In the wake of the deadly shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, where a deranged young white male shot nine black worshippers at Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church, comment has come from observers ranging from President Barack Obama to bloggers on the causes of the tragedy.
For example, Obama said on June 18, just after it was announced that Dylann Roof, 21, was arrested as a suspect in the case, “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that once again, innocent people were killed, in part, because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun….At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that, recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge them. And at some point, it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with them, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.” Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, likewise pointing to the availability of firearms, called for stricter gun controls.
In a statement on the same day, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Richard Cohen, claimed that hate groups are growing because Obama is a black man in the White House. Cohen called the mass murder “an obvious hate crime by someone who feels threatened by our country’s changing demographics and the increasing prominence of African Americans in public life.” The SPLC is an advocacy group that has been identified as leftist by some. Among those the SPLC has labelled in the past are the “far-right extremists” who oppose the Common Core curriculum, and Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson: a member of the SPLC “Extremist Watch List.”
Cohen went on to say in his statement, “Since 2000, we’ve seen an increase in the number of hate groups in our country – groups that vilify others on the basis of characteristics such as race or ethnicity.”
“The increase,” said Cohen,”has been driven by a backlash to the country’s increasing racial diversity, an increase symbolized for many, by the presence of an African American in the White House.” He appeared to downplay the threat of Muslim terrorism, such as the incident last month in Garland TX where two jihadis were gunned down by a veteran police officer just before they carried out a planned mass murder at a public event. Said Cohen, “Since 9/11, our country has been fixated on the threat of Jihadi terrorism. But the horrific tragedy at the Emmanuel AME reminds us that the threat of homegrown domestic terrorism is very real.”
In an article at liberal website Salon, the mass shooting in Charleston was labeled “violence white America must answer for.” Chauncey DeVega wrote, “The story is still developing. At present, Charleston authorities are reporting that this mass shooting and likely right-wing domestic terrorist assault is a hate crime.” The Department of Justice has announced that it is investigating the Charleston incident as a hate crime, but it has not yet labeled the suspect or his motivations as “right-wing.”
DeVega blamed something he calls the “White Racial Frame,” which allows white media to blame blacks for social ills. He wrote, “While this horrific event is one more murderous and racist blow to the African-American community in Charleston–the killing of Walter Scott by a white thug cop being the most high-profile and recent offense–the reporting on the mass shooting at Emanuel Baptist is an additional affront via the White Racial Frame as practiced by the mainstream news media.”
The White Racial Frame is identified by Joe Feagin, author of “Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression,” as a “’master frame,’ a dominant framing that provides a generic meaning system for the racialized society that became the United States. The white racial frame provides the vantage point from which European American oppressors have long viewed North American society. In this racial framing, whites have combined racial stereotypes (the cognitive aspect), metaphors and interpretive concepts (the deeper cognitive aspect), images (the visual aspect), emotions (feelings), and inclinations to discriminatory action. This frame buttresses, and grows out of the material reality of racial oppression.”
The prime suspect in the mass murder, Dylann Roof, is reportedly high school drop-out and drug user. A police incident report found him in possession of Suboxone, a pain drug sometimes used to treat opiate addiction. Roof did not have a prescription for the drug, which is commonly sold illegally. Some anecdotal evidence has emerged that the drug may cause psychotic episodes among abusers.
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