The following does not fit with any topics I usually discuss here, except maybe “writing in general”: As a writer, it’s my duty to use words to make sense of the senseless. So for my peace of mind and for anyone else who happens by—
Please don’t misread: I am NOT saying that one crime is worse than another. Families shot at a block party, women shot in a gym, and, certainly, children shot while they attend school—all are heinous and heartbreaking crimes. But honesty compels me to admit that, regarding some of them, I’ve learned to take refuge in comforting excuses. Only a sicko would fire upon children! Only fanatics would shoot a doctor at prayer, or dozens of teens at summer camp, or peaceful citizens at a Unitarian Church.
Something is blatantly wrong with those people. Their attitudes are certifiably outside the norm of human behavior. Psychological science might even develop a test to find and treat this illness…
These comforting excuses allow me to distance myself from such crimes. To shield myself from the pain forced upon victims’ families and witnesses. Yes, bona fide mental illness is often involved. Still, the idea of illness as a cause for crime becomes a refuge, even a delusion, that grants me a false sense of personal safety.
Avoid crazy people, and all will be fine. Sickos aren’t that hard to spot. They can be locked away.
Those comforts fail me when I hear about the attack at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It is tempting to call the blatant racism behind this crime “sick.” It might bring some comfort to deem the killer another lunatic, outside the norms of society.
But by all accounts, Dylann Roof made rational choices, acted methodically, considered NOT going through with his plan…and yet elected to kill. He embraced the beliefs of many older (supposedly wiser) people across the nation who’ve shown fear and disgust with the first non-white President of these United States. Never mind that this President was elected twice by large majorities of fellow citizens. Dylann Roof chose hate, and it led him to take the lives of people who, he admitted, had been kind to him.
I find no refuge from this.
True, Roof appears to be a fanatic, not unlike the murderer of Dr. George Tiller in a church in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas, back in 2009. Apparently, Roof convinced himself that black people are “taking over” America. That is strong evidence of delusional thinking, in light of recently publicized police killings of black persons, often unarmed. Not to mention disproportionate incarceration. So indeed, Roof may be mentally unstable.
But for a young person to choose such a warped view of the world, and such a pointed, intentional way to act out his hatred on innocent people…
This one breaks my heart even worse than the others.
The only possible comfort at this moment comes with the news that services went forward at Mother Emanuel yesterday. That thousands turned out on Sunday to march across the Ravenel Bridge, to show support for the victims and families. That survivors have declared, “Hate will not win,” amid their choice of forgiveness. These responses bring a glimmer of hope that outrage at this crime may strengthen the quest to overcome the gaping wounds of racism and gun violence in America.
Hope—your name is one with these good Christians who lost their lives: Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Susie Jackson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney and Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr.
Broken or not, my heart goes out to their friends and families.