The Most Urgent Questions about American Violence
I found a sort of morbid comfort in the fact that Jon Stewart had the same problem that I did yesterday after the news broke about the attack in Charleston. No jokes. No mirth, no whimsy, no quips. No happiness. Just a head full of questions, and a heart that will not stop hurting. Nine people were killed. If you’d prefer to get slightly more technical, nine Christian Americans, one a United States senator, were killed in an American city in a premeditated attack by another American. This all happened inside of a historic landmark church while people were worshiping.
People are understandably outraged. Unfortunately, no one really knows what to do about it. Shouldn’t it be easy? If Muslims were behind this, Christian extremists would be bombing mosques right now. If Satanists did it, we’d have laws banning “evil” religions being put on the books next week. There seems to be something about this horrific act of violence that makes it harder to figure for some reason. I wonder what it is?
A 21-year-old white American male attended a bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the American city of Charleston, South Carolina, got up and over the course of 30 minutes and five reloads gunned down nine black Americans. Those are the facts laid out as plainly as they can be, and in the wake of this tragedy we’ve got President Obama talking about gun control, the right shoehorning a narrative about a war against Christianity, and the left debating over whether or not this is a hate crime or domestic terrorism.
Well one hour before this writing, the alleged murderer confessed to shooting saying that he did it “to start a race war.” If that doesn’t throw any non-racism notions out the window, then someone has an agenda, or is far too mired in racism of their own to see what their own beliefs really allow. Why else would someone drive across town to a church founded during the height of American slavery, and murder its active black congregation? Why would this person pause during said murdering to tell the people that the reason he was killing them because they’re “raping all women” and “stealing his country?”
Apparently this person stopped getting information after 1955. Did he not know that according to RAINN 4/5 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim? Had he not heard about the widening income gap between white and black Americans? Had he not been made aware of the rash of unarmed Blacks killed by police over the last year? Did he not know that Blacks make up 1 million of the United States prison population of 2.3 million? Hell, had he never even heard of black on black crime, food deserts, or redlining before? I believe it was philosopher Chris Rock who famously looked around said, “Who’s winning? Cause it ain’t us!”
It’s almost like this killer is feeding off some completely different narrative the one that data or even common sense suggests. So where is he getting this stuff? Rather than asking “why” yet another white male would shoot a bunch of people, perhaps we should start asking more nuanced questions not only of him, but of ourselves. For instance:
- Where did yet another white male learn such a potent and reactionary brand of hate?
- No man is an island. Who put him up to throwing his future away in an attempt to kick off a race war?
- For someone seemingly unaware of current events, how did he even know to attack an institution with such a storied and long history amongst the black community of Charleston?
- Where does he get his news?
- What goes on in the online groups of which he’s a part?
- Is this what happens when misinformation is allowed to run rampant in young minds?
- This guy was only 21, so what was his entire community been feeding him his whole life?
- His family? Friends?
- Why did he never question it?
- Where else did they learn it?
- Has he ever spent any significant time with black people before?
- Why did he think violence was the answer in the first place?
Then, after asking these things of this murderous member of our society, turn around and ask every single question about yourself. Do you know what backward beliefs and dangerous biases you are holding onto in this moment?
Instead of simply calling someone crazy and dismissing them, perhaps our time could be better spent delving into our own biases. How irresponsibly have we acted to our friends, neighbors, and countrymen that we are content to let them live lives blinded by hatred and filled with misinformation? Why in American society are we so comfortable with the fear and hate? Why are we not calling for an end to domestic terror groups en masse? Why is our first response when told of tragedies like this to call for murder or torture? America houses 25% of all prisoners in the world, and the CIA has told us repeatedly that torture doesn’t work, yet many of us continue to believe that physical and psychological pain and isolation are the only options we have in dealing problem citizens, even though the threat of prison didn’t deter 2.3 million people from committing crimes already. How detached from reality are we to remain blinded to this rather fundamental truth about our humanity and existing in a broken system?
Us vs Us
Murder, mayhem, hate, violence and death… This isn’t an “us vs them” style problem. It’s time for us to start taking responsibility for what members of our community do, and I mean our larger community across the arbitrary lines we’ve made for ourselves. We should start at home. How bias are our views? What false evidence appearing real motivates us. What misdirections and mistruths are we spewing as fact? What people are we leaving out in our own lives? To whom can we lend our voice and time? If we only bury our head in semantic arguments or decide racially-based domestic terrorism is someone else’s problem, we will only be right. Unfortunately, we will heal nothing, we will fix nothing, and we will never transcend our American cycle of violence.