After having for centuries treated Black people, especially young Black men, as existential dangers to the (white) nation, U.S. rulers act surprised that the day of the Black American Sniper has dawned. There’s nothing complex about Gavin Long and Micah Johnson’s actions. They wanted to “exact Black revenge on, and to set limits to, racist police violence.” If racist police violence continues, expect similar responses.
Micah Xavier Johnson and Gavin Long: Seventeen Reasons
by Paul Street
“U.S. prosecutors and courts continue to deny Black Americans anything remotely close to real justice.”
Judging by the coverage and commentary on corporate media telesecreens, good Americans are supposed to be surprised (as well as horrified) that eight police officers were ambushed and murdered by skilled Black riflemen in Dallas (five cops killed on July 7th, 2016) and Baton Rouge (three killed three days ago) over the last two weeks.
But what’s so surprising about the racial revenge (see below) shootings? Here are seventeen basic and in some cases obvious reasons for their occurrence:
1. The nation is awash with mass-murderous military-style assault weapons of the kinds used by the Black military veterans Micah Xavier Johnson (an Army veteran of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan and a trained sniper) in Dallas and Gavin Long (a 29-year-old former Marine who served imperial time in Iraq) in Baton Rouge. There are somewhere between 5 and 8 million assault rifles in homes in the “armed madhouse” (Greg Palast’s apt description) that is the United States.
2. The nation is full of military veterans who have been badly traumatized and mentally as well as physically damaged by deployments in Washington’s miserable, criminal, and racist wars in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.
3. These veterans are trained in the craft of killing, including the killing of armed soldiers and gendarmes. Many veterans have the skills (as well as access to the deadly tools) to employ lethal force against police.
4. Many of those veterans are Black people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2014, 11.4 percent of the nation’s 19.3 million military veterans were Black.
5. Along with the rampant alienation and atomization caused by its overly commercialized and amoral culture of predatory and neoliberal capitalism, the United States has weak and under-funded mental health programs.
6. The nation’s mental and other health care services for military veterans are notoriously and maddeningly inadequate and under-funded.
“Many veterans have the skills (as well as access to the deadly tools) to employ lethal force against police.”
7. From its military actions abroad to the images on its movie screens, television shows, and video games at home, the contemporary United States -- heir to the “Gunfighter Nation” of the 19th century -- regularly promotes and glorifies murderous violence. It routinely portrays such violence as a legitimate and reasonable solution to complex social problems.
8. U.S. military veterans struggle with a host of steep barriers to economic and social stability, including but not limited to mental and other health difficulties.
9. Black veterans deal with the added extreme barriers and burdens of contemporary, many-sided institutional racism and racialized classism. These sharp obstacles to racial equality and Black advancement and security remain endemic across the nation’s labor markets, workplaces, housing markets, credit system, transportation system, schools, social services, and -- most graphically of all -- criminal justice system.
10. Black military veterans are likely to live in the nation’s still highly segregated Black communities and see up close the many forms of egregious abuse Black people still routinely face in the United States today. The mistreatment includes endemic persistent hiring bias, housing discrimination, under-funded and segregated schools, discriminatory lending, under-investment, inadequate transportation services, and the rampant over-arrest, incarceration, felony-marking, and police murder of Black men.
11. That egregious mistreatment and discrimination – highly visible and regularly experienced by Black Americans -- defies the nation’s regularly proclaimed fealty to the noble ideals of equality, democracy, liberty, and equality of opportunity, supposedly symbolized by the presence of a first Black First Family in the White House over the last seven and a half years.
12. Those are ideals that U.S. military enlistees are told they are upholding by “serving” in the nation’s armed forces – ideals many of those enlistees see regularly mocked and violated by the conduct of the U.S. military abroad and by the classist and racism realities of the “homeland” society they are sworn to “serve.”
13. Among all the various and interrelated ways in which Black people are oppressed and incited in the U.S., none is more galling and maddening perhaps than the regular, almost routine murder of their sons, brothers, fathers, boyfriends, and husbands by mostly white and commonly racist police officers engaged (among other things) in keeping the nation racially separate and unequal -- in keeping Blacks “in their [related] place[s],” both socioeconomically and geographically.
14. The nation’s television and computer screens and cell phones are now and have for the last four years been awash with almost normalized images of mostly young Black men being senselessly beaten and murdered by (mostly) white police officers.
“Black military veterans are likely to live in the nation’s still highly segregated Black communities and see up close the many forms of egregious abuse Black people still routinely face in the United States today.”
15. As we see yet again in Baltimore with the continuing exoneration of the police officers who engaged in the “depraved heart” torture and murder of Freddie Gray, U.S. prosecutors and courts continue to deny Black Americans anything remotely close to real justice through “due process of law” after police are caught torturing, maiming, and killing Black men.
16. The rugged American ethos of self-defense (hardly unique to America) has long held that men don’t simply stand by while people in their community are harassed, murdered, and maimed by bullies and oppressors from outside. They fight back. They defend themselves and their communities by any and all means deemed necessary, including retaliatory force. This was the obvious and explicitly stated motive of both Micah Xavier Johnson and Gavin Long: to retaliate against racist police violence. (The extent to which police state authorities will go to deny this obvious and basic motive can be quite remarkable. During an interview with the “Public” Broadcasting System’s Jeffrey Brown two nights ago, Col. Mike Edmenson, Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, repeatedly refused to even remotely consider this motive as a factor in the case of Gavin Long even though overwhelming evidence suggests that Long, like Johnson, was driven by a simple desire to exact Black revenge on, and to set limits to, racist police violence. See a transcript of this bizarre interview here.)
17. Individual terror attacks on gendarmes are a weapon of the weak. They are a symptom of powerlessness. They reflect the absence of strong and influential movements for social justice. With all due respect for its accomplishments in bringing the problem of racist police shootings to the national fore, Black Lives Matter is nothing like a match for the great Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1950s and 1960s. Meanwhile independent Black political power has disappeared into the folds of the neoliberal, imperialist, and objectively white-supremacist Democratic Party thanks in no small part to the insipid opportunism and craven conservatism of the Black bourgeois mis-leadership class.
Add these seventeen facts up and the most surprising thing is that there haven’t been more Micah Xavier Johnsons and Gavin Longs. The most startling fact is that the number of police killed in the U.S. by Black American Snipers isn’t higher.
Paul Street is the author of numerous books, including Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007)