This is Why The Police Wear Masks in HBO’s Watchmen

One of the most notable visuals from HBO’s Watchmen is Tulsa police with face-concealing masks. It is a rather sinister sight, not least because it seems so strange. However, there is a sound reason for the Tulsa police wearing face-concealing masks in the show, which is connected to the Tulsa race riot of 1921.

What Was the Tulsa Race Riot?

For those who are unfamiliar, both the Allied Powers and the Central Powers made use of non-white soldiers in the First World War. The United States was not an exception to this rule, as shown by how more than 350,000 African-Americans served in said conflict. The first black units were service units that performed tasks such as unloading ships, transporting men and material, burying corpses, removing unexploded shells, and digging the trenches that characterized the Western Front. However, it wasn’t too long before black combat troops.

Unsurprisingly, there was a political element to the service of African-Americans in the First World War. For instance, black thinkers had a very mixed response to the thought of serving as soldiers in spite of being treated as second-class citizens at best. However, there were nonetheless a lot of African-Americans who signed up because they hoped that their service would improve their standing in the United States. Unfortunately, there were a lot of whites who understood perfectly well that the service of black soldiers could pave the way for the recognition of black political rights, thus resulting in a wave of racial violence that was meant to cow them. The most infamous part of this wave was the Red Summer of 1919 that saw anti-black riots in more than 20 U.S. cities, though it is important to note that these were by no means isolated incidents.

The Tulsa race riot wasn’t a part of the Red Summer. However, it was very much influenced by a similar combination of factors. Besides this, it should be mentioned that Tulsa was home to Greenwood district, which was a black district formed in 1906 following Booker T. Washington’s tour in 1905. Said district was prosperous, so much so that it was called the Black Wall Street. Meanwhile, Northeastern Oklahoma was in something of an economic slump, which was paired with a rise in the number of Ku Klux Klan members in the state.

Regardless, the Tulsa race riot started when a black shoeshiner named Dick Rowland was accused of assaulting a white elevator operator named Sarah Page. When Rowland was taken into custody, an angry white mob gathered at the courthouse, which was very alarming for the local black population because that looked a lot like the lead-up to a lynching. As a result, a group of black veterans and other black people arrived armed with the intent of supporting Sheriff Bill McCullough in defending Rowland, which in turn, prompted members of the white mob to arm themselves. It is unclear who fired the first shot, but what happened was a rolling gunfight that killed ten white people and two black people.

Once this news spread, white mobs rampaged throughout Greenwood. The exact numbers are unknown, but there are some estimates of hundreds of casualties. Moreover, there was an estimated loss of $1.5 million in real estate property plus $750,000 in personal property, which would have been worth about $32 million in 2018. There were some people as well as some parties that promised to help the black residents who lost their homes rebuild, but their efforts proved lackluster, not least because Tulsa city planners found it a perfect opportunity to force black people out of Greenwood by redeveloping the burned district for business as well as industrial use. Even worse, no white people were ever prosecuted for crimes committed in the Tulsa race riot, which contributed much to the silence that hung over the events until the 1990s.

Why Are the Tulsa Police Wearing Masks in HBO’s Watchmen?

In HBO’s Watchmen, Ozymandias’s plot proved to be successful. As a result, he was able to convince politicians to take a more progressive stance on a wide range of issues. However, Ozymandias’s intentions were also stymied by a newfound sense of technophobia that had a very detrimental effect on his business. Regardless, one of the effects of the changed politics is the reparations for the victims of racial injustice, which included those who suffered losses in the Tulsa race riot. Unfortunately, this has strengthened white supremacists, with a prime example being a Tulsa-based white supremacist cult called the Seventh Kavalry that has based their look on Rorschach. Something that is perhaps unsurprising considering the superhero’s extreme right-wing views.

Tulsa police wear the face-concealing masks to protect themselves as well as their families. This is necessary because the Seventh Kavalry attacked them in their own homes in an event called the White Night, which killed a lot of police officers while convincing a lot of the survivors to leave the police force. By masking themselves, Tulsa police prevent their faces from becoming known, thus making it that much more difficult for white supremacists to carry out further attacks on them and their families.

This is a practice with real life precedents. For example, it isn’t uncommon for undercover police officers to wear balaclavas so that they can continue working as undercover police officers afterwards. Likewise, there are anti-gang units in certain countries that wear balaclavas so that they can conceal their identities from gang members, thus preventing attacks on them as well as their families when they are off-duty. With that said, HBO’s Watchmen seems to have taken this practice to further lengths than real life examples, as shown by how some of the Tulsa police have adopted not just unique masks but also what are sounding a lot like superhero identities to go along with them.

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