Chickens Coming Home to Roost

Manning Marable


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

kill Jews."


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

criminal records."


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.


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.

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