March 29, 2001
Buford O. Furrow Jr.'s turn in the spotlight ended this week with a whimper, not a bang.
The man who murdered Joseph Ileto because he was Asian and who shot and wounded children and staffers at the North Valley Jewish Community Center because they were Jewish received five life terms. Before sentencing, Furrow expressed remorse for his actions. "I think about what happened every day, and I will grieve for it every day the rest of my life," he told U.S. District Judge Nora M. Manella.
There are undoubtedly white supremacists out there who will steadfastly refuse to see Furrow as anything but a martyr. His remorse, they might wish to believe, was just the endgame of his January plea bargain to avoid the death penalty. Those who feel he deserved the death penalty who might think the same thing: that the remorse was a coward's final gambit to dodge death.
The rest of us can never be certain what goes on inside Furrow's heart or his clearly troubled mind. We can only draw conclusions based on how the events of August 1999 unspooled:
Furrow is a poster boy for strong hate crime legislation. He targeted people because of their ethnicity and religion. The laws of this society need to provide severe additional penalties for people whose motives are racist. Such laws can send a clear message to people who preach hate.
Furrow was a symptom of a troubled mental health care system. Prosecutors revealed last January that Furrow had attempted for a decade to obtain treatment for mental health problems. Had he received it, many people might not have suffered.
Furrow used a gun and possessed an arsenal. He might have used a knife to kill Ileto, but he didn't. And he certainly couldn't have inflicted the damage he did to the NVJCC armed with a knife.
Such lessons are small consolation, if any, to the victims. They have found greater comfort in the out-pouring of community support they've received. They may perhaps find more still in society's actually addressing the issues Furrow's darkness brought to light.