A white gunman killed nine people during a prayer meeting at one of Charleston’s oldest and best-known black churches Wednesday night in one of the worst mass shootings in South Carolina history.
Heavily armed law enforcement officers scoured the area into the morning for the man responsible for the carnage inside Emanuel AME Church at 110 Calhoun St. At least one person was said to have survived the rampage.
Police revealed no motive for the 9 PM attack, which was reportedly carried out by a young white man. Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said, “I do believe this was a hate crime.”
What else can this be but a hate crime of the worst kind?
A white man walked into a historic black church in America’s Deep South and murdered nine black people in cold blood. The ensuing investigation will undoubtedly show that this evil act was perpetrated by an incredibly sick, prejudiced man with a burning hatred for people who don’t look like him.
Right wing commentators have repeatedly suggested or implied that racism in America is a thing of the past. They have even argued that racism can’t be a problem anymore because America has twice elected a black president.
But as these murders demonstrate, racism is alive and well in America. And thanks to our lax gun safety laws, guns and ammunition can be easily obtained and used to commit acts of terrorism. That’s what this shooting is: an act of terrorism.
Our elected representatives view overseas terrorist networks and the nations that enable those networks as extreme threats to our national security and say we need to degrade and destroy these threats. But what about the threat of terrorism from within? White supremacists who openly believe that black and brown lives don’t matter, and are prepared to commit murder in an attempt to start a race war are also a grave danger to the national security of the United States of America.
When are we going to take that threat seriously?
Our hearts are heavy this morning. We share the anguish and pain of the families and friends of the dead. Their sorrows are our sorrows. We hope the perpetrator of this hate crime can be swiftly apprehended and brought to justice.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, for readers who don’t know, is one of the oldest black churches in the United States of America, dating back two centuries. It is a place of worship and a place of activism where many civil rights campaigns have been planned. Martin Luther King Jr. once gave an address there. The church has long been a center of the black community in Charleston, and consequently, it has endured a number of attacks over the decades. But it has endured. And we pray fervently that it will continue to.
UPDATE, 9:50 AM: The authorities have apprehended the suspect, Dylann Roof.
The FBI is now on the scene with local police, and more of the Bureau’s best are on the way to join them. The Attorney General has announced plans for the FBI to open a hate crime investigation. We understand that the suspect is in custody. And I’ll let the best of law enforcement do its work to make sure that justice is served.
Until the investigation is complete, I’m necessarily constrained in terms of talking about the details of the case.
But I don’t need to be constrained about the emotions that tragedies like this raise. I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. Now is the time for mourning and for healing.
But let’s be clear: At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.
Vice President Joe Biden and Second Lady Jill Biden also released a statement expressing his condolences to the families and friends of the dead.
UPDATE, 10:30 AM: The names of the victims have been released. They are:
- Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney, South Carolina State Senate
- Tywanza Sanders
- Cynthia Hurd
- Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
- Myra Thompson
- Ethel Lance
- Reverend Daniel Simmons
- Reverend DePayne Middleton-Doctor
- Susie Jackson
UPDATE, 7:30 PM: The New York Times has published a profile of the nine victims of Roof’s act of terrorism. The Charleston Post and Courier, meanwhile, has a story about the magnitude of the murders. The story mentions that South Carolina doesn’t have a hate crime statute, which is pretty disturbing:
South Carolina is one of five states, including Arkansas, Wyoming, Georgia and Michigan, that doesn’t have a hate crime statute on the books, so local authorities are forced to rely on federal authorities to make charges in these cases.
For years, state lawmakers have tried and failed repeatedly to push hate crime legislation through the General Assembly.
Rep. Seth Whipper, D‑North Charleston, has tried for more than 15 years to get a bill passed by the Legislature that increased penalties for hate-related offenses. But not enough people rallied behind his effort, Whipper said.
His colleagues and many outside of the Statehouse failed to understand that the bill went beyond protecting members of the black community, Whipper said. The bill, which has not been taken up in subcommittee, also protects from crimes motivated by religion, color, sex, age, national origin and sexual orientation.
The Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney was a member of the South Carolina Senate. It would be fitting if the South Carolina Legislature could pass a hate crime statute in his memory and the memory of the eight others murdered at Mother Emanuel.