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Gary Younge on Jacksonville Shooting & Why America’s Gun Problem “Makes Its Racism More Lethal”

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On Saturday, a white supremacist gunman killed three Black people at a store in Jacksonville, Florida, in a racially motivated attack. Authorities say the 21-year-old white gunman initially tried to enter the historically Black college Edward Waters University, but he was turned away by a security guard before driving to a nearby Dollar General and opening fire with a legally purchased attack-style rifle. America’s gun problem “makes its racism more lethal,” says Gary Younge, author of Dispatches from the Diaspora: From Nelson Mandela to Black Lives Matter. “There’s been a significant increase in the number of hate crimes, particularly in anti-Black hate crimes, and one has to be able to connect that to the political situation that surrounds us,” says Younge, who says the shooter’s actions are reflective of the current attacks on Black history and represent a backlash to increased racial consciousness following the murder of George Floyd.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Yes, 60 years ago today, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On Saturday, thousands gathered in D.C. to mark the anniversary, but the day was marred by news that a white supremacist gunman shot dead three Black people at a store in Jacksonville, Florida. Authorities say the gunman initially tried to enter the historically Black college Edward Waters University, but he was turned away by a security guard. The gunman then drove to a Dollar General store, where he shot dead 52-year-old Angela Michelle Carr, 19-year-old AJ Laguerre Jr. and 29-year-old Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion.

The gunman was armed with a Glock handgun and an AR-15-style rifle, which had a swastika drawn on it. Authorities said the gunman purchased the guns legally even though he had been involuntarily held for a mental health examination in 2017. The gunman later fatally shot himself. The Justice Department is investigating the shooting as a hate crime. Police said the shooter had written racist manifestos prior to the shooting. President Biden said in a statement, quote, “We must say clearly and forcefully that white supremacy has no place in America.”

This is Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters.

SHERIFF T.K. WATERS: The weapons that the shooter used today are a Glock and a AR-15-style rifle. This is a dark day in Jacksonville’s history. Any loss of life is tragic, but the hate that motivated the shooter’s killing spree adds an additional layer of heartbreak. There’s no place for hate in our community, and this is not Jacksonville.

AMY GOODMAN: Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters.

We’re joined now by Gary Younge, prize-winning journalist, professor of sociology at the University of Manchester, author of several books, including The Speech: The Story Behind Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream, which was just updated with a new introduction for this 60th anniversary of that historic day in Washington. Gary Younge’s most recent book is Dispatches from the Diaspora: From Nelson Mandela to Black Lives Matter, just about to be published. He’s also author of Another Day in the Death of America. Younge worked for The Guardian for 26 years, including 12 years as a U.S. correspondent.

Gary, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Before we move on to the 60th anniversary of that famous March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, if you can respond to what happened at just about the same time as the anniversary rally in Washington on Saturday in Jacksonville? Talk about the white supremacist gunman, using guns that he had legally gotten, even though he had been involuntarily evaluated for mental health issues in 2017. He had that Glock and an AR-15.

GARY YOUNGE: Well, thanks for having me on the show, Amy, and good morning to you.

I mean, a few things really come to mind. And the first is that, in a range of ways, America has all the same problems that the rest of, certainly, Western Europe has in terms of racism. I’m talking to you from Italy, which has a fascist government. It has inequality. It has people with mental health problems. It has racism. The thing that it also has, which none of these other places have, is an easy access to weapons, which can be weapons of significant destruction, I think, firearms. And that makes everything in America more lethal. It makes its racism more lethal, its domestic violence more lethal, any kind of social dispute or interaction more lethal. It makes suicide more lethal, because if you really want to commit suicide, a gun will do it very much more effectively than anything else, and then you don’t have the chance to change your mind. So, in a range of ways, we see this more lethal manifestation of racism.

The second thing that I think is that this hate from this young man did not come from nowhere. There was a context. I think it’s a stretch to say a cause, that he has been listening to Trump or been listening to DeSantis, and therefore went out and murdered Black people, but certainly a context — a clear context — in which this murders — these murders, this mass shooting took place. If he was surrounded by the kind of hate, the kind of hateful speech, the kind of political machinations, the banning of books, the suppression of elections, the decision that some people’s votes don’t matter, that really vicious political culture and racist political culture that has become embedded at the heart of American politics, then that has an effect. It’s supposed to have an effect. And this is one of the offshoots of that effect. There’s always been hate crimes in America, but there’s been a significant increase in the number of hate crimes, and particularly in anti-Black hate crimes, and one has to be able to connect that to the political situation that surrounds us.

The final thing I would say is that it is consistent. There have been — particularly since George Floyd’s murder, there’s been a rise in antiracist consciousness. There’s been an increase in capacity in antiracist work and in antiracist — and a spread of antiracist thinking. And just like with the March on Washington, where within about a month, I think, they had firebombed the 16th Street Church in Birmingham and killed four little girls and injured many as they were on their way back from — as they were on their break from Sunday school, that we see the backlash, this violent, desperate and, ultimately, kind of defeated lashing hands of a section of the racist community. And so, it is consistent in a range of ways. And it should shift our understanding, when there is this notion of the King’s dream speech as being folded into America’s liberal mythology: America is always getting better, it’s always getting more wonderful, it’s always — and in a range of ways, it isn’t. And this should be a corrective to any kind of happy talk that there might be around that 60th anniversary, that doesn’t take into account the realities of now and the fact that as things can go forwards, so can they go backwards.

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60 Years After “I Have a Dream”: Gary Younge on MLK’s March on Washington & the Fight for Racial Justice

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