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Hypocrisy and Symbolism

After learning of Dylann Roof’s rampage, I went to Laura and Erma’s. We talked about this latest mass murder, number 14 (?), during Barack Obama’s presidency. Later, when I told them I’d read that Roof almost changed his mind, because the men and women at A.M.E. Church were so kind to him, I cried.

On Saturday, I continued to be a puddle of tears, watching movies, two dramatizations, based on actual events, and a documentary—“Happy Valley”—detailing the shame and denial surrounding the Penn State child abuse scandal in which a reverence for college football and the deification of Coach Joe Paterno resulted in Jerry Sandusky’s getting away with predation for years. This film congealed my enormous despair as I heard students, members of the community, and tourists express outrage that Paterno was fired instead of sympathy for Sandusky’s young victims. And, of course, Paterno’s handling of Sandusky’s crimes, a mere mention, followed by nothing more. Add to this the denial by Paterno’s wife that she or Joe even knew what pedophilia was. (Watch this video for a glimpse into the face of our nation.)

Remind you of anything? Indeed. South Carolina Gov, Nikki Haley said, “… we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another. Even though Roof specifically stated his reason for the slaughter to a woman he allowed to live. Not anti-Christian sentiment as Rick Santorum suggested, but hatred inspired by Roof’s perceptions of his own entitlement, mirroring U.S. exceptionalism.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said: Acts like this one have no place in our country. They have no place in a civilized society.”

Barack Obama spoke his usual “let’s be clear” message, the hypocritical gun-violence yada yada that goes nowhere—and this:

At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it’d be wrong for us not to acknowledge it, and at some point, it’s going to important for the American to come to grips with it … The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked, and we know the hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.

And there’s the issue of that flag, the Confederate Battle flag as a symbol. It’s meaning: honoring the Confederacy vs. a painful reminder of oppression that still exists.

I’d like to see the flag removed and burned, but this won’t prevent racial hatred. Because Loretta Lynch is wrong. The U.S. is not a civilized society. Instead, it’s a juggernaut of carnage and ecological degradation. That’s why the American flag should come down too. That’s why the U.S. Battle flag should be burned, but most important is to prevent the injustices these divisive pieces of cloth wave throughout the world.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com