Henry Rollins: 'Bigotry and Racial Prejudice in America Will Not Die, They're Alive in Ferguson'

"Over and over again, it's been proven to African-Americans that their lives are not worth as much as other people's."

Ultimate Guitar

In the latest edition of his LA Weekly column, Henry Rollins addressed the delicate matter of the shooting of Michael Brown, stressing that "bigotry and racial prejudice" are alive and well in Ferguson, Missouri.

"While most of America gets on with its business, Ferguson, Missouri, burns in archaic flames of exasperating, unresolved anger, for all to see," the vocalist kicked off. "Once again, the world watches America roil in the mortifying echo of Jim Crow law brutality. Meanwhile, U.S. firepower explodes bodies of ISIS militia thousands of miles away. They and Boko Haram are seen as primitive, extremist scum that should be eradicated.

"Even the new liberal, socialist pope wants to see the American Shock 'n' Awe Fire Revue focused on ISIS. Yet there's Missouri, showing everyone where America's at. Missouri has a history of despicable conduct. Abraham Lincoln's Lyceum Address in January 1838 was in response to the hangings and burnings of humans there.

"From 1861 to 1865 [the American Civil War], the United States ripped its sutures apart and drowned its soil in blood. In that final year of carnage, a president was assassinated and the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery. Had more citizens been of the same mind, things would have gone forward in this Reconstruction period differently than they did.

"The fairness of the 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, did nothing to stop bigotry or cultural dislocation. Jim Crow laws appeared in many states, California having the most on the books, and America set up its own apartheid environment. You might not know it from American history textbooks coming out of Texas, but that's what happened."

Henry continued, "America missed a perfect opportunity to wipe the gore and misery off the chalkboard. Unfortunately, some people liked things the way they were and dug in their heels.

"Over the decades, battles were won and lost. Take the integration of schools. Imagine Eisenhower's frustration in 1957, having to straighten out Arkansas governor Orval Faubus by sending in members of the 101st Airborne Division - and federalizing the state's National Guard and ordering it to stand down - to allow nine African-American students to enter Little Rock Central High School.

"President Lyndon B. Johnson cussed up a storm at Georgia senator Richard Russell when Russell stood in opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Bigotry and racial prejudice in America will not die."

Focusing on the latest issue, Rollins noted, "The line drawn in the sand between Ferguson's protestors and law enforcement is about much more than the shooting death of an African-American teenager by a police officer. It is about Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Clyde Kennard, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education and Browder v. Gayle as much as it’s about Michael Brown.

"It very well could be that some of the people in the streets of Ferguson don't know all of the aforementioned references. This does not matter. At this point, decades of injustice, real or imagined, are ingrained in the psyche of millions of African-Americans. You can argue the legitimacy of it all you want, but it is real and it is based in reality.

"Over and over again, decade after decade, it has been proven to African-Americans that their lives are not worth as much as other people's. From false arrests and other acts of brutality to unfair practices at election time, one does not need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows.

"The Ferguson Police Department could have done itself a lot of favors if it had not withheld the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown for as long as it did. The idea of not having to account to the people was perhaps almost as egregious as the shooting itself.

"Everyone wants to assign blame and, again, there is a line drawn. Let's be clear: Any shooting by a police officer that kills or wounds anyone needs to be fully, quickly and vigorously investigated. Law enforcement should obey the rules when dealing with protesters and media members alike. Protesters should not engage in any acts of violence or aggression toward law enforcement. Unlawful conduct from either side is not to be tolerated.

"Now that we have that established, what to do going forward?

"There is at least one key to make things better: the desire to make things better. It will not be easy to confront the well-oiled machine of American bigotry, to neutralize a thing so powerful and deeply woven into the very fabric of the country. It will take every single person old enough to understand what is at stake to have the same opinion - that without equality, any notion of freedom is tainted.

"At present, this is not achievable. To ask people who have been treated so poorly for so long to forgive, forget and, most importantly, trust, would be a tall order. Convincing those with opposing, closely held beliefs to change their point of view also is not going to fly. With either group, what logic do you think would work?

"It is this problem that can be evidenced in Ferguson at the time of this writing. Law enforcement loses credibility by bringing in SWAT, the protestors do the same by throwing objects at law enforcement or looting.

"This is not a black/white problem. As much as some people don't want to admit it, the truth is that it's an American problem. Right-wing news outlets are attempting to deflect what’s happening in Ferguson with statistics about black-on-black crime, but lack the guts to tackle the bigger issue. For them, it is a simple problem - the African-American community.

"If that's how it's going to be played in the media, then it is logical to expect more Fergusons. What is happening there is seen by many as a nuisance, the inevitable conduct of people who have been palsied by government handouts, sloth, an undying sense of entitlement and a stubborn unwillingness to get up off their lazy asses and get to work.

"The protestors in Ferguson eventually will go home. Their emotions will fester. What happens to the cop who shot the kid? Justice? What is that, exactly?" the singer asked in conclusion.

40 comments sorted by best / new / date

    "The Ferguson Police Department could have done itself a lot of favors if it had not withheld the name of the officer who shot Michael Brown for as long as it did. The idea of not having to account to the people was perhaps almost as egregious as the shooting itself." Account to the people? The New Black Panthers had the protesters shouting "Who do we want? (insert name of police officer) How do we want him? DEAD!" Thank God we aren't letting mob rule decide his fate.
    Baby Joel
    By not revealing the name of the police officer, the police department destroyed all appearances of transparency. They looked very defensive, and closed off to the public they serve. Although the situation was already going to be bad, the police department aggravated it and made it far worse, initially by not releasing the name of the police officer (which is, by the way, what happens in literally every other case like this). And do you really think that by releasing his name, he suddenly would've gotten killed? As if they don't have safe houses or anything set up for stuff like this?
    actually we should. Civil war between the racist cops and the racist new black panthers, let them fight to the death.
    Sewage Rat
    Or just deport the blacks back into their natural habitat?
    "Thank God we aren't letting mob rule decide his fate." If you listen to fools...
    Good to see he got that weird Robin Williams speech out of his system.
    I do agree with his stance on racism in the US of A. Some habits die hard, sadly. That said: 1. The new pope isn't really a socialist. He despises liberation theology and actually fought it with a passion in Argentina. The stuff he regularly says about poverty, greed and opression are everywhere on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and was supported by several other popes as well. He's just as conservative as it gets. 2. Really, Rollins? The ISIS ARE extremist scum. No need to defend them.
    Where is he defending ISIS? He's actually contradicting the example of US being "heroes" abroad and fighting nutcases that even the Pope wants eliminated, and what's happening in their own country.
    Yeah, I take your point. It seemed like he was defending them because he sounded rather sarcastic, but then again, I didn't have the time to read and actually let it sink in properly at first. My bad.
    There is no contradiction necessary when innocent American journalists are being beheaded on videos being released online. Apples and oranges, the two issues. The Ferguson issue does nothing to confront the ostensibly overwhelming black-on-black crime issue in America. Just one isolated incident involving a white cop and black criminal turned victim.
    Has it occurred to anyone that the locals complaining about the police and the government in Furgeson actually voted that government in and so the liberals are actually complaining that they are incompetent to govern themselves?
    Mr. Skull
    the shit going down in ferguson is clear cut confirmation bias from the black community. a kid got shot by a cop? no way was he actually a criminal and assaulting the officer. he obviously was a sweet child with a kind demeanor who was a victim of racist dirty cops. yeah...
    Sorry, but no, Henry. Ferguson started off with the shooting of an "african" american (I hate using that moniker as most U.S. citizens cannot trace their lineage there. And knowing many immigrants from Africa...those particular people are "african" american). After the shooting, the response by the community was immediate. They protested, looted, and began rioting. Police HAD to respond to that. Otherwise, the city would have burned to the ground. From there, the "protesters" (otherwise known as thieves as their main form of "protest" was looting stores in their own community) began acting out aggressively towards the police who were initially trying to quell the problem simply by their presence (yes, a show of force) and ordering people to *gasp* stop committing crimes. When the crowds began throwing items at the police, Shabazz (sp?) actually inciting them to riot ON LIVE TELEVISION, and shots being fired in the area (not by police), the police HAD to respond with force. They were left no other choice. What else? Leave the area and let it burn and people kill each other? What is this? Another Purge sequel? All that, and the facts were not even out yet. Comes out later that Brown had committed a robbery, has a history of drug use, and may have attacked the cop first before the cop even had a clue as to what was going on. Racism? If it were to come out and be verified that Brown attacked the cop such that in order to save his own life the cop shot him, is that racist? And if so, Henry, I hope you mean it was the "african" american community that was acting out racially, not the other way around.
    Baby Joel
    If you don't like using the term 'African American', then why not just say 'black'? No one will get pissy about it. Honestly, what are you trying to prove by saying that you don't like the term 'African American'? It's not relevant. Yes, the response from the community was immediate. People were grieving. Years of injustice, intolerance, and misrepresentation had hit its peak. What's interesting is your very clear lack of understanding of the situation. The vast majority of looters and violent protesters were from out of town. Most of them were drunk people. I believe it was the third night where the citizens of Ferguson were guarding stores, to prevent looting. Now about the police response. I don't disagree that the police needed to respond to the looting. But I disagree about the police rolling through the town in tanks. I disagree with the police aiming their assault rifles at the people they swore to protect. I disagree with the police firing tear gas in peoples' own front yards, when they were just standing there. I disagree with the police arresting an elected official with no evidence. I disagree with the police arresting reporters, in a direct violation of their country's Constitution. Mike Brown committed a robbery. That's true. The police officer that shot Mike Brown was unaware of that fact. He had no idea that the robbery had taken place. He had no idea that Mike Brown was involved. His reason for confronting Brown had no relevance to the robbery, it was because the kid was walking in the street. Mike Brown may have attacked the cop. That has yet to be verified. However, by every account given (including the police report), Brown was confirmed to be unarmed. In what world does ten shots justify shooting an unarmed man to death? Would it also surprise you to learn that the officer was part of a previous police force that was disbanded for charges of racism? Would it surprise you to learn that the police officer that shot Brown didn't file his own report of the incident until much after the event? There is still a lot about the incident that we just don't know about, and that we will probably never really know. But your stance on it is really ignorant, and I suggest that you read up on major events like these properly before making a stance.
    Wow, could you try any harder to present the most biased depiction of the events as possible? First of all IDK WTF you're on about black people not being of African lineage. The people who were looting were opportunists. Not the same people as the protesters. This happens all the time at protests. So he literally stole a candy bar. That makes it okay that the cop shot him dead unarmed? Who knows what this cop has done in the past that nobody ever found out about because he's a cop. But that's irrelevant anyway. This is just typical character assassination. What does his marijuana use have to do with anything? Why would anyone bring that up for any reason other than TRYING desperately to make excuses? I'm so sick of people like this guy always trying to explain away racism and even having the nerve to try and turn it around and claim reverse racism. It's ****ing sickening.
    "Comes out later that Brown had committed a robbery, has a history of drug use, and may have attacked the cop first before the cop even had a clue as to what was going on." You cannot shoot someone because they committed a robbery earlier that day. You cannot shoot someone for having a history with drugs. A police officer only uses their firearm when their life is in immediate danger. All we know is that Brown was unarmed and that he was shot multiple times by police officers until he was dead. I think it's understandable that people want answers. I don't agree with the looting and violence, and I'm willing to bet that most of the protesters don't either. A tiny portion of violent *******s has nothing to do with the real concerned protesters.
    I think he has a good point in that a lot of the rioting done wasn't so much just a direct response to someone being shot, but a mentality that police are racist and unfair towards African-American. Things like the Rodney King beatings have becomed ingrained in the minds of people everywhere, which exacerbates problems when something like this happens. Most African-Americans I know inherently think (right of wrong) that the police are straight out to get them and a few have told me if they were witnessing a crime they would still be afraid to get police involved. I have no idea what the solution is, but it definitely is an issue and one that isn't going away any time soon. At the very least, it is something Americans need to pay attention to and not ignore or pretend it no longer exists.
    Ever thought that as a white person you're only hearing about the Rodney Kings and Micheal Browns because of protests like this? Black people don't hate cops for no good reason. It's because they deal with this shit on a daily basis and know tons of people who have been abused by cops. As a white person, all you hear are a few incidents so I guess it's easy to assume they're overreacting if you can't imagine anything outside your own experiences.
    it's crazy to see the way people look at the reasoning for this. i don't claim to know all the details, but from everything i've heard, the guy robbed a store and was assaulting the cop enough to break the bones in his eye socket. i don't agree that he should be killed for that, but that DOES NOT make this about race. it was a bad situation and everyone's blowing it out of proportion just because hate crimes have happened in the past, not to mention that so many people just want excuses for attention or to use the situation to vent out their own problems in rioting etc. sounds more like a media distraction to me from real issues around the world...
    Baby Joel
    "I don't claim to know all the details" Well maybe you should at least try to understand them before making judgements.
    The protesters need to get off their asses and get a life and a job. No more freebies for anyone. Work , vote and shut the F up
    Baby Joel
    That has absolutely nothing to do with the very apparent social issues that occur in Ferguson. You're being very narrow-minded.
    How many book deals and News covering and people are going to get money and popularity from one child ... That iz why racism wont end ... Thiz iz a place that lives off of death... Itz logical not emotional ... And I am Black ... I mean every game I play online and just being online I am followed and attacked ... right now I am typing and my internet has uukdial and amazon naws I cant get rid of it because the country likez to harass and see me with less ... I dont get the internet speed any of you are getting