‘That’s not the devil. That’s America.’, a Washington Post headline

gun violence 1

The Washington Post (WashPost) made a front-page headline after the Buffalo’s East Side mass shooting. The headline – “‘That’s not the devil. – That’s America.’” tells state of the one of the most advanced bourgeois states – the United States of America.

The report (May 17, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2022/05/17/buffalo-tops-shooting-neighborhood/) by Silvia Foster-Frau formulated its heading by citing James Baldwin, 60, a citizen in the grief-stricken community. Baldwin said: “That’s not the devil. That’s America. They made him, they brought him up, they put him there.”

The shooting killed 10 US citizens. Not a single US citizen was killed in any theater of war or any conflict zone around the world over the last few months, which is good news for all citizens of the world, not only the US citizens.

But in any logic, the question arises: What about the march of shooting-deaths over the last few weeks in the US? Buffalo is not the single place of shooting-death in the US over last few weeks. There’re a series of shooting-death incidents – a march of deaths that was.

The Buffalo datelined report said about the city:

“[A] city where many Black people have faced a lifetime of discrimination and abuse.

“Buffalo is the seventh-most segregated city in the country for Black Americans, according to a Brookings Institution report. The Black population had a median household income of $28,320 in 2019, according to a University of Buffalo report, with a 31 percent poverty rate. White residents had a $49,156 income and a 9.1 percent poverty rate.”

The divide, the discrimination, the segregation are clear as daylight, as evident in the stat cited in the WashPost report quoted above. This is happening not in Cuba, a resource-poor country facing human history’s longest ever economic blockade imposed by the most powerful empire in human history. This is happening in an economy with human history’s biggest ever accumulated resources. No kingdom, no empiredom ever accumulated so much resources with so much political and military power spread over to every corners of the world. This is happening in a country, where, more than half a century ago, Martin Luther King drew the following picture reflecting the reality:

“[T]he Negro is still not free. […] [T]he life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. […] [T]he Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. […] [T]he Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land.” [“I Have A Dream”, delivered in 1963]

No doubt, changes have visited the segregated people’s lives over the years in the US. But, how far is that change? This can be compared, if one likes, with Cuba, although rationality demands that Cuba can’t be compared to the US. Historical, economic, social, political and ideological perspectives of the two countries are completely and basically different, which fact is very often ignored by the mainstream scholars. Despite that no grave racial problem, no burning racial discrimination, no wide ranging racial feeling prevail in that geographically small island-country.

In Cuba, there are still some racial disparities, as Esteban Morales points out in his MR Press book Race In Cuba. While there are still some racial disparities in Cuba, the country has done more than any nation in the world to end these.

Sections of the White people often benefit in subtle ways from the discrimination against Black persons in the US, which makes matters all the worse in the country rich with resource, institution and process.

All after these – these shootings, Covid-deaths, etc. – Mr. Biden and the US Congress are sending some $50 billion of weapons and other aids to Ukraine. Is this truly sane and rational, according to general perception?

But the perception of the Empire, the interests that drive the Empire has its rationality, which is diametrically opposite to the commoners’ interests and perception. It’s futile and irrational to search sanity and rationality in Empire’s approach to questions of life of the commoners. The Empire’s approach is based on its interests – this fact should be recognized, as identifying this fact helps identify approach to dealing with the questions related to the commoners’ life.

The question of violence in the society claiming to be a dreamland, a land claiming to be flowing with honey and milk, to millions around the world is another serious issue.

The WashPost report said:

“In the first few days after the shooting, many residents here saw the horrific act of racial violence as one of many injustices threaded through their lives, and sometimes across generations.”

The last part of the sentence cited above tell serious issue: “many injustices threaded through their lives, and sometimes across generations.” Injustices, threaded together through lives, are moving for generations. An economy and political system claiming to be champion of all sorts of rights around the world, claiming to be defender of rights of all colors in far-flung areas in deserts and across gulfs, seas and oceans fails to unthread injustice in its own land!

It’s a failure. It’s a failure in home. It’s a failure within.

It’s not only the economy’s economic failure. It’s the economy’s political failure also; and the economy is imperialist economy.

The Buffalo gunman was an 18 year old – a young mind filled with hatred, and with plan to implement that hatred. In South Africa, during the apartheid days, how many such gun-mass murders by civilians happened? In those days’-Rhodesia (today it is a different name)? Which society germinates such hatred and crime motive within human bosom?

The place of violence was a Tops store; and Jerome Bridges, a Tops employee, said to WashPost: “It was more than a store. It was a place where you could meet up with a friend, a relative, a girlfriend. A place to hang out and shop and have a good conversation while you’re doing it.”

Alas, the place to meet a friend, a relative, to have a friendly conversation suddenly turned out as a place to get killed – it’s like a bolt from the blue! It’s not the first time that such a murder-incident has happened. Similar murder-incidents have occurred in schools, in church, in shopping malls, in railway station, on city pavements, in music fest in the US.

There’s opposition to such murders/crimes/tools for murder, opposition to politics giving birth to such crimes. There’re also interests and politics that directly/indirectly patronize such crime, hatred, murder-motive, and tools for murder – fire arms in unbridled hands, actually heads.

The report tells a fact of life:

“Even the fact that the East Side has such a concentration of Black people is itself the result of discriminatory practices, residents said. And it was that segregation that turned the neighborhood into a target for the gunman […].”

And, it cites citizen Shirley Hart:

“It’s the experience of the Black person in America. We all deal with it, in some facet or another. It may not be to this extent on our hands, but we experience it.”

Again, it’s discriminatory practice and segregation, in one form/facet or another. It’s not only with colored persons, but with all the dispossessed irrespective of color; and not limited in one locality.

There’re a lot of niceties of life in the area, according to the report:

River, green parks, art, smooth streets. The trees, the lush green are large and abundant.

And, then, the scenery begins to change:

“The roads get rougher. The trees are fewer. Empty lots appear more frequently. Corner shops are scattered about, but there are also boarded-up shops.”

“Boarded-up shops tell a reality of “something”; and that reality or that “something” has its roots.

It’s not the whole picture, a part of the picture. There’re beautiful things of life for the fortunate, irrespective of color; and that means the dividing line doesn’t move along colors, but, along fortunate and unfortunate.

How is life for the unfortunate in the land of fortune?

The report tells at least of a locality:

The citizens in the locality had to carry on a sustained campaign to open a grocery store [Tops store]. “Before it opened, neighbors had few supermarket options.”

In the land of liberty, as is always touted by the mainstream narrative, supermarket options are few! Does it sound strange? The few in options tells of market mechanism – options close down or open up depending on profit or profit-possibility.

This happens not only in a single place or community or neighborhood, but also in countries; not only in the area of grocery or everyday essentials, but also in the areas of health and education, in affordable and livable housing, in employment. Capital moves along its optional – profit – line. Marx and Lenin and the theoreticians upholding the class line of Marx and Lenin exposed this fact long ago.

The report cited Baldwin: “[M]any residents avoid driving because they are afraid of the police […]” [Baldwin made the comment cited in the heading: “That’s not the devil. That’s America. They made him, they brought him up, they put him there.”]

Why citizens are afraid of police? It’s a fundamental question. All citizens aren’t ruffians, aren’t drug peddlers, aren’t hoodlums, aren’t knife-wielding robbers. Bigger thieves, actually robbers on a world scale, money launderers on multi-country level, tax evaders on continent level don’t fear police. They aren’t noticed by many law enforcement agencies. A strange reality with mingling opposites – the powerless are hounded and the powerful thieves feel safe!

On police, and on brutality, the report again cites residents: “[P]olice brutality is also a concern. Yvonne King, who lives close to the Tops, said she drives her 16-year-old son to and from school even though it’s only a few blocks, because she fears the police.”

A mother doesn’t feel safe with her 16-yr-old son on way to school! Is it liberty/freedom to move, to move fearlessly? Is it liberty to movement – a democratic right enshrined in political documents of the economy or of the state? Political scientists will investigate the question. A number of the scientists have already investigated.

The decay in the neighborhood, according to the report, appears symbolically: “To this day, if you drive along the roads that were once heavily traveled by city commuters, the old structures remain — boarded-up storefronts and abandoned homes. Long, empty city blocks filled with grass and trash.”

It’s not decay of a locality; it’s decay of a way of life in an economy.

The report makes further expose:

“The latest battle is gentrification. Some locals said the government is luring luxury apartments and high-rises to the city’s downtown, which is causing home prices to soar around the city. East Side residents worry that they will be priced out of their own neighborhood.”

Priced out is the fact of market economy, not of a single area or community or country. The poor are priced out, the exploited are priced out; actually shackled with price – the poor can’t move beyond the price determined by necessary labor, which is the barest minimum to keep muscles moving so that the muscles can move machine so that profit comes out of the machines, and so that the muscles can produce next generation of machine movers. It’s not only in the area of housing; it’s in the areas of health and education, in the area of rights also.

Market-mantrawaallaas never tell this fact of market; and the question of connection between rights and market is never discussed while the rightswaallaas, the peddlers of imperialism defined rights, a section of NGOs funded by the Empire and its European cohort, the EU, raise questions related to rights in countries. Market power creates segregation, market power pushes away poor citizens from livable space to unlivable, hostile places, places degenerated in terms of environment and ecology. It’s a sort of relation, hostile, between market power and the dispossessed.

The WashPost report cites Hart, a citizen related to the developments in the area:

“‘This is America. The system wasn’t built for us, it was built on our backs,’ Hart said. ‘It’s sad, but unfortunately we’re just used to it, and we deal with the hand we were dealt.’”

The inconvenient truth is told by Hart: Built on our back. But, now, this “our” finds, borrowing from MLK’s Dream address: Sections of citizens find themselves “an exile in his own land. [….] It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked ‘insufficient funds’.”

Then, Robin Givhan, Senior Critic-at-large, The Washington Post, writes about the country, which she describes as “of hate and guns and fear”:

“The violence has been going on for such a long time that it has no recognizable beginning.” (“A weekend of violence punctuates generations of hate”, WashPost, May 18, 2022)

The fear is not only of gun shots – falling down as victim to gun-murder. The fear is much wide and deep, as Michael D. Yates writes: “It is difficult to overstate the power of fear and poverty.” (Monthly Review, July-August 2006)

Robin Givhan finds violence, deadly shootings, has “no end in sight.”

The shootings, she writes, “echoed across the country from California to Wisconsin to New York. They touched large cities and small communities. They were spawned by racism, by grievance […]”

With this violence “no one is unscathed”, she finds.

She writes:

“It may be that the young are born predisposed to prejudice and hate; seeds are planted at inception to be selfish and unyielding and over time people either grow into their feral nature or they grow out of it.”

This a question: Why children are born in this way – with prejudice and hate? Who infuses this hate within their head?

She provided a short list of these gun-murders – in 1921, ’91, ’99; in Tulsa, in Royal Oak, in Columbine.

Then, she tells the horrific truth:

“Over the years, every resident of this country has learned that no setting is off limits to a mass shooting. [….] [S]uch things could happen anywhere and everywhere. No place is safe. No place is sacred. Anything passes for a shooting range.

“The schools haven’t been safe for a long time and no matter how many children are killed in their classrooms, this country does nothing to try to quell the violence. The churches, synagogues and mosques aren’t off limits. [….] We can’t watch a movie without fear, get tipsy at a house party, window shop at the mall, hunt for bargains at a flea market or catch a catnap on a morning subway commute. The national pastime isn’t a safe space. There’s no assurance of serenity and community in the shadow of public art. All of these locations have been the site of mass shootings. So have a basketball game, the local Walmart and that quiet street where no one thought anything deadly could ever happen until it did.”

Which country does experience this reality?

The fact is difficult to accept – No place is safe. This means – no parent is sure that their daughter or son will return home alive, no wife is sure that her husband will return home after day’s work safe, no aged father is sure that he’ll not come across news that his grown up son working in a shopping mart has not been shot dead, no son is sure that his veteran mother will come back home unhurt from a concert.

Is it a tale from a war zone? Is it a story from an Empire-driven drone assaulted area like areas in Pakistan and Afghanistan years back?

That’s not the tale. The tale is from a country that claims to be civilized, claims to be far away from so-called jungle rule, a wrongly formulated depiction of jungle as jungles have their rules, and flora and fauna in jungles don’t go beyond their rules and practices.

The article said:

“[D]e facto segregation is a reality. The steady drip of racism has long been a caustic, never-ending burden.”

It told about the community of Black residents in Buffalo who had to fight to get a supermarket in their neighborhood.

A serious effort – fight in some form – for having a supermarket/grocer in the land of equal rights for “all”. It’s market, and rights in market with liberty for all and power of market to decide! Does it require any comment?

It said: “[T]errible things can happen anywhere.”

A “strange” society/country having a state machine, where “terrible things can happen anywhere”!

Then, comes The New York Times with the following heading:

“US surpasses 1 million Covid deaths, world’s highest known total”. (May 19, 2022)

Another heading in the same NYT issue said:

“How America lost one million people / Understanding the death toll – who makes up the death toll and how the country failed them – is essential as the pandemic continues.”

A chart related to the Covid-deaths in the NYT issue carried a quote:

“We are a country with the best doctors in the world, we got a vaccine in an astoundingly short period of time, and yet we’ve had so many deaths.”

After these headlines and the quote, there is no need to make any more comment.

But a few questions should be encountered:

  1. Why this state/condition has generated, or how has been generated in the society, which has a long history of what is called “advancements”/“developments”, which has long developed institutions and expertise, obviously with class character, which has accumulated, in addition to having vast resources, vast wealth/resources from around the world for many years?
  2. Is there any problem in resource allocation, if it’s considered as a problem?
  3. What’s the root of the failure and problem, if it’s considered failure and problem, and if it’s considered that failure and problem has a root?

The situation invariably tells of a reality: A great divide; and the divide is irrespective of color, and along the Have not-Have, the exploited-exploiter, line. Many scholars and analysts have discussed both of the classes – the Have-not and the Have. The Haves are, in a broad term, and in Thorstein Veblen’s term, the Leisure Class (The Theory of Leisure Class)

The situation is a manifestation of decay in the empire’s economy, politics and society. For many years, decadence of the economy, and consequently of the related politics, is being discussed. In 2009, “Is the Empire in decline” said: “Decline of the Empire has set in.” (Farooque Chowdhury, The Age of Crisis, Shrabon Prokashani, Dhaka, 2009) “Forces of decline work more actively in the inner-body, in the society and economy […] but less visible in the initial days.” (ibid.) The story, thus, is a tale of decay of an advanced bourgeois democratic society.

The article, partly revised (portions related to Cuba and to the sections of the White people) of the original, was first published in New Age, Dhaka on May 24, 2022 (“‘That’s not the devil. That’s America’”, https://www.newagebd.net/article/171345/thats-not-the-devil-thats-america).

Farooque Chowdhury, writing from Dhaka, Bangladesh, gratefully acknowledges the contribution Michael D. Yates made in the article, especially in the portions related to Cuba, and in the portion related to benefit sections of the White people derive.

Support Countercurrents

Countercurrents is answerable only to our readers. Support honest journalism because we have no PLANET B.
Become a Patron at Patreon

Join Our Newsletter


Join our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Get CounterCurrents updates on our WhatsApp and Telegram Channels

Related Posts

Playing Politics with Tragedy

“Say her name!” Marjorie Taylor Greene shouted from the House floor during President Biden’s State of the Union Address. The same slogan was on the T-shirt she wore under her red jacket, which…

The Idolatry of Gun Worship

In the aftermath of the horrific Nashville school shooting that took the lives of three adults and three little children, Tony Perkins president of the Family Research Council, refused to…

Stop Killing Us, Guns in America

For seven years now former Marine and anti-gun violence activist Jamal Johnson has undertaken a three week 140-mile walk from Philadelphia to Washington, DC to participate in the annual Stop…

Join Our Newsletter

Annual Subscription

Join Countercurrents Annual Fund Raising Campaign and help us

Latest News