It’s not about a lone wolf. It’s not about a crazed individual. It’s not about a cop who happens to be a bad apple. And it’s not about Dylann Roof, the alleged mass murderer of nine black Americans in a church.
Charleston is about us. We the People of the United States have failed to stop even the most pernicious forms of racism. We the People of the United States have failed to address endemic violence, unheard of in any other industrialized nation. We the People of the United States have failed our children, keeping too many of them in poverty, in hunger, without proper educations, facing dark futures.
We the People of the United States will not find peace by killing our adversaries abroad while failing to stem the violence at home. We the People will not find peace until we stop speaking of unspeakable crimes, like the one in Charleston, as if they were acts of nature, beyond our control.
We the People must act as a people, not as individuals who have been told that they alone are centers of responsibility. Individual responsibility, while praiseworthy in certain settings, has become an excuse. It lets us off the hook. It makes it about the crazy ones in our midst, not about the collective responsibility that we have to address our failings.
Of course there is no magic answer. We all know this. But there are measures. Forms of gun control can help. Early childhood education can help. Programs to address mental illness can help. And making racist crimes as unacceptable as those committed by terrorists would also help. Even a collective involvement in fixing our infrastructure would help, because it would remind us that we are in this together. But what would help most of all is a sense of urgency. We must not keep pretending that we are the City upon a Hill as the People bleed.
Today is Juneteenth. The day of the emancipation of the slaves in Texas, 150 years ago.