I was watching CNN’s coverage of the Charleston shootings when one of the CNN anchors passed on a tweet which she had received: “When black men kill they are called thugs. When Muslims kill they are called terrorists. Why is it that when white men kill they are said to deranged?” Wow! Sometimes something just grabs my full attention because it is so true. That tweet was one of those things.
I think that the reason this made a big impression me is because I had heard several Republican politicians use the term “deranged” or “mentally ill” when describing the shooter who killed nine people in a house of worship in Charleston. In fact right before the CNN anchor mentioned that tweet she had been interviewing Lindsey Graham and had asked him if gun laws should be strengthened to prevent another tragedy like this one. He replied, “No law is going to prevent a deranged person like this guy from getting his hands on a gun.”
Why is it that when black men and Muslims kill people they are called “thugs” and “terrorists’ – which implies that killing is a normal part of their nature – and when white men kill the assumption is that they must be “deranged”. That implies that sane white men would never do such a thing, that it is not part of their nature. If this is not a case of implied racism, I don’t know what is.
Now perhaps those Republican politicians were using such wording because they were catering to the sensibilities of their conservative constituents; after all Lindsey Graham is a Senator from South Carolina. However, I think that this is giving them too much credit. The simpler and probably more accurate explanation is that this is how many conservative politicians see the world.
By all indications, Dylann Roof, who killed those nine people after they invited him to their bible study secession was not insane, but a cold calculating killer who had planned his crime for months. He had obviously successfully befriended one or more of his intended victims to worm his way into their confidence. One of the survivors of the shooting reported that before Roof opened fire he shouted, “I have to do it. You’re raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.” He told police later that he intended to start a race war. This is consistent with the description of those who knew him before the shooting. They described him as a big segregationist who had a reputation for spouting racist messages and jokes, had a confederate flag plate on his car, and wore a jacket with patches of white supremacist organizations in his Facebook photo.
It may not be fair to prejudge this situation, and I would not argue with the contention that anyone who would willfully kill an entire group of people must have a screw loose somewhere. However, there is ever indication that this young man knew exactly what he was doing and that makes him legally sane in every state in this country. There is no doubt that he was a hate monger and since the standard definition of a terrorist is “a person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political aims”, society should label him nothing less.
But how does a young man of twenty one years with so little worldly experience learn to hate an entire race of people so thoroughly that he would resort to mass murder? There can be only one explanation, he was taught to hate by others. This tragedy should put a spotlight on groups for which racial hatred forms the core of their organizations. These groups are like the Klu Klux Klan of old and they consist of individuals with as much hatred in their souls as this young man. The only difference being that they aren’t stupid enough to commit a crime that would get them apprehended almost immediately.
One of the problems is that our society doesn’t completely ostracize these hate mongers and their beliefs, probably because in some states there are too many of them. Instead states like South Carolina provide cover for their beliefs under the guise of preserving history by allowing the confederate battle flag to appear on official state car license plates and to fly over state government buildings. It was a sad sight to see the confederate battle flag flying high and proud on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capital, padlocked in place, in the wake to the tragedy while the American and South Carolina state flags flew at haft mast.
It is illegal to display the Nazi swastika flag in Germany. While our constitution protects such acts under our freedom of expression rights, there is no excuse for allowing another flag which has also come to symbolize racial hatred to maintain a state government’s seal of approval.
If we learn nothing else out of this tragedy, we should learn to call a terrorist a terrorist regardless of the color of his skin or his ethnicity and make it clear in every way possible that hate groups have no place in our society.