Incomparable? George Floyd, Adama Traoré, and the War on Drugs in the Sister Republics

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore.

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In late May massive protests erupted in the U.S. and France in response to police brutality against people of color. The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on 25 May, which compounded tensions already heightened by the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery weeks earlier, prompted demonstrations in dozens of cities across the U.S., many of them met by militarized police units deploying flashbangs, tear gas, and rubber bullets in the name of “law and order.” In France, the government’s official denial on 29 May of an appeal for justice by the family of Adama Traoré, murdered by French police in July 2016, sparked a protest at Porte de Clichy in northwest Paris, where 20,000 people chanted the shared last words of Floyd and Traoré in French, “Je n’arrive pas à respirer.” A key organizer of the protests, Assa Traoré (Adama’s sister), declared in a speech, “Today, when we fight for George Floyd, we fight for Adama Traoré (…) What is happening in the United States is an echo of what is happening in France.”

Though the similarities between the lives and deaths of Traoré and Floyd are many and striking, the French government, through its spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye, officially declared that the men’s deaths and resulting mass demonstrations were “not exactly comparable, neither in terms of history nor in terms of the organization of society.” In France, Ndiaye argued, “there is no instituted state violence.” President Emmanuel Macron also chimed in, arguing on 10 June that universities were to blame for “ethnicizing the social question” for financial gain, radicalizing students, and “breaking the Republic in two.” 

While there have been comparably fewer deaths in police custody in France in recent decades, drug policing in the Hexagon, as in the U.S., is deeply rooted in the nation’s colonial past. And the cases of Floyd and Traoré, and 1000s of others who suffered similar fates, are unfortunately the latest chapters in the still-unfolding histories of colonial policing in both republics.

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Reefer Madness in France: Part II

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. David A. Guba, Jr., of Bard Early College in Baltimore. 

One of the earliest cases of “arab aliené: folie hasishique” I’ve found thus far in my research is from Algiers in the summer of 1857. On August 22 of that year, a twenty-year-old Muslim man called Soliman-ben-Mohammed attacked a crowd of Jewish Algerians gathered in the city’s central market for the Sabbath, wounding seven and killing one. Eyewitnesses described the killer as being “crazed by a fury” and “prey to unspeakable exasperations” as he wildly clubbed the fleeing crowd of men, women, and children. It was only when a group of nearby Frenchmen, “hearing the cries of the victims, seized the madman and disarmed him,” bringing the violent scene to a close.[1]

Screenshot 2019-06-27 09.13.57The most comprehensive record of the event and trial is found in a series of articles published in the Medical Gazette of Algeria in September of 1857 by Dr.’s Alphonse Bertherand and Noël-Eugène Latour, both with the French army and Civil Hospital in Algiers.[2] During his interrogation Soliman stated that he neither remembered the attack nor recognized his victims. He recalled leaving work earlier that day, smoking kif and drinking wine and anisette for several hours at a café in Algiers. He even recalled getting into a small altercation with several Jewish patrons at that café.  But, “visibly regretful and shedding tears,” Soliman again and again claimed he never intended to kill anyone and remembered nothing of the fatal attack.[3] 

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Points Interview: “The Philippines, the United States, and the Origins of Global Narcotics Prohibition” with Anne Foster

Editor’s Note: This is our last week of interviews with the authors of the newest edition of the Social History of Alcohol and Drugs, which focuses on the intersection of drugs and US foreign relations. Today we’re talking to Dr. Anne Foster, an associate professor of history at Indiana State University and co-editor of the journal Diplomatic History. You …

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The Cult of O’Shaughnessy

Editor’s Note: Points welcomes guest poster, Bradley J Borougerdi. Borougerdi holds BA, MA, and PhD degrees from the University of Texas at Arlington. His dissertation, “Cord of Empire, Exotic Intoxicant: Hemp and Culture in the Atlantic World, 1600-1900,” presents hemp as a vehicle for intercultural exchange in the modern era.

William Brooke O’Shaughnessy’s legacy looms large in the hemp liberation movement that is gaining momentum in America today. O’Shaughnessy was an Irishman of relatively humble origins who enjoyed some success as an employee of the British East India Company (EIC). He was remembered in the 19th century for successfully engineering the first telegraph system in Colonial India, an accomplishment that earned him a knighthood in 1857. Neither his obituary nor the brief biographies of him mention his career as a chemist, yet today’s hemp activists elevate him to near godlike status for his medical experiments with Indian hemp. He encountered the plant being used all across India, he said, “in various forms by the dissipated and the deprived, as the ready agent of a pleasing intoxication.” He concocted a preparation of the plant’s resin that became popular in the Atlantic world during the second half of the 19th century, but, for a number of reasons, it fell out of favor by the early 20th century. Today’s hemp activists– without acknowledging the complex nature of hemp’s place as a medicine in Anglo-Atlantic culture– describe O’Shaughnessy as an objectively brilliant, ahead-of-the-times genius. Some also see his work as living proof of a conspiracy against hemp for various economic and political reasons. Not only do these arguments demonstrate how readily history can be exploited for contemporary purposes, but the memorialization of O’Shaughnessy illuminates the complicated discourse that has surrounded the hemp plant over the last two centuries.

William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (via Wikipedia)
William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (via Wikipedia)

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The Tobacco Census v. “Ffrauds and Mischiefs”

Editor’s Note: Featured is another installment in our occasional series of fascinating cross-postings from the blogs published by various libraries and archives. Today’s post comes from Out of the Box: Notes from the Archives @ The Library of Virginia, and was authored by Sarah Nerney, senior local records archivist. 

Virginia’s agricultural production, as well as its economy, was dominated by tobacco for over three centuries, ever since John Rolfe sent his first shipment of tobacco to England in 1614. Growth of the Virginia colony and extension into the interior meant more soil and larger crops of tobacco. Despite the continuous growth in production, the tobacco trade was plagued by falling prices and decreased quality. By the 1720s, tobacco exports included large quantities of inferior product that even included shipments of “trash” tobacco—shipments that diluted tobacco leaves with foreign substances such as household sweepings. Consequently the price of tobacco sank so low that many planters struggled to recover production costs.

Tobacco growing in the streets of Jamestown. From Robert K. Heimann, Tobacco and Americans (1960). Image courtesy of Library of Virginia Special Collections.
Tobacco growing in the streets of Jamestown. From Robert K. Heimann, Tobacco and Americans (1960). Image courtesy of Library of Virginia Special Collections.

In 1723 Virginia’s General Assembly passed the first of its Tobacco Acts that attempted to control the quantity and quality of tobacco grown in the colony because it was believed that “most of the ffrauds [sic] and mischiefs which have been complained of in the Tobacco Trade” had arisen from the “planting on land not proper for producing good Tobacco” and the production of “greater Crops than the persons employed therein are able duly to tend.” The 1723 act established limits on the number of plants that certain classes of persons could grow with slave owners being allowed fewer plants. Each vestry of every parish had to appoint two people every year to count the number of plants being grown and report the numbers to the clerk of court by the month of August. Any number of plants over the allowed number were to be destroyed by the planter or, if the planter would not, by the counters. The act of 1729 provided various adjustments to and elaborations on the 1723 act. (For full text of the acts see The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 20, pp. 158-178.)

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