By Barney Blakeney
This week the Charleston community observed the fourth anniversary of the June 17 massacre at Emanuel AME Church in which nine people were slaughtered. I find it hard to write about the Emanuel slaughter – it’s a sensitive issue that evokes a lot of different emotions and people most often think with their hearts. That’s not a bad thing, but heartfelt emotions can come from different places and not always good places.
I’m really done with all this outpouring of heartfelt emotions I see coming from my community. The horrific tragedy that is the Emanuel massacre deserves better than our crocodile tears. I’ve been a cop reporter for over four decades. Before that, as a teenager I was an orderly at a local emergency room. I’ve seen human carnage. I didn’t see the aftermath of the Emanuel massacre, but I got the police reports. I can’t imagine what that looked like. I knew some of the victims and hate to visualize what Dylann Roof did to them.
So when I think of that unimaginable sight I get a little peeved at those who exploit it for personal gain. And we’ve got a lot of that going on! It started from day-1 when folks, inside and outside the church, began to realize how lucrative the tragedy would become. The victims of the Emanuel massacre are providing financial, political and social capital for a lot of people. If you want support for your initiative – no matter what that initiative might be – tie it to the Emanuel massacre.
Most of us know that’s what’s happening, but say nothing about it publicly. We talk about the commercialization of the Emanuel massacre among ourselves, but just let it go. There’s a special place in hell for those who capitalize on the massacre of those nine people and the trauma suffered by those who survived it. I see the Almighty at work every day and see how the unjust are brought to suffering. If you think you can do that dirty crap and walk away clean, you’re in for a rude awakening. If you want to honor those victims honor them – they deserve it – but don’t exploit those people. Let them rest.
Since the Emanuel massacre more equality and justice programs and projects have surfaced than Carter’s got liver pills. I ask myself where all this emphasis was before Dylan Roof committed the massacre. The same racism and hatred that existed four weeks before the Emanuel massacre still exists four year after it.
When it comes to honoring people I always think about Martin Luther King Jr.’s admonition that those who wish to honor him continue the work to which he dedicated himself. Our community engages in programs and discussions, but not the work that might prevent atrocities like the Emanuel massacre. Four weeks before the massacre Charleston County Constituent School District 4 in North Charleston had many of the lowest performing schools in the state. Four years after the massacre the S.C. Education Department announced eight of the state’s lowest performing schools are located in Constituent District 4.
June 11 North Charleston police spokesman Spence Pryor reported there have been 10 homicides committed in the city to date this year. There were 35 homicides in the city last year. What does that say about the sincerity of our community about addressing hatred and racism?
Four weeks before the Emanuel massacre, the median income for Blacks in our community was less than half that of whites. Four years after the massacre the median income in the metro Charleston area is about $74,000 annually. The median income for Blacks is about $32,000. In 2017, the median household income of Charleston County residents was $58,000. In the City of Charleston the median income in 2017 for a family of three was about $60,000. Income inequality in our community four years after the Emanuel massacre is the same as it was four weeks before the massacre. But people are makin’ money off of the massacre.
I ask myself what if Dylann Roof, who grew up in Columbia, had gotten the benefit of a good education and quality mental health treatment. Would he have committed that horrendous act? Charleston County Sheriff Office Chief Eric Watson last week told me daily 15-25 percent of inmates at Charleston County’s detention center suffer some form of mental illness. South Carolina has decreased its state spending on mental health care by about 40 percent since 2009. According to one source the state’s mental-health department is approaching crisis mode with funding at 1987 levels. After closing community mental-health centers and reducing services at its remaining facilities, the department is now serving thousands fewer patients.
In an interview for the same story Charleston Police Chief Luther Reynolds made reference to the hate that continues in our community noting in 2018 a transgender woman was knocked unconscious downtown after a confrontation with a man who made derogatory comments about her gender identity. South Carolina doesn’t have a law against the commission of hate crimes. Legislation to create one was ignored in the legislature this year. And while we hold prayer vigils after mass shootings, the folks in New Zealand enacted gun reform.
Four years after the Emanuel massacre our community continues to give lip service to racial justice and equity. Folks are patting themselves on the back about how the city was saved from rioting and destruction after the Emanuel massacre. There hasn’t been racially motivated mass violence in Charleston in over 100 years – not during the height of Jim Crow, not during the turbulent 1960s and not after the Emanuel massacre. Stop it!
Our community needs a revolution, a revolution of the mind, a revolution about how we do things. But as The Last Poets said, “Ni..ers (Black and white) are scared of revolution.” The tragedy of the Emanuel massacre is too horrific an event for us to just continue business as usual.