The race war craved by Dylann Roof has so far erupted only with words and petitions, not with violence. Roof, charged with shooting dead nine African American people in Charleston, South Carolina, faced their relatives last week; incredibly their words, spoken with dignity, were of their forgiveness for him.
But changes there have been. The confederate flag, widely seen as a symbol of white supremacy, has been banned for sale by many stores and online companies, and its status on government premises is being questioned throughout the American South. As Willie Manning and other African Americans know, the flag celebrates an economy rooted in slavery; Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession is unequivocal about this:
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world… none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.”
Where the flag is tolerated it validates institutional racism. This includes racism within the judiciary. A report published last year found that:
“…each stage of the criminal justice system is affected by policies and discretion that often unintentionally disfavor low-income individuals and people of color.”
In Charleston the very magistrate who presided over Roof’s bond hearing had previously been reprimanded for using a racist word when speaking to an African American defendant. And last week he told the hearing that Roof’s family too are victims. His point is valid; but would he have made this remark if Roof had been African American and the victims white?
In Willie’s case it was a white judge that allowed the prosecutor to strike African American jurors from his trial; and a white prosecutor, appealing to a white audience, who denigrated Willie publicly with the label of ‘Beelzebub’, the Devil’s lieutenant. Who can tell how deeply racism saturates Willie’s case, from the moment when the police charged him to the time when the appeals judges resisted DNA testing? As Carrington Tucker says,
“In my mind, the state had written Willie off. Who gives a fuck about this guy? …We know he’s the type of person who’s capable of doing this. It’s him.”
As confederate flags disappear from store shelves perhaps a new recognition is needed: the recognition that Willie’s trial and appeals and those of many other African Americans have been tainted by the shadow that falls from the confederate flag.