Friday, June 19, 2015


I want to say I’m outraged, shocked, appalled. I want to say I don’t understand how something so tragic, so—if you’ll pardon the expression—evil could happen in 2015, in the United States, in one of the most developed countries in the world. I want to shake my fists at this young man who took the lives of nine people and forever altered the lives of those who knew and loved them and cry out, why?
But unfortunately, that’s not true. That’s not what I’m feeling; I feel deep sadness rather than molten outrage, the Novocain-like numbness that comes only from repeated witnessing of innocent people gunned down, of racially motivated terrorism white-washed—at least when the killer is white and the victims are black—and a sense of despair of us ever getting it right as a nation.

Why? Hell, I know why. At least in part. I don’t know all of the sad story of 21 year old Dylann Roof, who has confessed to the murder of the nine church-goers, shot down in cold blood as they met in a prayer meeting and Bible study but I do know that he has fit himself neatly into a template of violence that has become so familiar, we can just save the stories and change the name and location of the incident.

Why? Because we, as a nation, refuse to enter into any serious conversation about racial violence done in this country.  We allow white police officers and white vigilantes and even white guys driving a truck to say they felt threatened by black men as their single defense for their use of deadly force.  We want to say that we are post-racism, since we have a president who is half black while glazing over the incredibly offensive overt racist remarks and responses to President Obama from our own citizens.  There has never been a US president as openly ridiculed and reviled as him, even though his performance in office has been stellar in terms of the work he’s managed to get done while dealing with these attitudes.
Racism is so pervasive, so embedded in American culture that, as Jon Stewart so brilliantly and somberly pointed out in his opening monologue  on The Daily Show  last night, black citizens of Charleston drive down streets that are named for confederate generals that fought for the ability to deny black citizens the freedom to drive down those streets.
This is nothing less than an act of domestic terrorism. When Dylann Roof opened fire on a group of black people who were in no way threatening him, he did so out of a self-admitted desire of provoking some new, racially motivated, civil war. As Jon Stewart also asserted in his monologue, we seem to have no problem doing whatever it takes to protect our country from acts of terrorist aggression from foreign elements—we attacked two countries, spent trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to do so—but when it comes to an American committing an act of terrorism, we shrug our shoulders and say, “what can you do? Crazy guy.”
Why?  Because we, as a nation, have turned our backs and shut our pocket book to the mentally ill in our country. According to a  USA Today article from 2014, States cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012. In the same period, the country eliminated at least 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds — nearly 10% of the total supply. As a result, nearly 40% of adults with
severe mental illness received no treatment at all in the previous year. Compare that to the money earmarked for military spending in this fiscal year which is a whopping $598 billion—over half of the money budgeted for discretionary spending. And while that number is huge, it neglects to show the cuts for Veterans benefits that our congress has voted in, even in the face of increasing mental illness among veterans returning from war zones; 22 veterans kill themselves every day, with many of them having fallen through the cracks of a system that glorifies the war and will pay a high cost for it, while neglecting the emotional toll it takes on those who serve. 
Dylann Roof is not a veteran but it would come as no surprise to me to learn that he suffers from mental illness, as do James Holmesof the Aurora shootings and Adam Lanza, the Sandyhook shooter.
Why? Because we, as a nation, refuse to deal with the rampant pandemic of gun violence in our country.  Once again, a gun, so easily obtained, was the weapon of choice. This is another conversation folks don’t want to have.  Today, as I write this, the prosecution rested its case in the trial of James Holmes, the young white man who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, CO, killing 12 and injuring 70. Their final witness was Ashely Moser, who was 25 at the time of the attack. She described how she took her seven year old daughter, Veronica, to see the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” to celebrate the news she had received earlier in the day: she was expecting another child. She lost her daughter, her unborn baby, and her own mobility that day; she was paralyzed by the bullet that ripped through her body as James Holmes unleashed a barrage of ammunition from the four guns—semiautomatic and pump action—that he was able to purchase legally from four different stores.

And, already NRA leaders and nervous politicians are spewing forth the well-worn trope that guns don’t kill people and that now is not the time to be political, but to focus on grieving the victims and supporting their loved ones.
South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, a long time gun advocate, said as much in this statement
One NRA board member, Charles Cotton, even blamed one of the victims, church minister and state legislator Clementa Pinckney, referring to his stance on control, saying, And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.
The NRA has issued similar statements following the tragic killings at Sandyhook and in Aurora, even though an FBI report released last year shows that unarmed private citizens were three times more likely to subdue an active shooter than a citizen who is armed.

I said, in the wake of the Sandy hook shootings, that now is exactly the time we need to be having a conversation about gun violence and gun control; that there is no greater way to honor the horrific losses to gun violence than to enact laws that protect the 2nd amendment but not at the expense of innocent lives lost. The authors of the 2nd amendment had no concept of semi-automatic and automatic weapons; they had no idea of the violence that could be wrought in a 10 second burst of gunfire. They were addressing the right of people to bear arms, not stockpile enough military grade weapons for their own private war. When people declare their second amendment right to own an uzi they pervert the meaning of it.  

Why? Maybe because we as a nation have become so anesthetized to gun violence that we prefer to get our dander up over which Kardashian is dating who, and the prime time premier of Caitlyn Jenner, and an activist who has been discovered to be living a racial lie. We get worked up over, and pass great judgment on the details of those living in public life while every day, people are killing other people in manners which could have been avoided.

 And so now we gather, we grieve, we hold one another close; we will light candles, and hold vigils and say prayers; but here’s what remains the same: the Confederate flag still flies proudly, at full mast, over the state capitol of South Carolina, this shooting will get its 15 minutes of infamy and then be buried under an avalanche of celebrity mischief, sports hi-jinks, and the next deadly shooting.
It’s enough to take the wind out of anyone’s sails. It’s why I feel more sadness than outrage. It’s why this will happen again. And again.
And yet here is where the light shines through, here is what also remains the same: the good people of Emanual AME will rise again, they have already faced their killer via video feed and shared what they lost, even while forgiving him. Emanuel has a long history of social justice and activism leading to its racially motivated violence and destruction, and yet rising again and again out of the ashes of history to remain a shining light of justice and equity, good people of conscience will gather and disperse, blow out our candles and place them in the basket as we leave the vigils, but the embers of justice in our hearts will have been fanned into the flames of commitment and activism to make this a better world. There is a tipping point that we are approaching, my friends, a tipping point of sadness that will be alchemically transformed into the passionate outrage that can fuel a revolution; a revolution that can topple politicians who are more concerned about the money they get from the gun lobby than protecting the lives of their constituency, a revolution that will see a true dismantling of the racist attitudes and permissiveness  that allows a flag to wave over a state capitol that represents the worst of our history. Here is what also remains the same: in my sadness, in my despair at the exhausting sameness of these tragedies, I will not give up, I will not give in, I will not grow weary in the work of love.
There is more I could say but I’m off now, to attend a vigil here in Colorado Springs, at an AME church, where we will gather, we will grieve, we will hold one another close. And then we’ll leave with the light of conviction blazing in our hearts. Maybe I will see you there.

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