By Barney Blakeney
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
I was watching an evening news broadcast about the August 24 groundbreaking ceremony for the new Charleston fire station #11 at 1835 Savannah Highway adjacent to the Charleston 9 Memorial Park when I heard something that made me stop in my tracks.
A lady being interviewed said the new station was being constructed on “sacred ground” and compared the June 2007 Charleston 9 deaths to the June 17, 2015 nine murders at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
I was immediately taken aback at the statement. Beyond the fact that nine people died in each incident, I can’t see any comparison.
I sensed that the lady was a nice person who meant well, but for me, her analogy offered some insight into how different people can perceive things so differently and how the murders of the Emanuel 9 has been co-opted to vindicate all kinds of stuff.
The deaths of those nine brave souls at the Sofa Super Store, like the Emanuel 9 murders was tragic. A lot of things went wrong to result in the deaths of both incident victims. I had personal relationships with victims in each incident. I went through school with firefighter James Earl Drayton and I used to tease Mrs. Ethel Lance who once on Saturday got me out of bed to get the papers for her church’s weekly distribution to the Emanuel congregation.
For the survivors of the victims of those tragedies, I know their reflections go much deeper. And I’m sure that lady interviewed at the fire station groundbreaking ceremony has some personal reflections as well. Still I felt annoyed by her analogy.
I don’t think white folks get it. The deaths of Earl and his fellow firefighters were the result of mistakes that had tragic consequences.
The Emanuel 9 murders were a racist act of violence perpetrated by a very sick young man, a hate-filled manifestation of the continuing dehumanization of Black people in this country. Despite being distraught by the reality of what brought Dylann Roof to Emanuel that night, locked and loaded to kill in what’s been described as one of the most horrific displays of slaughter ever witnessed in Charleston, everything has gone right back to business as usual.
White folks sent a lot of flowers and money to the church after the Emanuel murders and Gov. Nikki Haley led the effort to remove the Confederate Flag from the Statehouse grounds. But unlike in the deaths of the Charleston 9 where efforts were immediately undertaken to fix the problems that led to those firefighters’ deaths, far fewer such efforts are underway to fix the problems that led to the Emanuel 9 deaths.
In my view, there’s seems to be a resurgence to strengthen and undergird systems that perpetuate the victimization Dylann Roof and others epitomize.
In our community where construction cranes protrude among skylines giving evidence of our robust economy, according to the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston report titled “The State of Racial Disparities in Charleston County, South Carolina 2000-2015”, the median income of Black residents is less than half that of white residents. The unemployment rate for Blacks in the county doubles that of whites. In 2015 about 47 percent of white families were homeowners compared to only about 12 percent of Black families.
And in education, although Charleston County residents generally have a higher level of education achievement compared to other counties in the state, that distinction stops at the color line. While white students graduate high school at a rate of about 90 percent, Black students graduate at only about 75 percent.
Among residents 25 years and older, in 2008 about 6,000 Blacks had attained a Bachelor’s Degree or higher compared to about 74,000 white residents who have attained a Bachelor’s Degree or higher.
A component of the report is a section on Crime and Policing. The report notes racial disparities in employment.
In North Charleston, which has a population of about 100,000, about 47 percent of residents are Black.
Of the approximately 340 sworn officers in the police Department, 62 are Black. Eighty percent of North Charleston’s police officers are white. And in Charleston County where about one-third of the population of some 350,000 residents is Black, of the approximately 250 sworn officers with the sheriff’s office, about 27 are Black, the report said.
Data on racial profiling and excessive use of force span multiple years and reflects a police culture that disproportionately harms the Black community in North Charleston, the report said. The shooting death of Walter Scott at the hands of North Charleston police should not be perceived as an isolated incident, but rather recognized as an outcome of a policing culture resulting from decades of police violence and unlawful policing practices it continued.
Recently I read a letter to the editor in the local daily paper where the writer took frequent contributor Rev. Joseph Darby to task over some opinions about race and racism in our community.
I try to respect people’s different views, but I have a very low tolerance for unwillingness to gain understanding of those differences.
I get it that people have different beliefs, but some things ain’t about respective beliefs. Some things are facts.
And the fact of the matter is there are no comparisons between the tragic deaths of nine heroic firefighters and the intentional slaughter of nine Black people in a church.