One act was widely abhorred. The other act ignored.
Many across America know about the 9/15/63 Birmingham murders of four little girls slain in the bombing of a black Baptist church 18-days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his stirring "I Have A Dream" speech.
However, few know about the Birmingham murder of Johnny Robinson, a 16-year-old shot in the back by a policeman hours after that church bombing.
If the deaths of those four children inside that Birmingham church catalyzed the 1960s-era Civil Rights Movement contributing to the racial progress America now praises itself for achieving, the death of Johnny Robinson represents yet another instance of the regression across America on the issue of effectively addressing lawlessness by law enforcers -- lawlessness that most often evades legal accountability.
Historically, America has a history of downplaying brutal behaviors by police.
Police abuses -- from fatal shootings through false arrests and use of foul language -- are dismissed as isolated acts of a 'few bad apples' instead of an endemic scourge historically impacting minorities and increasing impacting non-minorities. Top policy makers down through much of the public embrace this dismissal dynamic.
The policeman who fatally shot Johnny Robinson during disturbances that erupted in the wake of that murderous church bombing never faced criminal prosecution because all-white grand juries (state and federal) excused his shotgun slaying.
That Birmingham policeman who blasted Robinson with a shotgun, like the men who bombed that city's Sixteen Street Baptist Church, staunchly opposed ending America's system of legally sanctioned racial segregation. Officer Jack Parker, then the head of Birmingham's police union, publicly opposed integrating that city's police department.
"We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality." Dr. King declared during his iconic 1963 speech where he twice decried police abuses.
Today most Americans extoll the vision King articulated during that speech while continually ignoring the nightmares he detailed as injustices that drove the need for his 'Dream.' Police abuses remain core elements of the nightmare too many across America encounter daily.
A dozen years before King's 'Dream' speech a black union leader criticized police brutality during his keynote address at labor convention in Cincinnati. "We are horrified to hear of the many police killings of Negroes from New York City to Birmingham, Alabama," William R. Hood said in October 1951.
The same year Hood linked discrimination in the workplace with racist deprivations across American society, an interracial group of Americans delivered a petition to the United Nations charging the American government with committing genocide against African-Americans.
"Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman's bullet," that seminal yet forgotten petition asserted. "We submit that the evidence suggests that the killing of Negroes has become police policy in the United States and that police policy is the most practical expression of government policy."
Typical of America's history of denial on police brutality, federal government leaders viciously attacked those behind the petition instead of the police abuse and other problems highlighted in their petition. Top federal authorities, for example, pulled the passports of petition signers who were scheduled to travel to Europe to meet with U.N. representatives and even enlisted the widow of President Franklin Roosevelt to convince U.N. officials that charges in that petition were exaggerated.