Ferguson. Brown. Long Island. Garner. New York. Diallo. Cleveland. Rice. Brooklyn. Gurney. St. Louis. Powell. Los Angeles. Ford. Beavercreek. Crawford. Bastrop. Smith. D.C. Carey. New York. Gray. Chicago. Boyd. Rubidoux. Miller. Baltimore. Gray. Fruitvale. Grant. Jackson. Anderson. McKinney.
These are the names that are etched into the hearts of all those who support the #BlackLivesMatter movement. These are the words that echo in an unrelenting staccato, like the swollen raindrops of a torrential storm; or, like a ruthless cascade of bulletfire. This is the sound of the murder of the Black community, and still too many of us refuse to hear the cries.
Last night, at approximately 9pm EST, a White male gunman — early to mid-20’s, slender and dressed in a grey sweatshirt and jeans, and with dirty blonde hair cut in a bowl cut — entered Charleston, South Carolina’s (Mother) Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has stood as a political and spiritual nexus for the Black community for what would be exactly two centuries next year. The gunman, identified this morning as Dylann Storm Roof, approached a weekly bible study group. A witness told NBC News that Roof said moments before he opened fire, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. You have to go.”
By the time he stopped shooting, eight were dead on the scene and another died en route to the hospital.
Among the dead was long-time state Senator and Reverend Clementa Pinckney, senior pastor at Mother Emanuel AME. He has served as a public representative since 1996, when he was voted into the General Assembly at age 26 as the youngest Black elected official ever to become a South Carolina state legislator. His life was among the nine senselessly taken last night.
This gunman — this domestic terrorist — fled and is still at large. (BREAKING: he was just captured alive.)
Already mainstream media is rushing to excuse Roof as an isolated incident, a lone wolf, a mentally ill child. But, why are we so loathe to also label this mass killing for what it is: the latest act of hate that fuels the systemic terrorism of the Black community? How can we not notice the connections between systemic racism and this act of brutal hate, which occurred just 6 miles from the spot where Walter Scott was shot in the back and killed by a White police officer less than six months ago and where the Confederate flag still flies over the State Capitol?
In the 1960’s, Black political uplift united communities of colour to agitate for social justice and social change. This last year has seen a resurgent focus on the Black struggle. White supremacy cannot abide by this. Since the inception of this country, White supremacists have used the tools of terrorists to attempt to silence Black civil rights and deny Black humanity. They have raped. They have murdered. They have lynched. They have burned crosses. They have co-opted law enforcement to assert a false legitimacy to these acts of brutal and unforgivable terrorism.
Assaults on the Black church — as institutions dedicated entirely to Black spiritual and political uplift — hold particular resonance for these terrorists. To attack a church is to commit violence not just on the body, but also on the soul. On September 15, 1963, four young girls were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
As an Asian American and a woman of colour, I don’t understand how anyone can stand idly by and watch this happen. How can any moral person not be enraged by the relentless assault and murder of Black citizens, who are guilty of nothing more than going about their daily lives while wearing the colour of their skin? Do we really think we are not also stakeholders in this necessary fight for racial justice?
Three years ago, Wade Michael Page approached a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin and opened fire into the crowd of congregated worshippers, killing six. All of Page’s victims were Sikh and South Asian American.
This morning, as news continues to pour in about the unfathomable assault that occurred in South Carolina last night, I sit in a coffee shop and contemplate how stunted our national conversation on race remains. We misunderstand the construction of race. We refuse to see racism as a systemic and structural tool of oppression. We are disinterested in building a more racially just world, inclusive of all people of colour. We shirk away from serious discussions on race and racism. Instead, we go round-and-round-and-round in an ouroboros of unfocused racial chatter and clickbait and race denialism and trolling. We would rather talk about a White woman in Blackface than the struggles of actual people of colour. We direct almost all of our energies to dissecting the inner gossip of Hollywood, when we could divert even a fraction of that attention on voting rights, higher education access, healthcare disparities, racial profiling, police brutality and mass incarceration. We congratulate ourselves for our colour-blindness, until the moment we gleefully blame supposed deficiencies in Black culture and parenting for persistent economic and educational disparities, while we exploit the Asian American community as the stereotype of the exceptional wedge. We believe the value of Black lives should only concern Black people. We defend or explain away the senseless acts of domestic terrorists, while we rationalize away the terrorism. We step over the bodies of Black dead, and blame them for politicizing their own murder.
What will it take to finally stop seeing all that has happened in the last year as individual incidents? What will it take to finally acknowledge that people of colour — and particularly the Black community — is under siege in this country and most of us would rather do nothing to stop it?
This morning, the sky is overcast. I cannot see the sun, and my heart aches.
Update: The names of the nine who lost their lives on Wednesday were made available yesterday: six of the victims are Black women. The victims range in age from 26-87. Their names are:
- Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45
- Cynthia Hurd, 41
- Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 54
- Tywanza Sanders, 26
- Rev. Myra Thompson, 59
- Ethel Lee Lance, 70
- Daniel L Simmons, 74
- Rev. Department Middleton-Doctor, 49
- Susie Jackson, 87
Update (6/19/2015): Please take a minute to donate to Mother Emanuel A.M.E. and to the victims’ families by following this link to the church website and clicking the Paypal button on the right-hand side.