Hor­ri­fy­ing and repul­sive does­n’t even begin to describe how awful this news is:

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.

Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma has made a state­ment about this hate crime from the White House­’s James S. Brady Press Brief­ing Room:

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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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