Understanding Our Many Fergusons: Kill Lines – the Will, the Right and the Need to Kill

by Noel A. Cazenave, Truthout | Op-Ed –

The following is a condensed and revised version of a talk given on September 11, 2014, at a forum, sponsored by the University of Connecticut’s Africana Studies Institute, on the killings of Michael Brown and other African-Americans

michael brown memorial

A makeshift memorial for Michael Brown, who was fatally shot by a police officer on Aug. 9, on the spot where he was killed in Ferguson, Mo., Aug. 26, 2014. (Photo: Todd Heisler / The New York Times)

There seems to be a war raging in the United States for which there is no end in sight. A war, the outcome of which may well determine whether many African-American children will live to reach adulthood. More precisely, what is happening looks and feels like a race war that pits the right of African-Americans to have their young people live with dignity against the right of angry white policemen and vigilantes with guns to kill them.

My understanding of what is happening in Ferguson and elsewhere in the United States developed as the result of a perfect storm-like convergence of a number of influences. In the early spring of this year, while eating some good Southern cooking and talking with my sociology department colleague, Matt Hughey, and two other very accomplished racism scholars at Black Eyed Sally’s in downtown Hartford, I heard myself saying words that were shocking to my own ears. At that moment, in the wake of a spate of police and Stand Your Ground laws-justified, vigilante-style killings (e.g., Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and Jordon Davis), I found myself articulating the need to conceptualize what increasingly seemed to be a sense of entitlement by many “whites” to kill “black” youth. This suspicion was further stoked not long afterward when I read an internet posting on the plans of a gun rights group of European-American men to march through a low-income, African-American neighborhood in Houston, Texas, brandishing assault rifles to demonstrate their right to bear such arms whenever and wherever they pleased.

I developed this idea further in a talk I gave to a group of mothers in Hartford whose sons had been killed as a result of gun violence. At that forum, held in the wake of the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Ezell Ford by European-American police officers on Staten Island, in Ferguson, Missouri, and in Los Angeles, California, respectively, I made the link between racism and poverty to both such African-American on African-American gun violence and to European-American police and vigilante killings and stressed the need for an effective social movement challenge to bring about the systemic change needed to better protect our youth, both from dangers within and outside of our communities.

In that talk, I stated that as I continued to observe the killings by those from outside of our communities, I became increasingly convinced that they are acts of racial terrorism that the perpetrators see in their own perverted way as a form of morality enforcement that serves the same vigilante function that lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan used to serve – especially in the South. I added that such terrorism, what we might call the new 21st century version of lynchings, is intended to send a message that it is so-called white people who are in control and that black people had best stay in our place and to behave as white men with guns would have us to behave. Finally, I concluded that the underlying premise behind these “new lynchings” is that we African-Americans have no rights and that “white men,” whether in uniform or not, have the right to kill “black” people as they please, and that right will not be abridged by anyone.

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Reprinted with permission