The last week has been difficult for a lot of people, for me on both a personal and professional level. Professionally, I expected; I was off for a week and a half, and while my team members did what they could, they had their own files to deal with. Long days, short nights. I left work at 6:30 on Thursday evening, and back by 6:45 the next morning. I left yesterday around 5:30 – I clocked out before that, just had a brief conversation before I left. It was a rough day for most of us; we were just a bit burnt out. My other team members, with several files, have been working ridiculous hours for weeks. I had, too, but like I said, I had a week and a half off. Helps. There’s a lot to do, and this time of year that’s typical in my line of work, but that doesn’t make it easier.
That’s not the only reason I effectively isolated myself yesterday. Other than live-tweeting during last night’s Orphan Black season finale, I pretty much avoided social networking. And the news.
Wednesday, June 17, nine members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC, were murdered. A place that is supposed to be a sanctuary, a place of peace, was forever changed. The assailant* joined church members during a prayer meeting, and opened fire. Dating from 1816, almost 50 years before the end of the Civil War, Emanuel AME church got its start when Morris Brown and thousands of other black people left the Methodist Episcopal church due to their discriminatory policies. A few years later, Denmark Vessey – who you should be hearing about as part of American history, and not only in February† – another founder, was executed for fomenting a slave rebellion in 1822. Charleston outlawed all-black churches in 1834; it had been illegal to teach slaves to write since 1740, and schools where slaves, freemen and mulattoes could learn to read or write were outlawed in 1819. If you keep them separate and ignorant, it’s easier to keep them in line. The church still met, and remained underground until 1865, when they could once again meet openly.
Churches have historically been involved in some degree in political change. It was one place where people of a similar mind would gather on a regular basis; easiest way to get a message out. That remains the case even now. How politically involved churches should be is a discussion for another time. The fact remains that Charleston made an effort to keep a people down by passing laws making it even harder for them to congregate without white supervision. Pretty common tactic for a group in power to use to keep that power; it’s certainly not unique to the US.
The assailant was aware, at least peripherally, of this history; he reacted from a place of fear. In his mind, the way to keep things the way he wanted was to eliminate the “enemy.” He was born 100 years too late, perhaps; his reaction wouldn’t have been quite so shocking. Not in a place that had laws increasingly restricting the activities of non-whites. For a non-dictatorship, we do have a pretty good history with suppression and oppression. Again, a topic for another time.
Friday morning, while I was at work, I heard a report of streets being closed. One that was mentioned I assumed was closed due to some construction work that had been going on for a while, now. It wasn’t until later that afternoon, when a friend mentioned it, that I knew why. Officer Sonny Kim responded to a call about a man with a gun behaving erratically. The man in the street shot Officer Kim in the chest, multiple times. Officer Kim was rushed to one of the best hospitals in the country, and yet he lost his life. He was wearing body armor. The shooter* continued to fire, aiming at a parole officer who’d come to help, and another officer, Tom Sandmann, who was able to take him down. The shooter’s family was angry, screaming about police shooting civilians. Perhaps we can understand their initial reaction, but the fact of the matter is the assailant attacked. This was not a case of police brutality. I’ve stayed away from social media because of this. I have friends who span the political spectrum, excluding the most extreme, in either direction. Some will use this to push draconian gun control; others will use this as a response to the recent reports of police overreaction in cases where black civilians are involved.
There are people who were afraid there would be rioting because the cops killed another black man. That reaction of fear and ignorance and intolerance is part of the problem. There are people who want to riot because the cops killed another black man. That reaction of blind anger and fear and ignorance is also part of the problem. Instead of coming together and removing the fear, eliminating the ignorance, these people move ever closer to the edge, further widening the divide that scares them so.
Social media and the ready availability of articles on the internet don’t help, any more than does the 24-hour news cycle. All three of those things have many positives and many negatives. The double-edged sword is the information on all of the above platforms. For the 24-hour news cycle, if there are no viewers, then there’s no news. It’s a ratings game. More people watch when the news is shocking, or supports their greatest fears. A search on the internet will allow just about anyone to find at least one other kindred spirit, no matter how unpopular a particular view may be. It provides many different articles and blogs from news organizations and people who use only research that supports their views, regardless of the accuracy or reliability of the source. Social media has proven to be an effective way to disseminate all of this information, for good or ill.
For now, this continues to divide us. Those who attempt to do the research get ignored; those who can find the most extreme, most shocking, and most plausible for the intended audience get shared. It’s easier to believe the worst of someone who isn’t you, than to make the effort to discover the truth. We’re all guilty. I make an effort not to do that, but I have my own biases. If there’s something really major, I prefer to go to BBC and Al Jazeera for the news report, just because I believe they’re less likely to be going for readers as aggressively as pretty much any US news source. NPR is usually more objective, although some believe it’s a leftist propaganda factory.
Instead of focusing on the death of an officer in the line of duty, on Officer Kim’s wife and sons who are now without him, on the other Cincinnati Police Department employees who’ve lost a brother, instead of considering the assailant’s family, who have their own questions and losses to deal with, this will be politicized. Nothing will change, beyond some overreaction somewhere that may or may not become law, depending on how much fear legislators wish to encourage.
The truly sad thing is the overreaction response isn’t new, by any stretch; it just happens more quickly.
*No, I’m not going to mention him by name. Does it make a difference? It does to me.
†Blacks did not become a part of American history only in February. The idea of Black History Month was to remind people of that very thing. In a perfect world, it wouldn’t be needed; black history, women’s history, hispanic history, these would be part of the curriculum throughout the year, not just in their special months. In a perfect world, history books would be written to depict all history, not the history those in charge of approving the texts want to be shared.