I first heard about the Charleston shooting the way I get most of my current events: through Tumblr. This was Thursday, June 18, and the information was jumbled, piecemeal, and filtered through a good deal of emotion. All we knew was that a white shooter had gone into the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and shot eight or nine people, killing at least eight of them. We had grainy pictures of the shooter as well as his license plates, and people were outraged that it had been over 12 hours and the story still wasn’t major news. In fact, one morning show had opted to keep an extended interview with newly announced Presidential candidate Donald Trump instead of discussing the shooting.
The best way to describe my feelings was shock. Murdering eight or nine people (it was nine) is bad enough, horrifying, really, but doing so in a church seemed inconceivable. And, given the church’s history as an important landmark of black history and religion and the shooter’s race, it was immediately apparent that this was a racially motivated crime. Subsequent information about the shooter, Dylann Roof, gives credence to that initial assumption.
And yet, you have people who refuse to believe that this was a racially motivated crime whose roots lie in this nation’s unwillingness to face its racist past and present. You have people like Presidential hopeful Rick Perry calling it an accident. You have the Washington Post painting him as a tragic figure whose life “had quietly drifted off track,” lending his horrific crime a poetic backstory never allowed to black victims like Michael Brown and Eric Garner. You have rapper Killer Mike sullying the victims’ memory by saying, “I wish those folks in that church had been armed.” You once again have people burying their heads in the sand and refusing to acknowledge this country’s problems with race and racism.
So let me be clear: this was a racially motivated crime. The shooter was not mentally ill or of unsound mind. He went into that church knowing it was time for Bible study and knowing that it was a black church. He waited in that Bible study for a full hour before beginning to shoot people. He reloaded his gun five times. Before the massacre, he posted a 2400+ word manifesto online full of racism and hate. According to one of the survivors, he said, “You rape our women. And you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” He killed Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurt, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Reverend Dr. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Ethel Lance, Myra Thompson, and Susie Jackson because of their skin color. This was a hate crime. Remember that.
It is humbling to see the way the black community as a whole and the black community in Charleston particularly have responded to this terrible crime. On Sunday, June 21, just four days after the murder of the Mother Emanuel Nine, the church reopened and hundreds of people flocked to the service. Family of Clementa, Tywanza, Sharonda, Cynthia, DePayne, Reverend Daniel, Ethel, Myra, and Susie extended forgiveness to Dylann Roof, showing strength and compassion almost unimaginable. The black community reminds America how to respond to tragedy and how to continue to fight for justice and racial equality. They display dignity and courage no matter the situation, and they give me hope for this country’s future.