Saturday, June 20, 2015

Dylann Roof and America: Hating Those Who Disagree

Portrait of Hate

On Thursday somebody unfriended me over the Charleston shooting. It was early in the day, facts were still rolling in, and the shooter had just barely been arrested. My Facebook friend of years had posted a link to an article that proclaimed Roof was a terrorist. It was an informative article about the church where the shooting took place along with the church’s place in black history, but the article began with one sentence that mentioned the shooting, and only one sentence. It seemed like a cheap link-bait tactic to me. I stated as much in response to the post, and suggested it was too soon to jump to conclusions. I also stated that the shooter had priors with drug possession. My complaint was with the article, not my Facebook friend. Instead of responding to my post, that person unfriended me. It’s their right to do so. We weren’t close by any means. However, I found the reaction intellectually weak, but a popular one all over social media.

By midday, America learned more about the shooter’s intent. Family and friends came forward and helped paint a picture of a severely disturbed man. Dylann Roof ranted about wanting to start a race war. He was a profoundly hateful man who had taken his bigotry to an extreme. His parents, who had purchased his gun, had finally relented and given it to him. He was twenty-one, after all, and an adult. Initially, it seemed to give him focus, but they were unaware that his focus had a darker purpose. How deeply they must regret that gift.

People with similar names are often falsely flagged during the initial confusion of a story.

Before the Facebook photos and the witness statements, however, everything was just speculation. This is when I called for caution. We simply didn’t know why Roof did what he did. We only knew that it was awful. Once more information was known, many who assumed racism as the motivation from the onset began their victory dances at the goal post, mocking those who didn’t see the world as they did. No respect was given to those who wished to respect the rights of the accused before all the facts were known.

We see this same sort of hasty jump to conclusions when a shooter’s name is Middle Eastern. One side is quick to proclaim terrorism, and the other side is quick to urge caution. In opposition there is usually an effort to suppress information about the shooter’s religion both in the press and in police reports. I saw that at work when a Serbian youth went on a killing rampage here in Salt Lake City years ago. Despite him yelling “Allahu Akbar!”, the FBI ruled the shooting was not an act of religious terrorism. Many people at the time disagreed with that assessment. Those people were referred to as religious bigots in the press and on the radio.

In this country where we supposedly afford all accused the assumption of innocence until proof of their guilt is provided, the news cycle is instead filled with non-stop speculation. This speculation runs a wide gamut. I don’t think much of speculation made on assumptions, but at least all that guessing is diverse. Lately, though, assumptions are being made not only of the shooter’s guilt, but of the guilt of anybody who doesn’t immediately agree with racism as the cause of whatever tragedy grips our nation at the moment. This is likely what happened with me & my Facebook friend because I was reluctant to apply a race label on the incident without evidence.

This was incredibly narrow-minded in my opinion. Can we only speculate one way now? Aren’t people allowed to worry differently? Are my feelings, viewpoint, and concerns not valid because they don’t fit a particular narrative? Ideologies represent filters which we see the world through. They represent what priorities one group places higher than another. Each different group has a concern that is often valid because of past events. In the case of shootings, there have been shooters with mental health issues. There have been shooters who have gone off their meds. There have been shooters who were psychotic because of those meds. There have been shooters who were religiously motivated. There have been shooters who were politically motivated. And lastly, there have been shooters who were racially motivated.

Roof’s profile intersected with many of those previous shooters. He was a drug user with psychological issues. He was a white man who shot only black people. He shot people of a specific faith, but it was also at a historical site, so it could have been political. Since we couldn’t read his mind, any combination of the above could have proven to be true. Personally, I was hoping he was simply out of his mind whether because of drugs or mental issues. Accepting that he killed people just because of the color of their skin was too repulsive for me to contemplate. I didn’t want it to be true. Besides, it’s not as if I haven’t discussed the heinous crimes of mentally unstable gunmen before.

Then the information began streaming in. A profile of a mentally disturbed individual who used drugs, blamed blacks for all his troubles, and wanted notoriety began to emerge. Yet articles like this one used guilt by association to play politics during a time of mourning. They blamed ALL people of one party for not being savvy enough to jump to the same conclusion that they did before facts came in. It was an attitude I saw repeated all over social media today. That these folks were proven right by the new evidence doesn’t mean that other people’s previous speculations were evil. Some people worry more about mental health issues than race issues. Some people who have experienced religious persecution worried more about religious liberty. Some people worried that psychmeds were at fault again. Human beings are diverse, and each one brings their own baggage into these traumatic events.

My point is that we should be intellectually mature enough to allow other people to have speculations on an event unique to their ideology. We should be compassionate enough to understand that not everybody thinks like us. We should be savvy enough to realize our pet cause isn’t always to blame for these incidents. To fault somebody for speculating wrong because your ideology happened to be proven right doesn’t contribute to healing or understanding or peace. Even worse, using the deaths of others to further political gain is mudslinging of the most repulsive kind. Our sitting President used this incident to stir the base while he was fund raising. To his base, the subject was topical. To those who prioritized life differently, his statements were opportunistic. Rancor, not peace, was the result. It seems to me that if we want to do something to put an end to this violence, we should begin by treating each other with more respect, but many advocates remain intractable in their cause. Acknowledging other viewpoints is tantamount to endorsement for them.

As the day went on, we began to hear from Roof’s angry and horrified family members. More importantly, we began to hear from the survivors of the slain because of an unusual court proceeding. These Christians showed stunning nobility and grace by forgiving this lone gunman. They set a proper example that we should all follow when dealing with our enemies, regardless of ideology. My heart goes out to all the families that are in mourning tonight. Allegedly, Roof has admitted to the killings, and even added that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.” It’s easy to hate such callousness. Let us focus on the loving words of the victims instead of the railing accusations of pundits or the wild ravings of a madman. We need to not let his poison taint our hearts despite all our differences.

Disclosure: I removed my post on Facebook because now that we weren’t friends, I couldn’t defend my statements if somebody took issue with them. I have reposted my ideas (and then some) here where I can defend them.