Today the nation mourns the loss of 9 members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston SC, which dates back to just after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the end of the American Civil War. A lone gunman, identified as Dylann Storm Roof, 21 yr old white male from Lexington SC, walked into the historic black church and opened fire on the unarmed churchgoers attending a prayer meeting Wednesday night. Characterized as a “hate crime” early in the investigation, the suspect Dylann Roof has since been apprehended and is in police custody. This heinous crime and tragic loss of life, combined with the Supreme Court ruling that Texas is allowed to reject a license plate design that featured a Confederate battle flag, puts Race once again front and center in the News.
Many have already called for SC Gov. Nikki Haley to address the use of the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State House in the wake of both the court ruling and the tragic shooting. However, with all of this in mind, there are a few things that need to be kept in perspective.
Some individuals and activists who do not like the idea of Americans being armed are, as is usually the case in these situations, using this church shooting to advance their cause against gun ownership in America. One Twitter poster made the sarcastic comment, “But the important thing is that the right wing racist got to exercise his ‘2nd Amendment Right’!” The post has since been deleted and he has apologized for the insensitive remark, but it illustrates the frustration that some have with guns and the perceived level of gun violence in America. I say “perceived” because all of the crime statistics and studies show that there has been a steady and consistent DECLINE in gun violence and violence in general for many years now in America.
Perspective: While some blame “gun rights” for Mr. Roof’s ability to slay innocents in a church, others point out that South Carolina law prohibits even Concealed Weapons Permit holders from carrying their firearms into a church.
(M) A permit issued pursuant to this section does not authorize a permit holder to carry a concealable weapon into a:
(9) church or other established religious sanctuary unless express permission is given by the appropriate church official or governing body.
It could easily be argued that the DENIAL of those churchgoer’s “2nd Amendment Right” by law, made them victims of a man who was not deterred by such laws. The point is that many will try to make “political hay” of this tragedy, brokering on emotion to advance an agenda and will require that people maintain an objective perspective.
The same can be said in regards to the Confederate Flag issue. While it undoubtedly has an emotional impact for many, especially black Americans, it is an indelible part of American history. A troubled, turbulent and violent history that is best remembered and learned from lest we be doomed to repeat it. It is a symbol of a 150 year old wound that has not yet healed. Removing it from public view, as the Supreme Court seems to justify in its Texas ruling, does not erase or heal the wound of racism in America’s past. Nor will it heal the festering racism that still exists to this day, but it will take away a symbol that could serve as a reminder of a past and an attitude that we should never want to take hold in America again. Again we see emotion taking precedence over reason and perspective.
As racism continues to fill the News in the coming days, weeks, months and years ahead, we must always work to maintain perspective. We must learn from the past rather than promote the racial divisions that still linger and seem to be exacerbated on an almost daily basis. We must look not at the implements of violence, like firearms, but at those who perpetrate it and how we may best and most effectively defend against it without creating the conditions for more such egregious acts to occur. Let not our mourning and offense taken at symbols cloud our judgement on the road to healing and recovery.