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!”
I’m done; holla back!