Bloody Sundays

March 8, 2015 — Leave a comment

There is a kind of perverse irony that Sunday seems to be one of the bloodiest days around. A prescribed day of rest turned into shameful examples of inhumanity.

It all seems to have started in London, when on 13th November 1887, Trafalgar Square was the scene of a bloody confrontation when police, with the backing of wealthy and powerful West Enders, charged a rally of poor protesters from the East End.

22nd January 1905 saw the Russian Imperial Guard fire on demonstrators when, armed only with a petition, approached Tsar Nicholas II’s Winter Palace. The march, under the auspices of the Assembly of Russian Factory and Mill Workers of St Petersburg and led by the Russian Orthodox priest Father Gregory Gapon, was a public demonstration aimed at defending the worker’s rights and elevating “their moral and religious status”. It was the start of the Revolution of 1905 which dismantled the monarchy and paved the way for a multi-party system, and a Russian Constitution. Until all that changed with the Revolution of 1917. But it all started on a Sunday.

November 5th, 1916 was another bloody Sunday, this time in Washington State when local authorities clashed with about 300 Wobblies, members of the Industrial Workers of the World union. It became known as the Everett Massacre.

Bloody Sunday is credited with the start of the Irish War of Independence in November 1920, when Michael Collins instructed the IRA to assassinate a team of undercover British Army officers, Royal Irish Constabulary and civilian informants, known as the Cairo Gang. The Black and Tans, with the para-military wing of the RIC, the Auxilliary Division, retaliated by opening fire at Croke Park on a Gaelic football match killing 14 civilians. Religious and nationalist demands seem rarely to be peaceful.

The Nazis laid claim to the next Blutsonntag, a bloody Sunday, when attempting “to solve the Jewish question” in Poland, wherein they marched between 8,000 and 12,000 Jews from the Stanislawow Ghetto to the Jewish Cemetery. Beating and torturing them along the way, they were stripped of both their valuables and clothing and either lined up in front of already dug mass graves, or told to jump into them, before being shot.

And then Selma. The Bloody Sunday of March 7th, 1965 when the Edmund Pettus Bridge leading from Selma to Montgomery became the battleground for Alabama state troopers clubbing and shooting teargas at 600 unarmed black marchers. Led by John Lewis, a Baptist Minister and now a Congressman, and activists from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), the march became the first of three (the second and third led by Martin Luther King Jr) which were instrumental in bringing about the Voting Rights Act on August 6th, 1965; an act written to enforce the 15th Amendment of the US Constitution, stating there was no cause “…. to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

Somehow the written word portrays a more harrowing violence than seeing film unfolding across our screens. An essay entitled Midnight Plane to Alabama written by George B Leonard and published in The Nation (10 May 1965), describes the scenes viewed on televisions around the world in chilling simplicity:

… The scene cut to charging horses, their hoofs flashing over the fallen. Another quick cut, a cloud of tear gas billowed over the highway. Periodically the top of a helmeted head emerged from the cloud, followed by a club on the upswing. The club and the head would disappear into the cloud of gas and another club would bob up and down. Unhuman. No other word can describe the motions. The picture shifted quickly to a Negro church. The bleeding, broken and unconscious passed across the screen, some of them limping alone, others supported on either side, still others carried in arms or on stretchers. It was at this point that my wife, sobbing, turned and walked away, saying, “I can’t look any more.”

But we must look, so we learn. I’m not greatly in favour of apologizing for events which took place a very long time ago. They were of a different time and place. That is not in any way to excuse them, but if we are to move forward we have to let some things go, as long as we do not forget history.

Maybe that is why the scenes and stories coming out of ISIS controlled areas, from Boko Haram in Nigeria, from Buddhist monks fueling anti-Muslim rage in Myanmar and Sri Lanka are all so very disturbing, not only for their graphic brutality, but because we seem not to have learnt from bloody Sundays.

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