Category Archives: Crime and Punishment

A few thoughts on ‘Spotlight’

One thing they definitely got right: The disaster area that is the typical reporter's workspace...

One thing they definitely got right: The grubby disaster area that is the typical reporter’s workspace…

I’ve had an extremely busy day and haven’t been able to keep up with the news. In any case, I was tired because I didn’t get home from the theater until about 10:30 last night, and then couldn’t resist popping my DVD of “All the President’s Men” into the player. I didn’t watch all of it, mind you, but… I was tired this morning.

I doubt that many of you have seen “Spotlight” yet, but you should. And against the day when you do see it, I thought I’d go ahead and share some of the things that struck me about it, most of which I shared with the audience last night during our panel discussion after the show.

First, a plug: That was my first time attending a show in the new Nickelodeon, and it was great. You should give it your custom if you don’t already. Andy Smith and the gang are doing a good job.

Now, my impressions…

I had said I was eager to see whether it really was the best newspaper film since the aforementioned Redford-Hoffman vehicle, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, given that the cinematic art has improved over the last four decades (or is it me?), it was better in a number of ways, although there were one or two things ATPM did that this did not (I loved the awkward, naturalistic, disconnected conversations Woodstein had with their sources — very much like real interviews). I was particularly impressed by how thoughtful and nuanced “Spotlight” was. If you watched the trailer, you could be forgiven for thinking it would be a cartoonish, black-and-white depiction of courageous, hard-driving journos relentlessly bringing down wicked Cardinal Law and his army of perverts. It was way more intelligent than that.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

The few, the intensely interested: About a third of the audience stayed for the panel discussion.

For instance, while the film did show how a newspaper with the right resources and good leadership can peel away the layers hiding a dark secret eating away at its community, it did the opposite very well. By that I mean, it showed how a newspaper can fail to get that story, year after year. In a different context during our panel discussion, Charles Bierbauer mentioned the old saw that journalists live by, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” That very skepticism caused this team and the newsroom in general to fail to grasp the enormity of what they were facing. Yeah, they had a story about a pedophile priest on their hands, similar to a case they’d thoroughly covered years ago. But as indications emerged that maybe there were as many as 12 or 13 such priests in the archdiocese, then maybe as many as 90 (which would represent 6 percent, which a researcher told them they should expect — after all, that’s roughly the proportion of pedophiles in the adult male population), they just could not believe it. It was too outlandish; it didn’t fit their expectations in any way. John Slattery (of “Mad Men” fame) as Ben Bradlee Jr. spoke for all when he cried “b___s___!” to what the team had found at one point.

The members of the Spotlight team — three reporters and “player coach” Walter Robinson, played by Michael Keaton — were time and again dismayed to learn how they had missed the story over the years. After Robinson and a reporter ambush and harass a lawyer who has been dodging them, demanding that he provide the names of priests his clients had made claims against (leading to settlements that were sealed by the court), the lawyer finally explodes at them and says he had given the paper the names of 20 such priests several years ago, and the paper had essentially done nothing with it. Look at your own damn’ clips, he told them as he walked away. They look, and find a story buried inside. (This isn’t made clear, but I’m assuming they didn’t actually publish the names of the priests in that story — it would have been amazing if they had, without the kind of exhaustive investigation they were finally conducting at the time when the film is set, 2001-2002. You don’t run something like that on one lawyer’s say-so.)

The paper had also in the past brushed off a victim turned victims’ advocate, Phil Saviano, and an experienced editor can easily see why. When Saviano meets with the team and presents them with what he has, he starts out patient and then keeps slipping back into deep resentment that he had been ignored by others at the paper in the past, which causes him to lash out angrily. As he excuses himself to go to the bathroom, the reporters exchange a look behind his back. Yeahhh… one of those. We all have experience with sources like that. Full of passion, and full of stuff you can’t prove, and they come across as a bit unbalanced. Maybe he was abused, and it sent him over the edge. Or maybe the thing that sends him there is his frustration that no one believes the truth. At this point, the team is determined to find out if he’s right.

That the paper had missed opportunities in the past doesn’t mean the Globe is a bad paper; it’s far from that. This was just a particularly difficult story to a) believe, and b) nail down. Why, you wonder? Couldn’t they just go look at the court cases? No, they couldn’t. Lawyers for the victims who made claims — a small minority of the number of actual victims — generally didn’t file lawsuits in court. They went straight to the archdiocese, settlements were mediated, and the records were sealed. There would be a case over here that came to light, then one over there — and the paper covered those extensively, and everyone felt like they were on top of it. That there were so many priests, so many victims, that Cardinal Law was aware of the scope of it, that guilty priests would be shunted from one parish to another after useless “treatment,” all came as a shock as the resources of the Spotlight investigative team were devoted to the case.

And how did that happen? How was the decision made to have Spotlight drop what it was working on and bring to bear the kind of resources necessary to get the story at long last? That was interesting. It was the arrival of a new editor, Marty Baron, from The Miami Herald. He was an outsider in a newsroom full of people with deep Boston roots. He was Jewish in a Catholic town (all the members of the Spotlight team were raised Catholic, although apparently none were attending Mass any more). He wasn’t even interested in the Red Sox. He comes in feeling pressure to cut expenses, and focuses on Robinson’s team — four extremely talented, experienced reporters who only turn out a story about once a year (not because they were lazy, but because they put that much into their stories — making the team a very expensive luxury). And then he raises the question, if we’re going to have this team, why not have it look further into these sex abuse cases? He suggests they drop what they’re working on (some sort of police story) and turn to this. They do.

But it’s easy, if you’re not a journalist, to focus on the superficialities in the situation. A member of the audience asked me about that aspect of the story — the Jewish outsider being the only one who could make this bunch of hometown mackerel snappers take on the church in the most Catholic city in the country. I pointed out that he was missing the most salient aspect of Baron’s outsider perspective. It wasn’t that he was Jewish, or that he didn’t care about baseball. It was that he was from Florida — born in Tampa, coming up through the Herald‘s newsroom.

I could identify with his perspective. When I arrived at The State after having spent most of my career to that point in Tennessee, I was shocked to find out how much of public life in South Carolina could remain hidden — closed records, closed meetings. In Tennessee, we had had a Sunshine Law based on Florida’s groundbreaking open-government law. We’d had it when my career started. It spoiled me. I would hear stories of the bad old days before the law, when government bodies could go into something called “executive session” and shut out the press and the public, and I would shudder at the idea of such a thing. Then I came to South Carolina, where government bodies regularly go into executive session. It was like I’d been transported to the Dark Ages. Shortly after I arrived here, Jay Bender came to brief editors on improvements to FOI law that he and the Press Association had managed to push through the recent legislative session. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I kept saying things like, “That’s an improvement? You’re kidding me! You couldn’t do better than that?” I don’t think I made a good first impression on Jay.

(As governmental affairs editor, I was determined to break through the culture of closed doors. This led to an embarrassing situation one day. I left the newsroom to go check on my reporters and see what was happening at the State House. There was an important meeting going on somewhere that I was concerned we were missing. I spied a closed door, to one of the rooms off of the lobby near the exterior doors that open to the sweeping outdoor steps, and I strode over and put my hand on it. One of the loungers in the lobby called out that I shouldn’t barge in; there was a meeting going on. Aha! I thought. I self-righteously (I mean, I really made an ass of myself) replied, in a dramatic tone, “I know. That’s why I’m going in!” and pushed the door open with a flourish. It wasn’t my meeting. It was a couple of guys having a private chat, and they looked at me like I was crazy. I muttered something, backed out sheepishly, closed the door and endured the laughter of the lobby as I resumed my search.)

So, when Baron expressed surprise that it was so hard to get access to records in the sex-abuse cases, I felt his pain. And it made all the sense in the world that he would decide to overcome the barriers whatever it took, and suggested Spotlight drop what it was doing and get all over it. Which, as I said, they did. And they got the job done, against the odds.

I spoke of nuances. I loved a couple of the touches that undermined popular prejudices about the church, even as the film told in detail of the exposure of the church’s darkest secret. Sure, Law was the villain of the piece, but he was no Snidely Whiplash curling the ends of his mustache. Early on, when he meets Baron — one of those meetings that a new editor routinely has with key people in a community — he speaks of when he, too, had been an outsider, standing up for civil rights in Mississippi.

As for the old saw about a celibate priesthood being the culprit — hey, you don’t let ’em get married, so they take it out on the kids — there was a very interesting touch in the film. Stanley Tucci, wearing an impressive hairpiece, appears as attorney Mitchell Garabedian — as an Armenian, another outsider — who has decided he will try to make the abuse problem more public by actually suing on behalf of his victim clients in open court. He’s an irascible guy, and it takes some time for reporter Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) to build a relationship of trust with him. At one point as they’re getting to know each other, Garabedian asks Rezendes whether he’s married. Rezendes says he is (although apparently, it’s complicated). Garabedian asks whether his demanding job causes problems in the marriage. Rezendes admits it does. Garebedian says yeah, that’s why he never married: His work is too important, and he just doesn’t have the time. Which, you know, is the rationale behind priests being celibate — that they’re supposed to devote themselves entirely to being shepherds.

All in all, a rich feast of a film, that never falls back on easy answers. You should see it.

Come see ‘Spotlight’ tonight at the Nickelodeon

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom -- and it's not empty!

Look! Journalists walking through a newsroom — and it’s not deserted!

I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”

That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.

And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.

So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.

Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.

The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.

Why not ask SLED to investigate deputy’s actions?

UPDATE: Sheriff Lott called me this afternoon, and he has a pretty good explanation for why he went with the feds first. Later tonight, I’ll write a new post about it…

I said this in a comment earlier, but I think it’s worth a separate post…

So Sheriff Lott has fired the deputy involved in the Spring Valley incident.

But here’s something I want to know, and would have asked Leon had I been at the presser: Why go straight to the FBI? Why not invite SLED in? Or, I don’t know, the statewide grand jury.

Yeah, I know, even though he’s my twin and all, Leon may not be as enamored of subsidiarity as I am. But why immediately buy into the cliche that NO ONE in SC can be fair and objective about this; we have to bring in the feds?

As Harry Harris said in a comment yesterday: “SC seems to be the one state that has reacted to most of the police excessive force revelations in a sound manner – prosecuting and disciplining the officers involved.” Leon’s immediate firing of this deputy demonstrates that — unless it just demonstrates a Pilatesque desire to wash his hands, and I don’t think that’s the case.

I would have given the SC system a chance to work. If the feds wanted to do a civil rights investigation on a parallel track, nobody’s stopping them.

But I just don’t get why, in this case and previous ones, Leon doesn’t want to turn to SLED…

Forest Acres officer shot, killed at Richland Mall

The fallen officer, Greg Alia.

The fallen officer, Greg Alia.

Horrible news travels so fast these days.

By the time I got a news alert from WACH telling me that a Forest Acres officer had been shot and killed at Richland Mall this morning, the flags at City Hall were already at half-mast:

And more astoundingly, my friend Mary Pat Baldauf had already contributed to a memorial fund for him:

It’s like we don’t even get a moment anymore to absorb the news, to say, “Oh, my God. How terrible…”

So consider that to have been said by me. Perhaps I’ll have more to say later.

The death penalty for Roof?

Thoughts on this?

A South Carolina prosecutor says she will seek the death penalty for an alleged white supremacist, Dylann Roof of Columbia, who is charged with killing nine black churchgoers in June in Charleston.

“This was the ultimate crime, and justice from our state calls for the ultimate penalty,” 9th Judicial Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson told a group of reporters shortly before 3 p.m. Thursday….

To state what I’ve stated many times before, if I thought the death penalty was right, this would certainly be a case in which I would apply it.

But I don’t, so I wouldn’t.

I found this particularly intriguing:

In recent weeks, Wilson has met with families of the nine victims. At her Thursday press conference, she told reporters that some family members agreed with her decision and others did not. But in the end the decision was hers, she said….

Often, prosecutors will cite the wishes of victims’ families as reasons to pursue a particular charge or penalty. Which is, of course, wrong in a nation of laws and not of men. The prosecutor is right: It is her decision to make.

That said, do you think she has made the right one? Particularly in this case, when our state was pulled together so dramatically by the gestures of forgiveness by the families.

(I had breakfast this morning with Mark Lett, executive editor at The State. As we were leaving, he asked whether I had ever thought South Carolina could come together like that, so quickly, to remove the flag. I said I certainly had not imagined such a thing. I told him that when I ran into Aaron Sheinin at that first flag rally after the shootings, he and I got to talking about how the very earliest anything could happen would be January. And then I said, “Of course, our governor could call on lawmakers to come back into session especially to take the flag down,” and we both laughed in the cynical way that ink-stained wretches of the press tend to do. And then, two days later, it actually happened. It was a miracle — it was a whole raft of miracles to see those people standing together for such a purpose — and it was brought about by those exhibitions of forgiveness. Which gives us additional reason to regard what the families did with awe and reverence.)

Of course, I suppose there’s a school of thought that you can personally forgive someone, but still believe that person should face the consequences of his actions. And this is a consequence for which our laws provide.

I would say that death is not the right way to go. But that’s what I always say. You?

OK, let’s talk about guns in America

State Sen. Marlon Kimpson says he’ll introduce legislation to do the following in the wake of the Emanuel AME massacre and other recent mass shootings:

▪  Close a three-day loophole that allows some S.C. gun purchasers to buy and take home a gun before a background check has been completed. That rule, and errors in the federal background-checking system, allowed alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof to buy a gun.

▪  Require background checks to be conducted through the State Law Enforcement Division and the federal system before a gun sale can be completed

▪  Ban assault weapons, defined as semi-automatic firearms designed and configured for rapid fire

▪ Require reporting of lost or stolen guns

▪ Require state registration and permitting of all guns…

In response to Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin’s statement that there is “no appetite” in the State House for gun control legislation — which you had probably guessed already — Sen. Kimpson “said the Charleston church shootings, which killed nine African-Americans including a state senator, ‘opened people’s minds to doing things in the State House that have never been done before.'”

Which is true enough. Whether that applies to this, however, remains to be seen.

On the same day that I read that, I received a graphic from someone with a blog called CrimeWire, urging me to share it.

Actually it doesn’t tell me a lot I didn’t know, but I share it for those of you who like infographics. It’s lighter on numbers than most such efforts. For instance, I doubt many minds will be changed by such an assertion as, “The Harvard Injury Control Research Center found that there’s substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders.” Oh, yeah, says Jim Bob, sittin’ with the boys around the cracker barrel. I bet they’s a heap o’ hunters up at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

For those who prefer text, the facts in the graphic seem to have come from a Washington Post story, headlined “11 essential facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States,” that ran the morning after the Charleston shootings.

As for my own views… As I’ve stated before, I think the problem in America is just that too many guns exist. Everybody talks about the rights of individual gun owners, but I don’t really look at who owns the guns. Ownership is something that can change easily, through burglary for instance. There are just too many of them in existence, and it’s inevitable that some of them will be in the hands of the wrong people at the wrong time.

It’s an economic problem: Too many violent people chasing too many guns.

But while I feel like I diagnose the problem correctly, I have no idea what to do about it. I just don’t see a solution. We are so far down this road, and nothing but the mass destruction of the overwhelming majority of guns that exist would back us up. And there are far too many Americans who adamantly oppose taking a single step back. I don’t see that changing.

So I’m not terribly hopeful that any legislation I’ve seen or heard of would have a chance of significantly reducing gun violence. Anything that passes constitutional muster just tinkers with the technicalities of how guns change hands and move around.

Oh, and before the more dedicated advocates for the 2nd Amendment start hollering, “Brad’s gonna round up all your guns and destroy them,” allow me to clarify: That is NOT gonna happen. Not in this country. No one can MAKE it happen. It’s a political impossibility. So stay cool. I only mention this to underline the fact that I see no workable solution to the problem of Too Many Guns.

I usually don’t say “I give up” on an issue. I usually try to suggest a solution. But I just don’t know where to go on this.


Dylann Roof to face federal hate crime charges

This just in a little while ago:

A federal grand jury on Wednesday indicted Dylann Roof for hate crimes in the June killings of nine African-Americans at a Charleston church, according to sources familiar with a federal-state investigation.

The 33-count indictment charges Roof, 21, a white man from the Columbia area, with 12 counts of committing a federal hate crime (nine counts of murder and three attempted murders), 12 counts of obstructing the exercise of religion and nine counts of the use of a firearm to commit murder.

Hate crimes under federal law are crimes committed against someone because of their race, color, religion, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law, but some 45 states do.

Under federal law, prosecutors may seek the death penalty where violent death has resulted The U.S. Justice Department is exploring whether to seek the death penalty against Roof….

Personally, I’m happy to see “the book” and all the charges it contains thrown at this guy.

But… I should note that I don’t believe “hate crimes” should be in the book to start with. Punish the deed, not the political attitude behind the deed. This is one of those few areas where I agree with libertarians: Allowing the government to punish attitudes is giving government too much power, and an offense against the freedom of conscience enshrined in the 1st Amendment. One is allowed, in this country, to harbor horrible ideas, as long as one does not act upon them.

Which leads me to the possibility of the feds pursuing the death penalty.

Three points on that:

  1. I don’t believe in the death penalty.
  2. If I did believe in the death penalty, the killer of the Emanuel Nine would definitely be a candidate for it.
  3. If I did believe in the death penalty, I certainly wouldn’t want it administered for “hate crimes,” for the aforementioned reason. If you’re going to hang a man, do it for murder, not for his motivation.

The confusing knot of jurisdiction lines around Columbiana

CKDuZ3sWUAguyzXRemember the post last week about the confusion of county and city boundaries around Columbiana Mall, which speculated about how that might have contributed to the mixup that allowed Dylann Roof to get a gun?

At the time, I bemoaned the fact that I was unable to find a map showing those jurisdiction lines.

Alert reader George Chisenhall, who uses Google Maps Pro, came to the rescue over the weekend. As he explained, yellow lines are city/town limits, while the light green ones show county boundaries.

Thanks for helping out, George!


Bernstein files bill to try to stop the next Dylann Roof

This just in from the House Democrats:

Rep. Beth Bernstein to Introduce Background Check Completion Act in SC House
Legislation will mirror Congressman Jim Clyburn’s bill in US House
Columbia, SC – Richland County State Representative Beth Bernstein announced Thursday that she will prefile the “Background Check Completion Act” in December. The same bill was filed earlier this week in the U.S. House of Representatives by South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn.
The bill will require licensed gun dealers in South Carolina to wait until a background check is completed before selling a firearm. Under current law, if the FBI does not approve or deny the background check within three days, the licensed dealer has the discretion to proceed with the sale of the firearm. The alleged shooter in the Charleston massacre used this loophole to purchase the weapon that was used to kill nine people last month. Bernstein’s bill will close that loophole and make sure all background checks are completed before a transaction can be made.
“This is one of the most dangerous loopholes we currently have in our gun laws,” said Representative Beth Bernstein, a mother of two young daughters. “Most law-abiding citizens who purchase firearms have their background checks approved within minutes. But when someone has a criminal record, or pending charge, it may take longer for the FBI to gather all the information to determine if that person is legally authorized to buy a gun. We shouldn’t put an arbitrary three day deadline on something that could result in a deranged individual or criminal purchasing a gun. If we’re going to require a background check, we should require the background check be completed.”
Representative Bernstein stressed that this bill is not a form of gun control.
“As a CWP holder, I’m a strong supporter of gun rights and the second amendment. And I can assure you this bill is not gun control. It simply makes sure that the background checks that are already taking place are completed. If this bill would have been in place earlier this year, the Charleston shooter would not have legally been sold a gun from a licensed dealer. If closing this loophole saves just one life, it is worth it.”

Rep. Bernstein commended Congressman Clyburn for proposing this legislation on a federal level and maintained that she will pre-file the same bill in the South Carolina House of Representatives in December.”


The Dalai Lama on the Charleston massacre

I read a short item about this in The State this morning, so I was interested when I saw that publicists had sent me the embed codes for clips from Larry King’s interview with the Dalai Lama.

So I share it with you. From the release:

Larry leans in to ask the heartfelt question “When you see terrible events. When you see a man shoot up a church in South Carolina don’t you question your faith?”

“We need to make more effort to bring awareness regarding the value of compassion. Compassion means, it’s the sense of concern for others well being and the respect of others’ lives. When you have that sort of conviction it’s impossible to bully others, to cheat another, to kill another,” His Holiness answered.

The message isn’t failing. The Dalai Lama explains that obsession with worldly possessions & a lack of teaching children about inner values contributes to tragedies such as the shooting inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina “The message is not properly channelized. The message of love is just inside the church and not daily life.” He continues, “The existing modern education is very much oriented about material value.  Not much is talked about regarding inner value.”…

I’m sure he is right that we all, including Dylann Roof, could use better “values.” The answer seems a bit oblique, though — somewhat lacking in specifics, possibly because His Holiness comes from such a different cultural perspective that the killer’s particular brand of deadly animosity is far more bewildering to him than it is to us. Or perhaps I’m just failing to completely understand the role of materialism in this case. (I mean, I can draw such a line: A high school dropout feels so oppressed by his low economic expectations that he constructs a worldview in which “others” are to blame for his plight. I’m just not sure that is central to what happened.)

Nevertheless, when he calls for more compassion, I am sure he is in the right of it.

Did shoestring annexation bring down the Confederate flag?

Y'all, I'm sorry I was unable to find a map that shows how crazy the jurisdiction lines are in this area. Anyone know where I can find something like that online?

Y’all, I’m sorry I was unable to find a map that shows how crazy the jurisdiction lines are in this area. Anyone know where I can find something like that online?

Or, far more horrifically and directly, did Columbia’s shoestring annexation lead to the murders of the Emanuel 9?

This is Kathryn Fenner’s assertion, which she sketched out in an email:

Roof was arrested at Columbiana, by Columbia Police, in Columbia, but in Lexington County. When he went to buy a gun at Shooter’s Choice, the background check was done by calling Lexington County, who sent the checker to the police–the checker called the West Columbia Police, who had no record, instead of Columbia–because unless you are a wonk like me, you might not realize that Columbiana is in the city limits–shoestring annexation, just like Woodcreek Farms where the Mayor lives.
If Roof had not been able to buy the gun….

You’ve read about all the confusion over the jurisdiction in which Dylann Roof was charged. And you’ve probably been confused yourself passing in and out of jurisdictions in the Columbiana/Harbison area.

At least some of this confusion was caused by the shoestring annexation of Columbiana in 1989, as a way of grabbing those expected tax revenues.

Hence the connection that Kathryn has drawn.

An open letter to Glenn McConnell

I was looking around to see whether anyone had spoken to Glenn McConnell during the past week. It was interesting to see national media “discovering” the unique individual we have known for so long.

One such story noted that McConnell is declining interviews until after the funerals of the dead from Mother Emanuel. That’s what I would expect; it’s the sort of sense of propriety that characterizes him.

Then, I ran across this at the site Inside Higher Ed, and I thought I’d share:

An Open Letter to College of Charleston President Glenn F. McConnell

June 22, 2015 – 6:17pm

Dear President McConnell,

First, please accept my condolences on the loss of your friend and former colleague,Rev. Clementa Pinckney, as well as our mutual colleague, College of Charleston librarian Cynthia Hurd. Their deaths, and the deaths of Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lee Lance, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, and Susie Jackson at the hands of a white supremacist terrorist are a tragedy that we can hardly imagine. These people were giants in our community, and we feel the collective pain of their absence, but I also know the loss is particularly personal to you.

I am writing to you because you are the leader of my college and one of the most influential people in the state of South Carolina.

I am asking you to support the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Capitol grounds.

I know that you are a student and practitioner of the principles of servant leadership, as demonstrated during your time in the legislature, and over the past year as you’ve guided College of Charleston. You’re well aware of the controversy surrounding your initial selection as our president, and yet, in a short time, by listening to others and meeting the needs of those you lead, you’ve convinced many that you were the right choice all along.

You are now serving a different constituency than in 2000, when, as a member of the state legislature, you helped broker the compromise that removed the flag from the capitol dome to the Confederate memorial on the grounds. Then, you were looking for a solution that would defuse a politically volatile situation. Even as you declared, “Many of us who love the flag would have preferred it stayed on the dome,” you recognized that its removal was necessary.

It is clear that the legislature will soon be tasked to consider the removal of the flag from the grounds entirely. A number of your Republican former colleagues have already expressed their desire to retain the flag in its place of honor. Many say they are “undecided” or have yet to commit to a position. A statement from you in support of removal may help prevent the kind of contentious battle we do not need at this time.

If the Confederate battle flag once symbolized “heritage, not hate,” the actions of the white supremacist terrorist who proudly posed with the flag, as well as symbols of Apartheid South Africa, before murdering nine Black people in the midst of a Bible study, have rendered this distinction meaningless.

Perhaps we can argue that the flag was misappropriated by the white supremacist terrorist, the same way it was misappropriated by those who originally hoisted the flag to the top of the S.C. Capital dome in defiance of the Civil Rights Movement and support of segregation in 1961.

I accept the private and deep feelings of pride and honor absent any racial animosity that many people associate with the flag. I can respect them even as I do not share them.

But those private feelings no longer outweigh the public symbolism of a flag that for many declares them as inherently unequal. It is a flag that has been adopted by an internal terrorist enemy that we must band together to defeat.

Sadly, President McConnell, the picture of you from 1999, showing you posing in front of the flag at your family’s old memorabilia store, for me, is now indelibly associated with this heinous act. I can no longer explain it to people who ask me about College of Charleston. It is inconsistent with the pride I feel for this place and my respect for your leadership this past year.

This is, in many ways, unfair. Signaling hate is obviously not your intention. You have declared yourself a champion of equality and diversity. In fact, one of your first acts as president was to take concrete steps to increase diversity at College of Charleston. You have been walking your talk as a leader.

I hope you agree it is time to take another step.

That which we could not imagine in 1999 or 2000 has now happened in 2015.

Though, if we really search our hearts, we know that these murders were not unimaginable at all, but rather wholly predictable, inevitable even, when we refuse to confront these wounds. The white supremacist terrorist spoke openly of his plans. In his twisted mind, these murders were justified.

He found comfort in this flag, and believed its public display meant that he spoke for many.

We’ve had so many powerful gestures of healing in our community over the last week, proving that the white supremacist terrorist does not speak for us, but we cannot let these moments of solidarity distract us from these larger issues.

Yes, the flag is “just” a symbol, but it is now an irrefutably toxic one. How could we conclude otherwise?

I understand that you believe discussion of the flag should wait until after the victims have been laid to rest. I disagree. While those services help us heal, the severity of the crime also demands justice, the swifter the better. Each day the flag flies on the capitol grounds it may give sustenance to others who share the white supremacist terrorist’s twisted ideology.

This is justice denied. In your most recent message to the college you said, “The College of Charleston will need to be the center for our collective healing.” Removing the flag is only one small step, but it is necessary.

President McConnell, you have the wisdom, and spirit, and influence to help heal your college community and your state.

Please support the removal of the flag from the S.C. State Capitol grounds.



John Warner
Visiting Instructor
College of Charleston

Yes, it would be wonderful for McConnell to lend his support to getting the flag down. He may even do it. If so, the effect would electrifying, among all who know him.

But there’s no way to say now. In the meantime, I was impressed by the letter — respectful, conciliatory, collegial and with just the right tone to persuade. That’s just the kind of tone all of us should adopt as we engage this debate in the coming days.

But it’s all about heritage, right?


This just in from The Hill:

The website for the alleged gunman in the Charleston, S.C., mass shooting was discovered Saturday, multiple reports say.
The Last Rhodesian” depicts photos of Dylann Storm Roof, 21, the man accused of attacking Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and murdering nine people.
The domain for the website was also registered last February to “Dylann Roof,” The New York Times reported Saturday.
The Daily Beast also reported that photos of Roof on the website were taken in spring, according to metadata.
The site features a document describing the evolution of its author’s racist worldview.
It is not clear who is responsible for either the photos or the article, titled “An Explanation.”
“I chose Charleston because it is [the] most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country,” the author says. It’s not made clear what would occur at the location chosen…

I was unable to call up the site. I don’t know whether it’s been taken down, or there’s just too much traffic going to it…

No, wait! I got it… and I’m sorry I did.


Dylann Roof in cell next to Michael Slager

Wow. This just in from the Associated Press:

The 21-year-old man accused of killing nine people at a black church in Charleston is being held in a cell next to the former North Charleston police officer who fatally shot a black man running away from him.

Charleston County sheriff’s Maj. Eric Watson said Friday that Dylann Roof, who is accused in the church shooting, is in a cell next to former officer Michael Slager.

Slager has been charged with murder in the death of Walter Scott. Slager’s shooting of a fleeing Scott following a traffic stop on April 4 was recorded on a bystander’s cellphone…

Church shooting suspect said to be in custody

Dylann Storm Roof, wearing Rhodesian and South African flags, from his Facebook page

Dylann Storm Roof, wearing Rhodesian and South African flags, from his Facebook page

Just to update from my previous “on the loose” headline — if indeed the suspect and the shooter are one and the same. From The State:

A source close to the investigation says the suspect in a Charleston AME church shooting that killed nine Wednesday night was captured Thursday in Shelby, N.C.

Authorities named 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, of the Columbia area, as the suspect in the shooting that killed nine, including state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a longtime South Carolina legislator who was pastor of the church….


A monster is on the loose in South Carolina


UPDATE: Suspect has been captured.

Again, South Carolina is leading national news for a horrible reason, and this time it’s even worse than the Walter Scott shooting. In fact, it’s nine times as bad.


Dylann Storm Roof

Police are giving the monster a name: Dylann Storm Roof. They say he sat with people engaged in prayer for an hour before announcing that people like them had to go, and opened fire.

This time, one of the dead had a familiar name: Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor. And the church where the shooting occurred, Emanuel AME, looms large in our history, both proudly and tragically.

There is so much that we have yet to learn about what happened exactly, but I thought I’d best go ahead and put up this post for your comments as we await more…

Americans concerned about crime used to favor gun control. Not so much now…

People used to say "He who lives by the sword dies by the sword," Ned Stark being a case in point. Today, they seem to think that if you outlaw swords, only outlaws will have swords...

People used to say “He who lives by the sword dies by the sword,” Ned Stark being a case in point. Today, they seem to think that if you outlaw swords, only outlaws will have swords…

You know, today would be a good day to just let Bryan take over the blog, the way he did while I was out of the country. I’d suggest that, but I’ve been binge-watching “Game of Thrones” via HBO NOW, and if there’s anything to be learned from that, it’s that it can be dangerous to leave someone else in charge of your kingdom.

Here’s the second topic today suggested by Bryan. He alerted me to this report from the Pew Research Center, which is summed up in this lede:

For most of the 1990s and the subsequent decade, a substantial majority of Americans believed it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun owners’ rights. But in December 2014, the balance of opinion flipped: For the first time, more Americans say that protecting gun rights is more important than controlling gun ownership, 52% to 46%….

I think this is related to what’s been happening in the GOP the last few years.gun poll

Increasingly, “conservatism” is really libertarianism in disguise, and is related to anti-government feeling in the country. People who once upon a time would have wanted just the cops to have guns don’t trust cops that way any more. It’s a two-edged blade — distrust of government on one side, a libertarian view of the 2nd Amendment on the other.

Also, as the Pew report notes, people have an exaggerated sense of the prevalence of crime. They think the streets are more dangerous than they are, and since they don’t trust government to protect them from all that imagined mayhem, they want to pack heat….

Body camera bill advances (too late for Walter Scott)

Just thought I’d share this report from John Monk with y’all:

A bill that would fund and require body cameras for all South Carolina police officers was passed unanimously out of a SC senate committee Wednesday morning.

The bill is now headed to the full judiciary committee for another hearing next Tuesday.

The body camera bill was introduced in December by Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington. It already has had three hearings this year in a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee led by Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg.

The bill also has bipartisan backing, with co-sponsors including Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, and Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, as well as Sen. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, and Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley….

Would a body camera have prevented the Walter Scott shooting from happening? Yes, I think it would have…