I admit it: I’m angry. I’m angry that anyone of any age in my country would commit premeditated murder, much less in a church prayer session.
We’re supposed to be a nation of good guys. A beacon to the world that democracy works in the end. The land of the free and the home of the brave. What was brave about murdering unarmed people?
I’m angry because many of us are still using deliberately obfuscating language like “shootings,” “mental illness” and “regrettable.” Those weren’t shootings. Those were murders. A tasteless joke is regrettable; a massacre is a tragedy. Was some sort of mental illness to blame, exacerbated by an allegedly violent father and skinhead ideology? I’m a developmental psychologist, so I’ll leave a clinical diagnosis to psychiatrists.
What I can say is that life is a constant interplay between each of us and our environment. It isn’t possible for Dylann Roof to be responsible without his environment—a region proud of pro-segregation rhetoric, a family wracked by violence—taking a substantial amount of culpability. That environment helped catapult an immature 21-year-old from a trash talker into a mass murderer.
I’m angry because all those people are needlessly dead. I’m angry because I don’t know what to do about any of this.
In my opinion, what this ISN’T about is:
- Gun control
- Avoiding the important conversations by saying he was just another mentally ill person
- Isolated, random acts of violence
- Flying or not flying a flag
- Conservative or liberal
- Religious freedom
In my opinion, what this IS about is:
- Overt racism
- Misuse of firearms
- The alarming change in US terrorism: the rise of individual, vigilante actions in our country
- Any environment, local or national, that passively/actively condones any of the above
- Focusing on minutiae and symbols rather than looking the core issues square in the face
- Practicing the Golden Rule as a nation.
The Golden Rule? Isn’t that for preschoolers? I don’t think so. It may seem like reductive code of behavior, but I believe that practicing the Golden Rule on a daily basis is much more difficult and important to do than following a simple list of good vs. bad things, Ten Commandments style.
Above all, I’m angry because our elected leaders, the people in a position to effect real change, are once again failing to act as a unified body, regardless of political party or individual political aspirations, and take a highly public position that this is NOT what our country is about and it will stop NOW.
This includes Congressional, state, and local representatives. Their taking a stand won’t solve our vigilante problem, nor our lack of effective gun control, nor our overt, subtle and/or passive systemic contempt for people of color. But it will at least model for our citizens and the world that our leaders have the courage and the integrity to project a clear, collective, highly public voice about the value of our citizens.
Taking the Confederate flag down is a start. But there’s a long, long road ahead toward reconciliation.
The real action must start with South Carolina’s US Senators and Representatives Lindsey Graham, Tim Scott, Mark Sanford, Joe Wilson, Jeff Duncan, Trey Gowdy, Mick Mulvaney, Jim Clyburn and Tom Rice. They will have to be clear, highly public, and forceful in creating solutions. Watch them. Are they behaving like leaders? Are they proposing real solutions, or are they just giving lip service until the media storm blows over? And are they focusing on the Confederate flag—a token, after all—to create the illusion they are taking a stand on the substantive issues the Charleston murders have raised? Or are they helping bring about real change?
Listen to them carefully. Keep track of what they say and do for the next 17 months. Then, in November 2016, vote accordingly.
For more information on the growth of vigilante actions here in the US, I recommend this article: