On June 19, 2015, I wrote this editorial that appeared in the Burlington Times-News. The horrifying event at a church in Charleston, South Carolina occurred on June 17. The killer was found guilty of murder last December an was sentenced to death in January. Recent events tell me we learn nothing from history.
In a perfect world we might pause before engaging in talk of Charleston, S.C. — about the sickening violence that occurred there Wednesday night in a place where such events shouldn’t happen but have in our past with horrifying and ultimately puzzling frequency. That’s because there is no way on heaven or earth to even begin to reconcile or understand the slaughter of innocent people in a house of worship.
It defies comprehension.
But as we know, the world isn’t perfect, far from it. In fact, it’s a highly flawed place where men, women and children starve in Third World nations or disease kills by the thousands. Violence can erupt without warning on city blocks. And often no one understands how or why. America isn’t immune to any of these problems, although many in our society seem to oddly believe so. The blissfully ignorant remain that way at the peril of us all.
And so we’re compelled to talk about Charleston, S.C., even while we mourn and sort through the fact and fiction of it all. We must because one thing is abundantly clear: Wake up folks, our nation has a disease and so far it’s not being adequately treated.
The events of Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C., a normally tranquil Southern city that has largely remade itself into a tourism juggernaut based on history, charm, art and exquisite foods, is only the latest symptom of all that ails America today. Wednesday night Charleston police believe 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof attended a prayer meeting at Emmanuel AME, an African-American church that dates to 1816. Early reports indicate that Roof casually stayed with those at the church for about an hour, before he shot and killed nine people. The list of the dead includes the church pastor, a longtime member of the South Carolina Senate.
Not much is known beyond that at this point. No motive for the shooting was immediately released by Thursday afternoon, but it was quickly becoming apparent that race was a factor. Multiple sources report that Roof made it clear to survivors what his intentions were. The Associated Press reported that Roof, who is white, displayed a Confederate flag on his license plate. In a photo on his Facebook page, he wears a jacket with stitched-on flag patches from two formerly white-ruled African regimes: Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa. Federal authorities are treating the murders as a hate crime, largely based on things survivors told investigators.
Sadly, it’s hardly the first. Tragically, it likely won’t be the last. Unless, of course, we do something about it.
Roof, in custody after being captured near Shelby in our home state, has no recorded history of violent behavior but had drug and trespassing charges on his rap sheet. Without doubt the nation will learn more about its most recent suspected mass killer over the next several days. It is believed he acted alone. Time will tell.
What does seem clear is that beyond an obviously diseased mind, Roof was influenced by a troubling escalation of racial intolerance in our land. It manifests itself in ways that have shifted over the past decade from subtle to obnoxious. Seldom does even a week pass without an incident that not only makes national news, but further polarizes a society that seems less inclined to rationally discuss problems but instead engages in shouting matches.
In the worst cases, these shouting matches veer into violence.
So today we talk about Charleston, S.C., and what it means not only for one city in the America. If we learn nothing else it should be this: Racial division must end because it’s tearing our nation apart. That can only happen if the shouting stops and listening begins. We must do so together.