Obama and the Logic of Massacre
September 18, 1963, the Ku Klux Klan, the preeminent white social and economic organization in Birmingham, Alabama bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing four little girls: Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Diane Wesley and Carole Robertson. The mass murder of four innocent girls and injuring of 20 others seemed even too bestial for grotesque white Birmingham society.
An economic and political system was in place that facilitated this kind of state sponsored terrorism. It only needed political actors unhinged enough to execute the diabolical plan. The essential elements of this system were articulated by the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens, in his 1861 Cornerstone Speech:
“Our new Government [the confederacy]…its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”
The echoes of slavery still reverberate in the bombing of the Emmanuel African Episcopal Methodist Church 164 years after the Cornerstone Speech throughout Black communities in Ferguson, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Cleveland and Oakland and all the other race-toxic communities nationwide.
Dr. King, a young minister from Atlanta, Georgia came to prominence during this time. King could have pointed to the individuals responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in his eulogy of the four children, but instead, unlike the corporate media’s coverage of the Emmanuel AME Church shooting, he used his bully pulpit to denounce the system that provided the deadly climate that led to the murders. Speaking on behalf of the murdered children, he said:
“They say to each of us, Black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
Governments have a unique ability to convey messages to the public. Sometimes the messages are explicit and alternatively implicit. The concept of the U.S. presidency as the largest bully pulpit is predicated upon this notion. Despite the high profile investigations and preponderance of evidence that the police force used excessive force, and that vigilante Zimmerman hunted down the 17-year-old, the U.S. Department of Justice exonerated Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the murder of Michael Brown and George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin—in other words, these were “good kills” protected by law. The Wilson/Zimmerman acquittals breathe life into a system where the hair trigger is aimed at the African community.
The message was clear: Black lives have no value and the government would not intervene to protect and defend the Black community. A manifesto ascribed to Dylann Roof was released shortly after the massacre, he writes: “It was obvious that Zimmerman was in the right.”
Interesting, the Administration and Roof came to the same conclusion.
Message sent. Message received.
In light of the national outrage over the murders of nine unarmed African-Americans at Emmanuel AME Church, the president decided to attempt to grab national headlines by using the word “Nigger” during an interview. Obama needed to get out front of this story and his bottom-scraping use of this term was a pathetic political ploy to use a word whose explicit and historic origins is the justification to kill and demean Black people. This ploy was similar to the way the Administration used the Selma “Bloody Sunday” re-enactment to gloss over their inaction to protect unarmed Black men, boys and increasingly girls from vigilante and police terror. No other president, in recent memory could have publicly gotten away with using the N-word. It took a Black president to enshrine this word as an acceptable lexicon of political discourse.
The president’s goal was to shock the country by the usage of that word. But Obama cannot escape the message and the environment his administration has created: Acquittals breathe life into the insanity of vermin like Dylann Roof.
The president took to the airwaves in an act of absolution to confess that he was not responsible—after all, how could even two Obama terms reverse 300 years of racist history. But, wasn’t that his job? What other people—besides Blacks—are asked to feel grateful for remaining in the same place economically, educationally and politically for 300 years?”
The reality is that the Obama Administration did not see anything wrong with the status quo of police tyranny in the Black community. If the Obama Administration saw anything wrong, they were empowered to act.
When the resistance in Baltimore and Ferguson raged, instead of waxing eloquently about racism and its deadly impacts, the president vociferously waged a verbal charge against Black youth fighting for their existence by calling them “thugs” and “criminals.” Yet the only thing the Administration has done proactively about the issues of police brutality and fraudulent grand juries is the establishment of a useless Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
This betrayal and lack of accountability is crystallized, every 28 hours, when an unarmed Black man or woman is slaughtered in the streets by a killer cop, or a court rules, without fear of appeal by the Department of Justice, that the murder was a “good kill” or justified as in the recent Cleveland, Ohio case of unarmed victims Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell or 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The Obama administration has no intention of tampering with police immunity from prosecution for the slaughter of Black people.
The Obama Administration and the Department of Justice have forfeited any legal or moral legitimacy by exonerating the killers of unarmed Trayvon and Michael, thus providing the perfect storm, that Dr. King called, “the system, the way of life, the philosophy” which produced a war against Black people that exploded at the Emmanuel AME Church.
Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblowers Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA. She worked at the EPA for 18 years and blew the whistle on a U.S. multinational corporation that endangered South African vanadium mine workers. Marsha’s successful lawsuit led to the introduction and passage of the first civil rights and whistleblower law of the 21st century: the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act of 2002 (No FEAR Act). She is Director of Transparency and Accountability for the Green Shadow Cabinet, serves on the Advisory Board of ExposeFacts.com and coordinates the DC-based Hands-Up Coalition.
—Black Agenda Report, June 23, 2015