Saturday, June 20, 2015
In Plain Sight
You've heard the one about the guy smuggling bicycles, right? Comes across the border every day riding a red bicycle. Guards check him out but that's the deal, just a guy on a bike. He carries a little paper sack with a sandwich and a bottle of water. This is just during the week. He has some kind of job somewhere up in the hills, in the fancy part of town. So the guards speculate. Gardener. Cook. Maybe even a nanny. He's a nice man, in his late '30s. Finally after months they take him aside. What are you sneaking in, man? Hell, we don't care, we just work here. It's just hard to believe you're not bringing in something. “Bicycles,” the guy says, with a wry smile.
Clementa Pinkney was a remarkable leader by all accounts. He was a State Senator. He had the ability to convince his cohort, mostly very right wing folks the state being South Carolina, that police body cameras were a good idea. This was just after the policeman in North Charleston who'd shot and killed a black man who ran after a traffic stop for a broken tail light. We all saw that. Shot at him eight times as he ran, in the back. Then handcuffed the body, no interest in even checking to see if he was dead or might be saved. Pinkney took the tack of arguing via Doubting Thomas. Sometimes we must put our hand into the wound. It was effective.
Reverend Pinkney was a man who stayed humble. He drove home from Columbia to Charleston to lead a prayer meeting in the most historic black church in the whole South, his church. His attendees were all community leaders, solid folks. They probably got a lot out of the cool drink of water that was Reverend Pinkney. He was showing the world how to live righteous. He was the absolute opposite of, for example, Donald Trump. And in a different way, of his Governor of the moment, Nikki Haley. There were testimonials about him from white Republican senate colleagues. It's possible that his murder will have the result of finally getting the odious Confederate Battle Flag off the Capitol grounds in Columbia. The affront of the damn thing—someone called it the American Nazi Flag on a blog I read—still flying high when both the state and American flags were at half-mast the day after the massacre in the church was possibly too much for whoever still imagines themselves in South Carolina to still be within the pale of civilized society. Some Southern Baptist leader called for its removal yesterday, the day after the murders. This was some step forward from Chris Hayes' interview with former Governor and now Congressman Sanford, who said “I didn't have anything to do with it, I was in Washington.” A brave stand, that, from the former Lothar of the Pampas. Sanford would be a great running mate for Gov. Perry. I'd laugh at that ticket all the way to the bank.
Pinkney was a significant black leader in South Carolina. He had national promise surely, although whether he was interested in such a path is not clear. He stayed connected to people, real people. But he was an elected leader, he was articulate and capable, and could bring different factions together such as on that camera bill. That's a skill. That's a force to be reckoned with.
Why is it that in every one of these cases, from John F. Kennedy forward, the press and the powerful always run immediately to the “lone nut” theory? That's all I've been hearing since the massacre happened. That and “he was pure evil.” Pure evil is actually a cypher, a place-marker for “we have nothing at the present time.” There are already public calls for his execution, from Gov. Haley, from Senator Graham, who also suspected the guy was out to kill Christians. That was another theme from the Right wing media. He was a Lone Wolf said David Brooks last night to Judy Woodruff. We have a societal problem with these young men, unconnected, living in trailers, no job. I waited to hear “let's bring back the Draft,” but Brooks cannot bring himself to offer any real policy. Lone Wolves must assuredly be of both parties, or none. Another one of those things that comes with the decline of the apogee of American Civilization that happened, in retrospect, at the end of Dwight Eisenhower's first term, same year Mantle hit 56 untainted homers and Larsen pitched that perfect game in the Series. This was like Shakespearean comets, we just didn't know it then, it takes Brooks' hindsight.
Someone on a comedy show said, well if he wanted to kill Christians he drove by a lot of churches to get to Charleston, 100 miles of churches. And if he wanted to kill black people, he drove by plenty of black people. It amazes me that no one can manage to put any of these dots together, at least on the media coverage. One hopes that behind the scenes some real investigation is going on, that someone is actually sitting in a quiet friendly room with Mr. Roof and talking gently and quietly to him about what he was doing. Dostoyevsky's insight is still true.
Because it's pretty obvious that Mr. Roof might as well have been a guy with a dynamite vest on, or a guy with a sword and a black hood. He was an arrow, that's surely the case isn't it. How would he even know the remarkable history of that particular AME Church, to pick it out and go to the trouble. But he knew that church, and he knew Rev. Pinkney was there. According to one witness, he asked for Reverend Pinkney, and sat near him for an hour before starting the murdering.
I'm sorry. Mr. Roof was an assassin, first and foremost. He hid his assassination amongst the bodies and the very understandable emotions elicited by such horror. But he must have gone to that church, on that night, to kill Mr. Pinkney. The task of the authorities is to find out who sent him. Someone did. Maybe they're on line, in some racist chat room on the IRC network. Maybe they're somewhere else, with a murky website full of nazi gear or Rhodesian gear. Roof was a lost boy and he found a cause somewhere, and we have to know about that. He will talk to the right person too, and not some monkey with a water board. He will talk to a friendly voice. We need to know who sent Roof, and we should be very happy to trade him his life behind bars for that information. The victims' families, in this regard, are way ahead of the people who are, in effect, screaming for all of it to be covered up, to be buried and never spoken of again. ISIL isn't the only group who recruits lost boys.
Maybe the right wing lives so deeply in denial that that's all they can do. O'Reilly last night was nearly hysterical, shouting over and over again, “Roof was psychotic.” The calls for the death penalty resound. I hope they keep him safe in custody. Jack Ruby heard those calls and acted straight away. Ruby was a better assassin than Oswald. The Lone Wolf moniker seems to work endlessly, like a hall of mirrors. But it's not reality.
We had better learn from the past, even if that's not what the media wants from us.
A few years back Juan Cole published the following list( http://www.juancole.com/2012/08/top-ten-differences-between-white-terrorists-and-others.html ):
1. White terrorists are called “gunmen.” What does that even mean? A person with a gun? Wouldn’t that be, like, everyone in the US? Other terrorists are called, like, “terrorists.”
2. White terrorists are “troubled loners.” Other terrorists are always suspected of being part of a global plot, even when they are obviously troubled loners.
3. Doing a study on the danger of white terrorists at the Department of Homeland Security will get you sidelined by angry white Congressmen. Doing studies on other kinds of terrorists is a guaranteed promotion.
4. The family of a white terrorist is interviewed, weeping as they wonder where he went wrong. The families of other terrorists are almost never interviewed.
5. White terrorists are part of a “fringe.” Other terrorists are apparently mainstream.
6. White terrorists are random events, like tornadoes. Other terrorists are long-running conspiracies.
7. White terrorists are never called “white.” But other terrorists are given ethnic affiliations.
8. Nobody thinks white terrorists are typical of white people. But other terrorists are considered paragons of their societies.
9. White terrorists are alcoholics, addicts or mentally ill. Other terrorists are apparently clean-living and perfectly sane.
10. There is nothing you can do about white terrorists. Gun control won’t stop them. No policy you could make, no government program, could possibly have an impact on them. But hundreds of billions of dollars must be spent on police and on the Department of Defense, and on TSA, which must virtually strip search 60 million people a year, to deal with other terrorists.
The media coverage of the Charleston massacre follows this list of dicta with remarkable accuracy.
Update the 2nd: