He looks like Dennis the Menace. Like the boy who portrayed the cartoon character in the 1960′s TV program of the same name, an actor named Jay North.
That’s what I thought when I saw the photo of Dylann Roof, the 21 year old male (I cannot call him a man) arrested for the murder of nine innocent African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina last Wednesday.
I felt the same anger as when I was 14 years old, when Lee Harvey Oswald killed our president in 1963: how could a lone, frail, misanthrope like Oswald wreck the world for the rest of us with two pulls of his forefinger?
Likewise, how could this baby-faced 21 year old, clearly lacking wisdom or any sense of humanity inside that murky brain, destroy nine church members, and the soul of city, by repeatedly squeezing the trigger of a handgun in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church?
In anger, we have been groping for someone or something to blame. When the shooter is a craven punk, mowing down complete strangers because, as he allegedly said, African Americans were raping white women and over-running the country, we want to fault his parents.
But then we are told by Roof himself, in the 2,500 word manifesto he purportedly posted online, that he did not grow up in a racist family or environment.
So we fumble and shift blame to white supremacist groups in South Carolina.
But the Menace had no affiliation with the usual hate clubs.
Instead, we try scapegoating the Council of Concerned Citizens, whose website Roof credited for opening his eyes to so-called black on white crime that helped lead to his decision to kill.
The president of the CCC, however, rejects responsibility for a “deranged” individual’s acts.
We turn our attention, then, to the other photos, in which Roof is seen proudly posing with a Confederate flag, a concrete symbol on which we may pin the blame.
But wait just a minute, says keeper of the Stars and Bars: “Do not associate the cowardly actions of a racist to our Confederate Banner,” said Leland Summers, SC’s Commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Why not make Donald Trump our whipping boy? After all, some of what he generalized about Mexican immigrants being criminals and rapists recently was eerily similar to what Roof said about blacks.
But in truth, we cannot establish cause and effect between the Charleston massacre, and any one of the above symbols, persons, or institutions. To be fair, we ought not jump to any such conclusions, since Dylann Roof is an aberration: a deeply disturbed, violent menace.
All we can hope for is to prevent such a creature from obtaining a gun.
But this, finally, as President Obama grimly stated, is where we have failed as a nation.
Yes, we should fault the NRA for successfully blocking common sense gun laws, including background checks for all gun transactions, an omission which enabled Roof, with felony drug charges pending, to acquire a lethal weapon.
But we must also fault the members of the U.S. Congress who don’t dare defy the NRA, and the voters who re-elect the cowardly legislators.
Late great Chicago columnist Mike Royko referred to the modern handgun as the “great equalizer,” which allows puny, disgruntled misfits like Dylann Roof to usurp society, giving them horrible power over decent citizens.
Power they should never possess.
Power recklessly disseminated by the NRA, sourced in the greed of gun manufacturers, and paid for with the blood of innocent Americans, this time gathered in a church.
David McGrath is Emeritus English Professor, College of DuPage, and author of THE TERRITORY.