Hate or terror?

The staff of the LA Times compiled a list of deadly mass shootings in the United States since 1984. Read it slowly, as I did once I calculated the totals: 293 people dead, 335 wounded.

Let’s not put names on any of the 628 victims or on the criminals who committed these crimes. Let us just look at the black and white of mass murders in the United States.

American news guide to violence. (Image via knowyourmeme.com)

As I watch the news of the latest shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, I find myself switching from station to station, listening to commentary after commentary, and report after report, and opinion after opinion on whether this particular act of violence should be called a hate crime or domestic terrorism. I sit and listen as our country’s elite reporters weigh in on whether this was about race, or maybe about religion, and they have actually begun to discuss whether this shooting should become something our politicians should be debating in the upcoming presidential election.

What do the victims think? The woman in the South Carolina shootings who watched as her son was shot down, lying motionless in his blood and keeping silent, afraid for her own life — what was she thinking? She will never be the same, and neither will the young female child who lay still pretending to be dead so that her life would be saved. They may have something to say about gun control, but will what they say matter? Has it ever? If these incidents aren’t terror, we need to redefine what terror is.

When is a hate crime not a hate crime?

Some may not think it matters what label is used for these acts, both those as horrific as the Charleston murders and what some may consider less significant, such as simple assaults on gays. Actually, definitions vary from state to state, so that what you consider a hate crime may not be one under the law. South Carolina has no laws against hate crimes. The federal government has, since 2009, increased pressure on states without hate crime laws by prosecuting perpetrators under federal laws. Unfortunately, in states without hate crime laws, it’s left to prosecutorial and judicial discretion how to charge these criminals — they’re often pled down to lesser offenses —and what sentences should be given.

Regardless, when a white man commits these crimes, it’s called a hate crime, or simply mass murder, but when the perpetrator is nonwhite, the word terror is used. This young man who killed 27 and injured one in Newtown — did he not commit an act of terror? A nation watched the parents terrified for their children inside that school, and the children who survived were terrified as they ran from the school.

The young man who shot nine black churchgoers in Charleston was only 21. He said he almost didn’t do it because he was welcomed so warmly — think, if he had been given love and the proper guidance for all of his young life, maybe, just maybe, the lives lost in South Carolina and many other places could have been saved.

Of course, his father had given him a gun for his 21st birthday.

Our readers respond

D. McBride-Wesley

of Philadelphia, PA on July 19, 2015

Murder is murder. But, labeling the crime “hate murder” leaves plenty of room for ambiguity (in the court of law) and chance for the opportunity for the accused to plead innocent by reason of insanity. However, if the crime is labeled a “terrorist crime,” a deep investigation, leading to the source, is required. And that simply means there would be many others pulled into the picture and found responsible for the crime.
Yes, I think you are right: There is a definite difference in the labeling of crimes. For instance, mass shootings in black neighborhoods are called tragic “drive-bys”— crimes committed by “repeat offender criminal thugs.” Yet these crimes are actualy terroristic acts, committed purposely to terrorize the whole neighborhood. What happened in South Carolina was a terroristic act and should be treated as such. Not calling that crime what it really is cheats the victims, their families and everyone of justice.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want previews of our latest stories about arts and culture in Philadelphia? Sign up for our newsletter.