When we ask ourselves days, weeks, months, years later, what happened in Charleston, the words to articulate it will be there on the tips of our tongues, but it will be hard to speak them, because to do so would be to understand and to understand would be to accept. And accept we cannot. Yet the words will be there, the reasons will be clear although they’ll make no sense but we know why this happened. We know why a sane man decided to kill nine people in a planned and meticulously thought out execution. The words are hate, racism, terrorism. And the killer was in the midst.
This is not a crime committed by a mentally unstable character, this is not a tragedy brought on by a natural disaster, this is not a random incident out of the blue by some disturbed person. This is hate. This is pain. What we must not do is try to make excuses for his actions because his demeanour suggests the contrary. What we will not do is excuse this as just another crime in the community. To do so would be to accept this heinous crime. To do so would be to punish the victims of such crimes even in death.
Nine people went to church, a place of refuge, of hope and faith, expecting to make it back home alive. Expecting their prayers would be answered, prayers for loved ones, for good health, long life, special intentions. They would have prayed for each other, they would have prayed for the gun man who sat in their midst for an hour in Bible Study, they would have welcomed him in as they shared and listened to the word of God with him. They never expected this, never expected their hopes would be dashed and lives cut, prayers unanswered. Moments with loved ones stolen from them, plans never coming to fruition, words left unsaid…
The scene of this massacre was the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Mother Emanuel to all, in Charleston, South Carolina. One of the oldest black churches in America, and the oldest AME in the South. Its roots go as far back as 1791 amongst free blacks and slaves who were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston until 1816 when the Black members of the congregation left the church over a burial site dispute, to form their own congregation under the leadership of Morris Brown. The African Methodist Episcopal was established in 1816 in Philadelphia, but two years later Brown and members of his clergy were jailed for violating laws that prohibited the gathering of Slaves and free Blacks without white supervision. In 1822, Denmark Vesey, one of the founding members of the AME was arrested for planning what would have been the biggest slave revolt in history. When authorities got wind of the plans, Vesey and several co-conspiratros were put to death by hanging after a farcical trial and the church was burned down by white supremacists. It was rebuilt, but in 1834 Black Churches were outlawed, so members of the congregation met in secret until 1865 when the A.M.E was formerly recognised. During the civil war, the church was destroyed, but was rebuilt twice afterwards, and after an earthquake in 1886. The building as it stands today dates back to 1891, and the church remains the testament of strength and resilience, a symbol of freedom. On Wednesday the 17th of June, at Bible study, Dylan Roof, a new member, turned it into a place of horror simply because of hate.
Hate. Let us never forget that.
Let us never stop thinking about this and being sickened by it, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. Let us never shy away from talking about it, loud and in public, not sit in silent condemnation. Let us never forget that nine innocent people went to church and never made it out alive because of the grand delusions and overwhelming privilege that sips through the veins of the underbelly of American history, in a city that echoes race and segregation; the confederate flag, flies proud as a sigil of Charleston and the roads are named after confederate generals in tribute.
Over the coming weeks and months the political panderers will talk and analyse ever so carefully so as not to upset their chances at election. They will widen their eyes and shrug their shoulders confused as to how this could have happened, faux surprises and rehearsed reactions. They will rehash old debates and arguments about how to prevent it, all the while avoiding the issue at hand and then they’ll move on. The President will say the words he has said over and over and over again, about history and dark pasts, gun violence and hate. The politics of the different issues will be on replay and soon enough will be used as soundbites in political attacks on candidates. They will all move on. They moved on with Newton, they moved on with Mike Brown, they will move on from Charleston.
The newscasters will try to rationalise and make sense of this nonsense. They will bury their heads in the sand and ignore the fact that the gunman stated his reason;
“I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go“
He spoke those words, gave his reasons, yet the media will seek to move away from the glaring narrative because the killer is white. They will refuse to believe, they live amongst such depravity, and in so doing will be accepting of it. They will not use words like terrorism or racism, or thug, because in their eyes, the terrorist is a muslim, the racist only comes dressed with a hood over his head and two holes for eyes. The thug is the unarmed black man selling cigarettes on the street corner or the teenage girl in a bikini at a pool party. During the riots in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore etc. stemming from frustrations after several unarmed black men were killed by police, the media was only to happy to bandy about racial terms in their analysis, only too happy to address the “situation” with Black America. They referred to the demonstrators as “thugs” the new substitute for the N-word, and spewed Martin Luther King quotes, calling for stale, meaningless peace. They will refuse to label Dylan Roof as such.
They will talk about a lot of things, identities and motives. We will learn about the killer and his victims. We will learn about their everyday lives, their families, their feelings, last words they said and all those other mundane things they did. When it comes to the killer we will hear words like “mentally unstable” “sick” “loner” narratives that will move them away from dialoguing in truth not false narratives of comfort. According to Fox news this as “an attack on faith“. They will deny the fact that racism still runs deep in the veins of America, that slavery still exists in ever so politically correct institutions. They will throw debate around false narratvies and speak in truths of their own convenience, pay hollow tributes and weak condolences. America. America.
Nine American lives were taken by One American; this is hate, this is terrorism, this is racism. Call it what it is. Never stop talking about it no matter how uncomfortable it is, never relent. It is an ugly truth, a wicked truth, but it is the truth nonetheless. Never ever forget.