Carnage in a Charleston Church: Another Mass Murder

It’s time to “Break It Down!”

Once again, an act of senseless violence has pierced our nation’s consciousness. Based upon a tally by CBS News reporter and unofficial White House historian, Mark Knoller, last Thursday marked the fourteenth time President Obama issued a statement on a shooting attack. In his seven-and-a-half minute statement, the President was visibly frustrated, and in fact he admitted a range of emotions, including, heart-ache, sadness, and anger.

President Obama’s sense of frustration is undoubtedly heightened due to his fruitless efforts to move Congress to enact legislation to limit access to firearms, which many people believe is a key arbiter to how easy it is to facilitate an attack, such as the one carried out at (Mother) Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. As many of his supporters ruefully note, forget gun control, Congress has refused to even adopt new gun registration laws. Moreover, despite the recent tragedy in Charleston, the prospects of new firearms’ legislation seems no brighter today than at any point in the last six-and-a-half years.

That stark reality moved President Obama to say:

“Now is a time for mourning and for healing, but let’s be clear: at some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence doesn’t happen in other advanced countries.”

As he reflected upon the nine lives taken last Wednesday, the President noted:

“Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.” And so we must!

Unlike most of the preceding acts of gun violence during the President’s tenure, this one, by almost all accounts, unless you view this matter through a Fox News-like lens, has a racial catalyst and component. While there is a segment of our society dedicated to refusing to admit that any white person’s action, no matter how much compelling residual evidence exists, is predicated upon racial animus, this is one of those instances in which, there is no clear reasonable option.

Last Wednesday night, Dylann Roof, 21, entered historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. Wednesday evening is traditionally Prayer Meeting or Bible Study night in the Black Church, and so it was last week at Mother Emanuel.

Near the end of a 2,000-word Manifesto, titled “An Explanation,” Mr. Roof reveals what authorities may eventually deem to be the impetus for his actions:

“I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

The text which appeared on a website, called “The Last Rhodesian,” is registered to Mr. Roof and lists him as its administrator. In an image tweeted by South Carolina authorities this week, Roof is seen wearing a jacket with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, a former British colony that a white minority ruled until it became independent in 1980 and its name was changed to Zimbabwe. His Social Media also portray him brandishing a Confederate Flag, and burning an American Flag.

According to Police Chief Greg Mullen, Mr. Roof spent about an hour at the Bible Study/Prayer Meeting before rising to open fire. Witnesses told investigators the gunman stood up and said he was there “to shoot black people,” a law enforcement official said.

He answered one man’s plea to stop by shooting him, said Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of the church’s slain pastor who has talked to a survivor.

“‘No, you’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country,” he said, according to Johnson. “… I have to do what I have to do.”

All the victims were shot multiple times, according to Roof’s arrest warrant.

“Prior to leaving the Bible Study room he stood over a witness … and uttered a racially inflammatory statement,” the warrant said. He told one witness, whom he spared, “I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to spare you so you can tell them what happened.”

Roof shot and killed six females, and three males, including:

  • The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, the Church’s Pastor
  • M Tywanza Sanders, 26
  • Ms. Cynthia Hurd, 54
  • The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
  • Myra Thompson, 59
  • Ethel Lee Lance, 70
  • The Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74
  • The Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
  • Susie Jackson, 87.

Approximately fourteen hours after the shootings, police caught Roof in Shelby, North Carolina, about 245 miles away from the carnage in Charleston. He was armed, but surrendered without offering resistance.

Roof confessed to the shootings in interviews with the Charleston police and FBI, two law enforcement officials told Evan Perez and Wesley Bruer of CNN, the first network to report this development. He also told investigators he wanted to start a race war, one of those officials said.

Investigators are looking into whether Roof had links to white supremacist or other hate groups, a law enforcement official said. There’s no indication, so far, that law enforcement officials who focus on hate groups knew of him. Roof is being held under one million dollars bond.

A peculiar thing happened as the case of Dylann Roof has unfolded. Mr. Roof has been connected to a number of racist symbols, prominent among them, the Confederate Battle Flag. While President Obama has lifted the mantle of firearms access when discussing this horrendous event, the rest of the political spectrum, especially conservatives seem engrossed in an inexplicable about face on the efficacy of what is casually known as the Confederate Flag. As a symbol, the flag has been considered virtually sacrosanct among Southern Conservatives for…well forever…since the virulent initiatives to put down the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.

The shameless song and dance routine that so many Southerners contorted themselves through while attempting to explain the supposed innocuousness of this venal symbol is at once laughable and sickening. The words heritage and history are most frequently used to defend and /or explain why the flag should fly over a Statehouse, or adorn one’s vehicle, or front door, or desk, or whatever. Of course none of that explains the perfect storm coincidental nature of the symbol emerging virtually simultaneously to the rise of the Civil Rights movement, and the apex of efforts of Klansmen and other hateful and bad actors to diffuse and defeat that movement.

The cynic in me is compelled to recognize that this sudden infectious spread of good will seems a lot like a case of making a sacrificial lamb of the flag, all in an effort to sidestep another serious battle over new gun laws. I see you!

Don’t get me wrong; I have no level of disappointment about the potential dislodging of the hate-infused symbol that is the Confederate Battle Flag. I would love to see it go away altogether. However, I am also mindful that any prospects of even moving the flag to less prominent stations, on any large scale, is still quite an iffy proposition. This is true despite the Pomp and Circumstance generated by Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, and other politicos including Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and John Kasich, Scott Walker, and Jeb Bush.  There are still holdouts.  Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum have hedged, and said the States should decide the issue.  Mike Huckabee has dismissed the issue.  For now!

In fact, in addition to South Carolina, Legislatures in several other Southern States, are currently engaged in some level of discourse about what to do about references (some subtle or not so well-known) to the Confederacy in their respective State Flags.  Included among these States are: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Kudos to businesses, such as Amazon, eBay, KMART, Sears, and Walmart, which have taken the position they will no longer sell Confederate Flag oriented products.  Although, I did take with a grain of salt, a statement by Walmart’s CEO, Doug McMillon, when he said he was surprised the products could be found on their shelves.  Nevertheless, I credit him with adhering to the right impulse, even if it took him a while to arrive at that point.  Moreover, a number of businesses, including NASCAR, Boeing, BMW, and Michelin have rallied to support Governor Haley’s initiative to remove the flag in South Carolina.

North Carolina and Virginia Governors have asked their States not to sell Confederate-themed license plates any longer. Even Mississippi is considering taking down the flag. However, govern any post-flag fantasies with caution. In South Carolina, for example, any measure to remove the flag still requires a two-thirds vote in the Legislature to pass, which I am certain, will be no mean feat.  In the Palmetto State, the flag is institutionalized to such a degree that, even though the United States Flag and the State of South Carolina Flag are flying at half staff, in observance of the deaths of the Charleston Nine, the Confederate Flag (Which no longer flies over the Statehouse, is, and must by State statute still flying at full staff.  Ergo, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  There is still work to do.

Indeed, it “may be easier” to remove the flag than enacting any kind of enhanced gun laws. I’m just not sure the issue is nearly as important. Meanwhile, we are left to contemplate Carnage in a Charleston Church: Another Mass Murder!”

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Black Like Me: The Rachel Dolezal Story

It’s time to Break It Down!

With wars, prison breaks, the NHL/NBA Finals, World Cup Soccer, a newly minted acronym (JEB = John Ellis Bush) presidential candidate, Democrats abandoning the President on the Trade bill, and a shark biting off an arm of two different teens off the North Carolina coast, the Rachel Dolezal saga hardly warrants a mention. That, however, is the beauty of having one’s own blog. Unlike LeBron, I don’t have to proclaim myself the best in the world to write about what I choose, and today, I choose Rachel; Ms. Dolezal, if you’re nasty. (That’s a cultural literacy/pop culture reference that you either get, or you don’t). Conduct a web engine search of Janet Jackson’s “Nasty,” if it escapes you. And yeah, I know the rule: The joke didn’t work, if you have to explain it. My blog; my rules.

In my view, there really isn’t a lot to say. To immediately frame this in a different, and sobering, if you will, light, simply imagine if, beginning today, I decide to “Identify as white.” OK, once you quit laughing, assuming you know me, really what if I did that? If, because I attended an historically white high school, matriculated and earned a graduate degree at a PWI (OK, another cultural literacy reference/Predominantly White Institution), spent a career working in majority white organizations, lived what some people would consider a middle class existence, and reside in suburbia, can I successfully commit cultural appropriation and declare, once and for all, I’m white; end of discussion? Can I? Really?

Before you spit out your coffee, or whatever your morning beverage of choice is, let me make it perfectly clear, I have no plans to either shed my locks, or begin any sort of bleaching treatment. I’m black; Ms. Dolezal is not. End of story!

Now, many folks smarter than me, and of much greater acclaim, have weighed in on this story. Frankly, I think it has taken up more time and space than is warranted. But we are a nation of excesses, so it is not unusual to immerse ourselves in flights of fancy while real issues go unaddressed.

Be that as it may, there are multiple issues at play here with the Montana-born, former Spokane, Washington NAACP President. They include, among others:

Is Ms. Dolezal black?

Did she misrepresent her race on various job applications?

Did she lie about whom her parents are?

Did she lie about whom her father is?

Did she lie about whom her child is?

Did she lie yesterday by saying she began identifying as black at age 5?

Has she done good work in her roles, while identifying as black?

The bottom line here is, not that hard to decipher. Moreover, I’m not writing any of this to persecute the woman. There is a lot to like about black culture and the African American experience. A number of people have been appropriating it for many years for that very reason. To that end, despite the fact Ms. Dolezal is not black, misrepresented her race on job apps, lied about who her parents are, lied when identifying someone who purportedly was her father, lied by saying one of her adopted brothers was her son, and lied yesterday when she said she began identifying as black at age 5 (according to her parents), she has apparently done significant and good work in roles afforded to her as a result of her various deceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. To that, I must say, she may have been able to do all those things by asserting that as the white woman she is, she was committed to advancing society in the same ways she did, in those same positions.

I applaud Ms. Dolezal…for her goals and the aims that she achieved while pursuing those goals. Her tactics and methods; those leave something to be desired. And I would add, those tactics and methods proved to be the instruments of her undoing.

There has been a lot of airtime and web space devoted to how much black folks disdain Rachel Dolezal. That may be true; but I am not one of them. I think she made a number of questionable judgments, employed a series of deceptive practices, and she may be, as her parents have contended, delusional. In fact, as I make mention of her parents, it is essential to note, it was they who exposed her canard. And while it seems to me, they are really the people most angered by all this, they only responded to questions posed by the media after the media sought them out and posed direct questions, to which they could have responded truthfully, declined comment (further intensifying the inquiry), or lied…as their daughter had been doing.  Some would say, to their credit, they chose the honorable option.

Ultimately, if an accusatory finger points at anyone, sadly, it must be pointed at Rachel, herself. I’ll say this, her journey already has the makings for a book, movie, or TV deal…”Black Like Me: The Rachel Dolezal Story!”

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McKinney: Like It or Not; They Got Next

It’s time to Break It Down!

Sadly, but necessarily, my focus for this post is the next installment of what seems to be an endless procession of, shall we say, “unfortunate” interactions between citizens and police officers. In this instance, like many, if not most of the ones preceding it, the majority of the citizens in question were African American.

According to most accounts, teens decided to throw a pool party at a local neighborhood pool in McKinney, last Friday. McKinney is a city in and the county seat of Collin County, Texas. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city’s 2010 population was 131,117, making it second in size to Plano, among cities in the County. It is the nineteenth most populous city in the state of Texas, and is part of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. McKinney is located 31 miles north of Dallas.

Among cities with more than 50,000 people, the Census Bureau cited McKinney as the fastest growing city from 2000 to 2003, and again in 2006. In 2007, it was listed as the second fastest growing city among cities over 100,000 in population, and in 2008, the third fastest. In the most recent estimate, as of January 1, 2015, the city’s population was estimated at 155,142.

So right away, it is clear, the dimensions, and likely the character of what used to be a small town has been altered significantly in the last decade and a half. With that in mind, it is certainly conceivable that homogeneity has gone by the wayside, and with it some degree of tolerance. I cannot say that the resulting changes caused Friday’s incident, but it almost surely contributed.

Just what happened in this swanky burg outside Dallas? Here’s a youtube video of the incident:

By Sunday, a number of variations of the video above showed a police officer most viewers, including the Brass at the McKinney Police Department, thought was out of control in his efforts to respond to a call to curtail the actions of a raucous crowd at the pool party. The officer, Eric Casebolt, though not named initially, was quickly placed on administrative leave.

A seven-minute YouTube video shows a police officer using profanity and aggressively throwing a 15-year-old girl in a bathing suit to the ground, facedown. He then appeared to pin her down with his knees.

The girl can be heard screaming, “I want to call my mom. He hit me.”

As is common, there are conflicting views of the matter. One version of the sequencing of events involves an assertion by Tatiana Rhodes, 19, who maintained that she and some of her friends were enjoying themselves at the Craig Ranch North Community Pool when conflict with a white neighbor ensued. Ms. Rhodes said:

“This lady was saying racial slurs to some friends that came to the cookout. She was saying such things as ‘black effer,’ and “that’s why you live in Section 8 homes.’” More insults followed, according to Rhodes. One neighbor said, “Go back to your Section 8 home.” Then, by Rhodes’ account, “A white neighbor came up to me and smacked me in my face. That’s when both of the women attacked me,” said Ms. Rhodes. A photographer recorded the statement and uploaded it online.

Conversely, Brian New of CBS Dallas reported that “Many McKinney residents say that Casebolt was justified because the teens were ignoring his orders.”  Well, there you have it! Comply, or face unmitigated wrath, language and physical assault by a police officer.

In the video, Officer Casebolt was recorded pinning a teen girl to the ground, handcuffing her, pulling her hair, pushing her face to the ground, and holding her down with both knees on her spine. He was also shown drawing his weapon and pointing it toward several other teens.

Yesterday, Corporal Casebolt resigned from the McKinney Police Department. Chief Greg Conley said the officer resigned voluntarily. He stated at a press conference:

“Officer David Eric Casebolt’s actions were “indefensible, but he was not pressured to quit the force.”

Chief Conley also said:

“Twelve officers responded to the report of fights and a disturbance at the pool party at the Craig Ranch North Community Pool in an affluent area of western McKinney. Eleven of them performed according to their training, Casebolt did not. He came into the call out of control and the video showed he was out of control during the incident.”

The Supreme Court has held that it is legal to record police officers executing their duties. There are some states and jurisdictions that frame that right in strict parameters. However, it is crucial to note that the recent trend of video-recording such encounters has provided an incredible array of enlightenment. Thanks to a revolution in technology, i.e., virtually everyone has a video-capable cellphone; the public has regularly become party to an eye-opening series of developments when citizen and police have what devolve into brutal encounters.

The good news resulting from the McKinney incident is no one lost a life, as a result of the encounter. We can all be thankful for that. Moreover, let us hope that, in as much as a picture is worth a thousand words, we can reach a national consensus that videotaping such incidents is a good thing for all involved.

In this particular incident, it brought to light the errant ways of, what for the duration of that incident at least was, a rogue cop. Conversely, it illuminated the commitment to departmental protocol of eleven other officers. That ought to be deemed a huge and compelling benefit. And while we are contemplating the power of hope, let us hope I will have a long respite before having the need to elevate another event such as this. I doubt we’ll be so lucky, but one thing about which there is no doubt is this; “McKinney: Like It or Not; They Got Next!”

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Tomorrow: The Finals!

It’s time to Break It Down!

For most of my life, my favorite sport has been basketball. In the formative years of my youth, I cut my sports teeth on baseball. It was my father’s sport. Though he never told me, I learned from a relative, just a few years ago, that my dad played semi-professional baseball. I never knew, when I was playing Little League Baseball, I was in the early stages of following in my father’s footsteps.

He came of age during the Golden Age of the Negro Leagues. He lived through and watched unfold the phenomenon that was Branch Rickey. Mr. Rickey, an innovative Major League Baseball (MLB) executive was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967. He is likely best known for breaking MLB’s color barrier, by signing the sport’s first African American player, Jackie Robinson. Though not as widely recognized, he also signed the first Afro-Hispanic superstar, Roberto Clemente, and was responsible for creating the framework for the modern minor league farm system, for encouraging the Major Leagues to add new teams through his involvement in the proposed Continental League, and for introducing the batting helmet. Indeed, he was a proverbial force of nature in MLB.

For his part, after integrating the sport, Robinson went on to become a star player for my dad’s beloved Dodgers. They were the Brooklyn Dodgers when Jackie broke into the League, but they would move to Los Angeles, as did the fan support for generations of African Americans. So it was, my dad’s team became my team.

Similarly, my dad introduced me to the Sweet Science, better known as boxing. In those days, big boxing matches often took place on Friday evenings, billed as Friday Night at the Fights. Baseball was a Saturday afternoon affair. My weekend TV sports viewing pattern was set. LOL!

Then, through the course of normal growth and development, I found my own sports passion. I truly believe since the first day I picked up a basketball, I have never viewed the broad spectrum of sports the same. It became basketball, then everything else. Oh, I dabbled with sandlot football, softball, bowling, and tennis. I even played stickball, and handball, during summers in New York. But they were all always just an interlude, a mere distraction until I could return to hoops, my game.

So it is, today, you might say I’m Jonesing; waiting out the inescapable NBA imposed interval until the Games resume…tomorrow. The NBA Finals will pit against one another, two formidable opponents.

In one corner we have the team that amassed the best record in the League this year. The Golden State (Oakland, CA) Warriors, feature this year’s League Most Valuable Player (MVP), Stephen Curry.

In the other corner, their opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers feature the player most people consider the best in the World, LeBron James, a veritable walking record book. James has won two NBA championships, four NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, two NBA Finals MVP Awards, two Olympic gold medals, an NBA scoring title, and the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. He has also been selected to 11 NBA All-Star teams, 11 All-NBA teams, and six All-Defensive teams, and is the Cavaliers’ all-time leading scorer. He is appearing in his fifth consecutive NBA Finals.

“The NBA is Fantastic,” and I can hardly wait for the hostilities to begin. There is no lack of allegiance for either team. Whether the dividing line is East vs. West, or Curry vs. James, or Cleveland vs. Golden State, or Ohio vs. California, or some other varied machination of the two, people, for the most part, including me, have chosen sides.

I really like LeBron James. At 6’8”, 250 pounds, he brings a combination of size, strength, speed, and skill seldom seen in any athlete, in any sport. Many folks think he would be a force on the football field. On the basketball court, he is a virtually unstoppable force. To put a finer point on matters, LeBron and I share the same birthday (not the year of course).

On the flip side, Steph Curry is simply amazing. In contrast to LeBron, he’s listed at 6’3”, and weights 190 pounds (they say). He is assembling his own portfolio, which impressively includes, while playing the point guard position, being considered by some to be the greatest shooter in NBA history. He is the 2015 NBA Most Valuable Player and a two-time NBA All-Star, and the son of former NBA player Dell Curry.

Curry displays incredible control of the ball, and his body. But his stock-in-trade is “the shot.” He makes three point shots with ease, from all over the court. His relatively diminutive size, combined with his ability to control or change the flow of a basketball game, single-handedly, is on occasion, breathtaking.

Enough already, I like both teams’ leader. But as I alluded earlier, I have chosen sides. I’m picking Curry and the Warriors. Allow me to be clear. I’m pulling for the Warriors. Curry has Charlotte high school and AAU roots, attended college at Davidson, right here in Mecklenburg County, plus the Warriors have two players who matriculated at North Carolina (and I’m a Tar Heel).

That’s great and all, but truth be told, I am pulling for Golden State. I’m pulling for them because I will not; in fact I just cannot pull for Cleveland. Not yet anyway. When LeBron chose to leave Cleveland for Miami, the Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert wrote a scathing letter ( lambasting his former star player, calling him a coward, former hero, and deserter, among other derogatory things. Mr. Gilbert owns the Cavaliers, not LeBron. In my view, his tirade revealed far more about himself than it did about LeBron. He revealed himself to the core. I took note.

He said a lot of other things, including, making an assertion that LeBron was taking “the curse,” bad karma, and the spell with him. He also said one other thing that continues to resonate with me:


Actually, he was correct; LeBron won two, while Cleveland regularly toiled in the NBA Lottery…without the so-called former King. Karma is real!

I fully appreciate Mr. James’ right to exercise his prerogative and make a business/family decision to return to the Cleveland community and the Cavaliers. Mr. James, to the credit of his negotiating ability, is being paid handsomely to do so; I, on the other hand am not. So, Go Warriors!

Oh, one final thing. None of this means I “think” Golden State will win. But I sure hope so. Tomorrow: The Finals!”

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