Racial politics is sometimes like the weather. Everybody complains about it or has an opinion about it, but there’s precious little that we can seemingly do about it. Here we are again, having the same conversation about the same issue and the politicians are crafting their statements and the sociologists are telling us about how the Internet is the problem and the gun enthusiasts are telling us that it’s a mental health issue and there’s a debate about whether this is only a hate crime or is it home-grown terrorism. And then there’s that darned Confederate flag flying over Charleston. Which seems to be causing a bit of angst in the Republican Party.
The race is on and race is now a major part of it. This time, though, it feels different.
Nine African-Americans were killed in their church simply because they were African-Americans. Yes, I know that many people say that Walter Scott and Eric Garner and Michael Brown were killed because they were African-American, but they were also involved in activities that brought them attention from the law. The victims in Charleston were doing no such thing. They were being good citizens, were praying, were welcoming a stranger into their world as many other Americans would. Such a terrible tragedy.
What we know for sure is that the shooter did not like black people, and he said so explicitly. He grew up in a country that’s supposed to be post-racial with a more enlightened group of young people who did not experience the Civil Rights movement or institutional segregation. They’re supposed to be more welcoming, more open, more accepting. We now know about one of the exceptions to that interpretation.
But we are also at the beginning of a presidential election cycle and we need to measure the candidates and potential candidates against their words and actions. The initial reactions were sober and immediate, with quick condemnations and expressions of horror and disbelief. That sentiment soon turned to the issue of why Dylann Roof perpetrated this crime. Many on the right called it an attack on religion. Some said worse things. President Obama looked anguished and sad when he addressed the news media the day after the killings, and his inclusion of the gun issue showed that he truly regrets not being able to get any kind of meaningful background check legislation through the Congress.
I want to know specifically what the candidates plans are in reaction to this event. They all say that we need to bring the country together, but how will they do this? I understand that I might have to wait a good long time, but now is the moment when we need to push anyone who wants to occupy the Oval Office in 2017 for answers. Specific answers.
Right now we’re asking questions from our homes and places of worship. Next time, we’ll be in the streets.