Society not culpable for actions of those who commit heinous acts

Police tape is seen outside the Emanuel AME Church, after a mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church the night before  in Charleston, South Carolina on June 18, 2015. Police captured a white suspect in a mass killing at one of the oldest black churches in the United States, the latest gun massacre to leave the country reeling. Police detained 21-year-old Dylann Roof, shown wearing the flags of defunct white supremacist regimes in pictures taken from social media, after nine churchgoers were shot dead. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

As a South Carolinian, the murder Wednesday night of nine black men and women at a historic Charleston church by a white man, an attack that appears to have had strong racial motivations, has been, to say the least, extremely disheartening.

My Facebook feed has been filled with a great deal of anguish among friends about this senseless act. As a former journalist, many of those I’m connected to see things from a different political perspective. I lean toward a libertarian stand, partly because I don’t have much faith in political parties and partly because I like to be left alone. Journalists, certainly in the US, tend to be of a more liberal bent, on the whole.

That said, I recognize the need for law and order, and the need for society to function in a cohesive manner. I also believe to some degree we are all our brother’s keepers; I just don’t believe that fact needs to be codified.

That said, Facebook friends are wringing their hands about the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, with many coming to the conclusion that we are all responsible.

One linked to a column by an Atlanta Constitution editor that ran after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in September 1963, killing four black girls. In that column, Gene Patterson said all Southerners were responsible by having created a climate for child-killing, thereby encouraging racists who didn’t know better.

Given what went on in the Deep South during Segregation, that may well have been true.

Late yesterday, a former co-worker said we today are guilty of the same:

“A flag that is a racist symbol, an offensive joke, an ugly fraternity chant, the N-word, disrespect for a president, black face paint at a party, and even referring to young, black males as “thugs” or “animals” when they mess up – standing by and accepting these things without taking a stand is wrong. We all share in the guilt. We just don’t know who is listening and who is close enough to the edge to decide that slaughtering black men and women in a church is a noble thing to do.”

I took time this morning to disagree, pointing my remarks toward my acquaintance:

I’m going to voice a contrarian view in that I disagree with the contention that we’re all responsible for this heinous act. The folks that I know, and I pretty sure the ones you know, don’t engage in use of the N-word, ugly fraternity chants or put on black face at parties. Goodness knows there’s plenty of political vitriol, no matter which party holds the Oval Office, but I also don’t think your friends or mine disrespect the current occupant simply because of his race. I certainly hope mine don’t. Thuggery and animalistic behavior, sadly, can be found among all races, as anyone who has lived in the northeast and, like myself, been attacked by drunken white louts for no reason. Should we not use the term at all for fear someone somewhere may attach it to a specific group of people? An example of where the word “thug” would apply is among those who use the Confederate flag, which has different meanings to different people, to intimidate. No doubt this individual didn’t come to be the person he is on his own; no one lives in a vacuum. But my parents didn’t rear me to be anything like this individual and I’m not bringing up my children in an atmosphere that sees intolerance, bigotry and prejudice as acceptable. Blaming these actions on society as a whole waters down this individual’s culpability. He committed these deviant actions for his own reasons. We’re not responsible for his actions; all we can do is pray for those affected and do our best to make the world a better place so that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.

Sometimes we need to recognize that a bad apple is just that – a bad apple. The South of 2015 is very different from the South of 1963. Imperfect? Oh, yes. At least today people of good will are no longer afraid to stand up and made their voices heard.

(Top: Historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, where nine individuals were killed and three wounded Wednesday night.)

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10 thoughts on “Society not culpable for actions of those who commit heinous acts

  1. I too could do well without collective breast beating…of course we are not all at fault. There are rum cusses in every society and they will break out from time to time.

    • In the American South there is a segment of the white population that seems all too eager to accept blame for all race-related problems, and cast that blame on all other whites, as well. Some problems are a holdover from the past, but as you correctly noted, sometimes bad apples are the problem, plain and simple.

    • Wow, you used the same term I did in a response just a few moments ago, before I had seen your comment, Bruce. And yes, you’re exactly right; bad apples come in all shades. No one group has a monopoly.

  2. I’ve read the ‘we whites are all responsible’ comments too. While they don’t mean ‘we literally held the trigger/gave him the gun’ the impression I get is that people are questioning whether white, privileged sectors of society are actually doing enough to stamp out racism because, really, it doesn’t affect their cosy lives. I don’t know. It reminds of the comments that white middle class society is also responsible for the Charlie murders in France, the British ISIS recruits, the Muslim terrorism in Australia etc.

    I’d be pointing the finger elsewhere, think governments, banks, big corporations that skews the economy so much and creates the have nots and never will haves, but that’s an easy option I suppose.

    • Yes, I’ve seen the same comments and wrote an earlier post disagreeing with that contention. While whites in the Deep South may very well have created an environment in the 1960s and before, at least in the US, that create an environment where actions against minorities were seen as condoned, that is not the case here. I don’t buy into the collective guilt theory in this case and am not going to accept blame for what one rage-filled nut perpetrated.

  3. I’m fascinated by the human nature need to immediately find a reason (beyond one person’s bigotry) for committing crimes. After SandyHook there was the push for outlawing guns, now there is the banning of selling of confederate flags. Both seem like knee-jerk reactions, that to me, might make people feel warm and fuzzy but don’t do anything to solve the problem.

    • As long as we’re doing “something,” that’s the important thing; results be damned. We can all go home at the end of the day and pat ourselves on the back, whether or not any real progress was made.

      As another poster noted, there are, unfortunately, bad apples in every barrel. Blaming a flag or banning a weapon in the immediate aftermath, when emotions are running high, isn’t the way to craft long-term solutions.

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