Tuesday, June 23, 2015


The morning after the shooting, I was at my desk at work, monitoring the online news as it steadily unfolded.  The count of the dead; the photos of the shooter and his car; the account of what he said given by the woman he left alive.  The fact that he sat there for an hour before rising and producing his gun.  His uncle ID'ing him to the police.  The press quickly tracking him via Facebook, seeking comments from his relatives and peers.  I say "peers" since he didn't seem to have friends. 

(Key quote: “I never heard him say anything, but just he had that kind of Southern pride, I guess some would say. Strong conservative beliefs.”)

The unsurprising news of his capture. 

Then the second day: Enterprising net-sleuths digging out his racist manifesto.  His confessing to the crime; his hapless attempt to kill himself at Emanuel AME.  He remarked that the people at the church had been so nice to him, he almost didn't go through with the murders.

It was useless for me to be glued to the news those days; it might have been better to be traveling or something, to be unplugged.  The only cheap satisfaction was seeing conservatives casting about in a panic, looking for a way to spin it.  I was messaging friends online, and everything I wrote was delivered in the tone of deadpan snark.  Hold up everybody, Rudy Giuliani says we don't know what his motivation was...

There was a meeting at my church last night, a bunch of Southern honkies not directly affected by the attack, but with shocked consciences.  We went around the room and were each asked to say a word or two to describe our emotions about the shootings.  Everyone expressed sorrow, but most were groping for some more transcendent feeling: hope, solidarity, tolerance.  I went last.  My words were action, which white folks need to take because sorrow and guilt are not enough; and determined, which the people of Emanuel certainly are, opening their doors for worship as scheduled, determined to overcome.

I realized at that moment that what I am, simply, is angry.  My words are not transcendent; my jaw is clenched.  I feel I'm supposed to forgive.  Some loved ones of the Charleston victims told the shooter they forgive him.  That's astonishing.  I don't forgive him because my heart is hardened toward him, but also because I don't feel it's my place to forgive him.  I am one on whose behalf he believed he was acting. 

From the first day after the news broke, there were people lifting up the names of the dead, and saying that the perp is nothing; let's not even honor him with our attention.  There is wisdom in that attitude: to focus on these embodiments of love and faith, not to focus on the one in the grip of hatred.  I hope I'll attain that attitude eventually.  At the moment I'm fixed on this young white man.  He was pure in his stupidity.  It's facile to say he was a perfect failure, that he will unite the races rather than divide them.  He meant to shed blood, and make widows and orphans, and he did.  But despite his declared mission, he may have taught a lesson quite contrary to what he intended.  He revealed the original sin, scar, and stain on our people, his and mine.