U.S. Politics

Racially-Approved American Murder: They Kill Because They Can

By Glen Ford

Why did Staff Sgt. Robert Bales kill 17 Iraqi civilians in the deep of night and, supposedly, all by himself in the countryside of a foreign land? Why did George Zimmerman stalk and then kill 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, as the 140-pound kid talked on a cell phone with his girlfriend, in a gated community near Orlando, Florida? Bales and Zimmerman did it because they could, because they felt they had permission to snuff out the lives of Iraqis and Black teenagers who had never even thought to offend them. The only reason that these two instances of murder are of such deep importance in the larger scheme of things, rather than just to the families and neighbors of the victims and the killers is because both murderers had good reason to believe that American society would approve of what they did.

Certainly, Sgt. Bales thought so. He had served three tours in Iraq, after joining the Army at the ripe old age of 27 right after 9/11. The hyper-nationalist media constantly told him and the rest of the American public that the troops were “heroes” who were not only serving their own country, but also doing a great favor for the Iraqis and the Afghans. If the people of Iraq and Afghanistan didn’t appreciate the presence of Sgt. Bales and his fellow soldiers and marines, well, they were ingrates of the worst kind, unworthy of the sacrifice of even one of Sgt. Bales’ buddies. Besides, they were all Hajjis—a slur for Muslims that has the same venomous connotation as “nigger.” Sgt. Bales was not ashamed to use the term “Hajji” in letters to his wife, so I guess he had reason to believe she was a racist, too. The U.S. military preferred to descend on villages late at night, when they had the advantage of surprise and night vision goggles and could wipe out whole extended families of Taliban—or people who were pronounced to be Taliban, post-mortem—usually without suffering a single casualty. We own the night—that’s what the Americans said. And nighttime is for killing Hajjis.

George Zimmerman had every reason to believe that Florida’s Stand Your Ground law was written especially for him. And, actually, it was. The Sanford, Florida police department clearly thought the law was meant to protect Zimmerman from murder charges, which is why they claim they didn’t arrest him. When Zimmerman called the local cops from his SUV to tell them he was stalking Trayvon Martin, he confided to them that “assholes” like the unknown Black kid “always get away.” But, this one wouldn’t get away—not with his life. Florida and lots of other states in recent years have noted that too many Black people are getting away with life, and need to be stopped, so they crafted legislation that would allow white fear to trump Black rights to breath air. In such jurisdictions, evocation of white fear now provides the same justification for summary murder as claims of rape of white women did for mob lynchings, back in the day. It is as if the Florida legislature had put out a call for Black people to be summarily shot all over the state, when it passed the bill. The racial intention was clear, the results totally predictable. George Zimmerman doesn’t seem like a very bright young man, but even he knew that Florida civil society wanted some Black folks dead.

Sgt. Bales and Steve Zimmerman murdered Afghans and an African American kid because they could, and because American society told them that they should.

Black Agenda Report, March 21, 2012