Too many pundits and self-acclaimed black leaders have proposed the death penalty as a form of justice for the recent killing in South Carolina. As a firm opponent of the death penalty, I will never advocate capital punishment for anyone no matter the crime committed. I have come to believe that each of us is more than the worst deeds we ever did. However, looking at the current death row population, we find mostly people of color who have committed less heinous crime forever found unfit to be part of the civil society and condemn to be killed by the State on behalf of the majority. Unfortunately capital punishment as a form of justice will not resolve the persistence rising racial tension and violence. The killing in South Carolina is saddening, unfortunately not uncommon. The victims of this atrocity deserve justice, a form of justice not driven by political rhetoric, media sensualization, fear, anger or retaliation, but by acknowledgement, mercy and grace; the one, that America still owes to blacks.
A Culture of Deniability
In times of atrocity, America weeps together. The shared brokenness connect us. For one second, one long second, the corridor of race and ethnicity disappear. Unfortunately, those few days of sorrow and resiliency are not a reflection of the reality. Race is always a factor in America’s way of life, unfortunately, denials have too long been the preferred method of dealing with it.
Undeniably, much progress has occurred over the last few decades. “The humiliations of Whites Only signs are gone. Rates of black poverty have decreased. Black teen-pregnancy rates are at record lows and the gap between black and white teen-pregnancy rates has shrunk significantly” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates. However, the legacy of legalized terror still endure. The continuous income gaps, high level of unemployment, mass-incarceration, police brutality, the enduring segregation in the school system, the lack of safety net among many blacks are also a product and reminder of the legalized terror that governed this country for centuries. Misguided drugs policies and inhumane laws focused more on punishment than rehabilitation now forever deprives certain blacks in certain States from participating to our civil society and fulfilling their civic duty.
There is a persistence absence of effort to discuss, recognize and address the harms of the past. In history books, too many pages and lines are forgotten. On one side, the majority is inculcated with dumbfounded notions of American Exceptionalism or Amerikanism and racial superiority. On the other, the history of blacks is pervasively presented as passive, and not an active contributor to this nation progress. Moreover, as seen with the hanging of the Confederate Flag at the State House in South Carolina, it is a history that partly teaches us to lionize and glorify leaders who epitomize the most horrific aspect of our existence and glamorize symbols of hate and bigotry.
In reality, the present reciting of history is not rooted in the quest for justice and truth. It is only deprives us of peace and reconciliation. The continuous presentation of black history in a passive and reactionary manner only perpetuates the notion of racial superiority. Too many people blatantly or subtly express some of the same ideological beliefs as Dylann Roof. The current situation does justice to no-one. Racial violence can be mitigated, but it will require acknowledging and discussing the past of this nation. One can then hope that a change in belief or mentality will be followed by a corresponding change in behavior.
A Quest for Peace
The election of Barack Obama was clearly a sign of progress, but the legacy of “two hundred fifty years of slavery, ninety years of Jim Crow, sixty years of separate but equal, thirty-five years of racist housing policy” won’t be eradicated by sensualization, capital punishment or political rhetoric. ” In too many places, the opposite of poverty not wealth, but justice” as would say Bryan Stevenson. What leads someone to snap and commit such unbearable atrocities is out of my speculation, but the legacy of legalized terror certainly contribute to it. I am in no place to decide the fate of Dylan Roof, but this atrocity at a symbolic place can help us realize the necessity to address the legacy of legalized terror that built this nation and continue to build it.
“Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole”writes Ta-Nehisi. In time of trouble, a nation guided properly can also reconnect with his past. Political rhetorical and shared brokenness won’t resolve our long term problem. For too long,the indifference and lack of acknowledgment of the many have done no justice. America has a long way to go to resolve the shadow of racial superiority. Ultimately, as says Bryan Stevenson, “we judge the character of a society, not by how they treat their rich and the powerful and the privileged, but by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated” and the oppressed.