On the evening of Wednesday the 17th of June, Dylann Roof, a 21 year old white male, walks into the doors of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and sits quietly for an hour, disguised amongst other members of the congregation. An hour later, 9 are dead and 3 severely traumatised by the event. Roof was captured by police the following day in Shelby, North Carolina, still armed, after being tipped by a local citizen of his whereabouts. Although the facts of the story remain the same, the classification of his act differs depending on what news publication you’re reading. Many are questioning the nature of this “hate” crime, or even so, reducing the nature of the crime to the simple expression of one “introverted and adrift” individual.
The church had been home to many significant black civil rights leaders within American history, including one of the founding members, Denmark Vesey. Vesey led over 9,000 black slaves in protest against the inhumane treatment of slaves in the year 1822. Although the uprising failed, Vessey was later captured, tried and hanged. His importance lingers within the church and the incident is noted as one of the nation’s most famous slave uprisings. The church, in itself, is a representation of the strength of black history; a microcosm of the racial struggle that happened over 100 years ago within America and seems to be still happening today.
Witnesses from the crime told investigators that Roof stood up and told the congregation he was there “to shoot black people.” Yet, many are reaching out and classifying his actions as being an expression of a mental illness. Those that deem the incident as racially motivated are shunned and told to stop playing the victim. If you call it a race issue, you’re dismissed, you’re accused of attention seeking, because “not everything’s a race issue” This may be true, but when the perpetrator himself deems it a race issue, why are several different news stations around America trying to find an alternative explanation?
Fox news, of course, reduced the crime as a “war on Christians” Fox’s Steve Docy said “They haven’t explained it to us. Extraordinarily, they’re calling it a hate crime.” Extraordinarily? The only thing extraordinary here is Fox’s blatant disregard to actually weigh up the facts of the incident. E.W. Jackson, Fox’s guest, agreed with Docy saying:
“Most people jump to conclusions about race. I long for the day when we stop doing that in our country. But we don’t know why he went into a church, but he didn’t choose a bar, he didn’t choose a basketball court, he chose a church.”
No, Jackson, he did not choose a bar, or a basketball court, but he did choose a church that was prominent during the civil rights struggle within America. He did chose a church full of black citizens. He did choose a church and say he was there “to shoot black people”. Reducing the crime and diminishing the facts does nothing but reduce the lives of the actual victims, and support the deep internalized racism that continues to grow within America. It’s impossible for white people to understand how deep racism is ingrained within American society, until they accept and acknowledge white privilege within America. Ask yourself, why is a black shooter deemed a “terrorist” or a “thug” yet a white shooter is classified as “mentally ill”? Why is a black, unarmed, man killed within a choke-hold by the police on suspicion of selling cigarettes? Yet a white man that kills 9 individuals boards a plane before facing any murder charge?
Although this is a singular act, the act in itself represents a lot more than that. It is a clear reflection of the deeply ingrained racial hatred and white supremacy which continues to cripple America. By ignoring this, you open the door for crimes like this continue. By ignoring this, you reduce the victims who were murdered as a result of this act.
Cynthia Hurd, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Rev. DePayne Middleton – Doctor, Clementa Pickney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Singleton and Myra Thompson
We remember you.
Dylaan Roof needs to be acknowledged for what he is: a terrorist.