Although he is now safely behind bars, Dylan Roof may live to see his “race war.” But if he is sent to a prison as poorly run as New York’s Clinton Correctional Facility, some sympathetic white guard might slip him a hacksaw in frozen hamburger meat to help him escape. Just like those two convicted killers still on the loose.
Funny how ground beef keeps popping up in connection to white murderers. We now know that after they arrested Roof, the police took him to Burger King. I guess they felt sorry for him.
After confessing to the cold-blooded killing of nine innocent people—victims that Roof admitted he shot because they were black—he said he was hungry. So the sympathetic cops fed him, after taking away the weapon he had used in his deadly shooting spree .
Yet to many Americans, white privilege isn’t really a thing. Try telling that to the family of Tamir Rice.
Tamir didn’t get to ask the cops for a burger or some fries while being processed by the police. As a black male suspect, he wasn’t gently taken in for questioning like Dylan Roof. Police shot, without any warning, this 12-year-old boy—before he had a chance to explain why was playing with a toy gun in that Ohio park.
Tamir would have turned 13 today, except for one tragic fact: the officer’s aim was lethal. As the father of black sons and the grandfather of black teenage boys, my heart goes out to Tamir’s family in genuine sympathy. I share their anguish over their loss. May Tamir Rice rest in peace.
Tip for allies: Talk to children and young people about this unfair double standard, and the danger it poses for youth. Don’t let anyone get away with saying that the tilted playing field isn’t real. Help kids understand that privilege gives advantages to some and disadvantages others. Reinforce the notion explicitly that black lives matter. Don’t just say, “All lives matter.” Young people need to be taught, in this time of crisis, that specifically black lives do indeed matter.
As people of conscience share in the mourning of yet another senseless massacre, this time in South Carolina, it is heartening to see so many standing with the Charleston victims’ families. At the same time, it’s troubling to realize that for some of our fellow Americans, Dylann Roof is a folk hero, like George Zimmerman.
It’s even more disturbing to read that to others, Roof didn’t go far enough. Some have talked cruelly about his incompetence, for needing to reload so many times just to kill older women and men in a church. Our country is deeply fractured, and I really wonder what can possibly bring us together.
It’s upsetting to see both Roof and Zimmerman being celebrated for standing up to the perceived aggression of black males. Remember, Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin after picking a fight with the unarmed teenager. Zimmerman then used the excuse of “self-defense” to justify his shooting of the boy. He claimed he was merely “standing his ground.”
While there have been half-hearted calls for more effective gun control, I don’t hear too many people calling for repeal of dangerous “stand your ground” laws.
Tip for allies: Research “stand your ground” and self-defense laws in your state. Act to get them exposed and more widely publicized. We need a conversation about who the laws protect, and who they actually target.
Another thing that we haven’t talked enough about is how privilege played into Zimmerman’s legal defense strategy. He and his attorney, Mark O’Mara, counted on racialized sympathy to win an acquittal. And lo and behold, they got what they wanted. Zimmerman to this day walks around as a free man. And TV viewers have to watch O’Mara touted as some kind of expert after every police shooting. It really is sickening and painful to witness.
I mean, why do we as viewers reward the man who helped Trayvon’s killer get away with murder? Why should O’Mara enjoy a lucrative television contract? Because the media knows whose sympathies really matter, and which viewers they can count on. Their business interests keep certain personalities on the air. It’s a disgrace to consider the real reason why O’Mara gets air time. I cringe every time his face comes on-screen. O’Mara has zero credibility, and it is shameful that otherwise fair-minded people tolerate his presence on the air.
Tip for allies: Join the movement to keep O’Mara off the air. Use social media to spread the idea that his presence and participation, particularly in discussions of race, are offensive.
But against what aggression was Dylann Roof defending? By his own admission, he said he had to take action because “blacks are taking over the country and raping our women.” So in his mind, Roof was valiantly defending “his” women and “his” nation.
But which nation exactly? The Confederate States of America that seceded from the USA and fought under the Rebel battle flag? Or Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa, whose flags Roof wore as patches on his jacket?
Recall that the nations now known as Zimbabwe and the Republic of South Africa were formerly white nationalist countries. That is, until the white minority governments were overthrown through the armed struggle of Africans who had suffered enough under white supremacy. Clearly, Roof’s nationalism does not extend to our nation and the Stars & Stripes. Remember, it’s our country’s flag that he likes to burn.
Rather than being random or irrational in carrying out his shooting spree, Roof deliberately chose the Emanuel AME Church for its historic symbolism. His research taught him that the free black leader, Denmark Vesey, famous (or infamous, depending on your own sympathies) for plotting a slave revolt in 1822, was a founding member of that church.
In the aftermath of Vesey’s planned uprising, white hysteria across the state led to the burning of the church. 300 alleged conspirators were arrested, and 35 were executed, including Denmark Vesey. Even though not one slave owner was actually killed, blacks who were intent on liberating themselves had to be taught a lesson.
None of this history was lost on Roof. Its significance should not be lost on us, either. Especially now, when our nation’s first black president is about to visit the historic and symbolic church to deliver the eulogy for its slain pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Who, by the way, was also the state senator who was leading the effort to get body cams for South Carolina police. Pinckney was organizing in response to the shooting of an unarmed black man killed in April. Mere coincidence that he was the target of Roof’s assassination plans?
Yes, we are talking about the same state where Walter Scott was gunned down after a traffic stop. As Scott fled on foot, a North Charleston police officer, Michael Slager, shot 8 rounds at the unarmed suspect. We all remember this chilling moment caught on a bystander’s camera from April 2015—the same month we were reeling from the videotaped police execution of Tamir Rice:
So to my ears, South Carolina politicians who now call to remove the Confederate battle flag do not sound like they have suddenly had a change of heart. Events in 2015 have made their state look like a hotbed of racial tension. I’m certain the elites in charge are doing everything they can behind the scenes to avoid looking like another Ferguson or Baltimore.
They do not want thousands of angry protesters in the streets calling the world’s attention to the entrenched racist power structure in their city and state. Conventions, tourists, and prospective college students might decide to stay away, given how the state’s negative race relations are gaining media coverage around the world.
In fact, their cover has already been blown. Word is getting out that South Carolina is home to 19 hate groups. Among these are the Council of Conservative Citizens, whose website Roof claims inspired him to target the AME church. Others include six neo-Confederate groups that still advocate for secession, several branches of the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the League of the South.
One might ask, what is it about this state—this region—that makes it such a welcoming haven for hatred? Why would 19 extremist groups feel at home there? Why is this particular state the one that produced a Dylann Roof?
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that South Carolina is one of only 5 “friendly” states without a hate crime law on its books. And why is that? A more practical question is this: When will people of conscience focus less on the symbolic gesture of taking down a flag? Important, yes. But equally important is making sure we change the laws to legally protect victims (and future victims) from the actions of these extremist organizations.
Tips for allies: Consider carefully a given location’s recent progress with race relations before spending your hard-earned dollars as a vacationer, consumer, potential college student, or conference attendee. Spend some time perusing extreme right-wing websites to inform yourself.
Even on more mainstream sites, you can monitor hate-filled comments posted after news stories and opinion pieces about the Charleston tragedy, police killings of unarmed black men, and other highly racialized events. Then think about how you can challenge the emerging dangerous narrative of white victimization.
Millions of Americans feel like victims. They resent that “their” country is being taken away from them. It is revealing, but not all that surprising, to hear so many people express their feeling that Roof was justified in standing up for white rights. In a twisted racialized logic, African American members of a black church founded by a potentially violent ex-slave who planned to kill whites 200 years ago were asking to be punished.
It reminds me of the outpouring of sympathy and money raised in support of white officers after police shootings. The common thread, in essence: blacks are becoming uppity, dangerous, and out of control. They need to be taught a lesson, and put back in their place. White power needs to be maintained at all costs.
I can understand why many Americans feel that their way of life is under attack, and their God-given rights are being restricted. They want the police to feel free and unhindered to protect them from the growing black and brown menace. I can plainly see, too, that they will never give up their guns, because of the perceived danger from the burgeoning hordes. It’s sad, and admittedly scary, to see how infected so many are by fear and loathing.
And now, what is revered as a symbol of states’ rights and Southern pride is being demoted and recast as a symbol of hate. Many of our fellow citizens are becoming upset that yet again, something they hold dear to their hearts is being taken away from them, for no good reason (that they can see).
Millions of Americans already feel that their Constitutionally protected religious liberty is being threatened. Even if you think this sounds far-fetched, you can understand how this might strike them as completely un-American.
Millions also resent the way the acceptance of abortion and same-sex marriage have been shoved down their throats. For many Christians, their most cherished holidays, Christmas and Easter, can no longer be celebrated in government-sponsored institutions. School prayer has been stripped away and banished from classrooms. Their list of legitimate (to them) grievances goes on and on.
I guess I worry so much because I see evidence that lots of Americans tend to sympathize with the perpetrators of crimes against people of color. Scapegoating marginalized groups is always useful when it comes to feeding the sense of victimization that extremists try to whip into a frenzy.
I’ve watched how even mainstream media personalities waffle when it comes to covering black pain inflicted by white criminals. Repeatedly, in media coverage and elsewhere in our society, people paralyzed by privilege are struggling with how to respond to more and more outrageous acts of terror against people of color: police brutality, urban unrest and protests, a teenage pool party, a massacre in a black church. And the list goes on.
Watching TV coverage while black
It was eerie last week, watching one CNN anchor reporting on the mass shootings as the story broke. Wolf Blitzer kept referring to the killer almost sympathetically by repeatedly using Dylann Roof’s first name. Did anyone else notice this? I couldn’t help thinking that Blitzer felt sorry for the kid. It struck me that he identified with him on some level, maybe as a dad. Then I wondered how many viewers shared Blitzer’s perhaps unconscious identification with the cold-blooded executioner. Maybe because the victims weren’t white.
Then I watched the video footage of a police officer gently tucking Roof’s head down as he was put into the police cruiser. It looked like the cop practically tousled Roof’s hair in a fatherly manner. Watch Roof’s arrest again on You Tube if you think I’m exaggerating.
I contrasted the police kindness towards Roof with the rough (and too often lethal) treatment of countless numbers of men of color caught on camera being taken into police custody. This was before news broke of the police side trip to take the killer to Burger King. How tragically different was the treatment of Freddie Gray, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and other black suspects too numerous to name? Why didn’t the officers treat any of these back men and boys with the same decency and compassion? Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? What happened to our humanity? Oh that’s right: black males have never been seen as fully human.
Next, I watched a robed judge use his authority to call for empathy for the killer’s “side of the family.” As if there are two sides in some conflict. The judge actually referred to Roof’s family as “victims, too.” I watched with growing disgust this same judge, who we are now told has used the phrase “rednecks and niggers” when addressing a defendant from the bench during a different hearing. To me, the judge looked and sounded angry as he called for forgiveness. He made forgiveness sound like an obligation owed to Roof on the part of the grieving family members. And they were still in shock from their recent losses!
Finally, I watched numerous politicians, media pundits, and so-called criminal law experts argue over whether or not Roof’s murderous actions were inspired by race, considered a hate crime, an act of domestic terrorism—(yes to all of the above)—or simply inspired by mental derangement.
And then, refusing to lower the Rebel flag (or remove it altogether) was the last straw, the final insult. As an African American, I was reminded at every turn and with each new development that even the lives of these nine innocent, church-going Christians still do not really matter. Because they are black.
And this is what further enrages many of us: not just that this kind of dehumanizing treatment still occurs, over and over again. But that our fellow Americans don’t even recognize or acknowledge that it is happening. And that they actually sympathize with the perpetrators, instead of with victims of color. Decent people seem to be truly paralyzed by their privilege to see what is really going on.
Preparing for the backlash
Now that even Wal-Mart, Sears, and other big businesses have decided it’s not such a good idea to continue to sell items emblazoned with Rebel flags, I actually fear the coming backlash. It’s fine for corporations, politicians, media pundits, and members of highly educated elitists to denounce the flying of the Dixie flag. But when schools suspend students for wearing the Confederate flag on their clothing or as fingernail polish decoration, doesn’t this feed the growing resentment about the degradation of personal liberty and Constitutional rights?
As I wrote in a previous post, I don’t view Dylann Roof as an anomaly. I do not see his racist worldview as something all that out of the ordinary. True, his willingness to act violently is what sets him apart. But Roof is not so different from millions of disaffected Americans who feel increasingly victimized and abandoned by their government.
I have grave concerns that people who feel self-righteously outraged and self-pityingly victimized may soon rally around extremist groups bent on fomenting another civil war.
Last week’s slaughter was manipulated cleverly by Dylan Roof. I worry that in the smoldering public outrage at the overreach of government leaders (including just today the Supreme Court), we are in for a huge backlash. The swift, almost knee-jerk capitulation to calls to take down the flag may comfort some, in the short term. But it may fuel the resentment of many, as more and more flags and monuments come down over the long term.
We are told that Confederate flag sales have been skyrocketing, as are the sales of firearms. Now that the Court has announced that Obamacare is here to stay, the conservative right-wingers are ramping up their base. I hate to say this, but I really shudder to think how the outcry could escalate into more violence if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land.
We need far more than symbolic gestures. We need effective leadership and anti-racist education. Allies must step up to lead real discussions to help heal these divisive issues.
We want to believe that love will win over hate. But we must make it so. We say we believe in interracial families and multicultural communities. For those particularly who declare their love for and allegiance to children and youth of color: How are you using your privilege to deflect the coming backlash?