This week, families, friends and community members prepare to lay the bodies of nine innocent men and women to rest in Charleston, South Carolina. They forgive the man who murdered them. They remember, publicly and privately, the lives of those who were lost.
This week, the world is a worse place for having lost them in an unthinkable act of racial violence and terrorism, in a church with long roots in the country’s black history and the violence that has been so much a part of it.
Last Wednesday, 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire with a legally purchased handgun at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, killing nine people and injuring a tenth. Survivors report that, before the shooting began, Roof argued that he had to do it because the black church members “are raping our women and taking over the country.” He gave similar justifications in his manifesto, framing his killing spree as an act of protection for a country and society that he felt were in danger.
It’s the same reason George Zimmerman gave for leaving his car, against the advice of authorities, to pursue Trayvon Martin on foot three years ago. It’s the same reason Officer Darren Wilson gave for stopping Michael Brown on a street in Ferguson last August and that New York police officers gave for confronting Eric Garner in Staten Island last July.
It’s the same reason the founders of the Ku Klux Klan gave for starting the organization in 1868.
They were dangerous, we hear again and again. They looked dangerous. They seemed somehow dangerous to me, at that moment, when I pulled the trigger.
Never mind that the police somehow managed to bring Dylann Roof into custody without shooting or beating him, after he proved how dangerous he could be. Forget that the white police officers who have killed unarmed black men, women and children have been allowed to walk away from their crimes, and that white people commit homicide at roughly the same rate as black ones and are arrested for other violent crimes — like forcible rape and aggravated assault — nearly twice as often. It doesn’t matter that so many of the people that have been killed were unarmed and in broad daylight, just walking down the street, standing in a church or trying to surrender.
They were dangerous. We had to be protected.
I’m sick with the grief and anger that comes with all of these killings, with the repeated attempts to disclaim the systemic biases behind them and to classify them as tragedies and accidents rather than what they are: murders, hate crimes and acts of terrorism. I’m sick of hearing them discussed as isolated incidents, as if they could ever be separate from the long history of violent black deaths in this country and the racism that persists to this day. I’m sick of hearing white violence be excused as mental illness and black existence be characterized as a threat. And I’m so sick of being told that the intention was good, that what the killers did, they did to protect their communities, this country and me, as a woman and citizen.
If you want to protect me, lay your weapons down. Lobby for stricter gun control laws. Fight to end sexual assault, domestic violence, and the poverty and prejudice that give rise to so much crime, pain and fear. Demand a police force and government, at every level, that can be trusted to treat us equally and keep us equally safe. Insist that symbols like the Confederate Flag, which represent prejudiced attitudes and violent histories of inequality, be removed from public buildings. Work to inform people about the history of prejudice in this country and the prejudice that we live with every day. Speak up when someone claims — as Dylann Roof repeatedly did in the presence of those who knew him — that anyone deserves to be disrespected, disenfranchised, hurt or even killed for their identity. Speak up when someone makes a joke or a comment that belittles another person for something outside of their control. Listen when other people speak up to you and work, constantly and consciously, to understand and correct your own prejudices — as we all must do.
And, please, please, commit no more acts of senseless racial violence. Not in my name. Not ever.
ANNIKA NEKLASON is a rising College junior from Santa Cruz, Calif., studying English. Her email address is email@example.com.Comments powered by Disqus
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