There is some strange connection between racial violence and head butts. The classic skinhead book, Among the Thugs, is full of them. Not that all skinheads are racist, of course, but the shorn-skulled and their racist ilk seem to have the thick crania needed to deliver the blow.
At least, that seems to be the case for the killer of St. Louis native Nick Holmes. A student at the University of Dayton, Holmes was visiting friends at the University of Kentucky when, on January 18, 2002, he and his biracial roommate got into an altercation with Aaron Roth. According to the Lexington Herald, a member of a group Roth was with used a racial slur against Holmes' roommate before the argument became violent, ending with Holmes' skull fractured and him dead. Roth's head butt wasn't fatal: It was Holmes' fall onto the concrete that killed him, which may be why Roth did a total of 60 days in prison for the crime (which was reduced to fourth-degree assault). [Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this paragraph; please see end of column.]
It was just another death in the long, long line of racially motivated killings in America, and a rather gray one at that -- after all, this was white-on-white violence. But when local musician Nate Jones learned about the killing from Holmes' friend Michael Fletcher, he wanted to do something proactive. "It's fucking 2005 here and this stuff is still happening?" Jones fumes. "It's just ignorance."
So Jones, Fletcher and others began organizing a Rock Against Racism show that, after a few false starts, will take place at the Ground Floor in Belleville, Illinois, on Friday. Other folks have used the "Rock Against Racism" tag, including what sounds like an incredible 1979 concert featuring the Clash and X-Ray Spex. Jones' group isn't affiliated with any of the previous shows, but it does offer a wide variety of music.
"We're not just a bunch of hard-rock bands calling ourselves 'Rock Against Racism,'" Jones explains. "We've got Antonio Killion, who raps; we have Dredding Monday, a punk band from Belleville; our band [Con Artist] is a hard-rock band; we have a classic-rock, bluesy thing with Gothic Blues Quartet; and we've got the Red Light Runners, a St. Louis ska band."
Unlike a lot (if not most) charities with abstract names like Rock Against Racism, the money isn't going toward something as vague as "the end of racism." Instead the money will go directly to Holmes' parents and six siblings. Jones plans to widen the scope in future events.
"At first we're just concentrating on Nick and helping his family along," he says. "And then we're going to try to focus on some other victims or their families. Whoever needs the help."
They won't be hard to find. I'd like to suggest, for the next benefit, helping out the victims of the 2001 stabbing at a Springfield Denny's, which was actually prosecuted as a hate crime. Jones admits that he doesn't know that much about "organized" racism in Missouri.
"I don't know much about [white-power groups] locally, if it's a big deal. I know the KKK purchased a highway. I'm not too aware of the local white-power scene. The whole thing happened in Kentucky, which is a pretty 'racy' state, if you know what I mean."
Jones' lack of knowledge about the local scene may be to his organization's benefit. In cities with a sizable racist skinhead population (like Springfield, a recent national headquarters for the really unpleasant Midland Hammerskins), anti-racist organizations seem to spend a lot of time bickering with a few sad sacks while racism continues unabated around them. For instance, people turn into SHARPs (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice), which by definition wouldn't exist if they didn't have racists to fight with. By focusing on helping victims instead of spending time preaching to the choir about racism being wrong, Jones and his compatriots might actually do some good.
Is there a white-power music scene in St. Louis? I'm really asking. As someone who grew up in Springfield and lived for a year with a Traditional (that is, non-racist but not actively anti-racist....is this getting confusing?) Skinhead, I'd think I'd be able to sniff out the scene, but I haven't spotted many red bootlaces since living in the Lou. Of course, white-power bands don't expect a lot of sympathy from the press.
If you know anything about it, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you're a part of the scene, get in touch as well. I won't promise to agree with your politics, but hell, I don't agree with the politics of lots of local bands.
Correction published 1/26/05: The original version of this column misidentified the college Nick Holmes attended, as well as the source of the racial slur that led to his killing. The above version reflects the corrected text.