Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Charleston Church Shooting One Week Later -- Part II: The Church Wasn't Roof's First Target

In Part I of this blog posting, I outlined what was known about the Charleston shooter.

Here, though, I want to bring together some of my ideas around this.  I think this horrifying mass shooting has a lot to tell us about similar mass shootings, of which, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have already been 140 so far this year.  Few get this level of attention.

The first thought that crosses my mind is that a huge amount of attention has focused on the racial aspects of this shooting, and for good reason.  As I listed out in Part I, the shooter's overt racism was unquestionable -- everything from Roof's overarching love of the Confederacy to his manifesto that spouted clear racist statements.  My own family is multi-racial, including some with African American, Latino, and Native American, as well as Caucasian, so racism, particularly violent incidents, concern me from a personal perspective.  And, of course, the location he chose for his heinous crime, and the race of those he killed, were as African American as could be chosen.

But I suspect that racism was not the initiating factor in the shooting.  Let me explain....

First off, anyone who would commit such a crime has a serious mental problem to begin with.  In nearly every one of these "lone wolf" mass shootings, the shooter has had a history of mental problems combined with a love of guns or violence.  Lots of red flags were there, but no one acted on them or did what was necessary to keep the shooter from getting his hands on weapons.  We saw it with Sandy Hook.  We saw it with Virginia Tech.  We see it again here.  Roof's roommate, his current friend, his childhood friend, and his uncle all had statements about the young man's instability.  And that's just what has come out in the first week after the shooting.  I suspect there will be more to learn.

But more than this, I don't think the church was actually the first target that Roof considered.  I think he was dead-set on committing a mass shooting anywhere.  According to his roommate, he had been considering shooting up some place for as much as six months.  But in that time, he first seemed to be scoping out the local mall, in February, where he was questioned by police for asking suspicious questions and dressing in all black.  He was arrested and briefly jailed for having narcotics during that incident, and was banned from the mall, but yet returned there again and was charged with trespassing.  Did he target the mall at first, but chose not to attack it because of the security and police response?

He then seemed to target a local park, where, again, he was found acting suspiciously and dressed in all black.  He also had a number of assault rifle gun magazines and accessories in his car.  Did police scare him away from that site, too?

He then revealed to a friend that he had wanted to "shoot up" the College of Charleston, but decided not to due to the security there.  He came right out and said it!  The college isn't known for racial diversity, being mostly Caucasian, so race wasn't likely the reason he would target it. According to his friend, whose last name is Scriven:
“I don't think the church was his primary target because he told us he was going for the school,” Mr Scriven said.
“But I think he couldn't get into the school because of the security ... so I think he just settled for the church.”
I'm inclined to agree with him, from what I read in those other articles.  It is notable that none of those other targets were particularly "black," either.

In the end, Roof's final choice of target may have been driven in part by his racism, since any church could have worked for his target and he, instead, chose an historically black church and victims.  But I suspect that convenience and lack of security were also deciding factors.  I shudder to think what other sites he may have scoped out, dressed in black, without the police stopping him.  Did he case out a grade school, for instance?  Did he case out Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before the attack?

And for all those pro-gun folks who think that the congregants should have carried guns, let me also make something clear:  Roof wanted to commit the crime then kill himself.  Fear of death from the hands of citizens likely wasn't a factor for him.  But good security, in the form of police or security guards, would have kept him from getting to the victims in the first place, and may have been factors in preventing him from shooting up the other places he considered first.

There are a lot of countries around the world where racism exists and the rates of mental illness are as high as in the U.S., but the number of shootings are a fraction of our own.  What sets us apart from them is the huge number of guns we have in private hands, the lack of a lot of commonsense gun laws, and the ridiculously-easy access these unstable people have to guns.  Roof's suspicious behavior, prior misdemeanors, overt racism, and general instability were all huge red flags that would have prevented him from legally purchasing a gun in most advanced nations, such as our neighbor, Canada, or in Japan or England.  But here, he was clear to buy as many as he wished, even assault rifles (which he badly wanted but couldn't afford, luckily).  But buy a gun he did, and now nine excellent people are being buried because of it.

In Part III of this series, I want to look at the response from the pro-gun and Conservative forces, as well as how the race aspects of the shooting turned the attention away from the core problem of arming yet another unstable lone wolf and toward the red herring of the Confederate flag.