Wednesday, July 15, 2015

South Carolina Should be the Rule instead of the Exception

When that horrendous tragedy occurred in Charleston at Emmanuel AME Church and that young man senselessly took nine lives, I am sure the country held its collective breath. Once again black people had been killed by a white man. And the motive seemed to be for no other reason than the color of their skin.

The nation had watched the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri when a young black man was shot by a white police officer. Before the murky details could be sorted out the people were in arms against the police. There were accusations of guilt on both sides. The crowds were out of control. There were outside agitators taking advantage of the raw emotions. The police seemed overwhelmed and reacted aggressively. For many days the country watched the protests, violence, looting, fires, destruction, and accusations unfold on national television. The protests moved to other large cities.

Similar incidents of black men being killed by white police officers gained national attention. Protests and unrest ensued. The families brought in attorneys to make their case as the facts were sorted out. The police were defensive. Although nothing rose to the violence and destruction of Ferguson, the ugly truth of injustice was brought to everyone's attention.

Then in North Charleston, SC, a white officer shot a black man, stating it was in self defense. Upon investigation it was clear according to the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) that it was not self defense. The officer had shot the defenseless man in the back. The details were made public within days and the officer was arrested immediately. There was no hesitation in justice. In this case the facts were clear. There was no "Blue Wall". The State Law Enforcement came in very early on to investigate the local police situation. They were thorough, saw there were grounds for arrest, and action was taken.

There were no riots, no violence, no looting. The parties were treated with respect and the situation was handled professionally. The findings were made public immediately and an arrest was made. 

Back to the tragedy of Wednesday, June 17th, in the basement of that church. The suspect was identified thanks to a security camera and tips from the public, then quickly arrested. At his initial court appearance, the victims' family spoke. They offered forgiveness to the suspect. That one act of grace stunned the nation and united us all.

The pundits swarmed our state. Joe Riley, the long time mayor of Charleston, made it abundantly clear, this was a community that was grieving. It did not matter what color the victims were, they were part of the community. 

And, this in the heart of the state that was the first to secede from the country. This in a state that not long ago was burdened by Jim Crow laws and almost total segregation. This in a state that for years, thank God for West Virginia and Mississippi, had only ranked 48th instead of 49th or 50th in some areas of education, economic advancement, and health. 

Now, however, these days we are seen as a progressive state, home of BMW, Michelin, and Boeing. The state Mercedes and Volvo selected for their new facilities. We have a female governor of Indian descent and an African American US senator. 

Charleston's reaction, or rather their grace and dignity in dealing with the unthinkable wrong done to nine African Americans at a Wednesday evening Bible study should be the rule instead of the exception. Of all cities, in all states, where the African American people have struggled to rise from the bonds of slavery to being the birth place of the Tim Scott, only the second African American to serve in the United States Senate, Charleston showed the country that forgiveness and peace is truly more constructive. 

A little more than three weeks later the Confederate Battle flag, seen by many as a symbol of the old south and the days of slavery, was permanently removed from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds and started a discussion across the south and the country about removing the flag from other government property. The quiet grace and forgiveness from the families of the these nine victims was heard far above the yelling, screaming, and protesting that had been going on for years. Even a fifteen year boycott by NAACP could not accomplish such an act. 

So yes, "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, . . . I once was loss but now am found."


Linda Medrano said...

Lovely and insightful post! Grace under pressure at it's best !

Margaret House said...

Nicely said, Ann. Bob and I were just discussing this yesterday. The press loves to depict SC as a backward state that is stuck in the past. Thank God that these families chose not to include Al and Jessie in their mourning. Thank God that cooler heads prevailed. I only pray that under such tragic circumstances I could be so forgiving. As an aside, as we were traveling the tragic deaths in Charleston were big news in New Zealand (where even the police don't carry guns) and Australia. They were so confused as to why an "ordinary" citizen would even own a gun. Why, they asked, didn't the government collect all of the guns. I tried to explain how that wasn't ever going to happen...but it was a nice thought. m