Reflections on Discussion About the Charleston, SC Shooting

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]

Charleston Shooting: Speaking the Unspeakable, Thinking the Unthinkable [Esquire]

This is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings [Vox]


8 thoughts on “Reflections on Discussion About the Charleston, SC Shooting

  1. The European settlers built this country on violence at the expense of human Native and African lives, do you really think a structure is going to change after the Foundation has been laid? There is but One who can eradicate evil, can you guess who that One is?

  2. Actually, I don’t subscribe to the idea that we can’t change ourselves and that it is up to some power outside ourselves to save us.

    You know what else has been with us during all of that violence? An unwavering belief in God. The belief that God wanted European’s to take this land. The belief that God gave the black Africans to the White man.

    Now that I actually take a moment to respond to your comment in seriousness, I actually resent your hopelessness. Yes. I do believe the structure is going to change. No. I don’t think we need anything outside of our own humanity to save us from our own evil.

  3. Not sure who you have been talking to, but I have never heard of the belief of God wanting the Europeans to take this land or that He gave any one people to another. Interesting though that you took offense to my original comment. You speak about people having an unwavering faith, but you knew exactly who I spoke of when I said the One…God! Like your cynical joke about Neo though. Your unbelief in God is your problem, not the Faithful. Incidently though, your antagonism proved the point as to the reason why there is racial killings by Europeans and the fact that it (they) have never changed, they are so far from God and proved that! And if you could save yourselves from your evil abominations, you would have by now!

  4. If God were going to save us, he could have done it by now! Your logic is faulty. Who made you the keeper of the pace of human advancement and evolution? You have no basis for claiming that if we were going to eliminate racism and hatred on our own we would have done it by now.

    Europeans, and then European-Americans, have exploited the world as their God-given right for centuries. It’s not uncommon at all for racists to claim that God does not want the races to mix. The KKK, for instance, identifies as a Christian Brotherhood. It’s not uncommon for atrocities to be done in the name of God, or some other divine privilege. The Bible itself supports slavery (though not necessarily based on race).


    Your comment is so full of holes, I’m not sure where to begin.

    “You speak of people having an unwavering faith, but you knew exactly who I spoke of when I said the One…God!”

    What does that even mean? That’s not a point. Obviously I knew you were talking about God. I’m surrounded by Christians that use the same language as you. Christian culture is dominant in America.

    “Your unbelief in God is your problem, not the Faithful.”

    I never said my unbelief in God was a problem at all, so there is no way I could have claimed it was a problem for or of the Faithful. Far from being a problem, my atheism is one of my strengths.

    “Incidently [sic] though, your antagonism proved my point as to the reason why there is racial killings by Europeans.”

    What? So, because I disagree with you and I’m not willing to let your ludicrous claims go unchallenged, I’m the reason that there is racial violence? That doesn’t seem like a crazy leap in logic to you?

    I’ve read through your blog. If there is a coherent, cogent thought in there at all, it is so obscured by your meandering and faux-pendantic Biblical regurgitation as to be indiscernible. And thus, I’m done with this conversation. If you need to have the last word, feel free to post another comment.

  5. I’d like to address this interaction with Dear Japheth. I had a realization during church today (the irony). Though Dear Japheth and I appear to disagree, at a deep level, we actually want the same thing: an end to racial violence, and end to the current of hatred.

    Dear Japheth claims God will save us from ourselves. My faith is with Humanity and that it’s in our power to save ourselves. Here’s my realization: it doesn’t matter. It’ll look the same regardless.

    My apologies to Dear Japheth for my animosity. I reacted with passion rather than with considered reason. I focused first on the semantics and when those elicited an emotional response, I never looked deeper to the core of the argument. So, I missed that we are both actually focused on the same outcome.

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