On Wednesday night, nine people were massacred at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. The six women and three men killed were attending a Bible study.
The suspected shooter has been found.
Early on, police had suggested that the shooting might have been a racially motivated hate crime. This has now been all but confirmed. A 21 year old Caucasian man, Dylann Storm Roof, was arrested in Shelby, North Carolina during a traffic stop. This is what we know about him.
Roof pretended to be a churchgoer
It is horrifying enough that Roof chose to attack a group of innocents that were attending to their religion in what they believed to be a safe space, but it appears he actually joined them in their prayer group, sat in the pews for at least an hour before opening fire. The parishioners welcomed him into their community, and he in turn presented the illusion of acceptance.
Roof believed he was saving American women from rape.
The gunman told one of the people present, who survived the attack, that he just “[had] to do it.” He viewed Black people as a threat to white women and “America” itself.
“You rape our women and you’re taking over the country. You have to go.”
He appears to believe that Black people have no claim to their own country.
Charleston shooting victim Sharonda Singleton, pictured with her son. RIP pic.twitter.com/T4FqyUbivb— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) June 18, 2015
Roof left one woman alive, to spread the word
A local NAACP official said that the killer told one survivor that he would spare her so she could tell others about what he did and why. He made her the spokesperson for her own trauma.
Roof was given the gun he used to kill as a birthday present
The .45-caliber pistol was a birthday gift from his father. That’s an argument for stricter gun laws right there.
Roof was known to make racist jokes
A student who went to high school with him, John Mullins, says that Roof had a reputation as a casual racist.
“He made a lot of racist jokes, but you don’t really take them seriously like that. You don’t really think of it like that.”
Tell that to the next bigot who asks you to “take a joke.”
Roof had a history of sympathizing with white supremacists
In his Facebook profile picture, Roof wears a jacket adorned with the flags of two former white supremacist regimes: apartheid-era South Africa, and the Republic of Rhodesia (what Zimbabwe was called under post-colonial white rule).
But no one expected this
Roof had a low-level arrest record. He wasn’t on the F.B.I.’s radar. His uncle, Charles Cowles, describes him as “quiet and soft-spoken.” A former classmate, Derrick Pearson, said he “mostly kept to himself.” He had a history of hard drug use, but no one paid it much mind. He even had Facebook friends who were Black, so no one expected that his hatred could run so deep.
And some still refuse to take it seriously now.
The Charleston Post and Courier ran a gun ad right next to its article about the Church attack. They said it was just “unfortunate timing” and “apologize to those who were offended,” but don’t appear to see the reasoning behind such offense. It’s not a question of being PC.
Some people are asking why the Charleston Shooting has been classified as a “tragedy” rather than an act of “terrorism.” Terrorism is defined by the European Union as “seriously intimidating a population,” among other things, and it’s certainly clear that Roof’s attacks intended to, and did, have such an effect.
What’s more, he killed more people than the Boston Bombing did. Is it terrorism when a person of color does it, but not a white man?
Which goes to show that the problem extends far beyond Roof himself
The Confederate flag still stands before the South Carolina capitol building. What example does this set for the SC community? Why is that dark period in American history displayed with such pride by the government itself? And how does it not suggest an implicit acceptance of ongoing violence against Black people?
You can't fly a Confederate flag in the front of the capitol and then cry when there's a racist terrorist attack. pic.twitter.com/I9ERgFTJSY— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) June 18, 2015
We need wider change.