Silenced Parade: the Continued March of Racial Violence

Google recently commemorated the “Negro Silent Protest Parade” of July 28, 1917, where thousands of black protestors marched silently in New York City to protest racial violence. As I contemplated their legacy over the past week, I couldn’t help but observe that police killing of black people today, 100 years later, far exceeds the rate of lynchings leading up to the march.

Black People Killed Annually By:

Lynching (1887–1917): 93
Police (2012–2017): 288


The still-young organizer, the NAACP, would help push the civil rights movements of later decades, but in the early 1900’s the threat was more existential than political. Organized in direct response to the extraordinarily disturbing East St. Louis Massacre, the Silent Parade was also a bold challenge to lynching culture in the U.S.

“Before the march, the NAACP calculated that more than 2,800 black people had been lynched in the United States over the course of three decades.” WaPo

The movement to put an end to lynching eventually worked, but at least 576 more black people would be lynched between 1918 and 1968. Without diminishing the work of these movements, it’s worth asking how much of the drop is attributable to a reduction of white racial animus and how much is attributable to external forces like World War Two.

If racial violence had disappeared in the wake of efforts like the Silent Parade or those of the sixties and seventies, perhaps society could afford not to ask itself too many painful questions. Remember, this historic march was called after 2,800 people had been estimated lynched over the previous thirty years. But sadly we know that multiple new eras of racial tension and violence would erupt, surfacing the persistent segregation, discrimination, and racial violence in American society.

All better now?

Today, 2017, and police have killed at least half that number, 1,441, in less than five years. Of course, these aren’t the lawless lynch mob murders of the past century, but perhaps more frightening, they are extrajudicial killings by the hands of the very people most entrusted to protect public safety. Nor does one need to look far to get a sense of whether they’re justified.

And since police kill black people at a per capita rate nearly 3 times that of white people in the US, the argument that all these killings are justified hinges on a belief in the inherent criminality in the black race. In a word: racism.

This dynamic, an extension of hundreds of years of slavery, segregation, and disenfranchisement, is wreaking havoc beyond death toll alone. Not many white people need to have the following conversation with their kids.

Not many world-famous award winning authors live in this kind of constant existential fear:


This is just another rant against racial violence, another voice in the chorus. But until this epidemic ends, until every voice is unified, until then, the louder we protest, the more we write, the more we participate, the stronger we’ll be and the faster we can bring this recurring nightmare to an end.

Additional sources:

Washington Post police violence database

fivethiryeight analysis of systemic violence