By Laura Frizzell, Sadé L. Lindsay, and Scott Duxbury, The Ohio State University
On Jan. 24, 2014, police found Josh Boren, a 34-year-old man and former police officer, dead in his home next to the bodies of his wife and their three children. The shots were fired execution-style on Boren’s kneeling victims, before he turned the gun on himself.
On Aug. 8, 2015, 48-year-old David Ray Conley shot and killed his son, former girlfriend and six other children and adults at his former girlfriend’s home. Like Boren, Conley executed the victims at point-blank range.
Both men had histories of domestic violence and criminal behavior. Yet despite the obvious similarities in these two cases and perpetrators, the media, in each case, took a different approach.
When describing Boren, the media focused on his good character and excellent parenting, going as far to call Boren a big “teddy bear” despite a prolonged history of domestic violence. They attributed his crime to “snapping” under the significant stress of his wife’s recent divorce filing.
In Conley’s case, media reports made little attempt to include any redeeming aspects of his personality. Instead, they focused exclusively on Conley’s history of domestic violence and prior drug possession charges. If you were to read articles about Conley, you would likely infer his crime stemmed from his inherently dangerous and controlling personality.
What might explain the differences in media coverage? Could it have something to do with the shooter’s race?
Boren, it turns out, was white; Conley was black.
In a recent study, we explored whether the race of mass shooters influences how the media depict their crime, their motivations and their lives.
We found that the discrepancies in the media coverage of Boren’s and Conley’s crimes were indicative of a broader phenomenon.
Explaining the crime, portraying the criminal
For the study, we randomly selected 433 online and print news articles covering 219 mass shootings from 2013 to 2015. While definitions of a mass shooting can vary, we adhered to the one most commonly used in empirical research: an event in which four or more people are shot, excluding the shooter.
Next, we created a unique data set based on information provided in the articles. We coded each article for a variety of variables associated with the crime and the shooter, including setting of the shooting, number and gender of victims killed and injured and age of the shooter.
After analyzing the data, we found that the shooter’s race could strongly predict whether the media framed him as mentally ill. (Less than 1 percent of the crimes had a female perpetrator.)
In all, about 33 percent of the articles in our study describing the crimes of a white shooter made a mention of mental illness. On the other hand, 26 percent of articles describing a Latino shooter and only two percent of articles describing a black shooter mentioned mental illness.
In fact – holding all aspects of the crime equal – white shooters were nearly 95 percent more likely to have their crimes attributed to mental illness than black shooters. Latino shooters were 92 percent more likely than black shooters to have mental illness mentioned as a factor.
An empathy gap
Furthermore, those articles that did describe a white shooter as mentally ill would often suggest that the shooter had been a generally good person who was a victim of society. The shooting, in other words, was out of character.
For example, in one case, a shooter in a rural trailer park set up a rifle in some bushes and began firing at the family trailer, with his wife, father-in-law and two young children inside. When the police arrived, he turned the rifle on them, hitting two officers before they gunned him down.
Yet subsequent news coverage noted his generally quiet demeanor and his willingness to help family and friends. The man who committed these crimes, one article noted, “wasn’t the same person who loved back-porch cookouts.”
However, such narratives – even within articles that mentioned mental illness – were less common when the shooter was black or Latino.
The graph below includes all news articles in our sample that framed a shooting as stemming from mental illness.
Camp Van Dorn was a U.S. Army Post located in Centreville, Mississippi and served as a training camp from 1942-1945. The 364th was an all-Black regiment of soldiers that had been stationed at Camp Van Dorn in Jim Crow-era Mississippi. According to the book, "The Slaughter: An American Atrocity," black soldiers were massacred in fall of 1943.
At that time, the Army had begun intensifying its efforts to recruit Blacks, as evidenced by the WWII propaganda film "The Negro Soldier" created in 1943 by the United States Army and released in 1944, but the Army was still racially segregated.
The 364th arrived at Camp Van Dorn in two groups on May 26, and May 28, 1943, some of whom had already survived three previous race riots, came to Centreville announcing they were going to "clean up" the base and surrounding towns and challenged Jim Crow laws at every turn. On May 29, 1943, a Black soldier, Pvt. William Walker from the regiment was detained by a white military policeman and questioned, resulting in a fight. The county sheriff arrived, the private was shot and killed by the sheriff.
Shortly after, black soldiers stormed a supply room and took a number of rifles and planned to march on the town. A crowd gathered near the regimental exchange and a riot squad made up of Black military policemen fired into the crowd. Allegedly, only one soldier was wounded by this exchange and the soldiers returned to their barracks.
According to newspaper accounts, Centreville's mayor telegrammed the governor asking that the 364th be related to the North to avoid a serious race riot. Camp Van Dorn Commander R.E. Guthrie assured the local civilians that the disturbances had been controlled by military authorities. Another near-riot broke out in July 1943 at a service club dance on the base and the 99th was called to disperse a crowd of about 2,000.
The Army high command in Washington, D.C., warned base and regimental commanders that they were to end racial violence or lose their jobs. The 364th's Morning Reports, a kind of company-by-company daily attendance sheet, note dozens of soldiers as AWOL following the Private Walker killing and its aftermath.
Carroll Case, a white Mississippi banker, artist, and writer born in 1939, heard "hushed rumors" of a mass killing of black troops during his childhood. In 1985, William Martzell, a maintenance man at the bank where Case was president confessed to Case about his participation in a massacre at Van Dorn.
Martzell described a night in the fall of 1943 when he and other white troops and military police armed with machine guns surrounded the 364th's barracks. As quoted by Case, Martzell said, "We had the whole area sealed off–it was like shooting fish in a barrel. We opened fire on everything that moved, shot into the barracks, shot them out of trees, where some of them were climbing, trying to hide. . . ."
Martzell explained the black soldiers were easily killed because the firing pins had been removed from all the black soldier's rifles. In 2001 the History Channel aired a documentary about the massacre titled, "Mystery of the 364th" shown below.
Case alleged the Army planned and executed the massacre of troops from the 364th and covered it up by informing next of kin the soldiers were killed in the line of duty and the bodies were not recoverable.
The book, pressure from a Mississippi congressman, Bennie Thompson, and the NAACP caused the Army to investigate the massacre allegations.
The Army spent more than 16 months trying to disprove allegations that 1,200 black soldiers were massacred during a racial disturbance at an Army camp in Mississippi during World War II. A final report was issued by the Army on Dec. 23, 1999, stating, "There is no documentary evidence whatsoever that any unusual or inexplicable loss of personnel occurred".
The Army based some of the conclusions in its 1999 report on records it kept classified. But the Army's report is riddled with dozens of factual errors, marred by gaps, and suffers from internal contradictions and conflicts with other Army records that diminish its credibility.
Army Clerk Claims of Forged and Changed Records
Malcolm LaPlace, a former 364th soldier, who told the makers of a documentary that his signature was forged on a key document, accused the Army of covering up the deaths of fellow soldiers by listing them as AWOL in regimental journals. LaPlace, who served as the regiment's clerk, said he is the one who made the changes at the request of the regiment commander, Col. John F. Goodman, who has since died.
"I worked with Col. Goodman for day after day, month after month. I sat at a desk right outside his office door," LaPlace stated. " I recall on four different occasions he had me revise journal entries. On one occasion he provided me with information for an entry that read 20 black soldiers had been found murdered. I typed it up and gave it to him. About an hour later he came back to me and he said, 'Sergeant, I have given you the wrong information.' What he gave me now read that 20 black soldiers were AWOL. Now how in hell do you go from murdered to absent without leave? That happened on three other occasions, when it was 10 [black soldiers murdered], and then about three, then one, all the same thing."
However, LaPlace says he never saw or heard about any mass shootings at Camp Van Dorn.
In December 1943, the remaining men of the 364th were relocated to a camp in the Aleutian Islands, off the coast of Alaska. It was then that their personnel roster began to show signs of loss. Nearly 1,000 enlisted men — a third of the regiment — disappeared from the Aleutians with no explanation.
Just ten years before the Camp Dorn Massacre, Gen. Smedley Butler called war a racket. U.S. officials would not have wanted anything to hamper support for the war.
More than 60 million people were killed during World War II, including 419,400 U.S. Military deaths. Generals were sending tens of thousands of men to their deaths during single battles. The government certainly would not have jeopardized an entire war effort during WWII, to tell the truth about a massacre of rebellious black soldiers, that some white officials may have considered unpatriotic.
President Nixon's Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger said, “Military men are just dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” Kissinger certainly wasn't the first U.S. official to believe that soldiers are pawns. When men at the highest levels of government feel this way, it's easy to understand how racist officers would have felt black soldiers were expendable.
During World War II, when a family received word that their loved one was killed in the line of duty, missing in action or taken prisoner, they would have taken the information at face value and not questioned the truthfulness.
Unfortunately, the truth may never be known about what actually happened at Camp Dorn, but even rumors are often based on facts. I can't imagine a person near the end of his life lying about participating in a mass murder. What would he have to gain?
The Army, on the other hand, has its reputation on the line and may be worried about the potential liability to the soldiers' families.
The Orangeburg massacre refers to the shooting and killing of peaceful unarmed black student protesters by white Highway Patrol officers in Orangeburg, SC, on the South Carolina State University campus on the evening of February 8, 1968.
Approximately 200 protesters peacefully demonstrated against racial segregation at a local bowling alley, All Star Bowling lane, without incident on February 6, 1968. The following night many of the students returned to resume the protest but fifteen of them were arrested.
The third night, February 8th, the students gathered on the South Carolina State University campus instead of at the bowling alley. The students built a bonfire which a law enforcement officer attempted to put out. The officer was injured by a piece of a banister thrown from the crowd. The officers then opened fire into the crowd of students.
Three of those peacefully assembled, Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith, both SC State students and Delano Middleton, a 17-year-old high school student, were killed and twenty-seven other protesters were injured.
Middleton was not involved in the protests. His mother worked as a maid on campus, and he often stopped there on his way home from basketball practice. In all, he was shot seven times, once in the heart. Henry "Smitty" Smith, an ROTC student and native of Marion, was shot three times, including in his neck. "Sam" or "Sammy" Hammond was a freshman from Barnwell who was studying to be a teacher. He was shot in the back and died on the floor of Orangeburg's segregated hospital. Also killed was the unborn child of Louise Kelly Cawley, age 27, one of the young women beaten during the protest at All Star Bowling. Cawley suffered a miscarriage the following week.
“They committed murder. Murder…that’s a harsh thing to say, but they did it,” …“The police lost their self control. They just started shooting. It was a slaughter. Double ought buckshot is what you use for deer. It’s meant to kill. One guy emptied his service revolver. That takes a lot of shooting. The (students) are running away. Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow! My God, there’s a murderous intent there. We are lucky more weren’t killed.” – Ramsey Clark, U.S. Attorney General in 1968.
This tradedy was the first of its king on any American college campus. The massacre pre-dated the 1970 Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings, in which the National Guard at Kent State, and police and state highway patrol at Jackson State, killed student protesters demonstrating against the United States invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.
There were several incidents centering on the segregation of the local bowling alley, All Star Bowling Lane, that led up to the Orangeburg Massacre on February 8, 1968. In the fall of 1967, some of the black leaders within the community tried to convince Harry K. Floyd, the owner of the bowling alley, to allow African Americans.
Harry K. Floyd claimed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not apply to his establishment because it was private. However, because the alley operated a lunch counter, it fell under the jurisdiction of laws regulating interstate commerce and thus federal desegregation. Floyd was unwilling to desegregate; as a result protests began in early February 1968.
On February 5, 1968, a group of around forty students from South Carolina State University entered the bowling alley and left peacefully after they were asked to leave by Floyd. The next night more students led by John Stroman returned and entered the bowling alley. This time there were police waiting for them and several students were arrested, including Stroman. After the arrests, more students began showing up, angry that protesters were being arrested. Next the crowd broke a window of the bowling alley and chaos ensued. Police began beating student protesters (both men and women) with billy clubs. That night, eight students were sent to the hospital.
Over the next couple of days, the tension in Orangeburg escalated. Student protesters submitted a list of demands that consisted of integration and the elimination of discrimination within the community.
The Governor of South Carolina at the time, Robert E. McNair, responded by calling in the National Guard after commenting that black power advocates were running amok in the community.
Over the next two days, about 200 mostly student protesters gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University, a historically black college in Orangeburg, to demonstrate against the continued segregation at the bowling alley.
By the late evening of February 8th, army tanks and over 100 heavily armed law enforcement officers had cordoned off the campus; 450 more had been stationed downtown.
On the night of February 8, 1968, students started a bonfire on the front of SC State's campus. As police and firefighters attempted to put out the fire, officer David Shealy was injured by a thrown object. Shortly thereafter (around 10:30 p.m.) South Carolina Highway Patrol Officers began firing into the crowd of around 200 protesters. Eight Patrol Officers fired carbines, shotguns, and revolvers at the protesters, which lasted around 10 to 15 seconds.
Twenty-seven people were injured in the shooting; most of whom were shot in the back as they were running away, and three African American men were killed. The three men killed were Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith (both SCSU students), and Delano Middleton, a student at the local Wilkinson High School. Middleton was shot while simply sitting on the steps of the freshman dormitory awaiting the end of his mother's work shift.
The police later said that they believed they were under attack by small arms fire.
A newspaper reported, "About 200 Negros gathered and began sniping with what sounded like 'at least one automatic, a shotgun and other small caliber weapons' and throwing bricks and bottles at the patrolmen." Similarly, a North Carolina newspaper reported that week that students threw firebombs at buildings and that the sound of apparent sniper fire was heard.
Protesters insisted that they did not fire at police officers, but threw objects and insulted the men. An AP photographer on the scene, subsequently revealed that he heard no gunfire from the campus.
At a press conference the following day, Governor Robert E. McNair said the event was "…one of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina". McNair blamed the deaths on outside Black Power agitators and said the incident took place off campus, contrary to the evidence.
The federal government brought charges against the state patrolmen in the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest. The state patrol officers' defense was that they felt they were in danger and protesters had shot at the officers first. All nine defendants were acquitted although thirty-six witnesses stated that they did not hear gunfire coming from the protesters on the campus before the shooting and no students were found to be carrying guns.
In a state trial in 1970, the activist Cleveland Sellers, who had been shot during the attack, was convicted of a charge of riot related to the events on February 6 at the bowling alley. He served seven months in state prison, getting time off for good behavior. He was the national program director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1973 he wrote The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC.
Sellers earned his master's degree from Harvard and his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. For eight years, he served as the president of Voorhees College, located in his hometown of Denmark, before stepping down in 2016 due to failing health.
In 1993, twenty-five years after the massacre, Sellers was officially pardoned by the governor of South Carolina after evidence proved he was innocent.
Today is the ninth anniversary of everything that can go wrong when a system of justice seems unjust or predatory to an individual on the edge.
On February 7, 2008, Cookie Thornton, a well-respected and widely loved figure, who was active in local charities, fired shots during a Kirkwood city council meeting, that killed five, including two police officers, and wounded two others; one of the two wounded victims, the mayor, later died. Thornton was shot and killed by police the night of the incident.
Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, was a lifelong resident of Meacham Park, an unincorporated, mostly African American community. In 1992, Kirkwood annexed the Meacham Park area. Upon annexation, the municipal codes of Kirkwood became the law for Meacham Park, which had previously lacked municipal codes.
St. Louis Magazine published a four-part series about the Kirkwood Shootings, part one of the series, "Why did Cookie Kill?" starts off with:
"In the initial shock, it seemed simple: Cookie Thornton had gone crazy. Then people started commenting, and it seemed even simpler: A black man had gotten fed up with bigotry and taken revenge. Then explanations started coming, and nothing was simple at all"
The complaints that surfaced during the Ferguson Protest about municipal courts were the same sort of things Cookie Thornton complained about. I didn't know Mr. Thornton, so I can't speak to his mental state, but every person has their breaking point. Mr. Thornton pleaded for help for years including at city council meetings about tickets and felt he was being treated unfairly, but it appears he was ignored. If someone had simply helped him better understand the rules of court, his trial de novo appeal rights, and the right to a jury trial, I wonder if he would have had a better outcome.
Claims of racism
Cookie Thornton accused the government of Kirkwood of racial discrimination and had been tied up in lawsuits with the city for nearly a decade. After the shooting, those in the community described Thornton as having snapped, gone insane or gone to war.
Excessive Municipal Fines and Court Cost
In 1996, Thornton had begun receiving citations from Kirkwood for violations of city codes. In June 1998, he pleaded guilty to six violations; and agreed to a five-phase plan to bring his property and his paving business into conformance with city codes within two years.
Thornton filed for bankruptcy in December 1999. During the bankruptcy process, he was put on a plan to get out of debt: he would pay $4,425 a month for five years. But Thornton stopped making the payments within four months and moved the portion of his business that had for a while occupied a rental property in a nearby commercially zoned area, back into his residentially zoned neighborhood.
Thornton never paid any of the fines from the 2001 and 2002 Kirkwood code violation cases. Thornton, despite having no education, training or experience in the practice of law, acted as his own attorney. The City of Kirkwood said in a state court memorandum in 2003, that by May 2002, Thornton had pled or was found guilty of more than 100 of 114 charges.
In 2005, the Missouri Court of Appeals opinion dismissing his suit against Kirkwood and Ken Yost for malicious prosecution and civil rights violations termed his brief "largely incomprehensible". After several years of the lawsuits, he declined an offer from the city to let his fines remain unpaid in exchange for dropping his last lawsuit against the city and no longer disrupting council meetings.
Residents speak out
The shooting cast a spotlight on the long-standing tension between Kirkwood and Meacham Park.
Linda Lockhart had grown up in St. Louis, and her family moved back in 1998 after living in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Linda Lockart who is black, and her husband, who is white, bought a house in a Kirkwood subdivision near a country club.
Lockhart and her husband were given a copy of the neighborhood Trust Agreement and Indenture of Restrictions, which laid out neighborhood rules regarding issues like yard maintenance and structure standards.
It also said this: “That no building shall at any time be occupied by Negroes or Malays, except in the capacity of bona fide servants or employees.”
When their children started going to Kirkwood High School, she said, both the subtle and the overt racism became even more apparent. “It was just the most painful experience we had ever been through,” Lockhart recalled.
“Nobody condoned Cookie,” Lockhart said. “It was wrong. But we understood why he felt that way.”
The Meacham Park Neighborhood Association (MPNA) met the afternoon following the shooting, February 8. More than 100 people, including Thornton's mother, and a "procession of ministers" who spoke at the meeting. Many spoke sympathetically of Thornton. Elder Harry Jones of Men and Women of Faith Ministries said
"This is something that took place over time, and perhaps it could have been avoided. There always has been a great divide between Kirkwood and Meacham Park."
Thornton's mother spoke last, saying
"We've got to do things the Bible way. I'm sad that this happened."
A blog entry that same day from a minister who used to live and work in Kirkwood provides some background about the relationship between Meacham Park and Kirkwood:
People who had lived in [Meacham Park] for generations were paid to move out so that Wal Mart could move in. [They] were made promises about how the money the city made from Wal Mart would be given to improve the living conditions in Meacham Park. When I met with the MPNA, there were residents who had been organizing and feeling frustrated for quite a while. They felt that the city officials were not following through on their promises and that the Meacham Park residents made a grave mistake in trusting the city officials….we were able to get our hands on some financial documents that flat out proved that the city promised money that they had not paid but there were legal loopholes that seemed insurmountable without a sea of money to devote to legal fees. When I stepped down from my work with Meacham Park, I knew that the frustrations were far from resolved.
In the end, it's always about the money, isn't it? It looks like the only reason Kirkwood was interested in annexing Meacham Park was to profit from a Wal-Mart development that certainly came with other developments. They displaced poor black residents from Meacham Park seemingly without any inconvenience to Kirkwood residents.
60 Minutes recently aired an interview with Nate Parker, the producer, director and star of the movie "Birth of a Nation" about Nat Turner and the slave rebellion he led in 1831 in Southampton County, Virginia where approximately 60 white people were killed and more than 200 slaves and blacks were killed in retaliation.
The interview took an unexpectant turn when the focus shifted from the movie's historical significance to unfounded allegations from Parker's college days. Nate Parker has accumulated 24 movie and tv credits since 2004, but now that he has produced a movie depicting a slave as a hero for killing white slave owners in retaliation for the injustice and oppression they inflicted; Parker has become the victim of character assassination by media outlets who are resurfacing allegations of rape from almost two decades ago.
Parker and Jean Celestin, who co-wrote "Birth of a Nation" were teammates on the Penn State wrestling team in 1999 when a white female student claimed she was intoxicated and therefore could not have given consent when she had sex with them. Both Parker and Celestin claimed the sex was consensual.
As we mentioned in our post about Bill Cosby, false allegations of rape, especially the alleged rape of white women have historically devasted black communities all across America.
Ironically, the myth of black men lusting after white women was perpetuated by the 1915 D.W. Griffith film that Nate Parker borrowed the title of his film from. The original 1915 "Birth of a Nation" glorified the Ku Klux Klan and portrayed black men as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women. "I reclaimed the title and re-purposed it as a tool to challenge racism and white supremacy in America," Parker stated. Because of the 1915 film, membership in the Klan, which included doctors, lawyers, law enforcement officers and ministers, exploded to about 6 million by the mid-1920s. The CEO of AT&T who recently voiced support for Black Lives Matter mentioned how his friend talked about Southern Baptist church deacons being members of the klan.
The accuser admitted she and Parker had previously engaged in consensual sex and Nate Parker was exonerated by a nearly all-white (11 white and one black woman) jury at trial. Celestin was found guilty and appealed, prosecutors later dropped the case. The evidence must have been overwhelmingly in Parker's favor for a nearly all-white jury to acquit a black athlete accused of raping a white woman. The town where the alleged rape occurred, was 83.2 percent white and 3.8 percent Black. The town where the trial took place — Bellefonte Courthouse, Pennsylvania — was 96.3 percent white and 1.5 percent Black. Do you really believe a mostly all-white jury would have let a guilty black rapist off?
Former Penn State classmates also believe Nate Parker was falsely accused. They provided copies of relevant court documents that support their belief in Parker's innocence. The documents are located at factchecktoday.
How many black men and boys (Emmett Till) have been destroyed by false allegations concerning white women? After a nearly all-white jury, determined Nate Parker was not guilty of rape, it was irresponsible for Anderson Cooper to imply Parker was guilty by asking if he was sorry. Sorry for what? Being falsely accused of rape!
Initially, there was Oscar buzz about "Birth of a Nation," but it died down after the Hollywood Reporter quoted members of the Academy who admitted that the controversy had made them less likely to vote for the film – or even watch it. I plan to watch it and I encourage everyone else to see this film as well.
We have been brainwashed by propaganda disguised as history. We celebrate slaveholding founding fathers as liberators, an independence day that was never intended to include us and we even have a holiday for one of history's worst proponents of slavery, Christopher Columbus.
Evidently, mass incarceration of Black men is not enough, even after we've been exonerated in a court of law, we can still be targeted and destroyed by simply bringing up false allegations. Nate Parker was on the path of becoming a great producer, director, and actor, possibly achieving a financial success on par with Tyler Perry. Isn't it strange that when Parker was making films produced by white men, rape allegations didn't surface then?
Personally, I want to see more films like "Birth of a Nation" produced. However, those attacking Parker, if successful, will point to low attendance to prevent future films such as this from being produced in the future. They will say Black people aren't interested in films about their history. These films employ black actors and actresses and tell our story from our point of view.
History has often recorded the successes and achievements a black people are attacked and destroyed because of fear, jealousy, and hate. When we speak out about injustice and oppression in this country, there is a narrative that we are somehow unpatriotic. For example, when Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem, the attempted character assassination against him was that he was disrespecting the military and the flag. There is no greater respect a person can display for the concept of freedom and justice than to stand up against those oppressing others. We must stop letting others determine who our heroes are and who we should or shouldn't support!
"Today, four children are without a father, a mother without a son, a sister without a brother, and a community wondering how many more black lives will be destroyed before America stands up and says 'never again.'"
Civil rights groups and family members of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man who was shot and killed by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Friday, are demanding justice for the slain father of four.
Dashboard and helicopter footage released late Monday shows Crutcher with his hands in the air as four white police officers approach him, guns drawn and pointed at him, in the moments before he was shot. Video footage of the shooting can be viewed below. (Warning: footage is graphic and may be disturbing.)
Crutcher's death is the latest fatal shooting of an African-American person by police at a moment when the Movement for Black Lives has created a national debate on police brutality that activists say disproportionately targets black communities.
"The murder of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, by a Tulsa police officer is yet another reminder that our nation's law enforcement departments need radical change,"said Lecia Brooks, outreach director at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "Today, four children are without a father, a mother without a son, a sister without a brother, and a community wondering how many more black lives will be destroyed before America stands up and says 'never again.'"
"It's time for everybody to demand that this stops and that justice is served," said Crutcher's twin sister, who appeared devastated during a press conference on Tuesday:
Crutcher's family says his car had broken down in the middle of the road, and that Crutcher had just left the vehicle to seek help when police arrived.
"They treated him like a criminal," added one of the family's lawyers, Benjamin Crump. "They treated him like a suspect. They did not treat him like somebody in distress who needed help. Instead of giving him a hand, they gave him bullets."
The 40-year-old husband and father had no criminal record. The U.S. Department of Justice announced Tuesday that it is investigating the shooting.
"[The Tulsa police officers’] actions were immoral, reprehensible, and outright criminal." —Brady Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma
"As the Department of Justice investigates this case, we must confront the racism embedded so deeply in police practices and demand change now," Brooks said.
"As Terence's family and community plead for peaceful protests and level heads, today's promise of an independent federal investigation perhaps will bring some hope for peaceful resolution to a community that has been brutally betrayed by the people sworn to protect it," said legal director of the ACLU of Oklahoma Brady Henderson.
"If this killing is investigated competently and fairly, I believe we will see murder or manslaughter charges against the shooter, and hopefully accessory charges against the officers who treated Terence Crutcher like a piece of meat rather than a human being. Their actions were immoral, reprehensible, and outright criminal," Henderson continued. "Putting Terence's killer and her companions behind bars won't bring Terrence back, but it is a necessary part of repairing the broken bond between police and communities of color, a rift that continues to claim lives."
The officer who shot Crutcher, Betsy Shelby, is white. She said she thought Crutcher was behaving as though he was on PCP, and that Crutcher was not cooperating before she fatally shot him. Shelby has been placed on paid administrative leave.
The police officers did not offer first aid to Crutcher for over two minutes after he was shot. In the video footage, he is shown lying prone on the street while blood pools around him.
The fatal shooting occurred only three days before the suspect in the New York and New Jersey bomb incidents, Ahmad Khan Rahami, was arrested alive despite engaging in a gun battle with police officers. The contrast between Rahami's arrest and Crutcher's treatment was one that several observers pointed out in the wake of Crutcher's death.
"Can African-Americans all over the country get a little of that Ahmad Khan Rahami treatment?" asked Black Lives Matter activist and journalist Shaun King. "The family of Terence Crutcher could've really used some of that Ahmad Khan Rahami police work."
Republished with permission under license from CommonDreams.
SPLC Statement on the Death of Terence Crutcher
Yesterday, authorities in Tulsa, Oklahoma, released dashboard and aerial video capturing the killing by police of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man.
Lecia Brooks, Outreach Director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, released the following statement in response to the event:
"The murder of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man, by a Tulsa police officer is yet another reminder that our nation’s law enforcement departments need radical change. Today, four children are without a father, a mother without a son, a sister without a brother, and a community wondering how many more black lives will be destroyed before America stands up and says 'never again.' As the Department of Justice investigates this case, we must confront the racism embedded so deeply in police practices and demand change now."
The Southern Poverty Law Center is dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society. Using litigation, education, and other forms of advocacy, the SPLC works toward the day when the ideals of equal justice and equal opportunity will be a reality.
Twelve police officers were shot, five are dead and two civilians were also injured in an ambush during a peaceful protest of recent lynchings by police. Our condolences go out to all the victims and their families.
Hundreds of people of all races were marching down Lamar St. between Commerce and Main, mere blocks from Dealey Plaza where President Kennedy was assassinated, when gunfire erupted around 9 p.m. last night from the top floor of a parking garage.
One suspect was killed and police have several suspects in custody. Dallas Police Chief, David Brown, said the following about the dead suspect; “he was upset about Black Lives Matter, he said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers. The suspect stated he was not affiliated with any groups, and he stated that he did it alone.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown was absolutely correct, police do need and should expect our support, however, support should not only run in one direction. When police officers murder innocent people or even suspects, other officers need to stop protecting them. When good police remain silent about the deeds of bad cops or when those deeds are covered up, they increase the likelihood that this type of response will eventually take place by someone mentally ill and angry.
Innocent man originally identified as a suspect
Mark Hughes, the brother of the Dallas protest organizer, was exercising his second amendment right to open carry, similar to Oath Keepers during the Ferguson Protests. Hughes was named in the media as a suspect because he was seen earlier with an AR15 rifle strapped over his shoulder. The police do not want us to jump to conclusions because of videos, but they jumped to conclusions and placed a man's life in jeopardy, simply for exercising his constitutional right to bear arms.
I don't believe assault weapons should be authorized for civilians, but the open carry law should apply equally to everyone. Original gun restrictions and the first modern gun laws were intended to keep guns out of the hands of black people. See video on our "Armed and Black" post.
Mark Hughes speaks to the media after the Dallas Police Department erroneously announced him as a suspect involved in the fatal shooting of several officers during a protest on Thursday.
Double standards must stop
The video above demonstrates the type of double standard that must change in this country. During the Ferguson Protests, none of the multiple white guys carrying assault rifles who called themselves the Oath Keepers were ever named as suspects when shootings occurred during those protests.
A person identified as Changa, an organizer with the Dallas Action Coalition told a reporter from The Daily Beast; “If you don’t give the people justice after a certain amount of time they get hopeless and seek other means of justice.” In his 20 years of activism, Changa said, he could not get any response from the local Dallas community. “So it’s sad, but it’s ironic.”
Changa's expression is similar to those expressed by Frederick Douglass 130 years ago; “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe”
The shooting in Dallas is the result of a disease that if left untreated will most likely be repeated. The symptoms of racism, poverty, oppression, and injustice when combined results in anger, hopelessness, mental illness and retaliation. We have seen these symptoms take the lives of black men and women in urban areas all across America for years. Some young black men, especially those who believe they have nothing to lose, are starting to focus their anger on targets other than themselves.
Trevor Noah from the Daily Show give a great critique of the double standard in this country during a discussion about the fatal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
The video footage of the Dallas shooting is equally clear, however, I don't expect anyone would dare suggest that we should use restraint before reaching to conclusions. Five police officers were murder, end of conclusion! Two black men were lynched by police, end of conclusion!
If video exists of a suspect shooting one of those officers, no one would suggest sending that suspect home with pay until an investigation is finished a year later. No, I expect that suspect to be immediately arrested if possible. It would be an insult to those officers who gave their lives in the line of duty to suggest anything less. However, when a police officer clearly committed murder on video and is sent to the comfort of his home and taxpayers are forced to continue providing the murderer with a paycheck, that is an insult as well. The ultimate insult occurs when no charges are brought against the officer.
While we pray for the families of the twelve officers injured and killed, let's not forget the twelve victims name above and all the others who were killed by police "for no apparent reason". That's why these protests all over the country are taking place because police for all intents and purposes are above the law. There is no equal treatment under the law as long as police officers can abuse, humiliate and murder innocent people with impunity and suffer no consequences.
Black police officers
A black female Cleveland Police officer, Nakia Jones, recently acknowledge that fact in a stirring and moving video she made in response to the Alton Sterling lynching.
Officer Jones isn't the only Black police officer complaining about racism in the ranks. Below is a video of three Black St. Louis Police Officers discussing their negative experiences with white officers.
Ironically, just yesterday, the St. Louis Black Police Union called for the resignation of Sam Dotson, the current police chief, because of racism, discrimination, cronyism and even crime within the department.
The media's attention will certainly be focused on Dallas and rightfully so. The police chief, mayors, governors and other public officials and leaders will argue it's time to stop protesting and fully support the police. That would be a false narrative.
I am pro-police, but I am anti-brutality. I don't want to live in an area where I can't call and rely on help from the police. But that's the whole point! I shouldn't fear encounters with police, especially during times when I need them the most; but that is the reality. To stop protesting obvious injustice with certain police encounters would be a monumental mistake and would only embolden and invite continued brutality and murders by rogue officers.
Potential dangers of rogue police
When police lose respect for the people in a community or when a community fears its police force, there's a sort of unspoken invitation for corruption. Police are public servants and as Officer Jones so eloquently stated, they take a vow to protect and serve.
Years ago, I heard rumors that the white police chief, who has long since retired, was the head of a local drug cartel. I originally dismissed those claims as an urban legend, and I am not now saying those rumors are true, but over time I seriously began to wonder if they were true. A close family friend called to report what she suspected was drug activity on her block. There was no action taken against the suspected drug house, but housing inspectors showed up to her house the next day resulting in citations costing thousands of dollars and had to mortgage her home to make the repairs.
A relative, who had gone to jail on drug charges and has since passed away, upon mention of calling the police, stated how the then police chief controls drug activity in St. Louis. He said police officers harass, arrest, shakedown and even kill drug dealers competing with drug dealers who are a part of the police network. I know of people making anonymous calls to police to report drug activity who were later retaliate against by the same drug dealers. After hearing about these sort of incidents and others over the years it became increasing difficult to not consider the possibility that the rumors might be true.
Regardless, it's time to take back control of our communities, public officials and require them to serve us properly or get out of the way so we can find others who will. One of the major issues with St. Louis City Police Officers is that they are not required to live in the city in which they serve. That doesn't make any sense to me. Every other city employee is required to live in the City of St. Louis within 120 days of employment. Most city employees are required to maintain residency to keep their jobs, but police officers are allowed to move after seven years, as we stated, police are above the law.
As Jessie Williams recently stated, "The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. That’s not our job, all right, stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down."
Another black man, Philando Castile was lynched yesterday. The lynching happened late Wednesday during a traffic stop after being pulled over for a "busted tail light" in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights. Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car when Castile was shot, live streamed video after the shooting.
According to his girlfriend, Mr. Castile notified the police officer that shot him, that he was licensed to conceal and carry and that he had a firearm on him. The officer asked for his license and registration. He explained that he was about to reach for his wallet to comply and that's when the officer fired.
I was just finishing making boycott comments concerning Alton Sterling when I learned about this incident involving Philando Castile. As a community, we have to do more than just march. We must respond differently to make this stop. We need to withhold our support as consumers from companies that are no speaking up on our behalf and use our dollars as weapons.
These police killings are senseless, I cried like a baby after watching these videos. I don't want to hear any more about how the police fear black men, how a particular officer feared for his life or how I don't understand the stress police officers go through. If certain cops are that fearful or the job is that stressful, those officers how can't handle the pressure need to seek other careers. I couldn't help but think, my god, this could have so easily have been one of my children.
During a news conference Thursday morning, Diamond Reynolds accused the St. Anthony, Minnesota police of murdering her boyfriend, Philando Castile, right before her eyes. "They took his life for no reason," …. "He took his last breath in front of us."
Reynolds accused the St. Anthony police of racism and poor treatment of her and her young daughter, who was also in the car at the time of the shooting. "They took me to jail. They didn't feed us. They didn't give us water," she said. "They put me in a room and separated me from my child. They treated me like a prisoner."
She wants the police officer who shot her boyfriend arrested and charged with murder. "He should not be home with his family. He should be in jail in handcuffs." … "He didn't do anything; he did exactly as the police asked," … "I want justice."
During a televised CNN interview, Philando Castile's mom stated, 'We are being hunted'
Once again, it's time to celebrate Columbus Day. Yet, the stunning truth is: If Christopher Columbus were alive today, he would be put on trial for crimes against humanity. Columbus' reign of terror, as documented by noted historians, was so bloody, his legacy so unspeakably cruel, that Columbus makes a modern villain like Saddam Hussein look like a pale codfish.
Question: Why do we honor a man who, if he were alive today, would almost certainly be sitting on Death Row awaiting execution?
Columbus' Jewish Secret
Columbus Day was conceived by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Fraternal organization, in the 1930s because they wanted a Catholic hero. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the day into law as a federal holiday in 1937, the rest has been history. The irony is that Christopher Columbus was not Catholic, but was secretly Jewish and was in search of a land far from persecution. But Columbus became a persecutor.
During Columbus' lifetime, Jews became the target of fanatical religious persecution. On March 31, 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella proclaimed that all Jews were to be expelled from Spain. The edict especially targeted the 800,000 Jews who had never converted, and gave them four months to pack up and get out.
The Jews who were forced to renounce Judaism and embrace Catholicism were known as "Conversos," or converts. There were also those who feigned conversion, practicing Catholicism outwardly while covertly practicing Judaism, the so-called "Marranos," or swine.
Tens of thousands of Marranos were tortured by the Spanish Inquisition. They were pressured to offer names of friends and family members, who were ultimately paraded in front of crowds, tied to stakes and burned alive. Their land and personal possessions were then divvied up by the church and crown.
On the second Monday of October each year, Native Americans cringe at the thought of honoring a man who committed atrocities against Indigenous Peoples.
Columbus Never Landed on American Soil
Not in 1492, Not Ever. Columbus didn’t land on the higher 48—ever. Columbus quite literally landed in what is now known as the Bahamas and later Hispaniola, present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
The natives living on the island that would come to be called Hispaniola were peaceful and not trained in military tactics. In the Pre-Columbian era, other Caribbean tribes would sometimes attack the island to kidnap people into slavery. However when Columbus arrived in 1492, slavery on the island turned into a major business: colonists quickly began establishing sugar plantations dependent on slave labor. The practice of slavery was so devastating to the native population that the Spanish began importing African slaves. In the Spanish New World colonies would become so large scale in Spain's colonization of the Americas that imports of African slaves outnumbered Spanish immigration to the New World by the end of the 1500s.
When Columbus arrived in what is today Haiti in December 1492 and met the native Taino Arawak people, they were friendly, exchanging gifts with the Spaniards and volunteering their help. When Columbus first saw the Native Arawaks that came to greet him and his crew he spoke with a peaceful and admiring tone.
“They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things… They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
Columbus was already planning to enslave them. He wrote in a letter to Queen Isabella of Spain that the natives were "tractable, and easily led; they could be made to grow crops and build cities".
When Columbus returned to Europe in 1493, 30 of his soldiers stayed to build a fort there called La Navidad. They began stealing from, raping, and enslaving the natives—in some cases they held native women and girls as sex slaves. Finding gold was a chief goal for the Spanish; they quickly forced enslaved natives to work in gold mines, which took a heavy toll in life and health. In addition to gold the slaves mined copper, and they grew crops for the Spaniards. In response to the brutality, the natives fought back. Some Taino escaped into remote parts of the island's mountains and formed communities in hiding as "maroons", who organized attacks against Spaniards' settlements. the Spanish responded to the native resistance with severe reprisals, for example destroying crops to starve the natives. The Spaniards brought to the island dogs trained to kill the natives and unleashed them upon those who rebelled against enslavement. In 1495 Columbus sent 500 captured natives back to Spain as slaves, but 200 did not survive the voyage, and the others died shortly afterwards. In the late 1490s he planned to send 4000 slaves back to Spain each year, but this expectation failed to take into account the rapid decline the native population would soon suffer and was never achieved.
It is not known how many Taino people were on the island prior to Columbus's arrival—estimates range from several thousand to eight million—but overwork in slavery and diseases introduced by the Europeans quickly killed a large part of the population. Between 1492 and 1494, one third of the native population on the island died. Two million had been killed within ten years of the Spaniards' arrival, and by 1514, 92% of the native population of the island were killed by enslavement and European diseases. By the 1540s the culture of the natives had disappeared from the island, and by 1548 the native population was under 500.
The rapid rate at which the native slaves died necessitated the import of Africans, for whom contact with Europeans was not new and who therefore had already developed some immunity to European diseases. Columbus's son Diego Columbus started the African slave trade to the island in 1505. Some newly arrived slaves from Africa and neighboring islands were able to escape and join maroon communities in the mountains. In 1519 Africans and Natives joined forces to start a slave rebellion that turned into a years-long uprising which was eventually crushed by the Spanish in the 1530s.
Spanish missionary Bartolomé de las Casas spoke out against the enslavement of the natives and the brutality of the Spaniards. He wrote that to the natives, the Christianity brought by the Spaniards had come to symbolize the brutality with which they had been treated; he quoted one Taino cacique (tribal chief), "They tell us, these tyrants, that they adore a God of peace and equality, and yet they usurp our land and make us their slaves. They speak to us of an immortal soul and of their eternal rewards and punishments, and yet they rob our belongings, seduce our women, violate our daughters."
Las Casas commented that the Spaniards' punishment of a Taino man by cutting off his ear "marked the beginning of the spilling of blood, later to become a river of blood, first on this island and then in every corner of these Indies." Las Casas' campaign led to an official end of the enslavement of Tainos in 1542—however it was replaced by the African slave trade. As Las Casas had presaged, the Spaniards' treatment of the Tainos was the start of a centuries-long legacy of slavery in which abuse such as amputating body parts was commonplace.
President Obama gave a remarkable eulogy which honored not only Pastor Pinchney, but the other eight killed along side him in his church. President touches on gun violence, history and many of the important issues of the day.
President Obama delivered the following eulogy at the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney at the College of Charleston’s campus.
OBAMA: Giving all praise and honor to God.
The Bible calls us to hope, to persevere and have faith in things not seen. They were still living by faith when they died, the scripture tells us.
They did not receive the things promised. They only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.
We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead off in the distance, a man of service, who persevered knowing full-well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed, to Jennifer, his beloved wife, Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters, to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina.
I cannot claim to have had the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well, but I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina back when we were both a little bit younger…
… back when I didn’t have visible gray hair.
The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor, all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.
Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived, that even from a young age, folks knew he was special, anointed. He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful, a family of preachers who spread God’s words, a family of protesters who so changed to expand voting rights and desegregate the South.
Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching. He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth nor youth’s insecurities. Instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith and purity.
As a senator, he represented a sprawling swathe of low country, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America, a place still racked by poverty and inadequate schools, a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment — a place that needed somebody like Clem.
His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long. His calls for greater equity were too-often unheeded. The votes he cast were sometimes lonely.
But he never gave up. He stayed true to his convictions. He would not grow discouraged. After a full day at the Capitol, he’d climb into his car and head to the church to draw sustenance from his family, from his ministry, from the community that loved and needed him. There, he would fortify his faith and imagine what might be.
Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean nor small. He conducted himself quietly and kindly and diligently. He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen. He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.
No wonder one of his Senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as “the most gentle of the 46 of us, the best of the 46 of us.”
Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant. But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of AME Church.
As our brothers and sisters in the AME Church, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation but the life and community in which our congregation resides.”
He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words, that the sweet hour of prayer actually lasts the whole week long, that to put our faith in action is more than just individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation, that to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.
What a good man. Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized, after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say somebody was a good man.
You don’t have to be of high distinction to be a good man.
Preacher by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23. What a life Clementa Pinckney lived. What an example he set. What a model for his faith.
And then to lose him at 41, slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God — Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.
Good people. Decent people. God-fearing people.
People so full of life and so full of kindness, people who ran the race, who persevered, people of great faith.
To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief. Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church.
The church is and always has been the center of African American life…
… a place to call our own in a too-often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.
Over the course of centuries, black churches served as hush harbors, where slaves could worship in safety, praise houses, where their free descendants could gather and shout “Hallelujah…”
… rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad, bunkers for the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement.
They have been and continue to community centers, where we organize for jobs and justice, places of scholarship and network, places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harms way and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter.
That’s what happens in church. That’s what the black church means — our beating heart, the place where our dignity as a people in inviolate.
There’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel, a church…
… a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founders sought to end slavery only to rise up again, a phoenix from these ashes. (APPLAUSE)
When there were laws banning all-black church gatherers, services happened here anyway in defiance of unjust laws. When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.
A sacred place, this church, not just for blacks, not just for Christians but for every American who cares about the steady expansion…
… of human rights and human dignity in this country, a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.
That’s what the church meant.
We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history, but he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act. It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…
… an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.
Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.
God has different ideas.
He didn’t know he was being used by God.
Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer would not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group, the light of love that shown as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.
The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.
The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley, how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond not merely with revulsion at his evil acts, but with (inaudible) generosity. And more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life. Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.
This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.
The grace of the families who lost loved ones; the grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons; the grace described in one of my favorite hymnals, the one we all know — Amazing Grace.
How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God.
As manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace — as a nation out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.
He’s given us the chance where we’ve been lost to find out best selves. We may not have earned this grace with our rancor and complacency and short-sightedness and fear of each other, but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace.
But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.
For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred into many of our citizens.
It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise…
… as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.
For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression…
… and racial subjugation.
We see that now.
Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.
The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.
It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.
It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.
By taking down that flag, we express adds grace God’s grace.
But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.
For too long, we’ve been blind to be way past injustices continue to shape the present.
Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty…
… or attend dilapidated schools or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.
Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.
Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal-justice system and lead us to make sure that that system’s not infected with bias.
… that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement…
… and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.
Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal…
… so that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote…
… by recognizing our common humanity, by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin…
… or the station into which they were born and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American. By doing that, we express God’s grace.
For too long…
For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.
Sporadically, our eyes are open when eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day…
… the countless more whose lives are forever changed, the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happening to some other place.
The vast majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners want to do something about this. We see that now.
And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.
We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it.
But God gives it to us anyway.
And we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.
None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says, “We have to have a conversation about race.” We talk a lot about race.
There’s no shortcut. We don’t need more talk.
None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy.
It will not. People of good will will continue to debate the merits of various policies as our democracy requires — the big, raucous place, America is. And there are good people on both sides of these debates.
Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.
Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.
To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.
Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”
What is true in the south is true for America. Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other; that my liberty depends on you being free, too.
That — that history can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.
That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”
That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible.
If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.
… how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now, I see.
Clementa Pinckney found that grace…
… Cynthia Hurd found that grace…
… Susie Jackson found that grace…
… Ethel Lance found that grace…
… DePayne Middleton Doctor found that grace…
… Tywanza Sanders found that grace…
… Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace…
(APPLAUSE) … Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace…
… Myra Thompson found that grace…
… through the example of their lives. They’ve now passed it onto us. May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift as long as our lives endure.
May grace now lead them home. May God continue to shed His Grace on the United States of America.