic 40 years after dictator Francisco Franco’s death. “Fascism wants to gag the people,” one sign read. Other protesters simply sat in silence, their mouths covered in gags or tape.

TIME Race

Topless Women Stage #SayHerName Rally Against Perceived Police Brutality

Campaigners want to raise awareness of the deaths of black women and girls at the hands of police

A group of black women staged a topless protest Thursday, blocking traffic in downtown San Francisco to draw attention to the killing of black women and children by police.

The demonstration was part of a nationwide day of action to protest the deaths of Aiyana Jones, Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Rekia Boyd and other women and girls killed by law-enforcement officers, reports USA Today.

The rally followed the release of a report Wednesday by the African American Policy Forum named Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, which highlights the stories of black women who have suffered from alleged police brutality.

Protesters held signs with the hashtag #SayHerName and posters with the names and pictures of black women who have died.

“We also understand that we live in a country that commodifies black women and black bodies but ignores the death of black women and black girls,” said Chinyere Tutashinda, founding member of the BlackOut Collective and a member of the Bay Area chapter of Black Lives Matter.

Campaigners said rallies raising awareness of police brutality in the wake of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and others had focused on black men who had died, and overlooked the many black women who have suffered the same fate.

Protests and vigils took place in cities across the country including New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans, two months after an officer was acquitted for the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Boyd.

[USA Today]

TIME Music

When Bob Dylan Took a Stand Against Censorship

Bob Dylan On The Ed Sullivan Show
CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images Bob Dylan during rehearsals for the Ed Sullivan Show on May 12, 1963

May 12, 1963: Bob Dylan walks off the Ed Sullivan Show

Performing on The Ed Sullivan Show might have helped launch the careers of Elvis Presley and the Beatles, but Bob Dylan took a different approach to fame: courting celebrity by not performing.

Dylan was slated to appear on the massively popular variety show on this day, May 12, in 1963 — a year before the Beatles. At the time, he was little known by mainstream audiences, although TIME had referred to him a year earlier as “a promising young hobo.”

“He dresses in sheepskin and a black corduroy Huck Finn cap, which covers only a small part of his long, tumbling hair,” TIME’s 1962 story attests. “[H]e delivers his songs in a studied nasal that has just the right clothespin-on-the-nose honesty to appeal to those who most deeply care.”

On Ed Sullivan, Dylan planned to put a spin on his clothespin-on-the-nose honesty with “Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues,” a satirical song written from the perspective of a John Birch Society member who is so terrified of communist infiltration that he looks for Reds everywhere, including in his chimney, toilet and glove box.

Sullivan himself apparently had no problem with the song when Dylan auditioned it, but a CBS executive who heard it during dress rehearsal found it too controversial. Dylan was told he’d have to sing a different song or change the lyrics, which included, “Now Eisenhower, he’s a Russian spy/ Lincoln, Jefferson, and that Roosevelt guy/ To my knowledge there’s just one man/ That’s really a true American: George Lincoln Rockwell.” (Rockwell was the founder of the American Nazi Party.)

Dylan refused to change the song or pick another, and walked out instead.

It wasn’t the first time a musical act had been censored on Sullivan’s show. The Rolling Stones were told to change “Let’s Spend the Night Together” to “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” — and obliged. The Doors were told to change a line from “Light My Fire” from “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” to “Girl, we couldn’t get much better.” Jim Morrison agreed to make the switch, but sang the original live, and the band was banned from the show.

The trouble didn’t end for Dylan when he left the Ed Sullivan set, however. CBS also owned his record label, Columbia Records, and when executives there heard that the song’s lyrics might be grounds for libel, they pulled it from his second album, according to Rolling Stone.

Even though he never got to play the song, Dylan still got some press from the non-appearance. He clearly occupied the moral high ground in the New York Times’ dispatch about the dustup, headlined “Satire on Birch Society Barred from Ed Sullivan’s TV Show.” And, per Rolling Stone, he bounced back from the crushing disappointment when someone told him, “Man, you got a lot of free publicity. A real underdog.”

Read TIME’s 1962 cover story about folk music, here in the archives: Sibyl with Guitar

TIME Israel

Why the Latest Protest Against Police Brutality Is Happening in Israel

Demonstrators confront Israeli policemen, during a demonstration of Ethiopian Jews at RABIN Square in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2015.
Omer Messinger—AP Protesters confront Israeli policemen during a demonstration of Ethiopian Jews in Tel Aviv on May 3, 2015

Scores are hurt in weekend protests in Tel Aviv as Ethiopian Israelis rally against what they say is long-running racism

Masses of protesters gathering in the streets, some throwing rocks and bottles at the police. In full riot gear, the police respond in force, shooting tear-gas canisters, percussion bombs and water guns. By the end of the evening, 46 injured people are sent to area hospitals.

Scenes of violent protest are something that people in Israel are used to seeing periodically, though it is usually in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This time, though, the rage involves youth Israelis of Ethiopian descent who are angry at their own government.

Complaints of discrimination in all sectors of society — including housing, education and the workplace — are common from Ethiopian Israelis. But the issue of police brutality toward the group came to the forefront in the past week when a video surfaced last Thursday showing police beating a young Ethiopian-Israeli soldier in uniform. A protest against police brutality spilled over into violence in Jerusalem last Thursday night. Those protests continued over the weekend, and on Sunday evening, Rabin Square in the heart of Tel Aviv began to look like an intifada-era conflict zone.

What are Ethiopian-Israelis angry about? Since they began immigrating to Israel in the 1980s, Ethiopians have struggled to integrate into Israeli society. There are more than 135,00 Israelis of Ethiopian origin, according to the most recent figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Some came to escape famine and persecution, and all grew up on the idea of Israel as their ultimate homeland. By now, a new generation is Israeli-born, but they still face discrimination that, in the words of one activist, “is more latent than official.” In addition, some of Israel’s Orthodox rabbinical establishment question their Jewishness, which makes it difficult for them to get married in a country where civil marriage doesn’t exist.

But what touched off the current rage, so strikingly similar to the street protests over police brutality that have taken place over the past few months in the U.S., was a CCTV video. It captured an Ethiopian-Israeli soldier being thrown to the ground and beaten by two white policemen. In the video we see the policemen accost the soldier and push him, who then pushes back, and then the two men throw him to the ground and kick him.

“After being beaten up, after being violated again and again and being discriminated against, many Ethiopians wind up in jails,” says activist Fentahun Assefa-Dawit. He notes that 40% of minors in the Israeli correction system are of Ethiopian descent. “What’s different this time is the footage. And all the youngsters who might have been through this something like this, now they have proof that it occurs.”

Assefa-Dawit is the executive director of Tebeka–Advocacy for Equality and Justice for Ethiopian Israelis, an organization that receives more than 1,000 complaints of discrimination and abuse a year. It takes up the strongest cases of Ethiopians who have suffered discrimination, some of which have gone to Israel’s Supreme Court. But for young people outraged by what they’ve experienced, change is coming far too slowly.

“When an Ethiopian applies for a job, as qualified as he might be, as impressive as his CV might be, he is not going to be invited for the interview because he has an Ethiopian name,” Assefa-Dawit told journalists on Monday in a conference call before heading to a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is conferring with Ethiopian community leaders in an effort to calm the outrage. “When a local rabbinate office refuses to register a couple who wants to get married because they’re Ethiopian, when you see a school that says we cannot take more children because they have a quota of how many Ethiopians they will enroll, you can imagine what the feeling of young people will be,” he says.

Shimon Solomon, who came to Israel from Ethiopia in 1980 at the age of 12, was a member of the Israeli parliament in the last government with the Yesh Atid party. He says that although he has repeatedly brought the issue of police brutality towards Ethiopians to the authorities for several years, nothing has been done.

“What we saw in the video is nothing compared to what goes on, in fact it was less shocking that what happens to people in our community at the hands of police,” Solomon tells TIME. “When we speak to people in their neighborhoods, we hear that it’s happening all the time, that the police allow themselves to act brutally and take people aside and beat them for no reason. We turned to the police and ask them to fix this situation, but it just continued like nothing happened.”

Solomon says that the protest on Sunday started with peaceful intentions, but a small group of “anarchists — some Ethiopian and some not” wanted to push things in a more radical direction. “We wanted an aggressive demonstration, not a violent one,” says Solomon. “The point of a protest is to bring attention to a situation, not to make the situation worse.” Solomon says he was disappointed that as the anger across the Ethiopian community grew, there was silence from Israel’s leaders. “It’s too bad that he didn’t come out immediately to decry the violence and hatred.”

Netanyahu met on Monday with Ethiopian leaders in an attempt to douse the flames amid reports that there would be further protests this week. The Prime Minister is moving closer to forming a government but has still not presented one since his re-election on March 17. On Monday he decried racism and violence, and arranged a meeting with Damas Pakedeh, the soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen.

“I was shocked by the pictures that I saw,” Netanyahu said in comments released by his office. “We cannot accept this and the police are dealing with it. We need to change things.”

TIME Crime

See Freddie Gray Protests Spread Across the Nation

Demonstrations inspired by those in Baltimore spread to more than 7 major U.S. cities on Wednesday, including New York, Boston, and Chicago. While the protests were mostly peaceful, there were at least 25 arrests nationwide

TIME Opinion

Lessons for Baltimore From 1968

Baltimore Arrest During Riot
Picasa / Getty Images A man carried away by police during riots, Baltimore, Maryland, 1968.

How history can heal a harmed city

In the 20 years that I have lived in Baltimore City, I have seen guns fired only twice; in each instance the targets were black men and the shooters were police. In one case the officer was trying to stop a group of men who had apparently stolen a car. They bailed out in front of my house, and as they were running away, the officer fired, but missed. In the second case the officer’s aim was better; an assailant held up a medical student on a bicycle, then ran through traffic right in front of our car. An off-duty cop saw the scuffle and fired. He turned out to be a 14-year-old with a BB gun. The boy lay in the street, shot in the stomach; my 12-year-old son and I waited until the police told us to move on. I called my district and set up an appointment with a detective. No one ever came to question me.

Those incidents came back to me this week when the death of Freddie Gray triggered days of peaceful protests that splintered into something uglier on Saturday, and anti-police violence erupted on Monday. But those weren’t the only moments from the past that seemed worth thinking about. The looting and arson led to comparisons to the unrest that followed the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—and, as an assistant professor of history at the University of Baltimore who has studied Baltimore in 1968, I can see a number of similarities. After several days of peaceful commemoration of Dr. King’s death, disenfranchised youth instigated disturbances in fifteen neighborhood commercial districts. Curfews were imposed, just as they were in Baltimore this week, and hundreds of citizens were eventually swept into custody. During both of the crises, members of the clergy of all faiths walked the streets in attempts to restore order.

But the real link between the two moments, 1968 and today, runs deeper than that. It’s not about the appearance of similarity, but rather the causes and effects.

As UB discovered in a community-based, multi-disciplinary examination of the riots 40 years later, the causes and consequences of urban unrest are complex and multifaceted. As part of our project, our diverse student body interviewed their friends and family, and we heard stories that illustrated deep systemic trends that led to generations of anger and frustration: practices in the private sector like residential covenants that forbade sales to black and Jewish buyers, federal policies like redlining that discouraged bank loans to poor and aging neighborhoods, urban renewal policies that used federal funds to build highways that cut neighborhoods off from the rest of Baltimore; limited job opportunities as Baltimore’s blue-collar jobs began to evaporate. All of those forces had been at work long before Dr. King’s assassination, and, as we see violence along the same streets almost five decades later, Baltimoreans still feel their effects today.

We also heard stories about businesses that were destroyed after families had poured years of effort and capital into them. In 1968 the Pats family lost its pharmacy on West North Avenue, just a few blocks from the CVS that burned this Monday evening. Their business was looted, then their entire block was burned, including their apartment. Their neighbors, who lost their jewelry store, had been relocated to Baltimore after surviving the Holocaust. Baltimore’s retail sector has still not recovered in many areas of the city. A number of neighborhoods have been declared food deserts, and no department store exists within the city limits. When a Target arrived at Mondawmin Mall and hired city residents, Baltimoreans welcomed it. But on Monday night we watched with dismay as looters ran out of Mondawmin, their arms full of merchandise.

In 1968, the governor of Maryland called out the National Guard, just as Governor Larry Hogan did on Monday night, and soon tanks patrolled the city streets. The unrest quieted, and by the end of the week the Orioles held opening day on schedule.

Here’s where the stories diverge. Maryland’s then-governor, Spiro Agnew, rode the wake of Baltimore’s disturbances right into the White House, using his tough-on-crime reputation to become Richard Nixon’s vice-presidential running mate. It is too simplistic to say that the policing approach Agnew advocated led directly to the kind of practices that killed Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. We cannot exclude from the list of causes Nixon’s War on Drugs, the crack epidemic of the 1980s and ‘90s, the growth of the prison-industrial complex, and the continuing hemorrhaging of blue-collar jobs from America’s aging industrial cities—but the reaction to the urban riots of the 1960s certainly started us down this path.

The similarities can stop. Knowledge of the aftermath of 1968 can help prevent its repetition. In the early 1970s law and order policing reinforced divisions around race, class, and geography in an attempt to lock up the problems instead of addressing them. We can learn from those mistakes. On Tuesday morning the NAACP announced that they would open a satellite office in Sandtown-Winchester, Freddie Gray’s neighborhood, to provide counsel to residents on a host of legal issues, including police misconduct. An external oversight board to monitor reports of police violence would serve as a powerful partner in this effort. Out on the streets on Tuesday morning, Baltimoreans worked together to clean up the debris from the night. I hope that as we work we will find a chance to tell each other our stories, and that this time we will listen.

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

Elizabeth M. Nix is a professor of legal, ethical and historical studies at the University of Baltimore, and co-editor with Jessica Elfenbein and Thomas Hollowak of Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth in An American City.

 

TIME Civil Rights

What Martin Luther King Jr Really Thought About Riots

Martin Luther King Jr. marching in Vietnam protest parade.
New York Daily News Archive / Getty Images Martin Luther King Jr. marching in a Vietnam protest parade in New York City in 1967

Unrest in Baltimore has an old MLK quote back in the news

As the city of Baltimore is shaken by riots in the wake of peaceful protests over the death of Freddie Gray, observers have had cause to reflect on the relationship between nonviolent and violent demonstration. In particular, one quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., has become a touchstone for those who seek to understand why those individuals have taken to the streets: “A riot,” King said, “is the language of the unheard.”

The quote is often traced to 1968, but it was actually a frequent rhetorical turn for King, appearing years earlier than that. In 1966, for example, in a Sept. 27 interview, King was questioned by CBS’ Mike Wallace about the “increasingly vocal minority” who disagreed with his devotion to non-violence as a tactic. In that interview, King admitted there was such a minority, though he said that surveys had shown most black Americans were on his side. “And I contend that the cry of ‘black power’ is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro,” King said. “I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”

At the time, a season of unrest was fresh in their memories. Stokely Carmichael had become chair of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee that year, and helped introduce the phrase “black power” into the nation’s lexicon. As TIME pointed out in a story that July, the phrase itself was probably about a decade old at that time, and was not inherently anti-white, but had the potential to “go sour in that way.” King was, from the beginning, a strong voice against the use of the phrase. While it was necessary for African-Americans to gain power, he believed, the impression that the power wouldn’t be shared was a dangerous one.

King’s conviction, however, did not stop the influence of those who championed riots as a tactic. The following year, in delivering his “The Other America” speech at Stanford University, King returned to his idea about what goes unheard:

…I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

King’s point, though subtle, is clear. He does not support violent tactics, including riots, but he argues that the way to stop citizens from rioting is to acknowledge and fix the conditions that they are rioting against. And in the larger context of that speech, he got a chance to explain how exactly that mending should occur. The Other America speech is, at its heart, a speech about economics. (That’s why it’s popular with Rand Paul.) The solutions included fair-housing legislation, a federal law ensuring fair access to justice—about 50 civil rights workers had been killed in Mississippi since 1963 and there had been not a single conviction, he noted—and the institution of a national guaranteed annual income, which could be paid for by ending the war in Vietnam.

King also makes the point that those who talk about riots being counterproductive because they caused white backlash are missing the whole picture. “It may well be that shouts of Black Power and riots in Watts and the Harlems and the other areas, are the consequences of the white backlash rather than the cause of them,” he said. Even as major steps forward were taken, steps backward—the backlash, often harder to pin down—were constantly on the horizon. Desegregation was the law of the land and the Civil Rights Act had been passed, but economic inequality and racism were alive and well. The result was, he posited, despair. Despair is linked to anger, and thus to riots.

King ended the speech on a note of hope and faith, not just for justice but also for achieving it in a way that was nonviolent and intersectional.

A few months later, in April of 1968, King was assassinated. Some citizens in cities across the country reacted with what TIME called a “shock wave of looting, arson and outrage.”

Those cities included Baltimore.

TIME conflict

Read the Letter That Changed the Way Americans Saw the Vietnam War

American "Huey" helicopters during My Lai massacre
Ronald L. Haeberle—The LIFE Images Collection/Getty American military helicopters in flight during the My Lai massacre on Mar. 16, 1968 in My Lai, South Vietnam

The My Lai Massacre took place on Mar. 16, 1968

It was late April of 1968 when Ronald Ridenhour “first heard of ‘Pinkville’ and what had allegedly happened there.”

Thus began the letter that he sent to several government officials, including President Richard Nixon, in March, 1969. What followed was an account of the March 16, 1968, massacre at My Lai. “Ridenhour did not witness the incident himself, but he kept hearing about it from friends who were there,” TIME, which misidentified him as “Richard,” recounted after the news became public. “He was at first disbelieving, then deeply disturbed.”

That letter would soon change the way American citizens thought and talked about the war in Vietnam. This is how Ridenhour described what had happened:

One village area was particularly troublesome and seemed to be infested with booby traps and enemy soldiers. It was located about six miles northeast of Quang Nh,ai city at approximate coordinates B.S. 728795. It was a notorious area and the men of Task Force Barker had a special name I for it: they called it “Pinkville.” One morning in the latter part of March, Task Force Barker moved out from its firebase headed for “Pinkville.” Its mission: destroy the trouble spot and all of its inhabitants.

When “Butch” told me this I didn’t quite believe that what he was telling me was true, but he assured me that it was and went on to describe what had happened. The other two companies that made up the task force cordoned off the village so that “Charlie” Company could move through to destroy the structures and kill the inhabitants. Any villagers who ran from Charlie Company were stopped by the encircling companies. I asked “Butch” several times if all the people were killed. He said that he thought they were men, women and children. He recalled seeing a small boy, about three or four years old, standing by the trail with a gunshot wound in one arm. The boy was clutching his wounded arm with his other hand, while blood trickled between his fingers. He was staring around himself in shock and disbelief at what he saw. “He just stood there with big eyes staring around like he didn’t understand; he didn’t believe what was happening. Then the captain’s RTO (radio operator) put a burst of 16 (M-16 rifle) fire into him.” It was so bad, Gruver said, that one of the men in his squad shot himself in the foot in order to be medivaced out of the area so that he would not have to participate in the slaughter. Although he had not seen it, Gruver had been told by people he considered trustworthy that one of the company’s officers, 2nd Lieutenant Kally (this spelling may be incorrect) had rounded up several groups of villagers (each group consisting of a minimum of 20 persons of both sexes and all ages). According to the story, Kally then machine-gunned each group. Gruver estimated that the population of the village had been 300 to 400 people and that very few, if any, escaped.

After hearing this account I couldn’t quite accept it. Somehow I just couldn’t believe that not only had so many young American men participated in such an act of barbarism, but that their officers had ordered it.

The full letter, which is widely available these days, ran to about 2,000 words worth of evidence that “something very black indeed” had happened. Further publicity came in the form of an investigation by reporter Seymour Hersh — which originally ran in a Washington news service after LIFE magazine rejected it.

In the fall of 1969, one of the leaders of the platoon implicated in the massacre — his name was actually spelled Calley — was charged with murdering civilians; other charges against other soldiers and officers followed. Comparisons to the Nuremberg Trials were many, especially as many of the soldiers there argued that they had just been following orders. There were several legal difficulties in pursuing a lawsuit against them, both logistical and sentimental, as TIME polls found that many Americans either did not believe Ridenhour’s account or thought that such killing was a natural result of war.

Several trials did move forward, however. In 1971, Calley was found guilty. (Other trials for those present continued, but Calley was the only one convicted.) The sentencing did not end My Lai’s reverberations. At a protest in New York, future Secretary of State John Kerry read this statement: “We are all of us in this country guilty for having allowed the war to go on. We only want this country to realize that it cannot try a Calley for something which generals and Presidents and our way of life encouraged him to do. And if you try him, then at the same time you must try all those generals and Presidents and soldiers who have part of the responsibility. You must in fact try this country.” The verdict split the U.S. between those who thought that punishments for the massacre should instead go all the way up to the Commander-in-Chief, and those who thought that condemning soldiers for killing was a travesty in its own right.

“The crisis of conscience caused by the Calley affair is a graver phenomenon than the horror following the assassination of President Kennedy,” TIME opined. “Historically, it is far more crucial.”

Though the nation was divided at the time, history has come out fairly firmly on one side: in 1998, three men who turned their weapons on fellow soldiers instead of My Lai residents were honored in Washington — shortly before Ridenhour died at 52 of a heart attack — and in 2009 Calley apologized for his role in what happened. “There is not a day that goes by,” he said, “that I do not feel remorse.”

Read TIME’s 1969 issue about the fallout from My Lai: The Massacre: Where Does the Guilt Lie?

See how LIFE reported on My Lai: American Atrocity

TIME India

Thousands Set to Attend March to Protest Rape of Elderly Nun in India

The 74-year-old nun was sexually assaulted by six attackers who also ransacked the convent where she worked

Thousands of Indians are expected to take to the streets of the eastern city of Kolkata on Monday to protest the rape of an elderly nun that took place over the weekend.

Thomas D’Souza, the city’s Archbishop, condemned the “inhuman act” in a statement, according to the BBC. “It has brought a lot of shame and pain to all concerned,” he said.

The 74-year-old nun, who was sexually assaulted by six attackers after they burgled and vandalized her convent, is currently in a stable condition at a local hospital. Ten men have been arrested in connection with the incident, although none of them resemble the alleged assailants who were caught on CCTV cameras.

Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of West Bengal, where Kolkata is situated, vowed quick and severe consequences for the perpetrators when they are found. The state police’s special investigative branch has reportedly taken over the investigation.

[BBC]

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