Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Tragedy in Charleston"

                      Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Tragedy in Charleston
June 24, 2015

Whenever and wherever tragedy strikes, politicians follow. This one has been no different. Before the smoke cleared, the Reverend Al Sharpton announced he was on his way to Charleston. The President couldn’t help himself: When asked about the tragedy he expressed consoling words for the victims and their families, but then added that what Charleston, Newtown and Aurora had in common was the ease with which the perpetrators acquired their weapons. The Press, predictably, began barraging Republican candidates on their views regarding gun control, racism and whether the Confederate flag should fly over state-owned property in South Carolina’s capital.

But something remarkable happened. Instead of crying victim-hood, family members of those killed offered forgiveness to the crazed young man who had pulled the trigger – a Christian act of which I would be incapable. Love and forgiveness are foreign to those like Al Sharpton and DeRay McKesson who capitalize on tragedy to promote hatred and divisiveness, as they did in Ferguson, New York City and Baltimore. Al Sharpton, after announcing he was heading south, never arrived. Victims not playing victim is a concept alien to his warped, political mind.

What happened in Charleston was heinous. A deranged young man who fed on white supremacist websites deliberately shot and killed nine members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, including its pastor Clementa C. Pinckney who was also a State Senator. Dylann Roof had gone to the church intent on killing. The Reverend Pinckney and the unsuspecting victims were gathered at a table. With Christian charity, they invited this unknown-to-them white man to join their gathering. They spent an hour together. As the meeting broke up, he took out his .45 caliber pistol, recently bought with money his father had given him a few months earlier for his 21st birthday, and shot nine African-Americans in cold blood. He left one witness to tell the tale, and fled.

There is no question that Roof is a racist, but there is also no question that he is a lunatic. His murdering of nine innocent people makes him deserving of the toughest punishment the law allows. But the inexplicable action of a mad man does not mean that America is a racist nation. We are a large, polyglot country and we come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Within our borders, there remain a few who are racist. But racism as an accepted norm – segregated schools and the military, restaurants and busses that refuse to serve African-Americans – is now part of our history, not part of our present. There will always be some for whom racial hatred is part of their makeup, just as there are sexists, chauvinists, anti-Semites and xenophobes. We will never be rid of all bigots. But they are a shrinking presence.

The actions of a few nuts should not be an indictment of society. Politicians love to divide us, as it is easier to make promises to specific segments. Separating us into victims and perpetrators, breeds resentment, making unity less likely. Such division draws attention to our outward differences, which may be race, gender, sexual orientation or age, rather than our commonalities, which is that we are all Americans, protected equally under the law. Theirs is the adoption of the military tactic: divide so as to conquer.

To dwell on racism is to detract from the principal cause of Roof’s murderous rampage – mental illness. We have allowed fear of offending draw us away from a focus on the fact that the man was deranged. Mr. Obama was correct that in the cases he cited perpetrators found it easy to acquire a weapon. But what they also had in common was that they were all nuts. They were bonkers, fruitcakes, however one wants to term them. If their families would not call them out, their schools should have. Society should not have to wait for a mass shooting to discover the mental conditions of people in our neighborhoods. There should be no need to wait for the exact diagnostic term before these nutcases are singled out. Roof’s family members, classmates, teachers and acquaintances had to know he was weird, cuckoo, or “nucking futs,” as one non-p.c. logophile put it. We should be unafraid to use words that are expressive, with meanings easily understood. The first mistake, in the case of Dylann Roof was that no one called him out for what he truly was – a mentally deranged weirdo who had no right to own or possess a gun.

As for guns, I am not a fan. Other than once shooting clay pigeons when I was sixteen, the only time I fired a weapon was in the Army. And I was discharged forty-seven years ago! I don’t like guns. They make too much noise and they can cause too much damage. However, having said that, guns are legal to own and the right to do so is embedded in our Bill of Rights. Guns should be registered and buyers should go through a screening process that ferrets out whackos, drug-abusers and criminals. But most gun owners I know are respectable, responsible and law-abiding. Most register their weapons. Most want other owners to do the same. Most keep them locked up. Most are sane. While it is obvious and perhaps trite to repeat, guns are only an instrument. They can only do harm if a person pulls the trigger. It is the handler that makes them dangerous.

Since this incident happened in South Carolina, the Press was quick to note that the Confederate flag was flying over state grounds. As she should have, given the circumstances, Governor Nikki Haley asked that it be removed. The Confederacy was composed of slave-holding states, and slavery is the blackest of the black marks our nation must bear. But the Confederacy, as the name implies, stood for more than just slavery. It was essentially about state-rights, a legitimate subject for discussion in a republic – an issue we continue to debate to this day. Our country was, after all, a confederacy before it became unified in 1788 as the United States.

The shootings in Charleston were tragic, but if from that horror emerge love, forgiveness and faith, we will be better off. While a crazed gunman was killing fellow citizens in a Charleston church because they were African-Americans, sane but cold-blooded Islamic terrorists were killing Christians and Jews in the Middle East because of their religion. It was the spontaneous reactions of forgiveness from the families of those killed in Charleston that made this tragedy singular. Like Jesus, they asked God to forgive Dylann Roof for what he had done. It was that Christian spirit, manifested in a Charleston courthouse, that so frightens fear-mongers like Islamic terrorists. Love for mankind is a force impossible to overcome. It is a force to celebrate. It was those words, obviously spoken in anguish, that made what happened in Charleston so remarkable. That sentiment may get lost in the miasma that is politics, which will be unfortunate.

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