Tuesday, June 23, 2015

We Won't Learn Anything from the Charleston Shooting

America has more than its share of violence, and last week, the nation experienced another tragedy that appears to have affected people at every level. On June 17, 2015, a 21 year old man named Dylann Roof entered Emanuel African Methodist Presbyterian Church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine people there, all of whom were engaged in a Bible study. Roof was quickly apprehended and from all indications from the media, Roof has confessed to the crime, and a substantial amount of other evidence exists that will probably send him to death row. The magnitude of the crimes is not in doubt, but within a few days time, several subtexts have risen to the forefront of American political conversation.

The most obvious, and most important of the layers to this story? The motivation for this crime is a terrible reminder that racism is still a significant force in the United States. No, this doesn't mean every white person is the proverbial 'man' trying to hold down minorities. But, by Roof's own admission, he hoped to spark a race war in the country by his actions. During the assault on the church, Roof told his victims that he was there to specifically harm black people. Police recently announced the discovery of a deeply disturbing manifesto attributed to Roof on the Internet. His thoughts included comments about the superiority of the white race to blacks, other neo-Nazi propaganda, and he lamented that more white people were not willing to stand with him. The website has dozens of pictures with Roof donning the Confederate battle flag and visiting various historical monuments to the Civil War era South.

Roof is an ugly example that despite the vast amounts of improvement the nation has seen in race relations over the last 60 years, a fringe element still exists that is willing to kill for no reason other than the color of a person's skin.

The racial implications of this crime have also caused the people of South Carolina to question a long-standing tradition of incorporating what is known as the "rebel flag" as part of their "heritage."  White Southerners have controlled government and business in South Carolina throughout almost the entirety of the state's history and since the end of the Civil War, these Southerners still haven't gotten over it. The Civil War ended over 150 years ago, but they still fly the rebel flag from the capitol building in Columbia. The state tries to mask its antipathy for the federal government through clever euphemisms and attempting to portray the Confederacy as some glorious effort to save the state from tyranny. 

Many teachers there still refer to the Civil War as the "War of Northern Aggression," and they claim it was a states' rights issue and not about slavery. Seriously? I can't think of any other nation which has a segment of their society who long for the days of a failed rebellion, particularly one based on the enslavement and degradation of an entire group of people.

Businesses such as Amazon, Sears, and Walmart have already stated they will no longer carry any rebel flag merchandise. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R), and United States Senator Lindsey Graham (R) both have called for the flag to come down from the statehouse.  Yet, entire groups of people defend keeping it flying under the guise of tradition and heritage.

The flag probably has seen its last days, but the sad fact is that nine black people had to be gunned down in a church for these people and businesses to sober up and realize the rebel flag is a part of our history that belongs in a museum.  However, that still won't change the minds of many Southerners who see the flag as no big deal.

Another of the sad facts about the deaths of these nine people in Charleston is how it demonstrates the worst in our society. Less than 24 hours after this crime, people around the nation seemed more concerned with how to politicize the tragedy rather than how to assist those directly harmed by the tragedy. Nine human beings lost their lives in a place where they should have felt safe. Families were robbed of their loved ones, and the media is busy spinning the situation.

The more liberal media outlets are busy wondering how we should label this crime. Is it a hate crime? Is it terrorism? Do we call Roof a lone wolf? Does it really matter what we label Dylann Roof? How about cold-blooded murderer?  I'm willing to be that Roof will be tried in federal court and he will face nine counts of first degree murder. If I had to guess, I don't think the families of his victims will really care what society labels him, so long as he is convicted and appropriately sentenced for his crimes.

Fox News initially attempted to frame this story as an example of the persecution of Christians. Of course, Fox News has the reliability of a deadbeat dad who hasn't paid child support in years. What kind of hack overlooks the entire slew of racially charged evidence against Dylann Roof? Fox News does.  They sought to alter a story so it fits with their narrative.

I'm not saying that some of the questions either side of the media is asking aren't significant, or worthy of discussion. However, the families haven't even had time to process the deaths of loved ones while Fox News and CNN are trying to figure out what this means for their viewers.

The church shooting also brought to light a political issue that both the left and right are attempting to seize upon – gun rights. Democrats are already calling for changes to gun laws while Republicans and their NRA minions try to remind us that guns don't kill people, people kill people. In this instance, I think they both have a point.

The ease with which a person can acquire a gun in America is appalling. Gun violence in the United States is higher than most nations in the world and something needs to change. I understand the desire to possess a gun to protect oneself and family. However, let's not try to convince anyone that Dylan Roof could have killed nine people in a church if he didn't have a firearm.

Yet, we cannot ignore the Constitution's guaranteed right to keep and bear arms. Democrats champion practically every Constitutional right except this one. I suppose to them it's like that crazy uncle you try not to talk about but you know he's not going anywhere.

The ultimate conclusion that we should draw from this incident is one that Daily Show host Jon Stewart already observed. During the monologue of his June 17th show, Stewart stated,
I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist. And I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit. Yeah. That’s us.

The nation will mourn for a short time. Politicians will speak of the tragedy and the need for change. Vigils will be held. In a few years, the news will have a short blurb about Roof's trial and sentencing. 

Yet, the long term result is that nothing will change.  People will still cling to their racist ideologies.  The rebel flag will continue hanging from the front porches and pickup trucks of good ole boys.  No significant changes will have occurred in making us safer from gun violence.  People will still overlook the personalized effect of the tragedies because it didn't happen to them. 

One thing that Americans consistently demonstrate is that we will not change unless we are pushed to the brink of sheer chaos. And we haven't become disgusted with ourselves just yet. The nation won't change over nine deaths, and that's a tragedy in itself.

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