I’ve been reflecting on the tragedy that struck Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina the evening of June 17th. I’ve been silent in my reflection. What is there to say, now? Nothing can be done to lessen the heartache of the friends, family, neighbors of those nine people. We must support them as the mourn.
What can be done, what I can do, is learn from this event, to call it what it is. We can hold people accountable for the language they use to discuss it. We can insist that this atrocity be illuminated clearly so we can see all the ugly facets. We can hold the perpetrator fully responsible, and yet examine our own role as a society in which the perpetrator could go this far.
The attack on Emanual AME Church was an act of terrorism.
Let us not equivocate on this. This attack was meant to support an agenda and perpetrated against a specific group of innocent people. This was terrorism.
The attack on Emanual AME Church was racially motivated.
Survivors of the attack reported that the attacker (Dylan Storm Roof) said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” The myth of white female purity has been used for centuries to justify violence against black people. There is a dangerous current of anger and hate towards black people that runs through our country. We need to confront it, expose it. We need to give it nowhere to hide.
We must confront the hate at the core of this attack.
Too often perpetrators of mass violence are given the blanket label of mentally ill. Even when their attacks have clear motivations, mental illness is used as a way to make a horrendous act more palatable. This language helps us detach from the perpetrator. If they were mentally ill, and we are not, then there is no way we can understand them. We cannot deal with this if we push it away, find a way to make it alien.
My friend, Chelsea, made a good point about this issue. She posted,
“Racism is not a mental illness. It is a social plague. Do not get those two lines crossed. Not only does this sort of scape-goating allow the public to continue turning a blind eye to the very real epidemic that is racism, it creates a dangerous social stigma towards actual mental illnesses. It shifts what should be a fear of racially charged violence into a fear of mental illness. This helps no one.
It reminds me of the Elliot Rodger case. Remember him? The kid who went on a killing spree because women wouldn’t fuck him? Well, society and the media also shrugged that off as mental illness. Again – misogyny and entitlement are not mental illnesses, but instead social plagues that serve as gateways to violence.
My point is this: call a fucking spade a spade. RACISM. MISOGYNY. HOMOPHOBIA. TRANSPHOBIA. These are not individual “illnesses,” they are social diseases that must be eradicated.”
We have a gun problem in our country.
Obtaining his weapon provided no deterrent or barrier for Roof on his way to perpetrating this violence. Right now, we would rather protect the right of someone to have access to a firearm than the rights of others to be protected from firearm violence. After the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, Adam Gopnik, a writer for The New Yorker, wrote, “There is no reason that any private citizen in a democracy should own a handgun.” Right now, the only reasons we have such easy access to firearms is because we always have and because we can.
President Obama called out our gun problem in his national address on June 18th. Looking wearied, he said,
“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency…at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”
Roof was confronted by law enforcement and was taken into custody, alive.
This is important when we compare it to the way black people are treated by law enforcement across the country. Black citizens that have committed no crime, or are suspects of far lesser crimes, are brutalized or even killed. Yet, though he is proven dangerous, Roof was taken into custody peacefully. This comparison is important.
Roof, and Roof alone, is responsible for this attack.
Unless he is found to have co-conspirators, full responsibility for this violence falls only on the perpetrator. It is not the fault of his parents, it is not the fault of the media, of violent video games. It is most certainly not the fault of any person he himself blames for his hateful perspective. Let us not give him relief from the full responsibilities of his actions.
We must all hold ourselves accountable for our participation in a society in which this happened.
While the responsibility is all Roof’s, we have participated at least passively in a culture that has allowed anger, hatred, violence, entitlement, and bigotry to go unchallenged. It is hard to do anything about it. It is hard to admit our own bias. It is hard to confront those we love and admire when they express some form of ignorant hatred. But we must. We must strive to hold ourselves and each other to a high standard. We must not shy away from hatred and anger, but confront it. We must recognize it and call it unwelcome. We must treat the hateful with compassion, for it is compassion that we must impart.
Those are some of the ideas I’ve been reflecting on. Those are some things I think are critical that we keep in mind as we process this violence and as we move forward.
I’m obviously not the only person talking about this. There are so many more eloquent, more meaningful voices that you could be listening to. Here are a few pieces that I think are important:
President Obama’s address [YouTube]