There have been many ugly violent incidents and cold-blooded killings in the last several years that have illustrated again and again how deeply and sickly racist America is. There have been many heart-breaking, stomach-turning examples of African-Americans killed by policemen or others posing as policemen. It seems the police in too many cases and places in America regard African-American men as a dangerous species of vermin to be exterminated at the slightest provocation without overmuch concern for their right to breathe and walk the earth. For an overview as well as a deeper look at the numbers of African American dying from police-inflicted killings in the USA, see the BBC news article "Why do US police keep killing unarmed black men?" at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-32740523.
The most well-known incidents--and keep in mind that many others have never received the benefit of media attention--range from the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin in Florida on February 26, 2012, who was walking home from buying a few items at a convenience store, by the police wannabe shooter George Zimmerman to the slaying of 12 year old Tamir Rice on a playground in Cleveland, Ohio on November 22, 2014 by two shots from a policeman's gun to the killing of 53 year old Eric Garner on July 17, 2014 on the streets of Staten Island from the effects of a chokehold administered by NYC policemen who then allowed him to die on the sidewalk, gasping for air, without administering any first aid or medical services, even though they are supposedly trained to do so.
All of these individuals were unarmed, except Tamir Rice, who was holding a toy gun, a pellet gun. Somehow I don't think a white boy with a pellet gun would be judged a threat by police and executed in this same manner. Like Eric Garner, Tamir Rice died on the pavement with no attempt at medical assistance, showing the same callous disregard for the preservation of African-American life. In fact, when his sister came screaming with horror at what had happened to her brother, she was treated like a criminal and rudely tossed into the back of the killer policeman's car.
It seems that "shoot first and ask questions later" has become standard operating procedure for many American cops, along with an assumption that if any black male resists arrest or is in any way uncooperative with police requests, he essentially signs his own death warrant, and it is not the policeman's fault if a death results. Really. Any black man who does not behave toward police like a happy puppy greeting his owner is asking to be killed; That is the sick and sorry status quo we have arrived at. A sad irony is that since police so often kill African-American males, it makes it entirely rational for black men and boys to want to run away from police who approach them. If you knew that many people like yourself had been killed by police with only minimal provocation or justification, wouldn't you run for your life if a cop stopped you? Sadly, if your skin is black and you feel afraid of a cop, or dare to speak back to a police officer who you feel is treating you wrongly, it might just get you killed. That is one ugly truth of African-American life in the USA today.
2015 has shown no letup in the procession of police-administered deaths of unarmed African Americans. I am particularly saddened and sickened by the case of Walter Scott, slain in Charlotte, South Carolina, on April 4th of this year. His crime? He was stopped for a broken tail light and ran from the police, of whom he was quite rightfully fearful. Mr. Scott ran when confronted by a policeman in a parking lot, and was first tasered, and then, when he ran again, was shot to death. He was a former Coast Guard member, with a checkered past, who had recently been trying to better himself by studying Massage Therapy in a local college. I shudder to think how many African-American students I have known like Mr. Scott, who have had their ups and downs and tried to chart a new course through education. To think that any one of them could end up like Mr. Scott, gunned down for the most minor of offenses and for failing to behave as policemen like black people to behave, ties my stomach in a knot, and makes me ashamed to live in a country where this is not only possible, but predictable.
This was followed this year by the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of Baltimore police on April 19, 2015. Freddie Gray was a 25 year old African-American man with a past history of arrests, which may explain why, when a police officer made contact with him that morning on the street, he panicked and ran away, the police then pursuing him, handcuffing him, and placing him in a police van, where he would meet his death. It should be pointed out that running away from police is not a crime, and might even be considered rational for someone like Freddy Gray in a place like Baltimore, where local people often perceive the police as a hostile force. This perception proved to be entirely justified in this case. When the police finally caught up with Mr. Gray, he was found to be in possession of a knife, though he was not threatening anyone and it is not illegal to carry such a knife in Baltimore. Gray was handcuffed and thrown into a police van, then driven around for several minutes without being secured with a safety belt, with the result that he was tossed around the van at each sudden turn or stop, resulting in injuries to his neck and spine that soon caused his death. This way of placing prisoners in a police van in a way guaranteed to cause them pain and injury was known in Baltimore as a "rough ride." The very fact that this practice had a name, that it was a known thing, suggests that Freddie Gray was not the first African-American to suffer this kind of injury-inducing treatment at the hands of the police. Note too that the practice is designed to inflict harm without the police having to raise a fist or fire a shot; it "just happens" in the course of a ride around the city, helping the police dodge any culpability for the death of individuals under their power. Mr. Gray was right to run from the police, because when they did catch up with him, they killed him. He was brought to a hospital for treatment, but he was already beyond help.
Freddy Gray's death came about as the result of police practices that seem to have been designed for no other purpose than to cause harm and terror to African-Americans in a cynical, sadistic manner, as if watching a black prisoner helplessly tossed around in the back of a van with no way for him to escape injury or even death was someone's idea of good fun, a happy time for the Baltimore boys in blue.
And now comes a new racist killing, not the execution of an single individual by police, like the ones mentioned above*, but a mass murder carried out by a young man with explicitly racist and white supremacist affiliations and motivations. Twenty-one year old Dylann Storm Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina on the evening of June 17th and joined a Bible Study meeting in progress that evening. After an hour, Mr. Roof pulled out a .45 caliber pistol and began shooting, not stopping until nine African-Americans were dead, including the church pastor, Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also a Democratic state senator with a bright future as an inspiring African-American political leader. Mr. Roof was arrested the following evening, and it has since emerged from multiple sources ranging from photos of Dylann Roof proudly displaying symbols of white supremacy such as the flags of the racist regimes of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa in its Apartheid days along with the Confederate flag to blog postings by Mr. Roof spouting standard issue white supremacist ideology to statements by friends and relatives that Dylann Roof had been voicing increasingly hostile racist comments in recent years.
Dylann Roof is a standard issue white supremacist zealot of the sort that the Southern Poverty Law Center has been tracking for years. In fact, I wonder if his "storm" middle name is anything other than a tribute to the racist organization and web site "Storm Front." The only different thing about young Mr. "Storm" is the degree to which he was willing to put his racist animosity and white supremacist principles into practice. On Roof's blog, he explains that he felt a need to take action as he did not see the KKK (the Ku Klux Klan, formerly the leading organization for white supremacist terrorism against black Americans, I will note for younger readers) or anyone else doing what needed to be done to stem what he believed was a rising tide of African-American dispossession and disadvantagement of white Americans and to strike the first blow in what he hoped would inaugurate a race war of white against black. Though some have tried, predictably in cases like this, to put his murderous rampage, his politically driven act of racial terrorism, down to mental illness and to sidestep his ideological associations and motivations, which are quite strongly stated and unequivocal, anyone who looks at the facts I have cited above should have no doubt that Dylann Roof was acting out a plan that was rooted in a long history of American racism, including organized racist terrorism such as that purveyed by the KKK, and which is only explicable in relation to that deep-rooted, widespread and continuing racism, a racism with different forms, degrees and levels, from the unacknowledged, implicit and structurally embedded varieties to the more flagrant, confrontational and openly genocidal type espoused by Dylann Roof and others of his ilk.
His crime is horrible and will sadly win him the place in history that Mr. Roof sought, as a white man willing to stand up for white America and slay black Americans. It is sobering to consider that if Mr. Dylan Roof had approached his mission a little differently, he could have joined the police force in any number of American cities, done even more damage to black Americans over a longer period of time than he did that sickening night in Charleston, and have very likely escaped arrest or punishment. As we mourn the deaths in Charleston and grind our teeth in anger and sorrow over the actions of young Mr. Roof, let us not forget the bigger picture. Sensational crimes and mass murders like the one carried out by the racist terrorist Dylann Roof can actually blind us to the more mundane but cumulatively greater harms, including not only violent deaths but stunted lives, wounded families and broken communities engendered on a regular basis by the less obvious and more insidious forces and faces of racism in this disturbed and violent nation called America.
In future I will speak more about how the continuing reality of racist terrorism in America presents a special obligation and a promising opportunity to Pagans of today.
*granted, George Zimmerman was not a police officer, but he saw himself as a self-appointed public safety officer, and to that extent, Trayvon Martin was also slain by police, albeit a fake, wannabe police man.