The nation remains in shock after a white gunman opened fire in a Black church in Charleston, S.C., killing nine people.
The shooting took place at the historic Emanuel AME Church last week during Bible study. The white suspect, who has been caught, was in the church for more than an hour before opening fire.
Killed were six females and three males, including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a South Carolina state senator. The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime. The massacre is the deadliest at a house of worship since nine people were killed at the Wat Promkunaram Buddist temple in Arizona in 1991.
Dylann Roof, 21, was caught last Thursday by police in Shelby, N.C., after a tip from a citizen. Reports indicate he was cooperative during the arrest. He is being charged with nine counts of murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. He has reportedly confessed to the mass killing.
Friday, wearing striped coveralls, Roof appeared on closed-circuit TV from a county jail for his bond hearing. The judge did not have the authority to set bond for the murder charges, but set a $1 million bond for the firearm charge. Family members were in the courtroom and expressed their grief.
Those close to Roof said he often advocated for segregation and went on rants about his dislike of Black people. Others said that he wanted to ignite a race war. Family members reportedly said that he was not raised to be racist.
In what is alleged to be a manifesto written by Roof, he discusses his dislike for Blacks and other races and said that the Trayvon Martin shooting “awakened” him. He researched “Black on White crime” on Google, which fueled his hate even further.
In addition to Pinckney, the victims are Ethel Lance, 70, the church sexton; Susie Jackson, 87, a church choir member; Tywanza Sanders, 25, nephew of Susie Jackson; Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, a pastor and school administrator; Cynthia Hurd, 54, a manager for the Charleston County Public Library system; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a pastor and a high school track coach; Myra Thompson, 59, a Bible study teacher; and Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a pastor.
Funerals for the victims began this week. President Barack Obama gave the eulogy at Pinckney’s funeral Friday. First lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden also attended.
This past Sunday, Emanuel AME Church held its first church service since the shooting. Those entering the church had their bags checked. The service consisted of gospel songs, prayers and remembrances of those who were killed.
A donation fund has been set up by the city of Charleston to provide direct financial support for the funeral and burial expenses of the nine victims. Any funds remaining after the funeral and burial expenses are paid will be donated directly to Emanuel AME Church.
Church bells across Charleston rang Sunday morning at the same time in honor of the victims. A reported 20,000 people participated in the “Bridge to Peace” walk across the 2.5-mile Ravenel Bridge.
Rallies and demonstrations have taken place over the Confederate flag being flown on the South Carolina statehouse grounds in Columbia. Monday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called for removal of the flag. Roof has been shown in several photos displaying the flag. Activists say it’s a symbol of hate and has no place at a government building.
“To say that the community is hurting is an understatement,” Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott said in an interview with the AmNews. “Devastated and distraught would probably be the best words to describe what’s going on right now. The big hurdle now is that nine people have to be buried from the same church.”
Scott said hundreds of people of all racial backgrounds attended a memorial service Thursday. She added that racism continues to be an issue in South Carolina.
North Charleston, S.C., made headlines in April after the fatal police shooting of unarmed Black man Walter Scott (no relation to Dot Scott). The entire incident was captured on cellphone video when former police officer Michael Slager opened fire on Scott as he ran away.
“The issue of race is still a problem in our Southern states and I don’t know what it’s going to take,” Dot Scott said. “No words can express what these families are going through.”
The shooting has put gun laws in South Carolina in the spotlight. No permit is required to purchase rifles, shotguns or handguns, and no permit is required to carry a loaded handgun in the console or glove compartment of a car in the state.
“The nine murders at Mother Emmanuel in Charleston are a reminder to some, of the extreme depravity and vile bigotry that still exists in this country,” said Marq Claxton of the Black Law Enforcement Alliance. “It is also a wake-up call to many who believe that our struggles and successes have virtually eliminated racism. This young 21-year-old terrorist did not exist in a vacuum, but rather he was shaped, molded and exposed to extreme forms of hate. The government of South Carolina cannot honestly assume a moral position on this execution of hate as long as the Confederate flag, a clear symbol of hate, still flies at the state capital.”
National NAACP President Cornell William Brooks said the massacre has had a devastating impact on the entire nation. He is expected to go to South Carolina Friday.
“Our century-old, ongoing work of confronting violence with nonviolence, hate with love and racism with the highest ideas of our democracy yet continues,” he said. “The mayor, police chief and witnesses describe this shooting as a hate crime. The coward who murdered nine parishioners in a church set a new and depraved standard of inhumanity. We, as Americans, by our resolve, determination and commitment, through our faith, will set an infinitely higher standard of humanity.”
The National Black Church Initiative called the Charleston massacre an “assassination” in a statement the organization released Thursday. NBCI President the Rev. Anthony Evans is traveling to South Carolina to personally direct 682 churches on security measures for congregants and families.
“We are convinced that Roof’s killing spree was purely because these innocent victims loved Christ and were Black,” he said. “Roof likely assassinated the Rev. Clementa Pinckney specifically because he is a preacher of the gospel and a civil rights leader. The Black church was the specific target for this horrendous act, chosen because of what it represents for all oppressed people.”
Obama briefed the nation on the incident Thursday. He said that the shooting is a sharp reminder of America’s past, when Black churches were targets of violent hate crimes.
“To say our thoughts and prayers are with them doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and sadness and the anger that we feel,” Obama said. “Mother Emanuel is more than a church. This a place of worship that was founded by African-Americans seeking liberty.”
At a press conference in Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the Department of Justice has opened a hate-crime investigation.
“We stand ready to offer every resource, every means and every tool that we possess in order to locate and to apprehend the perpetrator of this barbaric crime,” Lynch said before Roof’s capture. “Acts like this one have no place in our country and no place in a civilized society, and I want to be clear, the individual who committed these acts will be found and will face justice.”
In New York City, churches across the area have held services and gatherings in honor of those fallen. The Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Queens and the Abyssinian Baptist Church and the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem are among several houses of worship where people have been gathering and praying for the victims.
Meetings have been taking place throughout the city among clergy from all faiths, civil rights leaders and elected officials to address the shooting. A gathering outside Barclays Center in Brooklyn Sunday brought out hundreds of people to honor the victims.
Monday, demonstrators gathered on the plaza of the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building for the “Stand With Charleston” rally condemning the mass murder. The Confederate flag was burned.
The Rev. Al Sharpton held a press conference about the shooting and traveled to South Carolina. Joined by other elected officials, he led a day of remembrance at his weekly rally at the National Action Network in Harlem.
“The question becomes now whether he acted alone, what is involved and how people are further protected,” he said. “This is by far one of the most horrific acts that I’ve ever seen. To walk into a church and kill nine people in a place that should be safe—a new low in hate and atrocities in this country. None of us are safe if we cannot go to a church for Bible study.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio increased police protection at Black churches in the city. The mayor marched in Queens, along with other elected officials and clergy, Saturday.
“I want everyone to know there’s no place in New York City for this kind of hatred, and that we, through the NYPD, have increased our resources directed at protecting African-American churches in this city as a precaution,” he said.