June 30, 2015
Last week when I was on social media, I happened to see headlines related to the tragic Charleston shooting. I didn’t read about it at first because it was a mass shooting in a church. I saw no need to have even more proof of the infinite capacity of human beings to destroy one another.
Of course, I eventually toughened up and started to read news reports and commentary. The shooter himself told authorities that he shot those nine people “to start a race war” with African-Americans. He stated further, “They’ve taken over the country.”
In lieu of that information, it would seem to be beyond obvious that this young man committed a hate crime and an act of domestic terrorism. Yet, some of our conservative politicians don’t want to admit to the obvious. The Justice Department and the FBI are at odds as to whether or not it was domestic terrorism. At its most basic, this act fits every definition of law related to hate crimes and domestic terrorism. So where is the uncertainty?
Domestic terrorism involves: acts committed that endanger human life, acts intended to coerce a civilian population, and acts that occur in U.S. territory. Murder is a danger to human life. Dylann Roof did say he wanted to start a war, then committed a violent act to do that. He committed this act in South Carolina, which is still the U.S. when last heard.
A hate crime is a violent act intended to hurt or intimidate due to race. Roof said it was because they were African-American. Again, where is the ambiguity?
In the midst of all this overt evidence, our esteemed conservative representatives want to side step race. They don’t want to say this has to do with race when the shooter already said it. When asked directly if it was race-related, Jeb Bush came out and said he didn’t know.
I understand conservative politicians don’t want to upset the sensibilities of their constituencies, but do murderous racists make up the majority of voters? I ask that because that’s what you would have to be to be offended at the statement that the shootings were a racist act, especially when the shooter unequivocally said it was an act based on race.
Another politicized, polarizing symbol is the Confederate flag. There are a number of South Carolina politicians who see nothing wrong with the flag and see it as a separate issue from the shootings. Dylann Roof had Confederate plates on his car. Okay, a Confederate flag is not the cause of a racist, homicidal rampage. However, it doesn’t help to allay the pervasive racism that still exists in the South and all over this country today.
The politicians who have overtly stated they would not agree to take the flag down are all Caucasian. They see it as a piece of history and a homage to South Carolinians who fought and died in the Civil War. A war that was fought to protect slavery under the label of states’ rights.
For many, the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery and racism. It’s easy to see nothing wrong with it when the legacy of such a brutal institution such as slavery doesn’t affect you. Truth be told, I cringe when I see that flag. To me, it is symbolic of the institutionalized oppression of people based on race. If it makes me cringe, how does it feel for an African-American to see that flag flying in a public place, like the State Capitol that should be a safe haven for all citizens? Doesn’t the State Capitol belong to African-Americans as well? How do you justify discounting them?
Racism still exists in this country, period. The way you combat it is through dialogue and education. Sweeping it under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist is ludicrous and an obstacle to reach true understanding. A good start would be for an elected official to assert that destructive acts have been committed against and continue to be committed against a large segment of the population. Another step in the right direction is taking down a symbol of hatred and oppression instead of waving it proudly. The lack of action and protecting and applauding symbols that represent past brutality says, “Your lives don’t matter.” It’s acceptable to send that message over and over again, but it’s not acceptable to call an act “racist” when the perpetrator himself admitted it was racist?
Where’s the humanity? Overshadowed by politics and agenda as it is time and time again.
Sameena K. Mughal, Author, Freelance Writer