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Politics & Policy

Awaiting the Politicization of Horrorific Murders


The FBI is confirming that a 21-year-old man named Dylann Roof, who has been arrested twice as an adult and God only knows how many times as a juvenile, is the chief suspect is the despicable mass murder of Charleston church goers last night. Nine people are said to be dead, and at least one person is reporting that Root uttered vile, racist sentiments as he (allegedly) murdered innocent, defenseless people.

Early reports are often wrong. It may even be the case that the FBI has identified the wrong man (remember Richard Jewell and the Atlanta bombing).

The heinousness of a person who can sit for an hour studying the Bible and then open fire is unfathomable. It is also depressing to reflect that this atrocity will doubtless be used in the coming months to further a Democratic strategy — namely, to defame Republicans and suggest, sometimes subtly and sometimes explicitly, that members of the conservative party are indifferent to or complicit in such crimes, while Democrats are compassionate, decent people.

Democrats have often used attacks on African Americans not just as opportunities to express their horror at racism or violence, but also to imply that Republicans secretly approve of racism. Al Gore did this in 2000.

While George W. Bush was governor of Texas, a terrible lynching took place.

Here’s how I related the episode in 2004:

Three white ex-cons with ties to a KKK spin-off group had beaten [James Byrd] and then dragged him behind their truck until he died and his body became dismembered. The crime outraged the Texas community of Jasper, which was 30 percent black. An interracial crowd of more than 800 showed up at the church for Byrd’s funeral, including U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. Flags flew at half-staff, and residents drove with their lights on to express grief and solidarity with Byrd’s family.

In due course, all three suspects were tried and convicted. Two were sentenced to the electric chair, one to life imprisonment. The response of the community was everything it should have been and stood in sharp contrast with the indifference or even malicious approval that might have greeted such a crime in 1940.

But in 2000, to support Al Gore’s campaign, the NAACP ran ads featuring the voice of Renee Mullins, James Byrd’s daughter. Here is the text of one ad:

I’m Renee Mullins, James Byrd’s daughter.

On June 7, 1998, in Texas my father was killed. He was beaten, chained, and then dragged three miles to his death, all because he was black.

So when Governor George W. Bush refused to support hate crime legislation, it was like my father was killed all over again.

Call Governor George W. Bush and tell him to support hate crime legislation.

We won’t be dragged away from our future.

Actually, Texas already had a hate-crime statute on the books — though it’s hard to see how adding another clause to the existing law could have made the penalties much harsher for the murderers of Mr. Byrd. Death is death. The point of the ad was not to argue the merits or demerits of hate crime laws, it was to reach down into voters’ psyches and squeeze the chords of resentment and rage.

Hillary Clinton has already dealt this card with her announcement speech urging that Republicans are trying to prevent African Americans from voting. I very much fear that in short order, last night’s horrible massacre in Charleston will be deployed for the lowest kind of divisive politics.


Some people, determined to see bad faith in those with whom they disagree, are seizing upon my post earlier today in which I said:  The heinousness of a person who can sit for an hour studying the Bible and then open fire is unfathomable. Even more depressing, if that’s possible, is my suspicion – and I truly hope I’m wrong – that this event will play a role in the 2016 presidential campaign.   Am I someone who’s more upset about politics than murder, hatred, and death? Um, no. I should have put it more precisely. The feelings of grief, rage, and horror at an atrocity such as we saw last night should be taken for granted among all civilized people. One doesn’t feel “depressed” about an event like a mass shooting. One does get depressed at the cynical uses to which such outrages have lately been put. 

SECOND UPDATE: The response to these posts is evidence of the hyper-aggressive, unreflective, self-righteous, and ignorant tone of internet commentary these days. People who have never read my work — wouldn’t want to trouble them to do due diligence before assembling the hate squad — have tweeted their disgust and preened their superiority over some woman who said “even more depressing” after mentioning the vicious attack at the Charleston church. I won’t defend myself anymore. It feels too much like the Chinese Cultural Revolution in which teachers were forced to hang signs around their necks saying things like “Running Dog of American Capitalism” and forced to apologize to their students who looked on and jeered. If you want to be fair-minded, you can find  millions of words on the Internet written by me on racial subjects. I may have misplaced a comma from time to time, but I’m proud of all of it. As for those who can’t be bothered to study the facts, you are dragging our country into a dark place.


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