I’m not sure exactly when the switch happened but last night the full force of it hit me when I realized that the standard line you hear from survivors of mass shootings now has changed from “We never thought it would happen here” to something more like “We knew something like this would happen here.”
I suppose that makes sense considering how often these shootings happen. This was the seventh mass shooting in the country in the past seven days.
“James Bentz, 57, said he was inside the store when shooting happened,” Elizabeth Hernandez of the Denver Post reported yesterday after the attack in Boulder. “He said he was in the meat section when he heard what he thought was a misfire, then a cadence of pops. ‘I was then at the front of a stampede.’ He said he ended up jumping off the back loading dock to get out.”
“He said younger people in the store were taking care of older people in the store, helping them get off the back loading dock.”
“It seemed like all of us had imagined we’d be in situation like this at some point in our lives,” he said.
This may also just be a vague feeling I have but doesn’t it also seem like you don’t hear the old “He was such a quiet guy. You wouldn’t think he’d be capable of this” canard as much as you used to?
I watched a video taken by a witness who was live-streaming the shooting and I wish I hadn’t. The camera scrolls casually by a few bodies strewn around the parking lot and then another inside the store and you can hear shots being fired in the background. The strangest thing about it was how casually the guy holding the camera and another man just standing around on his phone were. It’s easy to pretend one of these shootings is happening somewhere distant that isn’t real when we’re only seeing it on TV but acting like that while it’s still transpiring directly around you struck me as something new. I suppose none of us know how we’d act in that scenario. I suppose none of us know how we will in fact act when we do end up in that scenario.
Today’s feature is by Dave Infante, a journalist in South Carolina who writes the Fingers newsletter, and previously reported for Hell World on Surly, the craft brewery in Minneapolis that laid everyone off after its workforce announced its intent to unionize back in September.
I asked Infante to explain what South Carolina’s whole deal has been this year throughout the pandemic. He most certainly did that.
For previous What is this place’s deal? pieces in Hell World please see Dan Ozzi on Staten Island here and Jeb Lund on Florida here.
We want you to suffer and die :)
by Dave Infante
A few years ago South Carolina decided to redesign its flag. You’ve probably seen the white crescent moon and palmetto tree on a field of indigo plastered on the back of a Jeep Liberty doing 63 mph in the fast lane somewhere between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River. As far as flags go it’s nice enough, but in 2018 lawmakers here realized that it had no official design dimensions. A state commission then spent two years trying to hash out a standardized flag, and when they finally unveiled the fruits of this vital work, pretty much everyone here agreed the new version sucked ass.
Instead of moving on to more important matters—and with this being one of the most impoverished states in the country there are quite a few—our big beautiful state lawmakers went back to the drawing board for another pass. You might question whether this is a pressing matter during a brutal pandemic that has already killed 9,000 South Carolinians, and will kill a bunch more of us thanks to a botched vaccine rollout, and you’d be right to do so. But it’s also unnecessary at this point, because the perfect Palmetto State flag update already exists. Lifelong South Carolinian Daniel Machado tweeted it back in December:
“I’ve long known the policies of this state are deadly for many on a daily basis,” Machado, a designer who lives in Columbia, told me of his inspired vexillological contribution to the discourse. But spending the past year protecting two immunocompromised family members in a state hell-bent on pretending things were business as usual “really drove home just how much leadership didn’t care if my family lived or died,” he said.
As for the smiley-face, the most haunting detail of his design? “The old state slogan ‘smiling faces, beautiful places’ has always struck me as morbid comedy… and I needed a trunk for the Palmetto tree.”
Morbid comedy is about right. With incompetent idealogues in charge, public health infrastructure gutted, and a tourism-heavy economy where organized labor is virtually nonexistent, the past 12 months have been a horror show in South Carolina.
Statewide mask mandate? Never happened! Restaurant occupancy limits? Lifted last year! Our nightclubs? Governor Henry McMaster made a big show about shutting them down during the pandemic. But state law doesn’t ever really define what constitutes a “nightclub,” so party bars across the Palmetto State have been packing in drunks nuts-to-butts for most of the year. One Charleston club even booked a Nelly performance! Nelly! I think that got canceled due to a contract dispute or whatever, but you get the idea.
Meanwhile the state’s pandemic body count is closing in on five figures, the Republican governor—who, despite having a last name that literally rhymes with “disaster,” has not yet drawn a serious opponent in his 2022 reelection bid—is on Twitter crowing about being named one of the country’s least-restricted states during the pandemic by some credit-card market research firm. And behind him, the Republican-controlled state government has already begun its next act: a pain-and-suffering speedrun to legislate the last few ounces of compassion out of the code of law here in the Palmetto State.
Abortion was the first thing on the GOP docket when the “pro business”/”family values” sickos returned to session at the capitol this year. They skipped holding confirmation hearings for a new health director during a pandemic just so they could get to the good shit: debating the best way to turn women’s uteri back into state property.
They finally got it done here this year because they had the votes, and McMaster signed the ban into law with a toothsome grin on February 18, surrounded by mostly maskless Republicans clapping like seals. 38 South Carolinians died the day they “chose life,” but now our state has a shot at being the lawsuit that SCOTUS uses to overturn Roe vs. Wade, and besides—what’s another 38 souls in 8,900?
After passing the abortion ban—which the cash-strapped state will now spend millions to defend in court in hopes of scoring that coveted hearing with Amy Coney Barret & co.—South Carolina’s conservative lawmakers have brought bills that would authorize the state to execute people by firing squad and electric chair, block trans women from high school sports, and prohibit hormone treatments for trans youth. And naturally the GOP is using its expanded majority to push some standard-issue voter suppression under the guise of “safeguarding the voting process,” a time-honored pastime in this state. These are mostly Republican bills, but a few Democrats are involved in each of them, because lol of course.
(On the banal-but-still terrible end of the spectrum we’ve also got a bill on deck that would effectively prohibit the existence of standalone bars by forcing them to make most of their money on food. That one is the pet project of a state senator who lives near a bunch of U.S.C. bars in Columbia and has beenred-assed about it for years. He’s a Democrat, and also backs the firing squad as a matter of political pragmatism. Bipartisanship, bay-bee!)
The despicable shit pouring forth from the statehouse seems particularly grotesque given how haphazardly our politicians have governed us through the pandemic. But that’s politics more or less as usual here where the GOP has held a trifecta on the general assembly and governorship since 2003. “South Carolina is a place where regressive policies are tested for the rest of the nation,” said Mika Gadsden, a Charleston activist and host of the Mic’d Up podcast. She told me she thought the firing squad headline came from The Onion at first. “I think they’re trying to show that they’re still in control.”
If that’s the game, South Carolina’s political class is playing it pretty well this year. Consider the push to reopen schools. McMaster—who sounds like Foghorn Leghorn but governs more like Elmer Fudd—has been leaning hard on South Carolina’s public schools to reopen five days a week, even as he’s fought calls to prioritize teachers for vaccination. School reopening is complicated, but McMaster’s motives are not: vilifying labor and propagandizing for privatization is always good politics in South Carolina. The fact that this state’s teachers have no union (and as public-sector workers, are legally barred from collective bargaining), and have been exiting the profession in droves both prior to and during the pandemic, wasn’t going to stop the big guy from scoring points with strung-out parents and Sunbelt retirees whose brains have been MAGA’d smooth by Facebook and cable news.
“Everything he's done during the pandemic has been about disciplining the labor force,” said Paul Bowers, a lifelong South Carolinian who publishes Brutal South, an independent newsletter about education, class struggle, and a bunch of other stuff in the American South. (Disclosure: Bowers is a friend of mine, and I’m a paying subscriber of his.) With three small children doing virtual learning from their North Charleston home, Bowers has plenty of reasons to clamor for school reopening, but he has little reason to trust McMaster on that front. “He disregarded public health advice from the CDC and the state's own taskforce… If it wasn't for teacher activists cyberbullying him, things could have been even worse.”
(On a related note: just down the road from Bowers is North Charleston High School, whose principal, Henry Darby, made headlines a few months ago for working a Walmart graveyard shift to cover school costs and help out his students. After The Today Show did a segment on the situation in January, Walmart donated $50,000 to Darby’s school, where 90% of students live in poverty. You already know where this is headed but I’ll mark it for posterity anyway: Walmart has received at least $38.5M in tax abatements from South Carolina, and made $340B in net profit last year alone.)
“It would be one thing if I knew that there were policies and protocols in place to keep our teachers and our children safe, but I do not feel that is the case,” said Katie Thompson, a writer, artist, and disability advocate, referring to McMaster’s school push. I reached Thompson, who identifies as a disabled woman, by phone in Eutawville, S.C., a no-stoplight town halfway between Columbia and Charleston where she lives with her husband and two children.They’ve been doing at-home schooling through the pandemic, but she wonders how much longer she’ll be able to keep them safe at home as McMaster pushes to reopen. “He’s not killing my kids, and that’s all I can say.”
It’s property over people in South Carolina (unless your business is a bar, in which case, get bent buddy), and hypocrisy and oppression are the name of the game. Maybe it’s always been that way here, and like so many other facets of life in America, the pandemic has simply further unmasked this state’s racist, classist answer to the question of who deserves Southern hospitality. But just because they want us to suffer and die here in South Carolina doesn’t mean we have to.
“It’s easy to succumb to despair,” said Gadsden when I asked her how she stayed motivated to organize in the face of such relentless opposition. “But I’m a Black woman, I’m a descendant of the enslaved, I’m the daughter of Jim Crow refugees. If it wasn’t for hope and optimism, I wouldn’t be here.” She points to recent organizing wins in North Carolina and Georgia as inspiration: “you can’t look at these sister states, and see the political wins that have been made there, and not be optimistic,” said Gadsden. “There is hope.”
Like Gadsden, Thompson told me she felt “embarrassed” by the state’s most recent legislative lurch to the right, even as she shares the underlying hope. “It does feel hostile at a point, especially as a woman, especially having a disability… I don’t feel safe here,” she said. But she’s still here, because her life is here, and the morbid comedy afoot in the Palmetto State’s halls of power must be counterprogrammed.
“Someone has to stay and fight. We can’t just abandon it,” Thompson told me. Or to put that in Machado flag form:
Dave Infante is an independent journalist in Charleston, SC. He publishes Fingers, a free newsletter about drinking culture, being online, and beyond. Subscribe here, or follow him on Twitter.
I swam yesterday for the first time in like six months mostly because I’m in the middle of a real bad stretch here vis a vis the old back agony and I just probably shouldn’t run for a while. For me to take a break you know it has to be really bad. A frustrating part of back pain is never knowing if a few bad days in a row are just that a few bad days in a row or if “this is it” and it's all over from here on out. The psychological aspect is almost as bad as the physical one. It’s like the sword dangling over your head has swung by and cut you a little bit and that sucks sure but is the whole thing gonna fall any minute now?
I am nowhere near on the level of this guy in terms of running but I sure know how to injure myself about as well as he does. I thought this piece in Longreads by Devin Kelly on running and injury and loss was great.
A known fact about most distance running injuries is that they most often fall into the bucket known as repetitive stress injuries. These injuries don’t appear suddenly. Perhaps the pain does. But the pain is the result of a long time spent doing something with one part of your body — whether it has to do with your stride length, your shoes, or your footstrike — in such a way that another part of your body has to compensate for the action. Repeat this enough, and you have a tight glute, a weakened bone, a foot that aches in the morning. What is interesting about running is that you engage with pain so frequently that the early warning signs of a serious injury often seem like regular pain, the usual, the old ordinary aches of a morning spent logging miles around a park. Most of my serious running injuries have been the result of ignoring the ways in which my body was signaling stress until some fateful morning when I woke up and realized it was too late to ignore the pain, that I’d have to honor it, and sit out for a week, a month, or more.
Old enough to enlist ->
Here’s a good deal from OR Books if you’ve been meaning to get Lockdown In Hell World and haven’t yet.
That’s all for today. Goodbye.
I don't think I realized until right now that your new book was available. It must have come out when I was too depressed to read my emails and was just deleting them and also was not reading the news so I wouldn't lie down in the road. I will search it out now.
when I first started running last sumner (to get 30 minutes or so of peace and quiet with a newborn in the house as well as because I simply refuse to go to the gym and catch covid and die in the pursuit of doing some bench press) I read an article about pain and recovery and it used the word “microtraumas” and I think about that every single day. anyway I hope your back feels better pal