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Colorizing Crime by Carol Chehade

Once again, we Americans have racialized an event where the culprits are known to be African Americans. Not only are these serial killers Black, but they also claim the religion of Islam. A religion that is working overtime these days to defend itself from those who have exploited and pimped its teachings to their political benefit. Alleged snipers, John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo have succeeded in negatively affecting the millions of people who are Muslim and/ or African American. We are living in a political culture where followers of Islam are carefully walking a tightrope on mercurial public opinion, while African Americans are still trying to make sure their own tightrope is not once again turned into a noose that hangs them like they are, in the words of Billie Holiday, "Strange Fruit" forcibly planted and then greedily consumed in America. To say this could not have happened at a worse time is an understatement.

Even though the overwhelming majority of Blacks and Muslims have chastised the snipers, they are still made to feel that they are responsible through color or creed. Our obsession with race has highlighted this recent ignorant and violent outburst of human nature. There is no doubt that if these two men are formally found guilty, they need to be punished as individuals who committed heinous crimes. The problem with racism is that its nature is not to punish individuals, but to collectively punish a race. History shows us that whenever a Black person is even suspected of committing a crime, their whole community suffers from the backlash. If one Black person commits a crime, the entire Black race is questioned, as with what is happening with the millions of those who follow the Nation of Islam. Black people are routinely collectivized with sweeping generalizations of guilt versus innocence.

Conversely, White serial killers simply aren't racialized. They are in no way accountable to the stereotyping of their race or religion. A White serial killer is defined as an individual who is an anomaly to the White race, not the norm. In other words, a crazy White person can never undermine the value of White people. In fact, race is brought up as a by-product of the profile, not the whole profile itself. Essentially, White serial killers cannot collectivize the entire White race because racial superiority allows Whites to be described as unique, multi-dimensional characters, while Blacks are affixed with the description of a uniform, one-dimensional character.

John Eric Armstrong, Ted Bundy, Joseph Christopher, Jeffrey Dahmer, Larry Eyler, Albert Fish, John Wayne Gacy, Donald Harvey,Colin Ireland, John Joubert, Ted Kaczynski, Henry Lee Lucas, Donald Miller, Dennis Nilsen, Anatoly Onoprienko, George Putt, Thomas Quick, Joel Rifkin, John Gerard Schaefer,Richard Tingler,Jack Unterweger ,Joseph Vacher, Randall Woodfield, Elias Xitavhudzi, Robert Lee Yates, Robert Zani . I can literally go through the entire alphabet and list at least one serial murderer under each letter who is White. Yet despite statistical evidence showing that serial killers tend to be White, peaceful White people are not answerable and bound through association

This is not to say that Blacks are incapable of being serial killers. Black serial killers like
Wayne Williams, Cleophus Prince, Jr., Henry Louis Wallace, and Coral Eugene Watts are ample proof that serial killers do not have a racial disposition that conveniently fits into a particular profile. Every color and hue of the human race is as merciful as it is merciless. Yet we, as a society that has been heavily schooled by racism, seem to be more merciless in our judgment when we've marketed the color of Blackness as terrifying enough without that color even being linked to a serial killer.

When the media found out about Muhammad's past affiliation to the NOI, they were quick to demonize the NOI. Muhammad didn't learn how to shoot in the NOI. The U.S. military taught him. Yet it would be irrational to blame the armed forces for the recklessness of one man any more than it would be irresponsible to blame the NOI.

From the days of the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, carrying arms was viewed as ignorant due to the logical fact that no Black or White group can out-arm the government. The NOI has always shunned weapons because if they have a handgun the government has a machine gun. Military uprising was never promoted by the NOI. Instead, the NOI sought to fight racial superiority through self-determination. Anyone who has thoroughly studied the NOI will find that it is a group that has never advocated violence, let alone armed resistance.

Furthermore, it is a gross inaccuracy to correlate Min. Farrakhan's message of non-violent resistance to that of the snipers. The Minister's message does not support snipers, neither domestically nor internationally. Min. Farrakhan is one of the few voices speaking out against war in an era where the political engine of patriotism is packed and loaded with its own type of shooters ready to fire at anyone remotely hostile to the U.S., even if the target's hostility wasn't enough to drive planes into towers. Out of the millions of the NOI's followers, this is the first serial killer who has acted out toward society in a violent way. Neither the church nor the synagogue can say that. No one implicates the U.S. Government when a devoted citizen who once fought for Vietnam is having freakish dreams dusted with Agent Orange beckoning him to kill even when he is no longer killing for his country. No one honoring the bloody history of the Confederate flag is considered unpatriotic if they insist that that flag flies next to the stars and stripes. If a follower of Rev. Jerry Farwell contradicts the teachings of Christ through violence, we do not make the Reverend guilty by shared religion

Like Timothy McVeigh, John Allen Muhammad was not a religious man. In Islam it is blasphemy to place one's self in front of Allah, as he did when he expressed, "I am God." Moreover, this crime killed people of all races indiscrimintely. If he was a Black nationalist; the last people he would hurt are Black people. In fact, one of the murdered, Ken Bridges, was part of the NOI's POWER program: People Organized and Working for Economic Growth and Rebirth.

It seems as if racial profiling has turned against Whites. We were all looking for and expecting the snipers to be White men. Everyone was shocked when the assailants turned out to be Black men because racial profiling had us convinced that they were going to be White. Meaning we fell prey to the same racial profiling system we blindly supported against people of color. The same system that accuses Blacks of crimes that they did not commit had taken vengeance by accusing Whites of sniper attacks that they didn't carry out. Racism taught us a deadly lesson with the problems inherent in racial profiling.

Also, the majority of profiles paint the barbaric world of serial killers as being not only White, but also White and brilliant, thus alluding that Blacks aren't smart enough to carry out organized murder. Even savage behavior is affixed with at least one racially favorable tilt when the overwhelming actors of that behavior are White.

Logically, the ideal of a truly advanced human being is correlated to our continual evolution from the lower animal part of ourselves. The more we devolve into our base impulses, the less peaceful we become. Yet, so much in our culture teaches us the glory of warfare and violence as being the great markers of intellectual might. Is a brilliant person one who shuns violence or is genius marked by those who create avenues for destruction? In other words, we need to re-think how we define and market intelligence.

In order for us to objectively figure out the profile of future killers, we must stop prescribing racial lenses that keep us so color blind to the realities of our own biases. We need to go deeper into ourselves and figure out the discontentment that prompts more and more Americans from McVeigh to Muhammad who seem to lash out at society so indescrimitely. Neither man cared what color they killed. Neither felt loyalty to their country. Both killed as revenge for some betrayal they felt from this society. The majority of us claim we are reasonable. Most of us are certainly not depraved enough to kill others. Therefore, we do not have an excuse to be morally absent in figuring out how to secure the loose ends of society in a way that incorporates prevention. Until we confront some of our own limitations, we will never comprehend why the disconnected feel sick and desperate enough to hurt innocent people. Otherwise, we will continue contributing to the very things we despise.

Carol Chehade is the author of, BIG LITTLE WHITE LIES: OUR ATTEMPT TO WHITE-OUT AMERICA and can be contacted via e-mail at:

Carol Chehade

Monday, November 4, 2002

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