Charleston shooting underscores racism in America

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U.S. Army Spc. Ron Leary, left and Astride Leary, of Savannah, Ga., pray at a sidewalk memorial in memory of the shooting victims in front of Emanuel AME Church, Monday, June 22, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

U.S. Army Spc. Ron Leary, left and Astride Leary, of Savannah, Ga., pray at a sidewalk memorial in memory of the shooting victims in front of Emanuel AME Church, Monday, June 22, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The Emanuel A. M. E. church in Charleston, South Carolina, a symbol for hope and progress in the black community was attacked Wednesday, June 17 by alleged shooter Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old racist who sat with parishioners for an hour before opening fire. He is charged with killing nine people, all of them black including state senator Clementa Pinckney, ranging in age from 26 to 87.

Since the shooting, more details have come out; Roof  allegedly wanted to ignite a race war. He believed heavily in segregation. He even had the badges of apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia, a land-locked, racist nation similar to South Africa that is now Zimbabwe.

The hate crime, as it was labeled by the police and activists, has incited a movement against the use of the confederate flag and mumblings about gun control, but for many this wasn’t shocking – though the fact that it happened at a church was — and the prospects for change are questionable.

“The Charleston terrorist attack really hit me in a way that I wasn’t expecting it to,” Charia McDonald, a DePaul junior, said. “It enraged me in a different way. Going into a safe haven like a church, and not just any church but A.M.E., and just senselessly murdering like that … Where are we safe?”

The massacre came days before Juneteenth, the 150th anniversary of the emancipation of African-Americans in the Confederate South celebrated on June 19.

The church has a long standing history in the black community, spanning from the antebellum period to the Civil Rights Movement. President Obama in an address June 18, said that the church, affectionately called Mother Emanuel, was “more than a church. This is a place of worship that was founded by African-Americans seeking liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery”

Terri Barr, of Columbia, S.C., stands silently against a fence while visiting a sidewalk memorial in memory of the shooting victims in front of Emanuel AME Church Monday, June 22, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. "It was just senseless and I just wanted to be here," said Barr. "It's sad. It's hurting, but you know, we'll heal." (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Terri Barr, of Columbia, S.C., stands silently against a fence while visiting a sidewalk memorial in memory of the shooting victims in front of Emanuel AME Church Monday, June 22, 2015, in Charleston, S.C. “It was just senseless and I just wanted to be here,” said Barr. “It’s sad. It’s hurting, but you know, we’ll heal.” (AP Photo/David Goldman)

But the end of slavery brought new challenges. The Reconstruction period saw the rise of the KKK and brought with it lynchings and Jim Crow, as well as the idea of “separate but equal” that drove segregation. In the past millennia there’s been another shift to “color-blindness,” equally problematic and disruptive.

The massacre at A.M.E. highlights the perpetuation of racism and the lack of progress that has been made. Verbiage about the killings and the shooter, who stated he wanted a race war and who posted a racist manifesto on a website, skip around the topic of race and racism even though it is highly apparent.

“People want to believe it doesn’t exist anymore because ‘it’s 2015. We all bleed red.’ But not everyone bleeding red is being shot in their place of worship with the specific reason being that they are black,” Anastasia Dervin, DePaul junior, said, referring to racism in shootings like these.

Dervin also believes that it comes down to a matter of empathy, and that it’s easier to empathize with others who look like them or who have a similar background to their own. “No one’s using words like “terrorist” or “murderer” instead of “lone wolf” and “misunderstood” because it’s going to upset someone who empathizes with them,” she said, referencing the “not all…” phrase that comes up in social justice movements.

For McDonald, the shootings are related to American society and how “we refuse to acknowledge (racism). We, as a society, have never actually 100 percent acknowledged slavery or the fact that slaves built this country. You can’t fix a problem you won’t even acknowledge.”

One act in acknowledging the racism in America’s history is the Confederate flag. The debate around the flag, which is used in South Carolina, and its use started again after the deaths, and the governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, supports ending the use of the flag.

New talks about gun control – since it is still not clear how Roof got his gun after his father denied buying it for him on his birthday – have also started, though it is unclear how far they will get. However, it is not the gun control debate that should be the focus. With the deaths of black and brown people by the police, and harassment at pools and other places, the start of talks and in uniting should focus on how far the nation has to go, and in the justice gap minorities have to deal with in order to live in the country.

“I just want black and brown people to feel safe. I just don’t know how we as a nation can be OK with children not being granted that bliss (that comes with safety), or that youthful ignorance or people not feeling safe in their own homes or streets or at their pool parties or at their playgrounds,” McDonald said. “I just want us to see ourselves for who we truly are so we can fix it.”