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As the entire nation reeled from the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, South Carolinians were met with news that a local teen had made violent, racist videos and threatened to shoot up his high school.
Red flags don’t come much brighter.
In conversations across the state the past few days — on social media and around kitchen tables — the name Dylann Roof has been inescapable. Although vicious videos are not in the same vein as a mass murder, this state will forever be haunted by Roof’s slaughter of nine parishioners at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church four years ago. Along with that horrible memory is the fear that, just as no one saw Roof coming, we might miss the next one. Roof had recorded videos and taken pictures of himself before taking his dreams of a race war to the so-called City of Steeples.
In the case of the local teen, townspeople familiar with his well-respected family were shocked that such apparent racial hatred could have developed to such an extent and hadn’t been identified sooner.
The student’s videos — and subsequent actions by Columbia’s Cardinal Newman High School and the Richland County Sheriff’s Department — speak to the heightened focus on identifying red flags and taking prompt action. The teen, whose name is being withheld by law enforcement and school officials because he’s a minor, has been banned from the campus, according to local news outlets. In one video, the teen threatened to “shoot up the school,” which led to his arrest on charges of making threats against students. Deputies confiscated firearms from his home.
The boy’s films are painful to watch. In one, he appears to use two rifles to repeatedly shoot a box of Air Jordans, which he says is “the favorite pair of shoes for a black man.” He uses the most-vulgar racial slur and says that he hates African Americans.
Apparently, the videos were made in May before the academic year ended and were circulated among classmates, according to news reports. While school administrators learned of the videos in mid-July, much of the community of more than 500 students and their families found out about them only late last week. Understandably, they’re upset they weren’t told sooner.
Principal Robert Loia, who met with parents Monday, apologized for not speaking up sooner. The sheriff’s office issued a statement saying that the situation was dealt with in a timely manner and there was no threat to the school community.
Even so, school parents are concerned about the other students on the initial online threads, and some have asked the school to take further disciplinary action, reported The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. The school plans to host a town-hall meeting Thursday night.
Some reports suggest that the student and a group of friends may have just been goofing around, trying to make the most sensational, offensive videos possible. If that was their goal, they can retire. But even if true, the videos reflect a disturbing, even terrifying, lack of empathy or a moral compass. What could possibly motivate a 16-year-old to pursue something so vile in the guise of entertainment?
For now, a potential crisis has been averted or at least neutralized. The lesson for this and every community is that no hint of hatred toward any group of people can be tolerated or ignored. Red flags seem to be all around us these days — and every single one needs to be taken down.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.