The Massacre in South Carolina

It was a very long ride to San Diego and back to read at the Upstart Crow to a crowd of about 20 people, a couple of whom seemed to appreciate the rare chance to hear a poet from Los Angeles. Linda wanted to come along and so we couldn’t leave until after she got back from a medical appointment. Traffic by mid-afternoon made the trip down a five and a half hour haul. Nighttime freeway repair work reduced the northbound return trip to two lanes for 10 plus miles just south of San Clemente. It was past 11 p.m. by the time we got back home. I still miss Cordelia.

The news on the radio last night of a massacre in an African-American church in South Carolina by a young white man was extraordinarily disturbing. This morning I have read reports that a Facebook picture of the accused, who is now in custody, shows him wearing a jacket with patches depicting the flags of a pair of African countries when white supremacy was the rule of law in those outlaw nations. That the Confederate flag still flies above the state capitol building of South Carolina hardly seems to be a coincidence.

The time has come for someone to speak up about a larger context in which much of the recent violence against African-Americans, by both uniformed police officers as well as civilian vigilantes, is happening. To be blunt, one has to wonder how often the young man accused of this massacre heard his family, his neighbors, and friends speak of President Obama during the past six years in a manner that would suggest their preference for his assassination. It is well known that during the first two years of his first term of office, President Obama received a very high volume of intimidating threats. My guess is that the quantity of these threats delivered directly to the White House has decreased since his re-election, but that the volume of intensity felt by those who made those threats has only been amplified; and since they cannot get to their primary target, these individuals have decided to begin going after those who are vulnerable, including those at a prayer service on a Wednesday evening. To view the accused young man as an isolated individual is to miscalculate the impact of ordinary, daily conversations between those who share a festering hatred of empowered social heterogeneity. Ideological advertising is most effective when it recoils through the casual comments of those who feel dispossessed of their status as superior people.

The slaughter in South Carolina certainly brings to mind other utterly dismaying episodes of American psychosis: a young man going into a movie theater in Colorado and murdering complete strangers is an horrific event, as is the murder of a classroom of very young children and their teacher in Connecticut. The church where the massacre yesterday took place, however, is not an ahistorical space. Its original congregation goes back to the final decades of slavery in the United States. The murdered individuals included this church’s pastor, who was also an elected politician. This attack, therefore, must be categorized as part of an ongoing attempt by a significant racist faction in the United States to squelch the aspirations of African-Americans to live as equal citizens in this country. Those who are responsible for punishing the perpetrator of yesterday’s mass murder must realize that justice will not be done until all those who indirectly contributed to the murderer’s motive come forth and admit their complicity. The question is: what would constitute redemptive repentance?

POST-SCRIPT: You can find the website of the church at which this attack occurred at:

Reverend Honorable Clementa C. Pinckney (July 30, 1973-June 17, 2015)

State Senator, South Carolina, and Senior Pastor, Mother Emanuel A.M.E. (Charleston, South Carolina

You can also hear the poetic voice of one of Tywanza Sanders, who has been identified as one of the people executed in this heinous hate crime, at:

“What’s Wrong with Just Being Black?”