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Role, Colonial Mentality, Played in Deaths of Smith & Brown Slaying of the Student Movement of 1972

We just commemorated the 50th anniversary of the murders of Denver Smith and Leonard Brown. Following student organizing, boycotts, and protests over campus conditions, these students were killed on the campus of Southern University (SU) in Baton Rouge on November 16, 1972. Around this time, student leaders were arrested and legally enjoined from returning to campus. Each November 16th, a spotlight shines on these tragic events. The spotlight never illuminates how colonial mentality played in all of this. To understand what unfolded that day, it must be considered.

George Leon Netterville was the President of SU at the time. He was a Black male like Smith and Brown and most student leaders. It appears Netterville misled the students on that dreadful day. As students followed Netterville’s instructions and awaited his return to campus, calls were placed to law enforcement officials by SU officials representing that President Netterville was being held hostage, justifying a militarized law enforcement response. Social Psychologist Ignacio Martín-Baró stated that Colonial mentality is one of the most damaging outcomes of colonization, where colonizers are perceived as superior to the culture, society, and heritage of colonized people. This means that the colonial mentality is a direct product of years of degradation and oppression by the power structure in various countries. The colonial mentality is as culpable as those officers who threw the tear gas and fired the shots that day. The colonial mentality loaded the gun for the one who pulled the trigger on November 16, 1972.


A 3rd-year student at Southern University Law Center enrolled in Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell’s Law & Racism class.

While the colonial mentality has affected the abused negatively, the colonial mentality has somewhat of a twisted positive effect on the abusers. The colonial mentality gives the user the perception that, even though they are victimized, they are not allowed to bring the action because they are inferior. However, the colonial mentality gives the abusers the perception that even if they engage in criminal behavior, they are immune to the consequences because they are superior.

The only way to combat the colonial mentality is by gaining proper knowledge of self and history. Psychology tells us that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So, it is imperative that we teach this history and how it correlates with the colonial mentality so that it will never happen again. The colonial mentality forces the abused to embody and protect the values and practices of the oppressors, and those practices cause self-destruction. So, we must teach the next generation so that they can break this destructive cycle.

Even though the tragic slaying of Denver Smith and Leonard Brown occurred 50 years ago, Black men are still being murdered like animals by police. The colonial mentality has made it permissible for police to brutalize Blacks in this country without fear of consequences subconsciously. The police are still firing bullets that are filled with oppression, swinging fists that are filled with superiority, and plowing knees that are filled with immunity that crush the necks of the abused due to the same twisted effects of the colonial mentality that took the lives of Denver Smith and Leonard Brown in 1972.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writers. They do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of the Baton Rouge Weekly Press Newspaper or its Staff.

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