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Charleston and the Age of Obama - New Yorker

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I used to say, in shock, "I cannot believe lynchings took place in my lifetime!" The shock does not go away, and the dismay grows stronger.

Nine people were shot dead in a church in Charleston. How is it possible, while reading about the alleged killer, Dylann Storm Roof, posing darkly in a picture on his Facebook page, the flags of racist Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa sewn to his jacket, not to think that we have witnessed a lynching? Roof, it is true, did not brandish a noose, nor was he backed by a howling mob of Klansmen, as was so often the case in the heyday of American lynching. Subsequent investigation may put at least some of the blame for his actions on one form of derangement or another. And yet the apparent sense of calculation and planning, what a witness reportedly said was the shooter’s statement of purpose in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church as he took up his gun—“You rape our women and you’re taking over our country”—echoed some of the very same racial anxieties, resentments, and hatreds that fuelled the lynchings of an earlier time.

But the words attributed to the shooter are both a throwback and thoroughly contemporary: one recognizes the rhetoric of extreme reaction and racism heard so often in the era of Barack Obama. His language echoed the barely veiled epithets hurled at Obama in the 2008 and 2012 campaigns (“We want our country back!”) and the raw sewage that spewed onto Obama’s Twitter feed (@POTUS) the moment he cheerfully signed on last month. “We still hang for treason don’t we?” one @jeffgully49, who also posted an image of the President in a noose, wrote.

South Carolina has undergone enormous changes in the decades since Jim Crow, but it is hard to ignore the setting of this rampage, the atmosphere. Seven years ago, as Obama was campaigning in South Carolina, the Times columnist Bob Herbert visited the state, encountering the Confederate flag flying on the grounds of the State Capitol building and, nearby, a statue of Benjamin (Pitchfork Ben) Tillman, a Reconstruction-era governor and senator, who defended white supremacy and the lynching of African-Americans, saying, “We disenfranchised as many as we could.”

“We of the South have never recognized the right of the negro to govern white men, and we never will,” Tillman said, from the floor of the U.S. Senate. “We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.”

The extent to which Roof was aware of the historical dimensions of his hideous act is not yet known; he is still a suspect, and we are just beginning to learn more about him. But no killer could have selected a crime scene more sacred. The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was built to be the heart of the black community in Charleston, in the early nineteenth century, as black men and women sought to form a spiritual and political refuge divorced from the oppressive white institutions all around them. One of the founders of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church was Denmark Vesey, a preacher, carpenter, and former slave who had purchased his own freedom and who, in 1822, was executed for his role in planning a slave revolt in Charleston. The broader A.M.E. Zion church was not only the spiritual home to the three men and six women Roof gunned down but to the likes of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Eliza Ann Gardner, and Harriet Tubman.

No small part of our outrage and grief—particularly the outrage and grief of African-Americans—is the way the Charleston murders are part of a larger picture of American life, in which black men and women, going about their day-to-day lives, have so little confidence in their own safety. One appalling event after another reinforces the sense that the country’s political and law-enforcement institutions do not extend themselves as completely or as fairly as they do for whites. In Charleston, the killer seemed intent on maximizing both the bloodshed and the symbolism that is attached to the act; the murder took place in a spiritual refuge, supposedly the safest of places. It was as if the killer wanted to underline the vulnerability of his victims, to emphasize their exposure and the racist nature of this act of terror.

it hurts.

Every time. 

Yesh, it's in my Media stash.  Take away:  don't turn the killer into an anti-hero with national 24/7 news coverage.

Right! Worth watching every time this happens as a reminder. 

Thanks Jared. Darned YouTube takedowns.