A noose was placed on his locker. An ace of spades playing card was inserted into his locker. Racist notes were left inside his locker. A Hispanic co-worker refused to train him because he was black. The men’s restroom stalls were filled with racist graffiti. The company he worked for had already settled a huge racial lawsuit in another one of its sites. The lawsuit cited nooses hung on black employees’ lockers.
This is the back story of Anthony Ferrill, the African American man who shot and killed five coworkers and then shot himself to death, in the Molson Coors brewery in Milwaukee last week.
We are so used to mass shootings now. We are so used to hearing that the gunman is white. Indeed, almost all mass shooters are white males. Almost certainly, the white shooters did not have nooses hung on their lockers or racist notes posted.
The Milwaukee police department says that there is no apparent racial motive behind Ferrill’s rampage. Which makes the Milwaukee police department: blind? stupid? A Molson Coors spokesman stated that there were no cameras near the lockers. And Anthony Ferrill did not file a HR report, nor did he complain to the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.
So. Do we focus on Ferrill’s silence and subsequent action? Or, do we talk about the new “benign” racism that infects work places?
My book tells about black Alton factory workers, originally employed by government edict in the Johnson administration. Now these workers had jobs. But the new, non-lynching racism fomented by white workers began. On breaks, white workers stuck thumbs in their pants pockets and lowered the next three fingers—the KKK secret warning. Everything that Ferrill experienced happened in Alton.
A black catch phrase, spoken at the Alton glass plant and the steel plant and the ammunition plant began: “White men in white cars from Whitehall.” A black man I interviewed told me he was so put upon by a racist boss, he took a gun to work, to kill the boss. Ironically, the boss did not show up for work.
The racism in our country is palpable. Target stores just put out a new series of ads featuring smiling, prosperous black entrepreneurs. White internet responders wrote obscene and terrible things. (White males circulated a cartoon depicting teen climate activist Geta Thunberg being sexually assaulted.) Computers are the new hiding places for cowards and racists.
Do good white people recognize themselves as part of the problem, in the current racial crisis? They cluck their tongues a lot: Shame! But they don’t say “shame” when they overhear a racist comment; nor do they attend city hall meetings to protest redlining, or racial imbalance and unpreparedness in Alton schools, or at city planning meetings where the new slogan is “Healthy, Happy Alton,” or as one black friend calls it, “right out of the “Whitey Handbook.”
Over and over, I hear: Why don’t blacks reach out to us? Why don’t they care?
Are you kidding me, blind and deaf white America? Blacks reach out to you? How the hell do you know about black caring?
Your ancestors and mine (yes, even those who fought for the North) looked away from lynching, slavery, torture, rape. The white wealth accrued over centuries today owes its fortune to the enslavement of a people. And after those people were freed, those four million souls with nothing except the clothing on their backs, straggled into cities, the origin of the very same ghettos we know today.
Have I answered the question as to why Anthony Ferrill shot five people to death in Milwaukee? Of course not. I have offered a motive—more at this point than has the Milwaukee police department.
Anthony Ferrill has left this world via the 21st Century Edmund Pettis Bridge.