Monday, June 22, 2015

Of Southern Churches and the Disenfranchised

On the day Dylann Storm Roof was arrested, CBS broadcast its evening news program from the streets of Charleston, South Carolina.  News anchor Scott Pelly stood across the street from the historic church in which nine people were murdered.  In the stories that followed, the news crew interviewed survivors and the families of those that had been murdered.

I'm old enough to remember the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.  As reminiscent of that time as the contemporary scene is, there is a stark difference. The people being interviewed were not the Southern blacks of the 1960s who lived in shanties, didn't own shoes and were poorly educated. These were the modern middle-class blacks who are well-educated, well-dressed, articulate members of their community.  Equal opportunity for education and jobs has helped two generations of black Americans achieve middle class status. 

Yet, the events of the 1960s still resonate today.  The evening news closed with a recording of Martin Luther King’s speech following the death of 4 young black girls in an Alabama church in 1963.

“They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.”
Victims of Alabama church bombing in 1963

I was reminded of the French expression “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”.   (The more things change, the more they remain the same.)

We are being subjected to myriad explanations of why this has happened and how to fix it.  Personally, I don’t buy any of the simplistic solutions I have heard.  On guns, for example, neither gun control nor more citizens carrying guns would have prevented this tragedy.  Advocates of gun control should remember that the Alabama church was bombed in 1963.  There were no guns involved.  Those who think the solution is more people carrying guns should recall that President Reagan was shot while surrounded by the best trained body guards in the world, the U.S. Secret Service. 

Dylann Storm Roof was disaffected and felt disenfranchised.  His like have taken their revenge in movie theaters, at political gatherings, on campuses and in our public schools. Where the disenfranchised find like-minded people, they sometimes become organized. The white supremacist movement took shape in the form of the Ku Klux Klan.  When the majority feels disenfranchised, an entire nation can organize around those emotions as happened in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. ISIS is a contemporary example in the Middle East. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports 935 hate groups in the US, up from 888 when America’s first black president was inaugurated.

I don't know how to stop it. I don't know what should be done. I am hopeful that a more egalitarian generation of Americans – Millennials -- will find solutions.

Are you up to the challenge?  If you are, you have my blessing. You have my support.  How can I help?



  1. I’m surprised at your comment about how more gun control would not have prevented this tragedy. Couldn’t agree more. However, an armed citizen in the church might very well have prevented the amount of murders if not all of them. Like the recent attack in Canada. Or the thousands (yes thousands although some studies say millions) of incidents a year that go unmentioned by the media where armed law abiding people prevented what was at best an uninvited intrusion into their normal lives for malicious purposes and at worst a murder. Of course, we’ll never know as the crime was indeed prevented.

    And when all the guns are taken away by law and perhaps even confiscation we can rest assured that the criminal will still get them and prey on the now defenseless law abiding citizen.

    When seconds count the police are minutes away.

    1. The blog post attempts to make a larger point about society. Since I started writing, I have become accustomed to readers picking out one sentence they disagree with and responding only to that.

      Setting aside the veracity of your analysis for the moment, I wonder why anyone would think it desirable to live in a society where one must bring a gun to church to feel safe. I also wonder if you wouldn’t be better served if you endeavored to absorb some information that is not the product of FOX News (the veracity of which I would also question.)

      IA common slogan of gun rights advocates should be changed to “guns don’t kill people; people with guns kill people”. Take away the guns and it’s harder to kill people. In the aggregate, we have higher murder rates than the rest of the industrialized world with the exception of Mexico. Again, take away the guns and the problem gets smaller.

      I would also point out that anyone who reads Article 29 of the Articles of Confederation would understand that the intent of the Second Amendment was to allow states to arm militias not for individuals to bear arms.

      I don’t expect you to change your views. The FOX News crowd never does.

    2. I am a devout atheist, but I was just about to rush to reply and oppose the need to take a gun to church when I paused and read John's reply.

      It boggles my mind why anyone would think guns in churches were a good idea, and to cap that, why anyone would watch FOX news? The only good thing about that channel is American Idol and Jennifer Lopez. I wish it would go the way of Al Jazeera!

      Well said John.

  2. Well written, John.

  3. Heavy stuff John. I hope you and others can fashion the beginnings of “a solution”.

    I hope you and your family are well.


  4. Very quick and cogent response. Impressive.

  5. Fernando Antolín Cabezas
    Good article John. In times like these, cool minded approaches are needed.

  6. We don't have legal handguns and we have hardly any gun crime. There are still people who hate and kill, but usually on a smaller scale. I don't think the picture we have of the USA is correct, but what is represented is a nation of trigger happy white men. Something has given rise to that picture.

  7. Richard Morris
    So the solution is to do nothing except wring our hands? All solutions to fraught problems are incremental, and often jerky-jerky.

    1. Well said, Richard. I haven't said, "do nothing". I have said I don't know what to do. I think you're right that "all solutions to fraught problems are incremental..." Hence my suggestion that it may be too late for my generation but not for Millennials.

    2. Richard Morris
      Actually, given recent developments in politics and demographics I'm tentatively modifying my basic cynicism. As you point out, John, the young part of the polity seems to be getting this pesky personal freedom thing more and more right. Our part still seems to have a death grip on the concept that we have the right to order other peoples' lives to our satisfaction, but we're dying off.

  8. Shari Cox
    The criteria for making the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of "Hate Groups" may need to be examined. A group can get added to the list for speeches and publishing - actions that are protected under the 1st Amendment. A few are included because they oppose illegal immigration (effectively, they oppose breaking federal law). Many of the groups certainly belong there, but some groups' inclusion may be questionable.

    Regarding the people who belong to the groups that are appropriately classified as Hate Groups: They have the same right to associate with like-minded individuals that we do. They have the right to express those views. Even if their views are misguided.

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  10. Chuck Rosselle
    Disenfranchisement is a growing trend among young men, both white and of color. The Economist recently did a nice job of describing the issues which affect the uneducated; lack of employment opportunities, a diminution of traditional male roles due to increasing financial independence among women and increased competition between young Caucasian males and males of color due to increased mobility and economic globalization.

    This is not a new phenomenon in America. During the early phases of the industrial era the prevailing business practices among early industrialists created a dismal work environment. This situation created its own disenfranchisement. McKinley was assassinated by a disgruntled anarchist.

    While many view the increased involvement of government through the Anti-Trust and work practice regulatory era for changing this environment, the real force for change came from an unlikely source. Henry Ford bucked the conventional reasoning that worker compensation was solely a cost component to be minimized. He determined that he could compete on the basis of superior business practices and pay his workers a living wage so they could "afford to buy the cars they built".

    This is a lesson we have forgotten. We cannot rebuild the outlook for the working middle class until creative and responsible business leaders determine that the disenfranchised represent a wasted opportunity for America.

  11. As a citizen of the American South for the past 35 years, I can tell you that integration works. When you live, work and worship with people of other races, you see past the superficial. My son went to a public school that was only about 50% white. His friends represent the spectrum of global ethnicity and he doesn't view race the way that prior generations did. This change in southern society was on display in Charleston during the rallies that followed the murders.
    So, to John's main point, the incident in Charleston is about disenfranchisement. The perpetrator of the crime in Charleston has psychological issues. I will not underestimate the impact of hate groups and generations of misguided attitudes towards people of color. However, I think we should consider this shooting similar to those in Connecticut and Colorado. The focus after those killings was about the mental condition of the shooter and trying recognize the symptoms of the insanity so that future calamities can be avoided.
    You can take this incident as an opportunity to talk about race, a flag, guns and hate groups. Those are all topics worthy of discussion. But, for me, this is about stopping the next mixed-up kid from doing harm.