• Otter Views: Just Another “Whacked-Out Kid”?

    As recent news events migrated from the simply bizarre to the truly grotesque, I reshuffled my lineup of States I’m Least Inclined to Visit. Arizona and Texas usually top the list, although Alaska edged them both when Sarah Palin was hunting wolves from helicopters.

    My usual number one, Arizona, boasts the country’s most paranoid anti-immigrant laws and its most hard-case sheriff. It saw its own U.S. representative gunned down in a Phoenix shopping mall. And it fostered the far-right Goldwater Wing, since metastasized into the nationwide Tea Party movement. Thank you, Arizona.

    Texas recently made news by forcing most of its abortion clinics to close, by hosting a murderous motorcycle gang shoot-out, and by allowing residents to carry firearms onto university campuses. It also dispatched gun-waving cops to quell teenage swimmers at a suburban pool party.
    But that’s all in a day’s lunacy for the Lone Star State, which periodically seeks to secede from the Union.

    But last week, even trigger-happy Texas had to play backup to the state that first seceded from the Union, South Carolina. In a state where the Confederate battle flag still flies proudly over its capitol grounds, a young white supremacist named Dylann Roof coldly shot to death nine black worshippers in a Charleston church.

    In the aftermath, South Carolina reportedly lowered to half-mast its state flag and the Stars and Stripes out of respect for those slain. But the Confederate flag remained aloft in Columbia, even as images circulated on-line of the flag’s prominence in Roof’s racist iconography.

    In fairness, at this time in our gun-friendly nation, the Charleston massacre could have happened anywhere. In sad fact, it already has. From Connecticut to Virginia to Colorado to San Diego and all points between, no one is safe from an armed and committed lunatic.

    No place is safe either. In recent years, we’ve seen mass shootings in colleges, high schools and an elementary school; in shopping malls and fast-food restaurants, at a movie theater, on an Army base, and now in a prominent big city church.

    Even amid this carnage, many pro-gun states have passed or are considering “open carry” and “stand your ground” laws supported by the firearms industry. Many also have loosened strictures on automatic weapons, hollow-point bullets and magazine sizes. But those efforts seem moot. To date, no U.S. shooter has lacked for weapons, ammunition or targets of opportunity.

    To me, what elevates the Charleston shootings above generic “massacre of the month” status has been the allegedly racist motive and the craven response from leading state officials. The latter are the latest in a long line of governors, mayors and legislators who have since 1961 resisted efforts to remove the Confederate battle flag from the state capitol grounds.

    But there’s more. Commenting on the Charleston church massacre, U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina reportedly told CNN the shooter was just “one of those whacked-out kids. I don’t think it’s anything broader than that. It’s about a young man who is obviously twisted. It’s him . . . not the flag.”

    If Graham were simply another whacked-out South Carolina politico like the former governor who ran off to Argentina with his mistress, that “boys will be boys” variant would barely move the needle. But Graham is a declared candidate for the U.S. presidency, so his first response is both worrisome and emblematic. (He later amended his remarks to acknowledge a possible racist motive).

    Coming in the wake of numerous white police killings of black men nationwide, to ignore or wish away the racial content of the Charleston massacre is delusional at best. And the state shares some culpability. In continuing to fly a banner that glorifies a secessionist, pro-slavery, white supremacist past, South Carolina sends a supportive message to armed young crazies like Dylann Roof.

    And so, the state vaults over Texas and Arizona into first place on my “Least Inclined to Visit” list, and Senator Graham ascends on the “least likely to vote for” list. If there were a list for scariest comment on the Charleston shootings, it would include this one from a spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, South Carolina chapter.

    “It’s a shame that those people were killed, and we all greatly regret that incident,” the SCV spokesman told The New York Times, “and we were upset that anyone would try to tie people who are proud of their heritage to an act like that.”

    And therein lies the rub. In failing to recognize that South Carolina’s “heritage” – and by extension America’s – includes white supremacy, slavery, institutional racism, lynchings and ongoing anti-black violence, the nation is every bit as delusional as the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

    The Charleston massacre was not an “incident.” It’s a pattern.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on June 26, 2015

    Topics: Otter Views


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