I woke up this morning to the same news as many of you. Last night in Charleston, North Carolina, a white man consumed by hate shot and killed 9 people in a church after a prayer meeting.*
My heart goes out to the community in Charleston and to the families and friends of those injured and killed. I cannot begin to imagine what they are going through.**
The scariest thing about events like this is that, although we condemn the people who have committed these acts, the fact is that the person behind the gun is simply that: a person.
Things were simpler when I was younger and lived under the mistaken assumption that Bad Guys were easily identifiable and worked for Evil Organizations with names like Cobra so you knew they were bound to do something terrible. As an adult, I’m aware that a lot of the terrible things we see happening are the result of individual choice. And that terrifies me.
When I was in high school the 911 attacks happened. I won’t bother to recount what they were like. So many of us were around when they happened. And the events themselves are not the point.
After the attacks, the people around me were so angry. I want to say that I was somehow above all that. That I saw instantly the inherent humanity of the cultures out of which the terrorists arose. But I was young and I didn’t have that inherent response. The people around me infused me with anger. I didn’t know who to point my anger at, so I pointed it at the countries that we were told by the government were the ones responsible. And I felt that anger with all the forcefulness of a teenage girl who had not yet learned important lessons about temperance.
I hated a group of people intensely. For a moment. Before I stopped myself and started to work out the nuance of that group. I saw the absurdity of hating a whole swath of human beings as though they were responsible for the actions of individuals.
The things that cause and engender violence on the part of individuals are more complicated and nuanced than simply being born in the same place. Eventually, the choice to do violence unto another person comes down to individual choice.
But that’s the scary part.
I could walk through my life and manage to never be pushed by external or internal forces into an act of senseless violence. But the people around me have no way of knowing if I will one day snap and do something terrible. Something irrevocable.
The bastard who shot up that church last night deserves to be punished. The terror that he has inflicted upon the community in Charleston is very real. And lasting. The damage that he has done can be measured in lives lost and terror inflicted.
He is just one man. And that’s what frightens me. That one man could do so much damage and cause so much grief and somehow be missed by the authorities until after he had done something so terrible… it makes me afraid. Which I’m sure was at least part of his goal. That’s the way that terrorists usually operate, after all.
*That man, Dylann Roof, has since been apprehended. It’s worth noting that he has been taken alive despite having killed 9 people. A privilege that is not afforded many people of color in this country who have been killed for merely having a gun, or just walking down the street. I can’t wait to hear the mental health and “he was a quiet boy” defenses start rolling off tongues in the peanut gallery. I want to talk more about this story as it unfolds. I’m already exhausted in the face of the racism inherent in our media and police force in their handling of this situation. I’ll muster up the words for my thoughts soon.
**Please consider making a donation to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to help get their community through this trying time.