The Charleston church shooting happened on June 17, 2015, when 21-year-old Dylann Roof joined the South Carolina-based congregation in prayer and then opened fire. He shot ten people. Nine died, including the church’s senior pastor, in this act of domestic terrorism.
We begin by recognizing the victims by name, to pay our respects, to pray for their souls, and to remind ourselves that they are more than just statistics.
Susie Jackson, 87
Daniel Simmons, 74
Ethel Lee Lance, 70
Myra Thompson, 59
Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, 54
Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
Clementa Pinckney, 41
Tywanza Sanders, 26
This racially-motivated killing spree, which police are now treating as a hate crime, was instigated by a white male supremacist who sought to spark a civil war that would ultimately lead to the segregation of Black Americans. Although the killer’s motives are not yet entirely clear, we know for certain that this was just one of the many horrific examples of a system of racism that we as a society of Americans have tried to ignore time and time again.
What makes this particular tragedy even more alarming is that the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the shooting took place, is one of the country’s most prominent Black churches. It is where communities organized for their civil rights and where countless racists have hurled insults and attacks. The congregation, historically, has seen so much abuse. But the worst it has ever seen happened in what we like to call a “post-racial society.”
The nation is in mourning. In light of the police, like in Chicago, torturing Black city dwellers, in light of the fact that one out of every three Black males is expected to face some amount of prison time, in light of the severe socioeconomic disparities that prevent Black Americans from accessing the same quality of education and health care that others have access to — in light of all of these institutions and egregious realities, we still manage to fool ourselves into thinking that the Charleston shooting was a fluke, a rare occurrence, a tragic yet uncommon incident. It is unbearable that so many of us mourn while others suit up for another day of intimidating Black communities. We are sick of it.
To give you an idea of how pervasive anti-Blackness is in the United States, we turn your attention to the New York Academy of Medicine, across from which stands a bronze statue of the surgeon James Marion Sims, M.D. who is honored for fathering modern gynecological medicine. His statue also stands before South Carolina’s statehouse, incidentally just under two hours away from the site of the shooting, as well as the state of Alabama’s capitol grounds. He is regarded by many as a hero for women’s health. But his achievements came at the expense of Black women, who he operated on without permission and without anesthesia. He did his best (worst, actually) work on enslaved women in the mid-1800s. He is still revered for it. This is the America we have foolishly accepted as free, civil, progressive, beautiful.
Still, this country persists in its siege on Black America. At first it was out in the open. Then, as anti-Blackness operated in the shadows, we were made to believe we had finally moved past judging and condemning others based on nothing but the shade of their skin. Charleston’s night of horror proved, yet again, that this was all a lie. Today, America’s war on people of color is being waged both out in the open and deep within the shadows. We have no shame, no dignity.
What is worse is that the killer, a white male, is not condemned the way anyone else would be. Worse still, his victims were Black. A perfect combination. Roof was not tackled to the ground, choked to death, or beaten to a pulp for “resisting”. He was cuffed and protected with body armor. He was delivered in the luxury and comfort of an airplane. News outlets commented on his quiet and shy demeanor. There was no way someone like this could be behind such a thing! His roommate came forward with information about the killer’s ruthless plans to strike fear in the hearts of Black Americans, but instead of being reprimanded at the very least for keeping silent and consequently being complicit in this whole affair, he was celebrated for reaching out to thirsty reporters who were desperate for a bleeding lede.
Meanwhile, little is known of the power and strength of the community that lost nine innocent lives. Little is known of how kind, loving, and forgiving they are, being the first to tell Roof to his face in the courthouse that they have forgiven him, that they know no other way than to seek the best in others, even if these people show them the very worst the world has to offer. Little is known of the empty seats at the dinner table, the silenced nightly conversations, the punch of weakness that hits the legs when reality sets in. Little is known because it is not in our country’s foundation to care.
We leave you with one of Jon Stewart’s latest monologues. Although he is a comedian, his best work often shines the brightest when he drops the jokes. His address on the tragic Charleston shooting was no different. In his speech, Stewart boils it all down to a single pun: it really is black and white. He begins by by openly identifying what he calls a “gaping racial wound that will not heal yet we pretend doesn’t exist.” He goes on to say he is confident that “by acknowledging it, by staring into that [racial wound] and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit. That’s us.” Truth. The Black community in Charleston is certainly not the first to face such racially-motivated attacks and they will most definitely not be the last because this kind of hatred is ingrained in the very fiber of this country’s foundation, the very essence of what it purports to represent.
There is something eerily ironic about a white man receiving so much positive attention for saying something that countless people of color have said in the past. This, too, is a problem that we are staring in the face, helplessly, lost. Despite this gross double standard, we share this clip for the particular words Stewart chooses to use and the fact that this was even allowed to air on television. This nation is moving further and further into becoming the enemy we fear the most and we are too chickenshit to even acknowledge it.