Eight Black churchgoers and their pastor were slaughtered by a young White supremacist, setting off swift political responses and fierce debate in Black America about forgiveness and accountability.
COMPILED FROM WIRE AND STAFF REPORTS
CHARLESTON, S.C. – Shock and sadness over the murders of a Black pastor and eight Bible students by a young White supremacist during a Bible study inside a historic South Carolina church June 17 continued to sweep the nation this week.
President Obama is scheduled to attend the funeral of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, on Friday, June 26 – after the Florida Courier’s press time. Pinckney, 41, was also a South Carolina state senator.
The others who were killed in the massacre are Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, an Emanuel pastor and high school track and field coach; Ethel Lance, 70, a 30-year church employee; Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49, a choir member; Susie Jackson, 87, a longtime and faithful church member; Cynthia Hurd, 54, a librarian devoted to education; Tywanza Sanders, 26, a 2014 graduate of Charleston’s Allen University; Myra Thompson, 59, an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority; and Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a retired pastor from another Charleston church.
Hours after the mass slayings, Dylann Roof, 21, of Columbia, S.C., was identified as the perpetrator. Roof’s hatred of Blacks apparently deepened two years ago after a White female he was interested in began dating an African-American, according to a relative.
In an interview with the Intercept, a site originally created to provide a platform for whistleblower Edward Snowden, a cousin of Roof identifying himself as Scott Roof, was quoted: “Dylann was normal until he started listening to that White power music stuff.” He said his cousin “kind of went over the edge when a girl he liked started dating a Black guy two years back.”
Scott Roof continued, “Dylann liked her. The Black guy got her. He changed. I don’t know if he would be here if not…” At that point, the cousin “abruptly hung up the phone,” according to the site.
The murders have come amidst unrest across the nation because of unarmed African-Americans being shot down by police and authority figures.
Online, Roof – pictured with guns and Confederate battle flags – claimed he was first angered by the controversy surrounding the shooting of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed Florida teen shot and killed in Sanford three years ago.
After the mass murders, Roof fled to North Carolina. Shortly after a North Carolina florist tipped police off to Roof’s whereabouts in Shelby, police officers stopped him. Roof surrendered. And when Roof said that he was hungry, police bought him food from a nearby Burger King.
Roof reportedly confessed to police that he was the gunman. The FBI took over after Roof agreed to be transferred back to Charleston without further court hearings.
‘I forgive you’
At a bond hearing on June 19, South Carolina Judge James B. Gosnell allowed the victims’ families to address Roof, who appear via videoconference in open court. He showed no emotion as relatives of the victims addressed him directly.
A woman who identified herself as the daughter of Ethel Lance said: “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her ever again.
“I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you. And [may God] have mercy on your soul.”
Anthony Thompson, Myra Thompson’s relative, told Roof turn to Jesus Christ. “I forgive you and my family forgives you,” he said.
‘Never the same’
Felecia Sanders survived the attack by playing dead. Her son Tywanza was killed.
“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautifulest people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts…and I’ll never be the same,” she said.
The judge subsequently came under criticism when he said Roof’s family was also “victims.”
“I set the tone of my court. It’s my courtroom. I take control over it, and I conduct business within the scope of the law,” Gosnell exclaimed.
“I’m a Charlestonian,” he said. “Our community is hurt. People have to reach out and tell them, it’s good to grieve…It’s best to learn how to forgive…You saw what these people did today. These people, people in Charleston, our citizens, they hurt, but they will learn how to forgive.”
Strong or weak?
The families’ forgiveness – without condition and bestowed on a confessed killer who thus far has shown no remorse – set up a firestorm of online reaction.
On Facebook, Jacksonville pastor A.W. Barlow, Sr. supported the families’ actions and praised Pinckney as a great pastor.
“The mark of a GENUINE CHRISTIAN is one’s ability to replicate that which Jesus did to save us from our sins. Namely, forgive from the heart & soul or the mind will and emotions,” Barlow wrote.
“Jesus preached forgiveness for three years before he was crucified. He even taught…‘If you will not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive your trespasses.’
“Jesus backed up this very powerful teaching by forgiving his (ignorant) murderers before they completed the task at hand. While hanging on the cross, Jesus prayed that the Father would forgive those who were actively killing him.”
‘Dripping with blood’
Former Tampa resident Louis Muhammad – a member of the Nation of Islam and a native of Charleston – vehemently disagreed.
“We as a people have a misunderstanding of forgiveness,” he replied. “We forgive our enemies who continuously offend us and say this is the way of Jesus. Did not Jesus turn over the tables of those merchants in the Temple? Did he not say that he would return with a sword in his hand dripping with blood?
“That devil who came in the church was a liar and a murderer. They trusted him. They wanted to be witnesses of Jesus to him. And that devil murdered them and we are (giving) forgiveness (to) a man who hasn’t even repented. That shows our weakness as a people and that we are afraid to confront evil.
“Well that day is over… Come on, Black people, wake up to what is happening around you and stop using religion to put the people to sleep. We are at war and if you don’t see it, Satan has you locked to him.
“Challenge these forces and see who shows up…the man I’m walking with (Min. Louis Farrakhan) you can’t walk with as no punk. This Satan of White supremacy is going down.”
On Wednesday, thousands came to the South Carolina State House to pay respects to Pinckney, lying in state in an open casket a week after he was shot and killed.
By the day’s end, about 4,000 visitors had made the slow moving journey from the State House grounds through its lobby, passing by the senator’s body.
Pinckney’s casket was placed between the House and Senate, where the Democrat had held office since 1997, first as a state representative and, later, as a senator.
Pinckney, who was married with two daughters, started out in the state House as a legislative page.
Later, at 23, he was the youngest African-American to be elected to the Legislature at the time.
During the viewing, a black curtain hung over two doors, obscuring from view the State House’s north steps and grounds, where a Confederate flag flies. South Carolina governor Nikki Haley refused to use a legal technicality to remove the Confederate flag, and Pinckney’s casket passed underneath it enroute to the viewing.
Three leaders in the South in recent days – all Republicans – have called for the removal of the flag that opponents say represents the defense of slavery.
Haley said she wanted to take down the Confederate battle flag from her state’s Capitol grounds last week, and lawmakers there will debate the matter.
Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama on Wednesday ordered Confederate flags removed from a Confederate War Memorial at the Capitol, and Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said the Confederate battle flag making up a portion of his state’s flag should be removed.
Black Democrats are so far the only voices calling for removal of Confederate images. Sen. Arthenia Joyner wrote to Sen. David Simmons, a Republican and chairman of the Rules Committee, on Wednesday asking him to schedule discussion to remove the Confederate flag from their chamber’s official seal.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ordered the removal of the Confederate flag from Capitol grounds in 2001, but other memorials honoring the Confederacy remain in Tallahassee. A monument honoring Leon County’s Confederate soldiers and the battles they fought sits on the Old Capitol grounds.
Some lawmakers even want to reconsider Florida’s state flag, which consists of the state seal in the center crossed with red bars, a la the Confederate battle flag. The red bars were added by a statewide referendum in 1900. Thanks to Jim Crow laws, the electorate consisted almost entirely of white citizens.
“Florida’s flag does look very similar to the Confederate flag, and maybe this is the time to consider changing it,” said Sen. Geraldine Thompson, a Democrat.
Hazel Trice Edney of the Trice Edney Newswire; George Curry of NNPA; Gray Rohrer of the Orlando Sentinel; and Jamie Self of The State (Columbia, S.C.) / TNS all contributed to this report.