After even a few minutes walking the historic streets of Charleston, South Carolina, it becomes clear why the city is revered by so many. Charleston’s rich history, world-class culinary offerings, and a community of people recognized as being among the friendliest in the nation, account for its consistent ranking high on the list of vacation destinations for Americans and foreigners alike.
Many Charlestonians refer to their home as the “Holy City” because of the large number of churches -- including some of the oldest in the nation -- within its borders. These all are reasons why the news of the cold-blooded murder of nine members of Emanuel A.M.E. Church in downtown Charleston last week is so difficult to comprehend. Charleston simply is not a place where one expects to find such evil.
Yet, amidst the grief and tragedy, Charleston proved, once again, how special it is. At the bond hearing for the shooter, who had hoped his attack would spark a “race war,” the victims’ families one-by-one addressed the killer -- not with hate or anger, but with a display of genuine love and forgiveness that comes only from a truly “holy” people. In that moment, it became clear Charleston would not descend into the same violence and chaos that manifested itself in Ferguson and Baltimore. Rather, Charleston would present itself as a lesson to the world about the power of love, faith and forgiveness.
If only national politicians had gotten the message.
Less than 24 hours after the shooting, and just minutes after the suspect was arrested, President Obama stood in front of the nation on TV and issued a politically-charged message, blaming guns and America itself for the actions of this young lunatic: “Once again innocent people were killed because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.” Our Gun-Controller in Chief went on to claim that, “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” (which, of course, it does).
Hillary Clinton, not wanting to miss an opportunity to look similarly “presidential,” provided another nonsensical explanation for Dylann Roof’s murderous acts -- blaming “hate speech,” and making the fantastical jump to referencing a recent speech by Donald Trump to support her thesis.
The urge to irrationally blame guns and the Second Amendment for the acts of a deranged 21-year old even manifested itself among some Republicans. Bush-family advisor Karl Rove opined that until someone has the “oomph” (whatever that means) to repeal the Second Amendment, we will continue to witness acts of gun violence.
These political rants represent a problem far beyond merely showing how out of touch Washington elites have become with the world outside the Beltway. When the President of the United States, and another who is a front-runner for the job, stand before the nation issuing the same, tired talking points, and reduce a complex situation to sound bites about “guns” and “negative speech,” any meaningful debate over the true causes of such tragedies is short-circuited. Rather than being offered real options based on sound reasoning, we are offered only a broken record of recycled sound bites that have no legal or factual basis.
Instead of trotting out the same gun control proposals that already have been struck down by the courts – and which consistently have failed to staunch gun violence in cities like Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. – perhaps the Congress and our state legislatures could fund meaningful research into the role mental illness, and the possible impact SSRI drugs play in mass shootings. Or, instead of treading on First Amendment rights by targeting “hate speech” as a cure-all for “racism,” might our political leaders address aspects of our criminal justice system that disproportionally impact minority communities, and work to pass meaningful reforms such as the Smarter Sentencing Act?
Such measures might actually find far more support among the citizens of Charleston and other places outside the Washington Beltway, than Sunday talk-show sound bites or slogans that festoon presidential campaign paraphernalia.
Last Saturday, thousands of people joined hands and walked together across the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston -- demonstrating the city’s solidarity and commitment to peace, rather than showing the world a city using a tragedy as an excuse to vent anger and spew hatred. The citizens of Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland, and especially those who work in Washington, D.C., could learn a lot from the people of Charleston, South Carolina.
Charleston may be geographically in the “Low Country,” but its citizens display far higher values and understanding than do people in many other cities.