Charleston’s ‘hard truths’

Charleston’s ‘hard truths’ June 21, 2015

After nearly four days of coverage, reaction and rebuttal about the why behind the Charleston Church shooting, I’m sure I, like many of you, remain devastated, saddened and heartbroken. Processing my own feelings, however, I also found a part of myself tempted to ignore the news, look at my Facebook feed less, and resume normal day-to-day activities without giving the tragedy another thought. I understand this may run counter to what I should say, but after the Sandy Hook school shooting and the failure of our elected leaders to make any significant changes regarding gun control, I feel angry and a bit lost. Adding this shooting in Charleston to a pile 43 incidents high where 195 people have been slain in the past 17 months alone, not to mention the frequent killings of Black Americans across the country, forces me to question our capacity to make change.

President Obama remarks about the Charleston Church Shooting.
President Obama remarks about the Charleston Church Shooting.

Would calling my legislators really make a difference? Would praying more for peace turn the tide? I recognize doubt and helplessness as a drain unhelpful in these circumstances. But what does victory look like? And why aren’t we taking steps to immediately reach this goal? Is it outright removing all personal firearms? Is it banning ammunition? Does the country need permanent and recurring background checks, and more regulation with mental health officials? Must all gun sales require rigorous screening and federal paperwork? And how do we balance all of this with the recognition that not all firearms would or could be removed?

President Obama, through this POTUS Twitter Feed wrote Saturday, “Here are the stats: Per population, we kill each other with guns at a rate 297x more than Japan, 49x more than France, 33x more than Israel.” 

I appreciate the President’s actions he took back in 2013, signing 23 executive orders to reduce firearms incidents. In addition, I appreciate former Sec. Clinton words last week when she asked America to face hard truths about this violence and racism, questioning how many lives must be lost before we act. But far more needs to be done than words alone.

“There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship,” President Obama said Thursday. He later added, “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.” (Watch the President’s 7-minute talk here.)

Perhaps the only words that made me feel better so far in response this heartbreaking violence came from our liberal icon, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show, and out of respect for his spot on monologue Thursday, I’ve copied his transcript to his post. If you haven’t yet seen the video, watch it here.

I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist. And I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack s—. Yeah. That’s us.

And that’s the part that blows my mind. I don’t want to get into the political argument of the guns and things. But what blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think people that are foreign are going to kill us, and us killing ourselves.

If this had been what we thought was Islamic terrorism, it would fit into our — we invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives and now fly unmanned death machines over five or six different countries, all to keep Americans safe. We got to do whatever we can. We’ll torture people. We gotta do whatever we can to keep Americans safe.

Nine people shot in a church. What about that? “Hey, what are you gonna do? Crazy is as crazy is, right?” That’s the part that I cannot, for the life of me, wrap my head around, and you know it. You know that it’s going to go down the same path. “This is a terrible tragedy.” They’re already using the nuanced language of lack of effort for this. This is a terrorist attack. This is a violent attack on the Emanuel Church in South Carolina, which is a symbol for the black community. It has stood in that part of Charleston for 100 and some years and has been attacked viciously many times, as many black churches have.

I heard someone on the news say “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was a racist. This was a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater. You know, so the idea that — you know, I hate to even use this pun, but this one is black and white. There’s no nuance here.

And we’re going to keep pretending like, “I don’t get it. What happened? This one guy lost his mind.” But we are steeped in that culture in this country and we refuse to recognize it, and I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it. In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate generals who fought to keep black people from being able to drive freely on that road. That’s insanity. That’s racial wallpaper. That’s — that’s — you can’t allow that, you know.

Nine people were shot in a black church by a white guy who hated them, who wanted to start some kind of civil war. The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him. We’re bringing it on ourselves. And that’s the thing. Al-Qaeda, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not s— compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis.

I won’t stop praying for peace. I won’t stop talking about how half the country wants more restrictive gun control. I won’t stop talking about how Sandy Hook and Emanuel AME Church shootings were not inevitable, but preventable. This is yet another reason why I’m a Democrat. We, as a nation, can’t lie down nor stop fighting for peace.

Joseph Gidjunis is the former Director of the Young Democrats of America Faith & Values Initiative and an award-winning photojournalist who owns JPG Photography in Philadelphia. He serves as a remote fellow for Eleison. He is married with two wonderful dogs.


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