Sen. Neal talks racism, Jefferson Davis statue, gun control and mental illness in wake of S.C. killings

07/12/2015 08:04 PM

A nation marked by multiple massacres in recent years is reviewing its history, especially in the south after a racially charged mass murder at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in mid-June.

After more than half-a-century the Confederate battle flag was lowered at the South Carolina Capitol grounds on Friday to the cheers of on-lookers. The flag was lowered, furled and taken to a nearby military museum.

In Kentucky, a state which chose neutrality during the Civil War, monuments and statues to both U.S. President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis stand in the state Capitol and elsewhere in the commonwealth.

Following the shooting in Charleston columnists and politicians called for relocation of a 15-foot marble statute of Davis which stands in the Capitol Rotunda.

The Kentucky Historic Properties Advisory Commission set a special Aug. 5 meeting to reconsider its place in the Rotunda.

State Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, was one of many in Kentucky touched by the killings in South Carolina. Neal knew Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a Democratic state Senator in South Carolina’s legislature through the National Black Caucus of State Legislatures.

Speaking to Pure Politics recently, Neal said he likes the tone and tenor of the debate taking place across the nation in respect to symbols.

“I like the fact that a number of things that people were very complacent about that now they’ve been jolted into another perspective,” he said.

“I think we’re addressing something that’s very important. A lot of people say symbols only have the power you give them — well that’s exactly correct. Symbols do mean something.”

The statue of Davis, which flanks Lincoln in the rotunda, is out-of-place Neal remarked.

“Here’s an individual that’s charged with being a traitor that participated in trying to dismantle a nation…the fought to maintain the subjugation of a people to the South’s economic benefit, and think about it, how does that match up let’s say to an Abraham Lincoln,” Neal said. “It seems like he’s not in the right place.”

According to the FBI , confessed killer Dylann Roof was able to purchase the firearm used to kill 9 African-Americans during Bible study through a flaw in the federal background check system.

The news of the failed background check was made public Friday after the interview with Neal was conducted last week.

Responding to questions from Pure Politics Neal called the massacre in Charleston both a racist act and an act of terrorism. Neal also said the act had overtones of mental illness.

“There are a number of researchers and medical commentators that have equated racism with various degrees of mental illness,” Neal said.

Neal said the availability of firearms exacerbates the problems.

“I own firearms, but I don’t believe we should have firearms in everybody’s hands — I don’t believe we should have people walking into the Capitol with firearms where people are dealing with contentious issues in the Senate and the House of Representatives, or in schools or anywhere else,” he said.

Individuals in Kentucky legally possessing firearms are allowed in the state Capitol both for open and concealed carrying — with the requisite permit.

There’s not much that can be done in the General Assembly on the issues of guns, but he did say there should be a focus on mental health.

In a recent podcast President Barack Obama discussed racism in America. In the interview with WTF, Obama said “we are not cured of” racism adding that it’s not just a matter of “overt discrimination.”

Neal said the president was referring to institutional and structural racism. But Neal said that overt racism also still exists.

“The one that’s so difficult to deal with is the structural racism — one that creates disparities in society, and then rationalizes and justifies it,” he said.

Neal said the real problem in structural racism is the “denial” that goes along with it, and he said it exists even in the state Capitol.

“There is no institutional context that structural racism has not invaded in this country, and that includes our state Capitol and that includes our U.S. Capitol as well,” Neal said. (3:25)

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@twcnews.com.

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