A devil went down to Charleston


…And he was looking for some souls to steal: the souls of black folk.

Last Wednesday, a 21-year-old white supremacist — with a bowl cut and eyes as dark and lifeless as death itself — opened fire on a Bible study at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In the church, the killer was reported to have said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” He reportedly drove over 100 miles from his home in Lexington to Emmanuel Church, which he targeted due to its historical significance. His manifesto, discovered online following the shooting, talks in great detail about black people being “the biggest problem for Americans,” along with other racial and cultural warnings. His roommate told police that the alleged shooter had spoken of a desire to start a new civil war.

This was in no uncertain terms a premeditated, racially motivated act of domestic terrorism. There’s no debating this one. There’s no, “woah, wait, we don’t know all the answers yet.” In spite of South Carolina Governor Haley and GOP candidate Jeb Bush’s hand-wringing and shoulder-shrugging, we do know what motivated him to kill those innocent people: their race. Period.

Charleston, South Carolina via Wikimedia Commons

Charleston, South Carolina via Wikimedia Commons

What’s more, the very nature of how the suspect was arrested shows how racially biased our institutions are, and how much privilege is granted to white people. A white man kills 9 innocent people who are perhaps at their most vulnerable — praying and studying the Bible in a church — and is calmly handcuffed by the police, given a bulletproof vest and calmly walked over to the squad car. Contrast that with black people getting choked to death on the sidewalk for selling loose cigarettes. If this suspect had been any race other than white, he could easily have been dead before he reached the police car. It is the racist cherry on top of this sundae from hell. It’s clear preferential treatment based on implicit — and maybe even conscious — racial in-group preference for someone guilty of far worse than any of the numerous black men that have been slain by police over the past several months.

So before we congratulate ourselves for our solidarity with the victims of the Charleston shooting, we should pause to take note that our prosecution of a murderous white supremacist is itself tied to our system’s own expressions of white supremacy. This is especially important to consider when half of Americans believe that we live in a post-racial America, when the evidence clearly points to the contrary.

There are numerous organizations that are only making matters worse. Of course the media — as per usual — is doing more harm than good. Fox News would like you to believe that race had nothing to do with this shooting. They — as Jon Green noted on Friday — spun the tragedy so that it fit their propaganda about an asinine, non-existent “War on Christianity.” Others are deflecting focus from the suspect’s racism by assuming he was mentally ill. While we do need to reopen the mental health institutions that Ronald Reagan foolishly closed down, given what we know about the nature of this attack it would be willfully ignorant to assume mental illness; the evidence points to an evil form of mental clarity.

While it’s tempting say, “OF COURSE he was mentally ill! Murder is, by definition, an expression of mental instability,” statistically speaking — and perhaps this makes it even more terrifying — the killer was probably sane; deranged, misguided, and fueled by hatred, yes, but sane. Furthermore, even if he did have a mental illness — like many other past high-profile shooters have — to chalk this attack up to that alone would be to avoid uncomfortable questions concerning racism, glorification of violence and the proper diagnosis of mental illness. When a black man shoots someone, the first TV guest appearances are made by defense attorneys. When a white person shoots someone, the first TV guest appearances are made by psychiatrists. Until that changes in one direction or the other, I’m going to be highly skeptical when the mental illness of white shooters is simply assumed.

The NRA is also, naturally, making things worse. NRA board member Charles Pickney blamed the victim — blamed the victim ­— claiming the slain pastor, not the shooter, was responsible for the deaths because he opposed legislation to allow people to carry guns in churches. Because, as we all know, guns don’t kill people; people who get killed by guns do. The ignorant and greed-fueled champions of gun manufacturers couldn’t waste a chance to trumpet their bastardized version of the Second Amendment, which, for the record, was originally intended to allow for citizens to form militias to defend the government.

It speaks volumes that comedians like Jon StewartLarry Wilmore and Bill Maher are giving somber, respectful and critical analyses of the shooting calling it what it is — a racist act of domestic terrorism — while the GOP’s and cable news media’s best cracks at explaining the violence are big, unfunny jokes. Not only do they refuse to say that the attack was motivated by race, but they — along with FBI Director James Comey — refuse to call it an act of terrorism because the perpetrator wasn’t an Arabic speaking Middle-Eastern Muslim. If we, as the FBI does, define terrorism as political violence by a non-state actor, how does a premeditated shooting at a church of historical significance for the purpose of starting a new civil war not fit that description?

At this point, black people aren’t safe anywhere in America. They aren’t safe in their cars, at gas stations, in parks, at swimming pools, in the street and now in church. How many innocent black people have to be killed before we admit that racism and white supremacy still exist? When will we stop blaming the victims and scrambling for reasons to absolve the guilty? How many black people, or children, or movie goers need to be killed by guns before we — Democrats and Republicans; gun rights advocates and gun safety advocates — come together to make the killing stop? How many times do white supremacists need to kill people before we accept that the Confederate flag is not a symbol of “Southern Pride” or “Rebel Spirit” but of racism, oppression, and slavery?

Since no federal gun regulations were enacted following the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012 — and those were mostly white children — what makes us think that politicians would suddenly enact gun control measures in the wake of police brutality and racially motivated domestic terrorism? Fourteen times since he took office, Obama has had to address the nation about yet another mass shooting. That’s fourteen times too many. If we’re serious when we talk about the “sanctity of life,” we must consider it morally reprehensible that our response to shooting after shooting — racist act after racist act — has been crickets.

Nick Lehn recently received his Masters in Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology from the University of Oxford. His favorite topics include anything pertaining to science and society, global politics, social justice, globalization, and technology. Nick recently moved back to his hometown of Baltimore, MD.

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23 Responses to “A devil went down to Charleston”

  1. gbrecke says:

    The Great Divider is on his way to Charleston? Can he sow the seeds of hate?

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  3. Thom Allen says:

    Glad you’re back!

  4. Colin says:

    Thanks Becca. , I believe I am on the mend for a while anyway

  5. just_AC says:

    And a quick research sent me to CBS news. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/charleston-shooting-suspect-dylann-roof-drug-suboxone/ where we find Roof (the shooter) fits the profile of being on drugs since at least Feb. Mental illness and drug use are to blame

  6. just_AC says:

    for a different viewpoint, read this article https://www.lewrockwell.com/2015/06/no_author/every-mass-shooting-has-one-thing-in-common/. I’ve just started to do the research, and yeah, these shooters are on drugs. I think the way Roof behaved last week that he was on drugs also

  7. BeccaM says:

    lol In any case, good to see you again, Colin. Hope you’re well.

  8. Colin says:

    Oh I agree Sis, I was being a smart ass. LOL The fact remains that after all the horrible tragedies , we are still no closer to doing anything. The NRA sees to that. We no longer have to hunt our dinner , we no longer have to keep an eye out for invaders. But according to the NRA and their ilk , we now have to watch out for each other. And the threat of the ‘black helicopters’ as well as black people means that gun manufacturers are rolling in dough. Not to mention that ISIS is going to come through our windows any minute and set us all on fire.

  9. Colin says:

    I have no problem with the second amendment. I think everyone should have the right to own a flintlock. After training and a background check .

  10. nicho says:

    We know what the causes of this are — racism, gun worship and availability, and the hate speech coming from the right — politicians and propagandists alike — as well as the apologists as we’re seeing even here. We know what we have to do to solve the problem. We just don’t have the political will to do it.

    All the speeches, hand wringing, op eds, sermons, teach-ins, seminars, prayer groups, blog posts, etc. just make us feel better and give us the illusions that we’ve done something. Blah, blah, blah.

    Do something or STFU. (not you, Indigo — everyone)

    In 1996, Australia had a horrible gun massacre, the last in a long list. They implemented stringent gun-control laws. Not only did the overall rate of gun deaths go down, they have not had any mass shooting since the laws went into effect.

  11. BeccaM says:

    What I find striking is the blithe hypocrisy in the NRA suggestion that those prayer meeting attendees needed to be armed.

    We already know the 2nd Amendment, whatever its origins, as interpreted today only applies to white people. A black person doesn’t even need to be armed to be shot dead under the mere suspicion of having a gun. A white person walking down the street with a pistol on his hip or a rifle slung over his shoulder? Or even if he’s waving it around and sounding deranged? He’s spoken to politely by the cops and given every opportunity to be talked down.

  12. Colin says:

    How you been buddy ? I am having some old man health issues. Not been here for a while

  13. 2karmanot says:

    Exactly so!

  14. 2karmanot says:

    Thank you for your detailed, obfuscating screed of concern. Now, back to what Nick was saying…………..BTW, in ‘our’ gay community we don’t drop our fans!

  15. 2karmanot says:

    Excellent article. Well done.

  16. Colin says:

    I understand your point of view and agree that all of it should be discussed in an open and adult manner. However , I believe we would be much better off if we focused on the illness rather than the symptoms . When there is a constant bombardment of lies and hatred it affects everyone.

    Allow me to offer an example. When someone gets on the airwaves and puts out garbage like;

    “Let’s start with the following New York Times reporters and editors: Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger Jr. , Bill Keller, Eric Lichtblau, and James Risen. Do you have an idea where they live?
    Go hunt them down and do America a favor. Get their photo, street address, where their kids go to school, anything you can dig up, and send it to the link above. This is your chance to be famous — grab for the golden ring.” Thomas Crown, Red State contributer
    They are reaching not just the rightwinger who is on the edge but everyone who may be on the edge.
    My point is that the hate must stop . In whatever form it takes it must stop.
    Bill Purdue and I have had many discussions. I do not agree with many of his points and he does not agree with many of mine. But he has never said that I am going to steal his country. Never said that I was going after his freedom. never said that I should be hunted down. Never said that I am no American. I cannot say that about most rightwingers. Sorry , it simply does not happen. If I complain about the Duggers , then it is quickly slammed as “an attack on Christianity.” Say that you are a progressive and the walls go up immediately.
    Roof did what he did because the people he shot were black . He went from being a simple confused nut to a murderer. He got the gas to pour on that fire from somewhere. And that is where we need to look.

  17. Bill_Perdue says:

    People of color have been murdered, kidnapped, enslaved and tortured for centuries by European invaders and their descendants in the Americas, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines.

    Most bigots are racists and that most racists are bigots simply because the majority of the population is composed of European invaders and their descendants .

    Almost all business, both parties and the federal and state governments are infested with racists and promote institutionalized racism and racist violence.

    Incarceration is one of the most common forms of violence against people of color. “Racial Disparities in Incarceration

    African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population

    African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites

    Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population

    According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today’s prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%

    One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime

    1 in 100 African American women are in prison

    Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).” The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

  18. Bill_Perdue says:

    What a tasteless joke. “The number of African-Americans lynched in Southern states in the 19th and 20th centuries is significantly higher than previously detailed, according to a new report examining lynching in the United States. … “Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials,” the report’s summary states. “These lynchings were terrorism.”

    Researchers said they determined that 3,959 black people were killed in “racial terror lynchings” in a dozen Southern states between 1877 and 1950. The new number includes 700 people who were not named in previous works seeking to comprehensively document the toll, the authors wrote. Some of those previous studies were conducted at a time when lynching was still an ongoing phenomenon.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/02/10/even-more-black-people-were-lynched-in-the-u-s-than-previously-thought-study-finds/

    And that’s not counting all the deaths due to slavery and Atlantic Crossing.

  19. Bookbinder says:

    In our gay community, it has been long recognized that hate crimes against us are acts of terrorism perpetrated by those who are mentally unsound in one way or another. Hate Crime = Terrorism = Nuts. As to the calm arrest, the shooter was passive and did not resist as so many have. That’s not privilege. Here are some massacres of white people by racist blacks, but which we chose to interpret as the result of mental illness rather than some race war, coming from a pervasively racist community:

    Colin Ferguson :: Shoots and kills 8 Whites on a train in Garden city NY. Dec 7, 1993

    John Mohammad and Lee Boyd Malvo :Kills 10 Whites and Wounds 3

    Clifton McCree : Killed 5 Whites and wounded a sixth , February 9, 1996

    Omar Thornton – Kills 8 Whites and Wounds 2 more Aug 5, 2010

    So, before you again fan the flames with this kind of inflammatory rhetoric I’d like to respectfully suggest you fact check yourself.

  20. Indigo says:

    We’re having another national moment of ritual indignation. It’s likely to be over by early next week. Nothing we have said about any of the mass murders over the past several years has changed anything, there’s nothing being said now to imagine a different outcome.

  21. noGOP says:

    very well written analysis.

  22. The_Fixer says:

    The only way to stop these things from happening is to keep talking.

    No. Start screaming.

    If we don’t, then this particular incident, like so many others, will slowly fade from memory, and only reappear annually in solemn remembrance ceremonies. Until the next time it happens, of course.

    All of us white “innocent bystanders” have to be the ones to start screaming. Apparently, black voices matter not. If we want justice, we will have to put our money where our mouths are, so to speak. We can’t just “tsk-tsk” this away, it will require our voices, screaming in angry unison, before any hope of change is to come.

    People like Mike Huckabee, Jeb Bush and their ilk need to be publicly embarrassed at every turn. They are part and parcel to the ingrained racism that afflicts this country, and should be called out at every turn. It is far past time that we, as white people, demand that it stop.

    This may or may not be “white guilt” talking – it really matters not the motivation. Justice is justice. Period.

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