A vigil was held here in Ottawa, Canada last night at the Canadian Human Rights Monument to honour the lives lost of nine African American victims shot dead at a Charleston church. These shots were heard around the world. Speakers expressed their sorrow and called for an end to racism and hate- the kind that motivated the alleged shooter Dylann Roof.
Can it really be that simple? Can we really just demand that these heinous crimes stop happening? I have no doubt in the days and months to follow we will turn our attention to what caused this tragedy and what needs to be dome to prevent another one. While I am generally a positive person, I am feeling somewhat saddened that we have travelled down this road before, had the debates, and at the end of the day, there has been little change.
From a political point of view, the South Carolina government has called for the removal of the Confederate flag, long considered a representation of the legacy of slavery. The President of the United States condemned the act and stated we are not yet cured of racism, in spite of recent advances. In spite of the murderer's stated agenda of wanting to start a race war, a morning anchor on Fox News claimed the massacre was an attack against Christians, rather than Blacks. Former Texas Governor and Presidential candidate Rick Perry actually called the shooting 'an accident.'
No doubt we will also see another heated debate about gun control. As a Canadian, I have often felt that one of our primary cultural differences was our perspectives on gun ownership.
Just hours after the Sandy Hook shootings where a killer shot down twenty innocent children, Obama stated that innocent children were murdered because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no problem getting a gun. He acknowledged that the U.S. must recognize the fact that this type of mass violence does not occur as frequently in other civilized countries. The powerful National Rifle Association disagreed.
In Canada, handguns are difficult to purchase legally, and there are rigorous processes in place, all with substantial checks and balances. The process does not facilitate 'crimes of passion' unless the gun was purchased well in advance. I believe gun access, control and storage requirements help make the difference. Additionally 31 of 50 states have the death penalty as a deterrent to crime but their violent crime and murder rates are still through the roof.
I've always been a firm believer in supporting initiatives that are focussed on the prevention of crime, rather than simply inflicting punishment after the act has been committed. If we want a world free of discrimination and racism, then we have to start by instilling these values in our youth, beginning in the classroom. Our school curriculums should ensure that human rights are taught, as well as teaching about the contributions made to our societies by different ethnic cultures. Racism and prejudices may never be eliminated but they can still be lessened. As education increases, myths and stereotypes are broken down, and acceptance increases.
Also, in so many of these cases, in the aftermath of the horror, a profile emerges of the killer: a loner, isolated, previous drug charges. There may have been some form of underlying mental health issues, such as depression, combined with a precipitating factor. When all the information concerning Dylan Roof becomes public, I suspect it will be shown that he was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off and that all the symptoms were there. We need to learn to recognize these symptoms and ensure that people who could be a danger to themselves or others receive appropriate interventions and assistance.
People can feel free to agree or disagree with me on what could prevent another massacre like Charleston from happening. The truth is, and we all know it, there are no simple answers. If we want answers, maybe, just maybe, we could start by looking to the people of Charleston themselves for how they chose to look at this tragedy:
"I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you and have mercy on your soul"These words came from the daughter of one of the victims, and we can be inspired by this act of forgiveness and in awe of their strength and conviction. Forgiveness itself can be difficult and beautiful. But the people of Charleston have been using it to move forward, as a way to something else, something better. And this gives me hope.