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Roof’s Conviction Highlights Our Racist Convictions
12/21/2016 11:45:35 AM

By Barney Blakeney 

Both the Michael Slager and Dylann Roof trials are over and as I consistently hear persistent undertones of racial reconciliation emanating from various sources in our community, I am reluctant to add to the chorus of those who contend that beyond the tragic deaths of the 10 victims of those two crimes not much has changed.

I was talking to a friend recently who helped me better understand that people don’t always think alike for a variety of reasons. I’d said that some things are pretty much cut and dry, right or wrong. My friend gave me an example of how cultural differences can radically change how two people view the same thing. 

So I’m trying to understand how some in our community may feel Michael Slager’s slaying of an unarmed, fleeing Walter Scott might be justified. Dylann Roof’s murder of nine unarmed victims at Emanuel AME Church, by most, is viewed as unacceptable. But again, the reality is there are those who think Roof’s actions were just.

I’m bothered that others can find justification for the acts of either Slager or Roof. But I’m more bothered that our community still refuses to acknowledge some blatant realities about the inherent racism that led to both those crimes and which continues to plague our community.

It pains me that so many accept the outcome of Slager’s trial and simultaneously accept the outcome of Roof’s trial. They accept that Roof’s crime was a proverbial onion, yet peel back the layers of Slager’s crime as if beneath the layers it’s not also an onion.

The search for some benign justification in Slager’s criminal action illustrates to me our community’s unmoved position on racism. All the talk about racial healing infuriates me. It was easy and expedient to condemn Dylann Roof’s psychotic act of murder, but Slager’s act offers more opportunity to hide our racism. When it came time to call Slager’s act what it is – the racist act of another psychotic fool – some of us got conflicted.

After Dylann Roof murdered those nine people at Emanuel, guilty consciences threw money at the church. Ironically, after Scott’s murder guilty consciences threw money at his survivors too. And aside from the cash payoffs, a few symbolic gestures were made to establish a facade of racial reconciliation. A year later that same community voted to install one of the most blatantly repressive presidential regimes in modern history into office. And as we stand confused about Slager and consigned about Roof, it’s business as usual in terms of race relations.

I just received an email from former Charleston Senator Robert Ford which provided some statistical information about the population in Charleston County. According to the S.C. Commission for Minority Affairs, as of February 2016, three times as many black families live in poverty as white families and the median family income for blacks in Charleston County is half that of whites. And in the county where only 30 percent of the population is black, 80 percent of its incarcerated population is black, seven percent of whites are unemployed compared to 17 percent of blacks and the number of white-owned firms with paid employees is about 8,000 while there are only about 300 black-owned firms with paid employees.

After the massacre at Emanuel, I got ticked off that so many white folks were willing to hug black folks and shed tears, but so few returned to their jobs and demanded their bosses hire more minority employees. Gov. Nikki Haley implemented a stroke of economic genius by manipulating the removal of the Confederate Flag from the State House grounds opening the door to financial revitalization fools like those who can’t see Michael Slager’s guilt couldn’t fathom.

For more than 18 months since Dylann Roof brutally murdered those nine people at Emanuel (he meant to kill 13 people), I’ve watched Charleston play shameless games about racial reconciliation. 

Despite the cash, tears and condemnation in the wake of the Roof slaughter, when it came time to show how much we’ve changed as Michael Slager went to trial for the slaughter he committed, this community showed its true color – the sanctity of white supremacy.

What makes the conciliatory rants of racial progress in the shadow of Roof’s conviction so distasteful is the fact that most of us in this community know there’s been no change. The only difference between the racist character of 1916 Charleston and 2016 Charleston is that Slager was charged and tried. Like the ceremonial removal of the Confederate Flag from the State House, the symbolism masked a lack of substance.

I personally find no solace in Dylann Roof’s conviction, not in the light of a refusal to convict Michael Slager. That’s spittin’ on me and callin’ it rain.


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