“Violence is a part of America’s culture. It is as American as cherry pie.”
— Black separatist and civil rights activist Jamil Abdullah al-Amin, AKA H. “Rap” Brown
in a press conference on July 27, 1967.
Violence in America has been a staple of its culture from the beginning. It was used by disgruntled colonialists in establishing their independence from their overbearing motherland in England. Less than a 100 years later, it was used to establish a precarious freedom for an enslaved race who toiled to make its untamed land fit for European consumption. No less a person than abolitionist, pharmacist, and physician James McCune Smith expressed the need for its utilization when polite discourse failed.
“Our White brethren cannot understand us unless we speak to them in their own language; they recognize only the philosophy of force,” he explained in a 1856 essay published in Frederick Douglass’ paper.
Violence was also used as an adjunct in wrestling western territories from Native Americans. With this tradition in mind, it is understandable how easily this crude form of behavior can be implemented to achieve the aims (right or wrong) of those who practice it. The mythology of the intrepid frontiersman, utilizing his firearm to tame the insolent foe, remains a potent image in the psyche of native and immigrant alike.
Building on our traditions
“My heart was shattered when I heard of the shooting in Monterey Park. I began to pray for all the families involved. I pray that we also continue to highlight the needs of gun control.”
—Pastor K.W. Tulloss,
Baptist Ministers Conference of LA
The multiple shootings that transpired just days ago on Jan. 21 in Monterey Park, Calif. launched a rush to judgement by media outlets, who understandably assumed the murders were the latest in the rash of hate crimes against the Asian-American community.
Further scrutiny revealed that both the assailant and victims were of Chinese descent. There was another shooting spree on Jan. 23 in Half Moon Bay, also involving Chinese victims and a perpetrator, just south of San Francisco. Both these crimes conform to official statistics, in that murder is generally intraracial, i.e., assailants and casualty victims usually belong to the same ethnic group.
A study by the U.S. Department of Justice showed that 84% of White victims were killed by White offenders, and 93% of Black victims were killed by Black offenders from 1980 to 2008.
Moving ahead to 2018, a similar study by the FBI showed that 81% of White victims were killed by White offenders, while 89% of Black victims were killed by Black offenders.
Homicide, like violence, is thus a behavior most likely to occur between individuals of the same demographic group. In this, the second decade of the current millennium, it remains true — for the most part.
Yet and still, the unfortunate most likely to become a murder victim remains the African-American male. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that Black men, who account for just 13.5% of the population, comprised 55.6% of all the homicides.
The killings in Monterey Park are just the latest in a litany of firearm related murders that have become a staple in these United States. An informal glance over the past decades (courtesy of the news agency Reuters) indicates that some 2,000 people of all races have been killed or injured in mass shootings since 1999.
To get a spiritual perspective and to make sense of this debacle, we reached out to Tulloss and other clergymen.
“These violent acts are so frequent that they become normal to our lives,” Tulloss observes. “This is not normal. We need to be actively engaged and outraged by these crimes. We must demand legislation that prevents mass killings.”
Seeking out a cause
“The existence of evil in our world is not a reason to disarm law-abiding citizens.”
—former President Donald Trump on May 27, 2022, at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Houston, Texas just after the Uvalde shooting on May 24.
Pastor Stephen L. McGlover of the Freewill Baptist Church in South L.A. theorized that the current lawlessness might be encouraged by the moral compass by leaders at the top.
“Their hatred and division might be a carry-over from the last (presidential) administration,” he suggests.
In fairness to the 45th Commander-in-Chief, it should be noted that this trigger-happy activity was in place well before he took office. Still, McGlover observations bear scrutiny. McGlover calls on a renewed commitment by parents, who should start by instilling respect for the elderly (and anyone marginalized) with their children, and an embrace of faith-based values.
“We need God in our lives,” he said. “We need it so bad it’s ridiculous.”
Rev. William Smart heads up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) of Southern California, which traces its origins to the Montgomery Ala. bus boycott orchestrated by Dr. Martin Luther King, circa 1955-56, declared that the “…culture of the world has changed,” and notes that these proceedings pose a special threat to his constituents.
“Black people specifically are caught up in the sway of White supremacy,” he continued. Those who push this agenda are, in his words, “…threatened by the expansion of people of color.”
Apathy among the masses?
“When does this end lol…” “When MLK is dead… oh wait…”
—from a text message exchange between former White Dallas police officer Amber Guyger and an acquaintance during a Martin Luther King Day parade on Jan. 15, 2018. Later that September, she mistakenly entered the apartment of an unarmed Black man, Botham Shem Jean as he sat eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream while watching television. Believing it was her apartment and thinking he was a burglar, she shot and killed him.
50 years after King’s own murder, reflection and celebration of his life and legacy is looked upon as a tiresome ritual to be endured by many with the mindset of Guyger (currently serving out her murder conviction at Texas’ Mountain View Prison Unit, and eligible for parole next year in 2024).
In a bygone era, it was easy to dismiss street level criminality and lawlessness as a bastion of the dark races and lower class minorities. To be sure, these unfortunates are still overly represented on blotter sheets across the country, but the cancer of violence is rapidly metastasizing across the general public at an alarming rate.
Not just a ‘Black Thing’
“More than 500 people die every day from gun violence.”
—from the Amnesty International website
As the close of the last millennium approached on August 10, 1999, a White supremacist named Buford O’Neal Furrow, Jr. walked into the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, Calif., and opened fire with a Uzi submachine gun. Miraculously, no one was killed in the complex filled with kids (many of them preschool aged), although he wounded five people including three children). The assailant then drove westward into the nearby city of Chatsworth, where he killed an adult Filipino USPS postal worker. He later turned himself in at a FBI field office in Las Vegas, expressing the hope that his actions would provide “…a wake-up call to America to kill Jews.”
Almost a quarter century later, the scenario has been replicated multiple times, with the body count rising. As the butchery continues it crosses demographic categories and geographic borders and the only commonality being an individual with an ax to grind on a specific group or individual and access to a firearm to articulate their frustrations before the world.
Weeks ago in this periodical we posted a question about the relevance of Dr. King’s teachings in the present dilemma. Tulloss is posed to implement these tenets in the hope that they will cut through to the de-sensitized masses.
“I plan to channel the spirit of Martin Luther King in championing legislation that will prevent crimes like these in the future,” he said.
P.S.— After this article was completed and just before OW press time, two teenagers were shot to death in a Des Moines, Iowa school, on Monday, Jan. 23. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, two people were shot to death in a home invasion on Chicago’s notorious South Side.
This is only the first month of the New Year. Upwards of 300 people suffer gun shots (deliberate or unintentional) every day in the U.S., according to TeamENOUGH.