Once and future blogger New York Erratic asked a timely question:
Was the attack at the South Carolina church terrorism?
OK, I guess I should answer that. But I have to work through the whole incident, because, save for the school shootings in Newtown, CT in December 2012, the story of nine people murdered in their CHURCH for being BLACK has overwhelmed me more than any other story not involving me personally in over a decade.
Actually, I tried greatly not to write about it at all, but here’s the thing: I spent the first 72 hours after hearing about the event alternating between tears and rage. While putting down my thoughts doesn’t solve the problem, it helps ME try to make sense of the senselessness.
I grew up in an AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church, an offshoot of the AME church that was targeted. There might not have been an AME church at all had it not been for the racism of the Methodist church back in the 1780s – a trait no doubt shared by other churches.
I belonged to a United Methodist (UM) church in the 1980s and 1990s when there was a desire on the part of the shrinking Methodist connection to create a Pan Methodist union. After all, if Sunday morning was the “most segregated time of the week,” ought the church be a reconciling agent? The AME and AMEZ are members of the connection, but the merger that some UM members wanted at the time I don’t think is the cards. The black church has quite often been at the forefront of social change, and its white allies more than occasionally were slow off the mark.
Those folks in Charleston, at the Emanuel AME Church, I knew them. I don’t mean personally. But I understood how they operated. The church community surely celebrated their recent college graduate, Tywanza Sanders, 26. They had pride in their professionals, such as high school coach/teacher Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, and librarian Cynthia Hurd, 54, whose name will appear on a local library branch. But they also respected the hard-working folks such as custodian Ethel Lance, 70. They honored the wisdom of their older members, such as Susie Jackson, 87.
DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, was a minister at the church, while Daniel Simmons, 74, was a retired pastor. Myra Thompson, 59, received her license to the ministry the VERY NIGHT SHE WAS KILLED. And lead pastor Clementa Pinckney, 41, was not only preaching since he was 13, but was also the youngest African American state legislator in South Carolina’s history, elected to the S.C. House of Representatives in 1996, at the age of 23, and to the state senate four years later.
Once the story goes from “nine people murdered in a church” – the headline partially blocked in the Charleston paper by a gun ad – to those particular individuals killed, there’s a new wave of grief. Watching the relatives of the family members forgive Dylann Roof was extraordinary, and it brought me to tears yet again.
Thus, when certain people started saying what I can only describe as stupid stuff regarding their deaths, I became infuriated.
Probably most toxic: NRA board member Charles Cotton blamed Clementa Pinckney, a victim of the shooting, for his own death and the deaths of the others, because “as a state senator, Pinckney supported tougher gun regulations and opposed a bill that would have allowed people to carry concealed guns in churches.”
Another thread is that the nine people shot multiple times was NOT about racism, despite a wealth of evidence, from Roof himself to the contrary. Dylann Roof wrote in what appears to be his manifesto, filled with pictures of him with the Confederate battle flag:
“I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
The resistance to acknowledging that this is racism – hey, Roof has at least one black friend! – is, I suspect, because it is difficult to acknowledge that racism still exists in the “post-racial” United States, especially in one so young, 21. Many had comforted themselves to think the old segregationists would eventually die off, and that equality would be achieved. Frankly, I never quite believed that, though I don’t know if that was a function of cynicism or realism.
Speaking of that Confederate flag, I’ve listened, REALLY listened to the argument that the flag symbolizes “Southern heritage” and “tradition,” and I even believe that some of the people spouting this really mean it. But whose heritage? It does not, and will never, represent black Americans. It is a reminder of an oppressive system designed to maintain wealth by owning human beings. And subsequent to the Civil War, it’s been used as a symbol to incite terror, mostly on black people.
Yes, I support removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse, from the design of the Mississippi state flag, and from other government functions. Obviously, I am pleased that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has reversed her position and called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the state Capitol.
As Ta-Nahisi Coates put it, “Take down the flag. Take it down now. Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now.”
This is interesting: in June 2015, in the case of Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., black conservative Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas provided the decisive vote to allow the state of Texas to refuse to print a specialty license plate bearing the much-loved and hated Confederate battle flag.
Yet, I don’t have confidence that banishing the symbol to museums will rectify the racism that, for so many, it represents. The Wall Street Journal says institutionalized racism no longer exists in Charleston, a dubious claim to say the least, given the death of Walter Scott in April 2015; filmed evidence suggests he was unarmed and shot in the back by a policeman.
My great fear is that all the talking points will be rebutted and nothing will change. President Obama talks about “someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun,” and it becomes “Obama’s trying to take our guns.”
If the massacre in Charleston – or any number of similar events in recent U.S. history- had been committed by a foreign invader, we would practically go to war. “How many billions will we spend fighting the terrorist organization known as institutionalized racism? How many American lives are we willing to risk to protect America?”
So yes, NYE, it was a terrorist act. Per the FBI, the definition of “domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:
Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law [CHECK];
Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; [CHECK] and
Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. [CHECK]
Americans, on American soil, are being radicalized by ISIS to carry out threats against police and other domestic targets. Likewise, Dylann Roof, who had to repeat the ninth grade, had been radicalized by right-wing, white supremacist rhetoric, probably online as well.
It’s also possible that he is crazy or evil or the Manchurian Candidate. Truth is, I don’t much care what they label it. BTW, if you haven’t seen it, watch ‘I got nothin’ for you’: An emotional Jon Stewart puts the jokes aside to discuss racism in America.
One last thing: I tend to agree with Larry Wilmore about the religious aspect of this. “Four black girls were murdered in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. Back then, no one pretended to wonder what the motivation was. If you tried to say it was about religion, even the perpetrators back then would have corrected you.”
If anyone would like to help the families of the shooting victims, the City of Charleston has set up the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund to help the families pay for funerals for their loved ones, counseling services, and other needs as they continue to heal from the tragedy.
You can give to the fund at its website, http://www.motheremanuelhopefund.com.
Or by mailing a donation to:
Mother Emanuel Hope Fund
c/o City of Charleston
P.O. Box 304
Charleston, SC 29402