Dylann Roof massacred 9 innocent people who had welcomed him into their most intimate space—their church—a space that should have been safe for them.
And then others are already meandering into apologetics, painting, even romanticizing, Dylann Roof as unstable, mentally ill. "Troubled." "Withdrawn." "Drifting." "Quiet, soft-spoken."
Because if it's mental illness, then it's not racism. If it's mental illness, then it's one man at fault, and not a society steeped in injustice and indifference.
The shooting was undeniably tragic, but the label of “tragedy” puts less emphasis on the killer’s volition than the word “terrorism” does. It erases his culpability. After all, a tragedy can be a natural disaster, a terminal illness, a horrific accident, all things that had no deliberate human hand in them.
The Charleston church shooting had a deliberate human hand in its execution. Several human hands, if you consider how the wider culture of racial violence contributes to each individual tragedy.
We’re not afraid to call the Boston Marathon bombing an act of terrorism, as well as a tragedy. Why? Because it was perpetrated by persons of color, by foreigners? Because there were white men and women among its victims?
It’s not just our language that suggests racial preference. You only have to look at pictures of the way the police treated Roof to see how language translates into conduct.
Why was the murderer of 9 innocents handled so respectfully—handed a bullet-proof vest—when a 15 year old Black girl can't attend a pool party without being manhandled?
Black people, and Black men in particular, are disproportionately targeted—by the police, by violence. And so often, those two things are one and the same.
White men with guns. Black men with guns. Brown men with guns. Madmen with guns. Policemen with guns. Is there some common element here?— Joanne Harris (@Joannechocolat) June 18, 2015
And it’s not an isolated incident. It’s not “one bad cop” several times over. Black Americans in the US are killed at 12 times the rate of people in other developed countries.
That should fill us with a profound sense of shame. And then that shame should be ministered into action, into change.