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Serial Killing Is No Longer A White Folks Thing

Two studies on serial killers that specifically looked at the race of the killers found that blacks make up about 15 percent of America's rogue's gallery of mass murderers.
Many a black comedian has perversely cracked that blacks may kill each other, but they don't shoot-up, blow-up, or hack-up crowds of people. This bit of gallows humor always gets an uproarious laugh from black audiences. For decades blacks took morbid pride and comfort in the notion that despite the long, tortured experience of slavery, segregation, racially motivated violence and poverty, mass killing supposedly was a white folks thing.

The assumption was that all serial killers were young, whacked out white males. It is easy to believe that. In the rash of Hollywood slasher, horror, and maniacal thrill kill films, serial killers are routinely depicted as deranged white males. The obsessive media attention on serial killers such as Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and the Unabomber, also reinforce the notion that serial killers are loopy white males. The horde of police, profiling experts, and psychologists that paraded endlessly across the TV screen during the serial sniper ordeal speculating about who the killer was and why he killed bought into this stereotype.

If, as it appears, John Allen Muhammad, cold-bloodedly gunned down a dozen persons, and terrorized the Washington D.C. area, they were all embarrassingly, and wildly wrong in their assumptions. And all the old profiles and theories about who mass killers are must be scrapped. But then again those profiles should be scrapped. Muhammad is not a total aberration.

Two studies on serial killers that specifically looked at the race of the killers found that blacks make up about 15 percent of America's rogue's gallery of mass murderers.

Their ghastly killings still strike fear, dread and disgust in the communities they pillaged. During the 1980s, Wayne Williams was convicted of multiple murders in Atlanta and authorities think he may have killed even more. Coral Watts claimed that he killed 13 women in several states. In the early 1990s, Cleophus Prince Jr. stabbed six women in San Diego, and authorities in East St. Louis strongly suspect a black man is responsible for a string of still unsolved killings of prostitutes in the area.

The victims of black serial murderers almost always are other blacks, who most often live in the poorest inner city neighborhoods where the murder rates are far higher than in middle-class suburbs. Because black on black violence is so entrenched and pervasive, it is far too often considered routine, and police are often more lax in their attitudes toward the violence than if the victims were white. This makes it much easier for black serial murders to go undetected for far longer times.

The implicit message is that black lives are expendable. This perceived devaluation of black lives through the horrid mix of racism, ignorance, and indifference has encouraged disrespect for the law and has forced many blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto other blacks. And that's important to understand, because those young blacks that commit random self-destructive acts, no matter how far beyond the pale of society's accepted code of behavior, still are savvy enough to target victims who pose no real physical or personal threat to them. The serial sniper's victims fit that profile. They were racially diverse, posed no danger to the sniper, and were apparently chosen at random.

In the immediate weeks before Muhammad's alleged terror spree there are disturbing signs that more blacks driven by rage, bitterness, and frustration, are more willing than ever to wreak random and grotesque violence on themselves and others. In September, a pack of young, one as young as 10 years old, and not so young black males, mauled a hapless man in Milwaukee. In June, another mob of young blacks grabbed national headlines when they stomped to death two men in Chicago. The mob's victims in Milwaukee and Chicago were low-income, middle-aged men, or had alcohol and drug problems. They were easy pickings, just as the serial sniper's victims were.

Though it's not yet known exactly what drove Muhammad to his alleged killing binge, it is known that he was a man consumed by personal rage and frustration over failed marriages, tangled personal relationships, sour business dealings, and a rocky military career. These personal demons, not terrorist ties of which authorities have yet to find evidence, may well have been enough to push him to commit his monstrous destructive acts.

But equally ominous, his killing rampage showed that it is a perilously short step from the random violence that claims innocent lives, causes monumental personal suffering, and paralyzes many poor, inner city black neighborhoods, to random violence that causes personal suffering, and paralyzes whole cities, even a nation. That's a terrible price to pay for ignoring walking time bombs such as Muhammad. And as we discovered with him, they can come in all colors.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com. He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).
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