It’s Happened In Our Neighborhood

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The Washington Post reported that Pastor Leon McCray of Woodstock was visiting apartment property he owns in Edinburg June 1 when he saw a man and a woman who did not live there dragging a refrigerator to his Dumpster. They grew “irate” when confronted, McCray said, and the man left returning with three others.

“The five people jostled and threatened him, telling him ‘We would kill you.’

“McCray drew a legally concealed handgun … giving him time to call 911. But when sheriff’s deputies responded, [McCray] said, ‘I was not given the opportunity to tell what was going on.’

“Instead, he was ‘handcuffed in front of the mob,’ the members of which were yelling … and threatening him.

“All this happened on my property … what about the trespassing and the assault?”

McCray was driven away while the five stood with deputies “waving at me as I go down the road.”

This may seem an example of the existential threat to the right to bear arms.

Maybe, but there’s another factor in this story. Pastor McCray is an African-American. The alleged mob members are what we loosely classify as “whites.”

The threats they made before he drew his pistol were “that my black life and the Black Lives Matter stuff, they don’t give a darn about that stuff in this county, and they could care less, and ‘We would kill you.’”

What they had been yelling, in front of the arresting officers, were racial epithets.

So, is this about the Second Amendment or racism?

Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter believes it to be the latter. He has apologized to Pastor McCray and said the charges against him for brandishing a licensed handgun in self-defense will be dropped.

All five individuals involved were arrested and charged with assault by a mob and assault in a hate crime, both misdemeanors. The four men were also charged with felony abduction.

Two sheriff’s office supervisors have been placed on unpaid administrative leave over the incident.

This story doesn’t end without some reflection.

How would we react if McCray had started firing and some of his assailants died? Would his actions be accepted as self-defense?

McCray didn’t shoot. Was he fearful of the consequences of a black man shooting white people no matter the provocation? What might have happened to him had he fired?

Or was McCray showing restraint?

Suppose McCray was white, and his assailants black? Would he have felt justified not to wait on the deputies?

Would our legal system investigate just as vigorously no matter the race of those involved?

Behavior like these individuals is foreign to me. Apparently two people lack the collective energy of their prejudice to act and need the strength of a mob to buttress an attack on one man. I don’t think I know five people who harbor such twisted views. But I don’t know the secret wink or furtive gesture that signals I share bigotry and welcome its expression.

Nonetheless, do white Southerners, including myself, bolster racism in ways that we have failed to grasp?

Robert E. Lee was correct when he said slavery was “a greater evil to the white man than to the black race.” It instilled in the white population an immoral notion of superiority over African-Americans staining so deep that it still rules some people, in many cases reinforced by our own governments.

I went to segregated schools in Virginia. My formal Virginia history education came from Virginia issued textbooks composed at the direction of segregationist politicians resisting integration.

They made sure this history glorified Virginia’s past and portrayed a congenial picture of race relations, even during slavery, proffering, presumably straight faced, “Life among the Negroes of Virginia in slavery times was generally happy. The Negroes went about in a cheerful manner making a living for themselves and for those for whom they worked.”

Claptrap that sounds like Stephen Foster lyrics.

Has our nostalgia for the myths of the Old South and glorification of Confederate leaders bolstered those for whom it really isn’t about heritage, but hate?

It’s time we deal with our 400-plus year failure to treat fellow human beings as equals worthy of the same respect and guarantees of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have given their lives to ensure those rights, many dying on the cusp of adulthood never having the chance to enjoy the fruits of their sacrifices.

I’m a grateful recipient of the prosperity and liberty won by the devotion of those many.

If the sacrifice of my icons can make my country more just and equal for all, it is a sacrifice that pales in comparison to what they gave.

If the removal of Confederate symbols, which at their best are symbols of regional pride for only one segment of our population, it’s a cheap price to pay to let my fellow citizens know that I respect them and want for them the same rights and status that the Constitution guarantees me.

It adds the very rich reward of leaving without public and official support those who’ve used those icons to bolster their racism.

The News-Gazette

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