By (Guest Contributor) Pink Panther
Dylann Roof

A white man in his early twenties named Dylann Roof walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and joined in with a Bible study group. At the end he pulled out a gun and shot dead nine people. Why? Because they were Black. He believed Blacks posed a threat to white Americans and their way of life.

Roof self-published a manifesto which outlined what drove him to commit the killings. There was nothing new in this tract. It was banal white supremacist nonsense harping back to the good ole days of segregation: an attitude that many hoped had long since disappeared. Though anyone who makes an effort to follow the media in the United States will know there is a segment of the population influenced by some very unsavoury radio and TV ‘personalities’. They watch Fox News to hear airheads and rich old men rant about a war on the Christian faith being unleashed by liberals in the media and Washington DC. They tune in to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Alex Jones on their radios to hear these hatemongers tell them that the Kenyan-born Muslim in the White House is locking up God-fearing dissenters in concentration camps and scheming to take away their guns. They proudly display the stars and bars of old Dixie, symbol of a short-lived nation made up of States that broke away from the United States to maintain slavery.

New Zealand-based business figure Gareth Morgan made a reference in his blog Gareth’s World about his motorcycle ride through the Southern Bible Belt. He noted how many buildings and highways were named after politicians and generals who fought to defend slavery and the number of memorials dedicated to Confederate soldiers killed in the Civil War. He observed that no memorial existed to remember the victims of lynching or slavery.

Morgan is of course not a local, but observations like his are being made in the United States by people who are arguing whether it is appropriate for South Carolina to fly the Confederate flag outside their State Capitol building and to allow public buildings to be named after rebel generals. They have a point. For most Blacks and a growing number of whites in the Deep South the Confederate flag which Roof proudly displayed, is symbolic of a deeply entrenched racism and a denial of basic historical facts. Such facts like slavery, not state sovereignty questions, drove the Southern States to attempt to cede from the United States in the 1860’s; the Southern States permitted lynching as late as 1939 and the ‘stars and bars’ has been used by the Ku Klux Klan since it was founded, to terrorise Blacks.

American politics and society is deeply polarized on race-related issues. Any attempt to address the racism that blights the lives of Black Americans is dismissed by ultra-conservative commentators as racist muckraking on the part of a mythical “liberal dominated media”. They claim that the “liberal media” ignores Blacks killing whites and Blacks killing Blacks. Almost the total opposite is true. For far too long, the “liberal media” has over-emphasized black on black and black on white crimes through movies, TV crime shows like America’s Most Wanted and most police procedural shows.

For the most part actual liberals have been busy focussing on the outward symbols of the former Confederacy, such as its flag, and calling for bans on films like Gone With The Wind for its romanticising of slavery. That’s ok but doesn’t go far enough. Such efforts even if successful will do next to nothing about tackling the kind of dog-whistle racism condoned or supported by powerful conservative business leaders like Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers. It doesn’t tackle the economic power imbalance that operates between the largely black underclass and such influential capitalists. The US Economic Policy Institute released a study showing that CEO pay at the largest companies was up 54% since 2009 whereas the average employee’s pay has remained static during that time. It is even worse for the nearly 25% of black males who are officially unemployed and that doesn’t take into account the numerous homeless among them. And anyone who still thinks putting black leaders into positions of power will eliminate the problems of a rotten system, hasn’t been paying attention to the inner city decay that has continued under Obama or the various mayors scattered around the country.

Conservatives seem to think that because lynching is not as prevalent as the Reconstruction period after the Civil War or during the 1920’s with the revival of the Klan, the racist violence faced by Blacks from whites is not a major problem. Yet the 2013 FBI hate crime statistics below prove that racially motivated crimes still continue to blight the country. It is also noteworthy that it isn’t just confined to the South, as proven by racist police violence in Ferguson and Baltimore that led to major protests. Here are the figures:

1. Of the 5,928 incidents reported, six were multiple-bias hate crime incidents involving 12 victims.

2. Of the 5,922 single bias incidents reported, the top three bias categories were race (48.5 percent), sexual orientation (20.8 percent), and religion (17.4 percent).

3. Of the reported 3,407 single-bias hate crime offenses that were racially motivated, 66.4 were motivated by anti-black or African-American bias, and 21.4 percent stemmed from anti-white bias. 60.6 percent of the reported 1,402 hate crime offenses based on sexual orientation were classified as anti-gay (male) bias.

4. Law enforcement agencies identified 5,814 known offenders in the 5,928 bias-motivated incidents. Of these offenders, 52.4 percent were white and 24.3 percent were black or African-American.

5. Of the 6,933 hate crime offenses reported in 2013, 63.9 percent were crimes against persons (e.g., intimidation, assaults, rapes, murders), while 35 percent were property crimes (mostly acts of destruction/damage/vandalism). The rest were considered crimes against society (like drug offenses or prostitution).

Not included in these statistics were Blacks who’ve been killed under the 21st Century version of lynching laws called the “stand your ground” law. This allows a person to kill someone if they believe their safety or that of their family is at risk. This law has enabled whites to kill Blacks with few or no legal consequences. They also don’t include Blacks killed by white officers for actions which would get most whites a fine or a short time in jail. It is worth mentioning that the event which convinced Roof that it was his mission to kill Blacks and trigger a civil war was the killing of Trayvon Martin. Trayvon was shot dead by a security guard in Florida because he was a Black kid in the ‘wrong’ neighbourhood. As is often the case in the United States, Blacks are assumed to be criminals until proven otherwise and Blacks who get killed by police are automatically presumed to be at fault. This racist attitude is still prevalent in the media and the police.

Ultra-conservative Americans and their hacks at Fox News and News Corporation tried to make out that Roof’s opinions were those of a lone crank waging a War on Faith. In reality his views were shaped in part by influential racially charged media networks in states that still romanticize a short-lived country built on slavery and racial hatred. In this regard it is also significant that despite years of Fox’s anti-Muslim rhetoric in connection to terrorist threats, white Americans have killed more people in such attacks since 9/11 according to new research conducted by academics at the New America Foundation.

South Carolina is one of the few States with no hate speech laws, primarily because of the influence of those who continue to believe in “Southern Pride”, a polite way of saying white supremacy. Roof was not a deranged loner that can easily be cut loose. He is the product of a wider malaise in a society that is still struggling to face up to its past. The Guardian Weekly reported local McKayla Roberts as saying “Charleston is the home, the mother of racism”, an allusion to the fact that 70% of African slaves shipped to the USA came through the city. Roof is symptomatic of an unsound structure, maintained by a system exploiting those who historically built its foundations and have continued to be kept at the bottom.