Laslo Boyd: Racism, Hatred, & Guns

Posted by on in Blog
  • Font size: Larger Smaller
  • Hits: 7956
  • Subscribe to this entry
  • Print
  • Report this post

The volatile mix of these three elements led directly to the tragedy at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston last week.  Until we as a society are willing to acknowledge and talk about all three, we will not be able to deal with their corrosive impact on America.  

Don’t tell me that now is not the time to have that discussion.  There is no better time than now.  For those of us who want to focus on just one of these causes or to try to explain why one or another wasn’t critical to the deadly rampage by Dylann Roof, you are sticking your head in the sand and ignoring reality.

At times like this, and they are way too frequent, it’s hard to know whether to scream or to cry.  And yet, despite the pain and sadness felt by many of us, we are living in a country where too many are indifferent to the seemingly endless string of human tragedies.  Jon Stewart’s eloquent remarks last Thursday summed up the way a lot of people feel: outraged, sad, puzzled, and helpless all at the same time.

For those individuals trying to convince us that they should be taken seriously as presidential candidates, this could be an opportunity to show leadership and courage.  Instead, we have seen from some pandering and cowardice.  

Even after there was lots of evidence to show that Roof was clearly motivated by racial animus, Jeb Bush continued to insist that we couldn’t know for sure why he went into a black church and murdered nine African Americans.  That stance alone should disqualify Bush as a credible candidate for higher office.

Rick Perry reverted to his 2012 form by calling the massacre an “accident.”  Even a correction later doesn’t excuse that level of insensitivity from someone claiming to be ready to lead the nation. 

Lindsey Graham initially rushed to the defense of the Confederate flag flying on South Carolina’s Statehouse grounds, calling it a part of the state’s heritage.  So is slavery, but that’s no excuse to celebrate a thoroughly discredited institution. 

After a weekend of growing national outrage, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley provided political cover for Graham and other timid Republican presidential candidates by calling for the removal of the flag at the Capitol.  At the same time, Walmart, Amazon and other retailers announced that they would stop selling Confederate flag merchandise.

Some of the reactions were so predictable in their awfulness that you can more easily dismiss them.  Fox News trotted out a black minister who asserted that the attack was on Christians rather than having any racial motive.  That was a theme repeated regularly on that faux news channel.   An NRA board member asserted, as someone always does after a mass shooting, that if only members of the church prayer group had had weapons, most of them would have been saved. 

The United States is by far the most heavily armed nation in the world.  By that peculiar NRA logic, we should be the safest.  Yet, no other civilized society has a rate of gun deaths anywhere near what occurs here. 

Let me be clear: it took more than a gun in Dylann Roof’s possession to bring about the rampage.  As more evidence comes to light, including a web site that was created by him, it’s clear that the roots of his racism run deep.  You have to wonder what in his environment and upbringing produced a person with the degree of racial hatred that consumed him.  That is certainly one of the questions we should be examining.

Moreover, that anyone could have built up the level of hatred that he had is astonishing.  His act of terrorism was carefully planned and cold-blooded in its implementation.  His words that his victims had been so nice to him during the prayer service that he “almost” didn’t go through with his plan reveals a person with little or no trace of humanity in him.

But, at the crucial moment, neither racial attitudes nor deep-seated hatred was enough to leave nine innocent people dead.   No field of science or medicine has figured out how to predictably diagnose or cure racism or hatred.  We do have the capability, however, to keep weapons of deadly force out of the hands of people who are intent on doing harm to others.

Even within the parameters of the Supreme Court’s recent misguided decisions on the Second Amendment, there is ample ground for reasonable restrictions and remedies to move us away from being a fully armed society.

The steps that could make us a safer country are well known and in fact have been enacted in some states such as Maryland.  Connecticut’s law, passed after the slaying of 20 school children in Newtown, is already starting to make a difference.  But at the federal level and in many other states, the supporters of reason with respect to guns have been stymied. 

As Stewart and others have observed with sadness, this time probably won’t be different either.  What it would take is a lot more citizens deciding that they don’t want their country dominated by the gun culture.  It would also take elected officials who have the courage to stand up against the money, organization and threats of the gun lobby.

As far as I can see at this point, all the candidates in the very large Republican presidential field are totally cowed or beholden to gun interests.  Bernie Sanders, who has excited a lot of Democrats with his progressive positions, is so far on the wrong side of this issue that his meteoric rise in the polls may come to an abrupt halt in the wake of Charleston. 

So far, the only national candidates who have publicly called for tougher gun laws to try to stem the bloodshed are Hillary Clinton and Martin O’Malley.   While their positions aren’t likely to move the national dialogue in the direction of sanity, I can continue to hope.

Rate this blog entry:
Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.