Charleston: The Embarrassment of American Democracy

The racially motivated massacre that occurred this week in the emblematic Emanuel Episcopal Methodist Church of Charleston in which a shooter took nine lives, contributed to a hurried press conference in the White House in which its resident, the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama, reflected (perhaps still shocked by the spectacle of death), “Why doesn’t this type of violence occur in other advanced countries?”

It seems that Obama forgot the lessons of recent history concerning America’s “best” democracy: its record of war in the Middle East, the civil rights struggles of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, the heavy curtain of his assassination, the bloody march of Selma, the huge riots in Los Angeles, and the endemic ire of Ferguson that brought protests in many cities.

But still more disconcerting than his pretense of learned astonishment was that our man in Washington forgot about the powerful law over there that allows any citizen to purchase an arsenal, or give it to his son, as well as the fact that a citizen can feel the right to kill his fellow man when his hallucinatory dystopia goads him into doing so. Mr. Obama calls it fundamentalism when it comes to a foreigner (in order to attack or exterminate him), but in this case we call it psychosis or a mental lapse (in order to treat him for whatever illness).

In this frantic modernity where events are covered in real time, where you don’t need to wait for the broadcast of videos showing the grave mutilations by the Islamic State or the propaganda of CNN, it is sufficient to remember, Mr. President, that the United States is the only developed nation (ironically) whose best resource for deterrence is violence. Hence, this show of barbarism shouldn’t worry you that much in (also ironically) the “best civilization on the planet.”

But the crime deserves the harshest sentence and harshest punishment; and there should be no further delay in beginning true reform in racial terms. Because apparently, by the time Obama tried to deal with the topic of civil rights, the issue had been exhaustively addressed without any progress, which is very paradoxical because Obama, when elected in 2008, was the hope for better cultural harmony in a country whose major achievement is that it stands for a tapestry of races, a fact that fuels the country’s powerful engine of progress.

This unprecedented tragedy of color, senseless drama, minimal response, and lone wolf bigotry that keeps repeating itself resonates even more because it occurred in the oldest church in the American South, constructed in the middle of an age of servitude and near the port that brought ships of black slaves, a church built by the hands of those same slaves when they were freed, while at the same time, Mr. Lynch (hence the term “to lynch”) dreamed about the idea of hanging slaves, one of the most egregious acts of intolerance.

It has, then, affected this sanctuary chosen by Dr. King —a century after its construction—as the place to begin the fight for civil rights, the same fight that led to his death. But more than the space are the resounding echoes of its name, Emanuel: God with us. Because until they understand that God is the only one who can save us from this steam of intolerance, from this violence with no limits, and from this ironic cynicism, Charleston will fill “the most beautiful democracy in the world” with shame.

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