I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
People are calling yesterday’s fatal shooting of Parker and cameraman Adam Ward a racist hate crime. Were Parker and Ward the victim of hate? Yes, but it’s much bigger than that.
Afterwards, the gunman, Vester Lee Flanagan, a former WDBJ-TV reporter who went by the name of Bryce Williams faxed a 23-page manifesto-cum-suicide note to ABC News. His note claimed that yesterday’s live execution was his reaction to the Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17 of this year. Sources indicate that the murder weapon was purchased legally from a Virginia store just two days after the church shooting.
The fax also expressed Flanagan’s admiration for the two Columbine High School killers in Colorado. On April 20, 1999, two teens went on a shooting rampage killing and injuring several people before turning the gun on themselves. Let’s take this into perspective for a moment.
The Columbine High School attack took place 16 years ago when Flanagan was 25 years old. His note claimed that the more recent church shooting set him off and also claimed harassment from WDBJ. On Twitter, he claimed Parker had made racist comments. He later filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
His claims were dismissed because the allegations could not be verified. Flanagan’s horrific killing did not start with these so-called allegations, however. It started long before yesterday. This man was obviously disturbed and mentally unstable. In his fax, he writes, “The church shooting was the tipping point . . . but my anger has been building steadily. . . I’ve been a human powder keg for a while . . . just waiting to go BOOM!!!”*
In his note he also talked about how he was harassed by white women and also attacked for being a gay, black man.
Last night, WDBJ President and General Manger, Jeffrey Marks, appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News with Bill O’Reilly. When asked about how Flanagan was as an employee, Marks told O’Reilly that we can know what people say and do but not what they think and feel. That remark really hit home for me. These racist attacks don’t start with how people act. They start with how people think. They start with how people feel.
These attacks start not with discrimination but with hatred. The same hatred was fostered by the terrorists on 9/11, the recent mob riots in Baltimore and Jefferson County, the earlier shootings in Charleston, Virginia Tech and Columbine. Palestine vs Israel, ISIS and countless others going all the way back to the Crusades. They are a product of a mindset brought on by either a hateful ideology or a sense of being somehow wronged.
“But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. . .
“Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.
“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
“I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
When King made this masterful speech, he was not talking about equality for just African Americans, he was talking about equality for all. It’s not about seeing people as black or white; Hispanic or Asian, gay or straight, Muslim, Jew, Christian or atheist. It’s not about seeing someone as disabled or “normal.” It’s about seeing people as people.
Being born with Cerebral Palsy and hearing loss, I, too, experienced many acts of prejudice. I was picked on and bullied. When I was fresh out of college, I was offered a job at an advertising agency. However, when the manger later learned of my hearing loss, I was told that I would never make it. I was told to get out of my chosen field. The job offer was then retracted.
There were and continue to be countless other incidents I can list. But the point is, throughout all that happened to me personally in life, I never let hatred build up inside me, hoping to one day exact revenge on society for wronging me. Instead, I used those experiences as a self-motivator turning all those negatives into positives. I fought harder to succeed and be the best person I could be hoping to instill in my children a similar mindset of understanding, love and tolerance.
I, too, have a dream. I have a dream that this world will someday understand that we are not either black or white. That this prejudice and the horrible acts of crime that often result from it, is simply borne from generalized hatred towards any particular group of people.
I have a dream that that we will realize that we cannot simply make gun control laws stricter, or have greater security in public places and expect this problem to go away. We will someday realize that we must fundamentally change how we teach our children. We will teach our children to see people not as black or white but as people.
Despite the bad in this world, we will remember that the good will always prevail. And someday, we will all stand together, no longer divided. Only together can we make this world a better place.
This blog is dedicated in memory of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. My deepest condolences go out to their family, friends and colleagues.