First of all, thank you to @freewritehouse for adopting me this week -- I saw in a comment around the "happy accident of a prompt" that the adoption was coming, so I got busy polishing up content I was going to start putting out anyway in addition to the daily #freewrite, and will thus be presenting you a portion a day of "Black, White, and RED All Over," a complicated intersection between racial tension, good policing and bad, veterans and their long coming home, and a mystery to solve that you will have fun trying to track and trace! Be warned in advance: you will be not-too-subtly TOLD what the proposed crime is going to be in part 5, and the motive will be showing itself to you from part 1 onward. If you miss it, don't worry about it -- you'll enjoy being surprised with everyone else in the story at the end!
Okay, enough yakking from me: enjoy part 1 of "Black, White, and RED All Over"!
(And I made that graphic below to divide my yakking from my writing!)
“It used to be that 'what's black and white and read all over?' used to be a joke told about the newspaper, but every newspaper in the hands of racist reactionaries in the South has indeed been red all over – soaked with the blood of innocent Black people, brutalized and slaughtered over lies in print that continue to this day.
“No more will we allow the wholesale placarding of racist tomes about ourselves and our children to pass for news. No more will we not have a voice to raise in challenge. No more shall we, the Black populations of Tinyville, Littleburg, Miniopolis, Smallwood, Shortport, Big Loft, and the rural countryside be passively painted as savages while the real savages sit comfortably in places of law, commerce, and politics. Be it known to all Virginia: those days are over! Hereby understand that the Lofton County Free Voice will roar back at the voices of racist reactionary news, beginning in Tinyville, then across Lofton County, then to the uttermost parts of Virginia!”
Captain Ironwood Hamilton and Lieutenant Patrick O'Reilly of Tinyville's two-man police force stood at the nearest public bulletin board nearest the police station, reading what they had been reading, over and over again, on their regular dawn walk through the town.
The lieutenant was 25 years old, medium height and build, with bright red hair, ruddy skin, green eyes, and a shocking Southern drawl (unless you know the Scotch-Irish history of the southeastern United States).
The captain was 45 years old, six feet tall, sinewy, with iron-gray eyes and hair to match. His features looked like something that those Southern artists who loved to carve Confederates out of marble would have adored – classic, strong features, handsome, calm, and resolute. The slight pinch in those features from the sudden headache the captain was experiencing would of course have been glossed over.
“Wow,” said Lieutenant O'Reilly. “Have ever you read such bombast in all your life, Captain?”
Captain Ironwood Hamilton shook his head slowly, slowly because of the headache that was increasing every second.
“It's only bombast if the Lofton County Free Voice can't do what it says. I rather think it can, or at least can make a gallant effort.”
Lieutenant O'Reilly's green eyes got wide.
“Captain, you're not serious! A Black newspaper? In Lofton County? They won't last a week!”
Captain Hamilton shook his head again, and restrained his urge to rub his throbbing temples.
“It's not 1819, and these are not amateurs we are dealing with. Just from this first issue, I know they have a good chunk of money in hand, dedicated people, and good strategic and tactical sense.”
“Look at the quality of the paper and ink – excellent for something the editors of the Free Voice has to know is going to be exposed to the elements and the anger of a good portion of 72 percent of the town. It's a 20 weight 11X17 paper, with first-class laser ink on a new printer.”
“How do you know it's new?”
“Printed items, particularly in color, have less sharply defined edges the older the printer gets – there's a bit less precision. Anyhow: one has to consider this being $4 per sheet – a little less with discounts on bulk printing, but assuming just Tinyville for the moment, there are at least 100 of these if the town is saturated like we have seen on the streets we have checked. That's $400 in printing costs alone. None of that was spent here – either in Roanoke or Big Loft, where they have the kind of print shops that can do this kind of work.
“Which brings me to the other point: this issue is composed of six different articles, written by various people on various kinds of computers and word processors, but all of whom have the same desktop publishing software. Look here at the different articles. You can see the mild glitching in spacing between lines and within lines of text in the articles, although the frames that the stories go into remain perfect.
“Someone sent out the template with the editorial in place. The first person to receive it flowed his contribution into the space designed for it, saved it, and sent to the next writer who likewise flowed her contribution in. The last person who got their article in sent it to whoever was going to give it a final look before it went out.
“The point, Lieutenant: the paper is decentralized, and the writers beside the editor himself -- Mr. Henry Varick IV inherits his famous name, and cannot improve on it -- have used pen names of great figures in Black history. They know better than to present an easy target. As it stands, our local domestic terrorists would have to burn down the print shops in Big Loft and Roanoke to stop this paper from coming out.”
“They're not spoiling for that big a fight,” Lieutenant O'Reilly said.
“No. But the Lofton County Free Voice is trying to provoke a reaction, and they'll get it. The Tinyville Times and the papers of the other mentioned towns will lash back, say too much, and thus help the Free Voice put pressure on toward its true object – .”
In the distance, the captain and the lieutenant heard the phones in the police station began to ring. It was 6:30am, and Tinyville was beginning to wake up. Like Captain Hamilton's headache, the volume of calls would continue to increase through the morning. Indeed, Tinyville and the whole of Lofton County were seeing red all over, everywhere the provocative new paper was posted.
Not that the two-man police force in Tinyville took all those calls. The non-emergency voice message service picked up all the calls, transcribed them, and printed them for quick review – either the lieutenant or the captain scanned them periodically for police matters, but left the complaints to accumulate. Woe be to the citizen who called through 9-11 about the paper! Captain Hamilton answered those in such a way that the offending person would never make that abuse of emergency services again.
Meanwhile, the morning went on. Captain Hamilton handled five interviews for three open lieutenant positions that morning, and then returned that afternoon to the task that had cost the Tinyville force those three lieutenants (see my "Rush to Judgment" freewrite for details). The captain had the grim task of going through the 45 percent of cases handled by the department in the decade before he came that showed clear racial bias in treatment and investigation of Tinyville's Black population.
There was sufficient reason for the thundering indignation of the Lofton County Free Voice. Some of those cases had led to wrongful convictions, and the captain was painstakingly sorting those out and slating them to be re-opened. In 10 years, there was a goodly bunch, and therefore a goodly bunch of innocent men and women incarcerated for crimes that they didn't commit – or never even happened. Some cases had been made up out of thin air!
The problem for Captain Hamilton was two-fold: he knew that if 45 percent of cases had clearly gone wrong, then there was no trusting anything the department had done in the last ten years when it came to Black people. Every conviction obtained on the county and state level of a Black person that came out of Tinyville was suspect.
The other problem: while working through that much legal mess was a process best done carefully, and therefore had to be done slowly with only one man having access to the material, 28 percent of Tinyville was tired of waiting for the truth to be brought out. The paper's launch was provocative. The Freedom of Information Act request it had made of the Tinyville police department would be downright explosive, no matter how Captain Hamilton handled it.
In the afternoon, citizens of Tinyville incensed by the Lofton County Free Voice's intrusive launch began coming to the police station to see why their complaint calls were not being answered. They were stunned to see their rather excited statements presented to them in writing, and then to hear the grim gravity of Captain Hamilton's voice as he said, over and over and over again, “Although I understand your concern, we do not have departmental resources to spare to respond to and investigate non-criminal matters.”
Lieutenant O'Reilly marveled at how many people seemed to want it to be a crime that the descendants of the enslaved could make use of the rights of American citizens in public expression, just like everyone else in Virginia. They rhetorically danced around it, but, it was at the heart of the dance.
Captain Hamilton sat like a block of marble in his department's heather-gray uniform, and held his ground. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see through the window screen a set of mahogany-colored fingers, holding a notebook that was bobbing up and down – being written in.
All the carrying on of many white citizens of Tinyville about the launch of the Lofton County Free Voice at the police department – all their wanting the police to do what it had traditionally done since the end of the Civil War in assisting in the snatching of hard-won freedoms away from Black people – was being recorded and would be reported. There was a long line urging that, including prominent town figures (although, notably, no office holders, for reasons the captain already knew). The embarrassment was going to be severe. Captain Hamilton's concern was that the police department itself not get caught up in any way. The FOIA request sitting in the captain's desk would be more than trouble enough.
Not only that. Lieutenant O'Reilly had kept track of social media, and had found something interesting. Instead of the new paper having a website that could be attacked, what people were doing was taking pictures of the first edition of the Lofton County Free Voice and its articles, and then putting them on their own social media. Further decentralization, since now to shut down the spread of the news, a whole bunch – dozens, becoming hundreds, becoming thousands – of social media accounts would all have to be shut down.
The local crowd most interested in that shutdown likely did not have the kind of sophistication to catch up – and besides, the diversity of the social media was too much to cope with, given that Black Junction and Blaggenuf and Steemit and Palnet were not likely to bow to the pressures to class the new paper as “hate speech” that the big social media giants might come under.
The Lofton County Free Voice, and its six articles, were spreading far and wide quickly, and also into corners where it could not be easily stifled, from whence its message could be summoned to confront its ideological foes at the touch of a button.
Near the close of the day, Captain Hamilton looked at the information Lieutenant O'Reilly was compiling, and pondered the magnitude of what they both were seeing.
“I see what you were saying earlier, Captain,” Lieutenant O'Reilly said. “That may not be bombast after all, the stuff that little editorial was talking … they are making quite a go at it, already! Oh … look here, Captain. The paper and all its articles have now passed the 10,000th mark for shares, and there must be a million likes and thousands upon thousands of interesting comments ... and they are picking up cryptocurrencies called STEEM and PAL ... getting paid to spread their message ... "
“We ain't seen nothing yet,” the captain said. “Lofton County is not prepared for its Black population to talk back with equal strength of voice, but it had better get prepared, and so had we. In that stack of non-emergency calls are the calls of our fellow police officers in Tinyville, Littleburg, Miniopolis, Smallwood, Shortport, and the county itself. Their day has been much like ours. I think an impromptu working dinner may be in order.”