Once again a hate-filled lunatic has slaughtered people; once again, in the wake of an atrocity, we are being invited to take part in yet another “conversation.”
Talk talk talk. Yak yak yak.
Enough talk. Time for action.
The first thing that should be done is to take down the confederate flag that flies high on the grounds of the capitol building in Columbia, S.C. (As of press time, there is thankfully a fast-growing consensus to remove that flag.) After the maniacal murders of six black women and three black men during a Bible-study session in a church last week, the American flag in Columbia was lowered to half-mast, but there above it fluttered the confederate flag, that symbol (in the eyes of Afro-Americans and others) of a legacy of slavery, oppression and monstrous cruelties. Facebook photos of the Charleston killer show him in his lunatic bravado sporting that flag for his white-supremacist poses.
Jimmy, my eldest brother, when he was young, collected artifacts from World War II. Among them were many Nazi items with the swastika symbol emblazoned on them. After he married, one day his wife, Tina, saw the sinister items in his war collection spilled out onto a table. At the sight of them, she broke down crying, nearly hysterical. Then she demanded Jimmy either throw them out or keep them under lock and key at all times. Tina was born in Holland. As a young girl in a large family, she endured the fears, deprivations, hunger and cruelties imposed by the Nazis who invaded that country. Just the sight of a swastika to Tina was an ugly enough reminder to bring back in an emotional boil-over all of that early horror. Her reaction was a vivid example of how symbols encapsulate emotional responses, bad or good. Imagine how most African-Americans feel when they see the confederate flag, a symbol of racist oppression so cherished by the Ku Klux Klan on their midnight rides, their cross-burnings, their lynchings.
Some people (mainly Southern whites, not surprisingly) argue the confederate flag symbolizes many good things: Southern hospitality, a tradition of gentility, a symbol of all those who died in those bloody Civil War battles, a reminder of dignity and pride even in defeat. But we should never forget those stars and bars represented a region of the country intent on seceding from the Union so it could perpetuate its plantation economy based mainly on slave labor, along with all of that slave society’s systemic injustices and daily outrages.
That flag, moreover, is often sported by white supremacists and hate-mongering racists, like the killer of the Bible-study participants. Flying that flag on high is a gross in-your-face insult to black Americans and all people of good conscience; it’s also a means of minimizing, however indirectly, the many disgusting uses that flag was and still is put to. That flag did not “cause” the deranged racist to kill those people, but giving it a place of honor on the S.C. capitol grounds sends the wrong message, to say the least.
Naturally, some folks will continue to plaster that flag on vehicles or fly it on their own properties. But to display it in public places is outrageously inexcusable.
President Ronald Reagan famously said in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” We should give a collective shout to South Carolina: “Legislators, tear down that flag!”
The next thing that should be done, after tearing down that confederate flag, is to enact reasonable gun restrictions in every state, coast-to-coast. That would include rigorous background checks for every gun sale and purchase. After those 6-year-old kids were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary, 90 percent of Americans supported universal background checks. It didn’t matter; gun lobbyists and their minions in Congress won the day. After these latest killings, they’ll trot out the same old rationales: deranged people will get guns anyway – illegally; if they don’t have guns, they’ll use knives or bombs; this particular guy, the perpetrator of the Charleston killings, bought his gun legally.
And they’ll keep telling us: “Guns don’t kill people – people do.” Oh sure. That must have been a kindness gadget the killer was using as nine people were shattered in a hail of bullets.
Gun lobbyists will also claim the answer is more guns, not less. If those people had been armed, lobbyists will insist, their assailant would be dead. Oh sure, that’s the answer, is it? Pistol-packing Bible-studiers?
New gun restrictions won’t stop all twisted haters bent on wreaking havoc, pain and misery. But it would stop some of them, and that’s a start. It would also be a way to take a stand against this gun-crazed culture, introducing some measure of civilized sanity for a change.