Some thoughts on Charleston and what it means

By this point in time, if you haven’t heard about the Charleston, South Carolina shooting, I’m going to ask you to stop reading this post, go Google it, and read a few articles before coming back.It has been nearly 50 years since the end of the African-American Civil Rights movement, which fought to end racial segregation and provide all black Americans with the same rights as whites. In that time, we’ve seen huge developments in technology, in international efforts and disaster relief. We’ve seen the economy rise and fall, and rise again. We’ve seen human rights issues come to the forefront and we’ve seen education at it’s all time highest. Yet, with all of our accomplishments, racism is one thing we can’t seem to abolish. We find ways to justify it, ways to make it sound okay by highlighting the negatives of those who end up victims from police brutality or racist attacks. We focus on what they’ve done wrong in their own lives in order to justify the wrong done to them.

Time and time again, we witness as people of colour who commit an act of violence are treated like the scum of the earth, called terrorists and thugs, then as a white person does the same, is treated with respect, and before ever having their own motives called into question, sees their mental health questioned rather than their actions.

Over the last year and a bit, we have seen the worst of it, leading to riots and marches across North America. We’ve watched as a man who was guilty of nothing more than wearing a hoodie was killed, a drunk girl was thrown to the ground and treated like dirt. Any time we have seen an arrest, a killing, or harassment by police towards black people, they’ve been treated like animals.

Then comes the Charleston shooting. Dylan Roof, a 21 year old man, shot and killed 9 people in Emmanuel AME, a black church in South Carolina during a Bible study, then fled to North Carolina. Once arrested, he showed no remorse, and even confessed that his actions were fueled by his own hatred for black people. If you look through photos of the arrest, there are even ones where this severely disturbed young man is actually smirking as police escort him (quite nicely, I might add) away from where he was discovered. When Roof was hungry, they bought him Burger King as a lunch.

During his first appearance before a Judge, the Judge (who has remained in his position despite calling a defendant the n-word in a past hearing, and going around the law to get a fellow judge busted for drinking and driving out of jail with minimal consequences), made a point to tell the families of those killed that they should understand that Roof’s family is as much as a victim as their family members were. While yes, they are certainly facing their own tragedy, based on this Judge’s history, it seems more like he is writing off what the families of the victims are going through. Especially considering these were his opening statements, and thus far there has been no malice from family members of the victims towards family members of Roof.

Were the shoes on the other feet, I think it’s fairly safe to assume this judge would not have told the family of the victims that same statement were the victims white.

Even Roof’s family seems to have a greater understanding that right now, the time isn’t about them, it’s about giving the other families time to grieve. In an article on the International Business Times, Roof’s family’s attourney made the following statement on behalf of the family:

“There have been many questions asked regarding the story behind the tragic shooting that took place at Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina. We know that there will continue to be questions. Rest assured, in the coming days, as more information becomes available, we will do our best to answer them.

That being said, we would like to take this time to reflect on the victims and give their families time to grieve. We feel it would be inappropriate to say anything at this time other than that we are truly sorry for their loss.

After an appropriate time, there will be an opportunity to have questions answered, but we ask that right now, care and attention and support be given to the grieving family members of the victims.”

In the past year, I have seen more and more people shrug aside the depth of racism in the States, blaming it instead on an argument of police verses criminals, and people trying to paint police in a bad light, or trying to say that somehow, these people are bringing it all on themselves. That this stereotype being perpetuated is there for a valid reason, instead of a deeply rooted issue that has never actually gone away.

But if there’s anything I’ve learned from watching the outpouring of photos from the protests, the marches and the riots, it’s that we see an entirely different picture. Many, many, police officers, particularly white ones, were seen not only showing compassion and love to many of the African-Americans in these situations, but in several instances marched with them and sported pins and signs stating #BlackLivesMatter. That should have been a telling sign that racism is rampant in the states, even amidst law enforcement officers.

Photo: Kristopher Skinner / Associated Press

Perhaps one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in the wake of the Charleston reports is that this need to find some reason to incriminate black victims has continued, with some blaming members of the Bible Study who were killed for bringing this upon themselves.

On Friday, the CBC reported that Charles Cotton, a Houston Attorney and member of the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association blamed the incident on the pastor, Clementa Pinckney, for being opposed to the concealed-carry legislation, which in Cotton’s eyes, could have saved the pastor and the other worshippers. He confirmed in an interview with the Associated Press (AP) that he had posted a comment on an online discussion stating that “innocent people died because of [Clementa Pinckney’s] position on a political issue.”

Friends’ parents have described Roof as being a ‘nice boy’ and someone they would never imagine being capable of such violence. That he was caring, and good. One Senator even tried to blame the attack not on Roof’s hatred, but rather on his history with drugs – laying the blame completely on the use, as if Roof’s own mind would not have had anything to do with it.

A little bit of research into Roof shows however, a very different story. On his website (which I will not post here, because I have zero intention of providing traffic to it), Roof left a manifesto which explains his position and views as a white supremacist. His writings break down the reasons why he believes that Caucasians are better than several races, including Blacks, Jews, Hispanics and East Asians. Much of his arguments against them also include that he believes each of these races to be severely racist on their own, as if that somehow would justify his own hatred. He also writes a brief paragraph on his disgust with both patriots, and post-Vietnam war veterans, who he believes are doing a disservice to the real America.

At the bottom of his manifesto, which is filled with many things I would not re-publish here, he provides an explanation to his thoughts and actions on the issue.

Roof’s page also features a series of disturbing photos, including the main photo of a dead, blood-covered person with a confederate flag (I’m assuming it’s a posed picture of himself, but hard to tell).

To take a saying from a film, “I see all this stuff going on, and I dont see anyone doing anything about it. And it pisses me off.”. To take a saying from my favorite film, “Even if my life is worth less than a speck of dirt, I want to use it for the good of society.”.

I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is 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.

Unfortunately at the time of writing I am in a great hurry and some of my best thoughts, actually many of them have been to be left out and lost forever. But I believe enough great White minds are out there already.

Since Roof’s attack, a number of other black churches in the south have become targets of hate-based actions, with a confirmed six churches either completely destroyed or damaged by arsons.

But this race issue is not limited to the south, and it’s certainly not limited to the United States either. As Canada’s second-class citizenship and Anti-Terrorism laws come into place, I have no doubt that the racism that Canadians try so hard to deny is flowing through our country is going to come to the forefront.

The truth is, Canada has their own issues with racism, particularly when it comes to our First Nations peoples and immigrants. This is the year 2015, and as we come closer and closer to laws that remind us of Orwell’s 1984 and other dystopian societies, people still cannot seem to understand the basic qualities of human decency, or understand that colour, gender, orientation or nationality does not make any of us better or completely different than the other. It astounds me that attitudes continue to allow for these shifts because people are more concerned with making themselves seem better by being worse.

Charleston and the events that have both preceded and followed it are devastating, and are a tragedy. But hopefully, hopefully, there is a small glimmer of light that comes from that. Hopefully, the people who refused to acknowledge these problems in the first place realize that we can’t go on like this and start adding their voices to the cry for change.

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