South Carolina State Representative William Chumley gave a disturbing interview in which he basically blamed the victims of the white supremacist massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel AME church on the victims. The interview conducted by CNN reporter Drew Griffin was bizarre and alarming all at once.
Bizarre for the tack Chumley took in defending keeping the confederate flag, and alarming for his suggestion that nine people waited to be slaughtered inside the AME church because the others present weren’t armed and allowed a scrawny shooter to reload and resume shooting.
Might one draw the unlikely conclusion from Chumley that he, uncharacteristically for a man of his ethnicity and age, supports the arming of African Americans? If the inference is correct, it is a new one on me. My husband looked at the image of Roof and said the handgun he’s holding is likely a Glock, a semi-automatic pistol. He also felt it would take an average user familiar with their weapon about 3-5 seconds to clear the empty clip, insert a fresh one, and close the slide, readying the weapon to start firing immediately. That’s not exactly “waiting around” time.
Most upsetting, however, is knowing that Chumley’s brand of ignorance and callousness is more the norm throughout Southern legislatures than it is not, and that our new all-Republican majority has a significant number of members who think and talk just like Chumley, and just as unashamedly and openly. The one that most immediately comes to mind is Representative Louis Gohmert, but there are many others who, more quietly, do their work while harboring the same woefully ignorant belief system.
These are the people who are in power over all of us. They are the ones who make life and death decisions on the allocation of state, local, and Federal resources, including health, food, shelter, the education of your children, policing, and gun and safety laws.
In the first part of this interview (not included in the transcript below, but a part of the clip), Rep. Chumley states that the confederate flag has been a settled matter for 15 years. “I think a miseducation and misuse of the flag… ” What follows is an entirely wrong line of questioning by Drew Griffin who, as he formulates the preamble to his question, introduces erroneous information when he states that hate groups appropriated the confederate flag. Chumley picks up on it like a defensive back a fumbled ball, and retorts ‘why do we let hate groups dictate how we feel and how we live? Hate groups are everywhere. We’re focusing on the wrong thing here. We need to be focusing on the nine families that are left and see that this doesn’t happen again…” Watch:
There is never a correct use for the flag of the side that was vanquished in a Civil War. The winning side’s flag replaced the losing side’s. The losing side in a civil war is considered treasonous. The confederate flag is the symbol of treason and never had any business being allowed. Treason is not covered by Free Speech. Hate is not a part of Free Speech. Yet, people like Chumley call this miseducation. Note the enduring truth of James Baldwin’s observation in The Fire Next Time:
“To accept one’s past—one’s history—is not the same thing as drowning it it; it is learning how to use it. An invented past can never be used; it cracks and crumbles under the pressures of life like clay in a season of drought.”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
American public education has been under the local control of Chumleys all over the nation since the inception of public education. The American history curriculum has never included the full, unvarnished truth about our history. Our children, as do children all over the world, graduate from high school with a far deeper knowledge of their nation’s history than do ours about our own. History books, going from state to state, all share an incredible lightness of coverage of facts. In certain states, i.e. the Midwest and South, one can find glaring omissions and outright lies. No state provides a rigorous historical curriculum of any kind. It isn’t until our children reach college, if they do, that they have a choice of required history course they must choose from. Even then, the number of required courses doesn’t equal the amount of knowledge every citizen should have about their nation. When we compare the national “font of knowledge” of Americans to other nations, we are found lacking.
“Whites, it must frankly be said, are not putting in a similar mass effort to reeducate themselves out of their racial ignorance. It is an aspect of their sense of superiority that the white people of America believe they have so little to learn. The reality of substantial investment to assist Negroes into the twentieth century, adjusting to Negro neighbors and genuine school integration, is still a nightmare for all too many white Americans. White America would have liked to believe that in the past ten years a mechanism had somehow been created that needed only orderly and smooth tending for the painless accomplishment of change. Yet this is precisely what has not been achieved. [….] These are the deepest causes for contemporary abrasions between the races. Loose and easy language about equality, resonant resolutions about brotherhood fall pleasantly on the ear, but for the Negro there is a credibility gap he cannot overlook. He remembers that with each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Where Do We Go From Here?: Where Are We?”
James Baldwin puts it a different way:
“I was just as black as I had been the day that I was born. Therefore, when I faced a congregation, it began to take all the strength I had not to stammer, not to curse, not to tell them to throw away their Bibles and get off their knees and go home and organize, for example, a rent strike. When I watched all the children, their copper, brown, and beige faces staring up at me as I taught Sunday school, I felt that I was committing a crime in talking about the gentle Jesus, in telling them to reconcile themselves to their misery on earth in order to gain the crown of eternal life. Were only Negroes to gain this crown? Was Heaven, then, to be merely another ghetto?”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
While removing symbols of oppression is always a good start, the real work of eradicating institutional racism must begin with reforming the justice, police, and prison-industrial systems, together with a complete reform of our education system, one that mandated nationwide and effectively counters the kind of ignorance that pervades certain quarters in our nation; one that allows for the continued supremacy of a line of thought that, in turn, perpetuates institutions which, in turn, perpetuate the kind of ignorance that cause one to opt for the tools oppression, rather than the changes that will bring freedom. Legislators like William Chumley and those who vote for him exist because the system was designed to produce them.
That system must be broken apart, cleansed, and then rebuilt from scratch.
UPDATE: Rep. Chumley has issued an apology.
South Carolina state Rep. William Chumley (R) on Wednesday apologized for comments he made suggesting that the victims in the Charleston shooting may have been able to do more to defend themselves.
“I deeply regret using those words and giving that impression,” he said in a statement, according to The Post and Courier. “My view, which I was clumsily trying to express, was that it is painfully regrettable that someone was not able to intervene in this demented killer’s life to stop him right up to the moment he squeezed the trigger.”
“Please let me be clear: The responsibility for the despicable murders in Charleston rests solely on the murderer,” he continued. “If any of my remarks suggested differently, I am deeply sorry.”
State Rep. William Chumley: These people sit in there, waited their turn to be shot… that’s sad. But somebody in there with the means of self defense could have stopped this. And we’d have had less funerals than we’re having.
CNN Interviewer Drew Griffin: You’re turning this into a gun debate? If those nine families asked you to take down that flag, would you do it?
Chumley: You said “guns,” why didn’t somebody, why didn’t somebody just do something? I mean, uh, you’ve got one skinny person shootin’ a gun, you know I mean, we need to take, and do what we can…
CNN: I want to make sure I understand what you’re telling me… are you asking that these people should have tackled him, these women should have fought him… that…
Chumley: I don’t know what, I don’t know what the answer was. But I know it’s really horrible for nine people to be shot and I understand that he reloaded his gun during the process. [smiles] That’s, that’s upsetting, very upsetting.
CNN: Those nine families, and every black person in South Carolina, and all of the people, the white people who are against that flag believe it shouldn’t be on the state grounds, you are saying it should stay because your constituents want it to?
Chumley: It stays there until the people of South Carolina say it should come down. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.
Source: Green Little Footballs: South Carolina State Rep. William Chumley: “These People Sit There, Waited Their Turn to Be Shot”