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America’s Unaddressed Racial Climate Between Black Communities and Police Is What Killed Officers In Dallas

The public condemnation of movement for Black Lives after Micah Johnson, a 25-year-old African-American Army veteran who was killed with a bomb by Dallas police after shooting police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest, brought to mind this story from the precious archives of black history.

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Nov. 1963, Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X summarized his assessment of the president’s death with a farm-boy metaphor. He described what happened as a case of “chickens coming home to roost.”

Unsurprisingly, he was misinterpreted and misquoted in the papers, the American mainstream press being the American mainstream press and all.

This led to many folks taking him to support the killing of Kennedy. He didn’t.

In a follow-up interview — the video featured above — Malcolm X offered additional clarification of his remarks. He began his comments by calling out an irresponsible press, saying his words were “distorted.”

He fleshed out his analysis:

“I said what everybody said. His assassination was the result of the climate of hate, only I said ‘the chickens come home to roost’, which means the same thing. Climate of hate means this is the result of something.

“Chickens coming home to roost” is synonymous with “climate of hate.” It was the “climate of hate”, or the “chickens coming home to roost” that was the point, not the death of Kennedy.

Malcolm emphasized that distinction even more, when the interviewer added “But, you did not say you were glad the president was killed?”

“No,” Malcolm returned, with a slight smile. “That’s what the press said. What would I look like saying I’m glad the president was killed.”

Malcolm wasn’t jovial or boisterous about what happened, ironically enough, in Dallas Texas, one horrifying, fall afternoon. He was disappointed, and worried, for Black America and the whole civilized world.

Malcolm X didn’t call for the death of John F. Kennedy or Lyndon B. Johnson or George Wallace or any other white person in this nation. He never suggested, encouraged, or recommended Black people — who had been (and remain) the specific and unfortunate bullseye of white violence, day in and day out, North and South, East and West, in and out of police uniform, since the inception of the republic — to target and terrorize whites at random, for no other reason than the mere fact that they’re white.

He was not a pacificist. He did call for armed self-defense. It was open season on Black bodies. It still is. Malcolm X knew that and would not be the general who sent soldiers into battle defenseless. War, he knew, is unavoidable. It is bloody and gory and violent and, yes, sometimes, people die, taking huge chunks of our humanity with them to the other side.

Worst still, it is inescapable. From birth, Black people are enlisted in the struggle for racial equity and justice in America, whether they want to be or not, whether they know it or not.

But, that wasn’t the insight he was after. It was “climate of hate.” That was his point of focus. The “something” at the root of the “climate of hate” was his point of focus. And, it was that “something” that catalyzed a “climate of hate” that Malcolm wanted listeners to take away from his commentary.

It’s that “something” we should be focused on when we discuss the motivation behind Micah Johnson — a young man who was reported to be a “recluse”, someone unaffiliated with any organization but agitated by the reports of black bodies falling in the news — killing police officers in Dallas.

That is to say, if we want to understand what killed those police officers in Dallas, if we want to get to the root of it, we have to address ourselves to that “something.”

Obviously, all the minutiae of that “something” is too much to delve into here. We can only be brief — very brief.

That “something” is a long, bitter, and sinister legacy of century after century of legal and extrajudicial discrimination against black bodies, the lessons of which we are familiarized with in the classroom and home, and which we now call structural and institutional racism and anti-blackness. A small example of it is discussed here.

That “something” was the regular, brutal and unmerciful lynching of Black bodies for which thousands of Black people lost their lives, for which journalists like Ida B. Wells and W. E. B. Du Bois devoted an entire distinguished career tracking, investigating, unpacking, and exposing, a horrid, putrid pattern of white supremacist hands making “strange fruit” that, in its present form, is called “stop and frisk”, “justifiable homicide”, “racial profiling”, and “police brutality.”

That “something” is the unapologetic, overtly racist murder of black bodies from the first to the last of Old Jim Crow and the mass criminalization and incarceration and second-class status of black humans in the New Jim Crow.

That “something” is a generalized racial bias and antipathy for black humanity that has infected and nestled into too many of America’s police departments, who have systematically drilled into the brains of police candidates in programs across the country —  from San Francisco to Baton Rouge to Oakland to New York to Chicago, and others — a fear and lack of identification with the very black communities they are sworn to protect and serve.

This has had horrible results, including the exchange of racist text messages sent between police officers up and down the ranks.

That “something”, that fear, that anti-black mentality, is the moving force behind the murder of more than 100 black people in 2016 alone. Make no mistake, these deaths are not collateral damage that just so happens to happen in the act of officers performing their duties. They indicate a crisis, and a one-sided one, at that.

The onus is always on the black suspect to be respectful and non-violent, never the officer. It is the former who must always appease the white fears drifting and shifting around in the imagination of the officer in question.

That “something” is the death of a laundry list of black bodies, many of whom are hashtags, many of whom of are not, all of whom were unjustifiably taken from family and friends, none of whom have seen justice.

That is, no officer has, and, in all likelihood, will never be convicted for their murders.

That “something” is encapsulated in epithets and slurs like “nigger” and “black bitch”, and other variations of the two.

That “something” is the suppression of the facts and tortured history just given, and subsequent Black depression and recurring pattern of racialized crime born from it.

Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile were killed within hours of each other. The killings were caught on camera. The evidence from each clip was indisputably clear about what happened. Both men were viciously murdered in cold blood. One of these men (Philandro) was with his fiance and stepdaughter. They were present through it all. They saw him take his last breath.

The officers are not on trial. They’re on “administrative leave”, patiently waiting the situation out. Because we know that police departments placing killer cops on “administrative leave” is only another way of police protecting their own by biding time until the public outrage has subsided, or, until something else, the next tragedy, occurs.

Indeed, another tragedy did happen, but this time, it wasn’t black bodies on the bullets end. It was a few of their own.

As painful as it is to admit, that was bound to happen, just as much as we might surmise that the “climate of hate” ticked on in 1963 until it killed a dearly beloved white American leader, fresh off the raw pain of Black America loosing NAACP leader Medgar Evers in the summer of that same year.

Why? Easy. Because we still haven’t addressed that “something.” And, we should expect more tragedies to happen, on both ends, until we do.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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