Chickens Coming Home to Roost
following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X was asked by
the media for his response. Malcolm was not surprised by this tragic event,
because white America had long fostered violence and racism throughout society.
Kennedy's murder, Malcolm believed, was an example of the "chickens coming
home to roost": by promoting brutality and violence against racialized
minorities, the white power system had created an environment that had struck
down its president.
America we live in today is in many respects a far more violent country than it
was when Kennedy was assassinated back in 1963. Back then, most of us could
sleep at night with our doors unlocked. Today, millions of Americans barricade
themselves behind private guards and electronic security systems. Nobody knows
with certainty just how many firearms are in general circulation in the U.S.
There are 192 million privately owned , registered firearms, about one for every
adult citizen. Two million of these are military assault weapons, with automatic
or semiautomatic firing power.
recent years, there has been a seemingly endless series of violent public
assaults involving firearms. First there were a number of high school shootings
by white juveniles, mostly in suburban and rural predominantly white areas. In
Littleton, Colorado, two white students dressed in black coats methodically
killed 12 students, a teacher, and finally themselves. Inspired by the Littleton
murders, a fifteen year old boy in Conyers, Georgia, walked into his high school
one month later with a sawed-off .22 caliber rifle strapped to his leg and a
.357 caliber handgun at his waist. He opened fire in a crowded common area in
the school, shooting six of his classmates.
Buckhead, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb, a day trader upset by a number of losses
in the stock market murdered his co-workers and family. A worker in Pelham,
Alabama, began shooting over a simple grievance with his employers. Most
recently, white supremacist Buford O. Furrow, Jr., entered the Jewish Community
Center in the Los Angeles suburb of Granada Hills, and fired over 70 rounds.
Three young boys, a 16 year old girl and a 68 year old woman were hit. An hour
later, Furrow brutally executed a part time postman, Joseph Ileto, because he
was both a person of color and a government employee. The following day Furrow
turned himself in, and was found that he possessed several handguns, a
high-powered rifle and hand grenades. When asked to explain his actions, Furrow
replied simply that the shooting was "to be a wake up call to America to
highly publicized series of shootings has generated an intense national debate
over the social, political and psychological factors behind this wave of
violence. Media "experts" have offered several explanations in recent
days. One argument is that Americans have "lost their respect" for
traditional institutions, such as churches, schools and hospitals. A day care
center is no longer "off limits" for armed violence. Another thesis
says that Hollywood is to blame for depicting in graphic detail thousands of
murders that our children grow up seeing. The solution for these critics is the
censorship of films and commercial television.
social psychologists have also argued that in our postmodern, globalized
capitalist lives, many individuals feel overwhelmed and are unable to cope. A
relatively minor event may cause a frustrated individual to "snap,"
suddenly becoming violent. Furrow had received lengthy psychiatric evaluations
at mental institutions in Washington state, and had served nearly six months in
jail for trying to stab two workers at a mental hospital, but was released from
custody. These experts thus attribute the shootings at the Los Angeles Jewish
Community Center to the failures of the mental health system in Washington
weakness of all these arguments is that they focus almost exclusively on
individual behavior, rather than examining what the social consequences are for
the kind of society that has been developed in the U.S. Buford O. Furrow, Jr.,
did not fall out of the sky, or climb over the walls of his mental institution
and magically appear at the Jewish Community Center one morning. He is part of a
white racist "Christian Identity" movement that has conservatively
35,000 followers. As Ron Sims, the King County Executive, Seattle's highest
elected official says, what Furrow did "was cowardly, repulsive and a very
irrational act. But mental illness was not the cause. Hatred was. This guy came
out of a culture of hatred."
liberals generally present another interpretation for these shootings: the
absence of adequate gun control legislation, and the refusal by Congress to
outlaw dangerous military-style firearms from the general public. The New York
Times, for example, discussed the Los Angeles shootings largely as a gun control
problem. "It was not clear where or how Mr. Furrow had obtained his
weapons," the Times declared. "But the point is that guns are far too
readily available and that the time has plainly come to start closing off the
avenue of access, especially for teenagers and people like Mr. Furrow with
New York Times simply doesn't get it. Guns kill thousands of people in the black
community every year, and the National Rifle Association and the gun
manufacturers are fundamentally responsible for these deaths. But even if you
took literally every gun away from Furrow and his Christian Identity thugs,
they'd still come after African Americans and Jews with hammers, scissors, and
anything else they could lay their hands on. The fundamental issue here is not
firearms, it's the ideology of white racism.
O. Furrow, Jr., is a poster boy for white capitalist Americanism. He's a product
of an economy based on profit making, where you are permitted to sell almost
anything, no matter how deadly or destructive, as long as you can make money
from it. That's why several hundred million guns are in circulation in the U.S.
O. Furrow, Jr., is a logical product of white supremacist history, raised in a
nation constructed on the enslavement of Africans, the genocide of American
Indians, the segregation of Jim Crow, and the forced resettlement of Japanese
Americans into internment camps during World War II. Furrow is a social
consequence of a society that imprisons nearly two million of its own citizens,
and permits millions more to live in poverty.
could take violent scenes out of every Hollywood movie, increase public
expenditures for mental healthcare facilities, and pass stronger gun control
regulations, and you would still have a problem: the day-to-day violence of
white supremacy. Malcolm was right. The chickens are coming home to roost.
Dr. Manning Marable is Professor of History and Political Science and Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University. "Along the Color Line" is distributed free of charge and appears in over 325 publications throughout the U.S. and internationally.