The tragic shooting that killed nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, has brought a number of different issues to the forefront. In addition to the racial component, there has been a prolonged discussion about the appropriateness of the Confederate flag, a renewed debate on guns, and a discussion on religion and the use of the term “terrorism.”
Here is a snapshot of some of the discussions that have taken place in the last few days.
Is Institutional Racism a Thing of the Past?
The Wall Street Journal calls the Charleston shooting: “An echo of 52 years ago, but also a crucial difference.”
They write: “A white man murdering black people in the South forces bad memories to the surface, and so it surely was appropriate for President Obama to note this in his remarks Thursday.”
The President quoted at some length Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s remarks on the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham church: “They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely with [about] who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream.”
But here is the key part of the editorial: “Amid the horror of Charleston, it is also important to note that the U.S., notably the South, has moved forward to replace the system that enabled racist killings like those in the Birmingham church. Back then and before, the institutions of government—police, courts, organized segregation—often worked to protect perpetrators of racially motivated violence, rather than their victims… Today the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism identified by Dr. King no longer exists.”
This led to much criticism from the left. Talking Points Memo writes: “The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal on Friday suggested that ‘institutionalized racism’ was not a driving force in the massacre of nine people Wednesday night at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina because it ‘no longer exists.’”
The Nation writes: “Contemporary racial pro-gress, embodied by America’s twice-elected African-American president, exists alongside the mass incarceration of black men and women and a seeming epidemic of videotaped police shootings of unarmed black victims that have inspired a #BlackLivesMatter movement that, at its best, continues the heroic work of the modern civil rights struggle. The Age of Obama, therefore, is also the Age of Ferguson and Baltimore, where the kinds of racial poverty, residential and public school segregation, and public policy neglect commonly associated with America’s shameful Jim Crow past bump squarely into our highly digitized present.”
Gun Culture Makes Mass Murder Routine
Boston Globe: “America’s sick gun culture was revealed to us once again – in the most tragic, yet seemingly predictable manner. A church. A Bible study group. A peaceful Wednesday evening. Nine black men and women. One white man. These types of mass shootings are the moments that most Americans associate with the epidemic of gun violence in this country, in part because these events are so horrific and so tragic that they somehow seem like outliers. Yet gun violence in America is actually a routine event. It’s sudden, it’s unexpected, and it leaves in its wake more shattered lives.”
New Jersey Star-Ledger: “Grief must inspire something meaningful, if only some of us didn’t find it taboo to discuss gun policy after a gun massacre. The president’s frustration is palpable, as he recycles the same jeremiad he used after mass murders in Newtown, Tucson, Fort Hood, Aurora, and the Washington Navy Yard. He wants this to turn into a discussion about gun control, but he knows that’s a political non-starter. Maybe only 34 percent of American households have guns, but they have the political heft to convince people that the only solution to America’s shooting epidemic is to give everyone else the means to add to it.”
Confederate Flag Debate
NBC News: “The slaying of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white gunman has reignited one of the state’s most racially charged debates: taking down the Confederate flag for good. Calls for the rebel banner’s removal at the statehouse have grown on social media after it was left to fly at full staff this week — even after two flags atop the capitol were lowered in honor of the victims. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has since suggested that it might be time to revisit the flag controversy again in ‘thoughtful words.’ But for many, the argument over whether to pull the stars and bars permanently remains rooted in a deeper divide: Is it a symbol of Southern heritage or enduring hate?”
Washington Post: “After Dylann Storm Roof allegedly shot up an AME church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine people, two flags were lowered more than 100 miles away in Columbia, the state’s capital. Atop the South Carolina State House, the U.S. flag and South Carolina’s palmetto flag flew at half-staff as the manhunt for Roof ended with his capture in North Carolina and prayer vigils were planned. The show of respect would have been appropriate even if one of the state legislature’s own — state senator Clementa C. Pinckney — had not died in the attack. But a third flag within view of the State House — a Confederate one — flew as high and as proud as ever, flapping in the breeze on a sunny day. This looked bad.
“But, it seemed, no one — particularly not South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) — could do anything about it. This was a matter of law. ‘In South Carolina, the governor does not have legal authority to alter the flag,’ a Haley spokesman told ABC on Thursday. ‘Only the General Assembly can do that.’”
Boston Globe: “Governor Charlie Baker apologized on Thursday for remarks he made earlier in the day defending the rights of state capitols to fly the Confederate flag, initially calling it a matter of ‘tradition.’ Baker said in an early-afternoon radio interview that states should be entitled to decide whether to fly the Confederate flag at their capitols, laying out a brief argument for local government. But he later backtracked and said he believed the controversial symbol should be removed. In a telephone interview on Thursday evening, Baker said he had ‘heard from some friends of mine.’ Their message, he said: ‘Basically: What were you thinking?’ ‘I take my job as governor of 100 percent of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts very seriously, and as I said, I’m sorry if I didn’t do a particularly good job representing that today,’ Baker told the Globe on the Thursday evening call arranged hastily by aides.”
Dylann Roof, Suspect in Charleston Shooting, Flew the Flags of White Power
New York Times: “The Facebook profile picture chosen by Dylann Storm Roof in May is thick with symbolism. It shows Mr. Roof, a scowling young white man, wearing a black jacket adorned with two flags — one from apartheid-era South Africa, the other from white-ruled Rhodesia — that have been adopted as emblems by modern-day white supremacists.
“Officials said the shooting was being investigated as a hate crime. Although it was not clear if Mr. Roof had actually joined any organized white supremacist groups, people who knew him said that in recent months, a young man they described as extremely shy had begun to harbor racist views and make increasingly violent statements about attacking black people.”
ACLU: “The attack is an eerie reminder of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, in which four young African American girls were killed and many others injured. We are mournful that our country is still dealing with institutional racism and race-related violence more than half a century later.
“Like then, there is an outpouring of outrage over the killing of innocents, especially in a house of worship. There is outrage over the blatant racism exhibited by the shooter. As a nation, we ultimately came together then to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today, we will fight harder to preserve and extend constitutionally guaranteed rights to people who have been historically denied their rights on the basis of race. At least out of the unspeakable tragedy, we can all recommit to working to create an impact that negates what an angry, racist young man attempted to carry out.
“The authors of the Declaration of Independence—which we will celebrate in a few weeks—outlined a bold vision for America: a nation in which all people would be free and equal. More than two hundred years later, it has yet to be achieved. Though generations of civil rights activism have led to important gains in legal, political, social, and other areas, the systems of racial injustice still thrive. From our criminal justice system that disproportionately targets and incarcerates people of color and criminalizes poverty to our public schools, where students of color are often confined to racially isolated, underfunded, and inferior programs, the dream of full equality remains elusive.”
Eboni S. Nelson on CNN: “Atrocities such as the horrific shooting in Charleston provoke heartrending anguish and grief in people everywhere. However, for members of the black community who have too often experienced senseless violence due to racial hatred, our sorrow is visceral and makes us question whether our country will ever be free of racial animus.
“The answer is no. Not because America is inherently racist or because it is not a just society. Rather, it is because racial hatred is premised on evil — an evil that takes over rational thought, thereby allowing irrational and destructive thinking to cloud one’s judgment. It is this same evil that took the lives of four beautiful school girls in Birmingham, Alabama, more than 50 years ago, and it is the same evil that will always be present in the hearts and minds of some people.”
USA Today Editorial: “A day after the unspeakable slaughter of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., congregants at a nearby church mourned for the victims, sang We Shall Overcome and gave voice to a sentiment shared across the country: ‘Enough is enough.’ Enough racial hatred. Enough gun violence…
“The broader problem — more entrenched, more pernicious and more likely to eat away at the nation — is the racial animosity that still lurks in some quarters. African Americans have suffered its sting often in recent events. A series of unarmed black men, including one in North Charleston, S.C., have been killed by white police officers. And many African Americans have come to believe, a half-century after the civil rights movement took hold, that black lives still do not matter. Or do not matter as much as white lives…
“In important ways, America is a different country than it was in 1963, when violence and racial hatred combined to kill four young girls, caught in the bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Ala. No one was tried for the crime until 14 years later. It took 23 more years before two other suspects were brought to justice. In 1963, President Kennedy mourned the senseless deaths of the children in Birmingham and hoped that it would ‘awaken this entire nation to a realization of the folly of racial injustice and hatred and violence.’ In Charleston this week, it was tragically clear that those hopes have yet to be fully realized.”
New York Times Editorial: “The horrific church shooting in Charleston, S.C., leaves the nation at an all too familiar juncture — uncertain whether to do something positive to repair society’s vulnerabilities or to once again absorb an intolerable wound by going through what has become a woeful ritual of deep grief followed by shallow resolve to move on toward … what? Toward the inevitable carnage next time…
“In this moment of grief, there’s a measure of practical comfort to be taken from the warning of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: ‘We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.’ It’s increasingly clear that King understood and embodied the sufferings of not just African-Americans but an entire nation still haunted by racism and mindless violence. Beyond this latest grief, however, he epitomized unyielding dedication to political progress. ‘Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability,’ he cautioned, ‘but comes through continuous struggle.’ This remains the nation’s only course after the horrendous murders in Charleston.”
President Barack Obama: “Until the investigation is complete, I’m necessarily constrained in terms of talking about the details of the case. But I don’t need constrained about the emotions that tragedies like this raise. I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hand on a gun. Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear. At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency…
“The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked, and we know the hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals. The good news is I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship, indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome.
“That certainly was Dr. King’s hope just over 50 years ago after four little girls were killed in a bombing at a black church in Birmingham, Alabama. He said, ‘They lived meaningful lives, and they died nobly. They say to each of us,’ Dr. King said, ‘black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely with who murdered them but about the system, the way of life, philosophy which produced the murders. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.'”