1) Eight years ago, a horrific fire became the site of the largest loss of life of American firefighters since the 9/11 attacks. Those firefighters became known as “The Charleston Nine.” Almost to the day eight years later, nine people were gunned down in a historic Charleston, S.C., church. I don’t wish that kind of tragedy upon any area, Charleston or elsewhere.
2) When it comes to black people doing awful things, it is too often distilled down into being something wrong with black people or the “black community” in general. That’s why the discussion quickly turns to “black-on-black” crime even when a cop shoots a black man in the back, and why popular TV hosts like Bill O’Reilly can say he will continue speaking “the truth” about why it’s just human nature for cops to fear black men.
But what we know is that most mass shootings in this country over the past several years have been committed by young white guys — the kind of violence that is the scariest because we don’t have to do anything to become a victim, just be at the wrong place at the wrong time — but that’s never used as an excuse or cited as a reason to deem white guys guilty until they can prove themselves innocent.
Mass shootings are still rare, even after Charleston, but if they are going to occur in the mall, movie theater, school or church you happen to be in, the most likely suspect is not the black guy in the hoodie.
Another big piece of this, which I touched on months ago but was mostly ignored, is that maybe the biggest threat of a particular kind of violence, whether concerning threats to law enforcement or in shootings like Charleston, is neither the Islamic State nor young black “thugs”; it is people on the extreme right wing — something the FBI told us early on in the President Obama era because they saw a real growth in such hate groups and individuals after he was elected. (I also saw an incredible change in the messages I was receiving from readers at about the same time.) That’s not about conservatives or Republicans, but about really dangerous, delusional people who happen to line up on that side of the aisle.
When white so-called sovereign citizens and the like were killing police officers in ambushes like the one in Las Vegas — while the cops were on lunch break — there was no major outcry from the people who would later scream about the New York cops killed by a black guy after protests there.
There is a double standard in how we process fear and crime, and it doesn’t just show up in conversations on Facebook or letters to the editor or nasty comments under just about everything I write. It shows up in the minds of jurors who have to decide the fate of people’s lives, and in schools that are more likely to criminalize behavior if it is committed by a black student than a white one, and in the minds of people making decisions about whom to hire.
Black people haven’t been making these things up, and they keep screaming about it hoping that maybe one day more people will listen and we can finally do something systemic to change that reality.