In a state where the confederate flag still holds prominence, South Carolina has become the center of racial tension yet again.
On the evening of June 17, nine people were killed in Charleston’s historically Black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (Emmanuel A.M.E.). 21 year-old Dylann Roof, who prayed with worshipers for an hour before killing them, confessed to the shooting last Friday.
He reportedly reloaded his gun up to five times and at the end of his shooting all victims were dead with one person spared.
He is reported to have told them: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. You have to go.”
The victims were Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, and Susie Jackson, 87, were identified on June 18.
Pinckney was the church’s lead pastor and a state senator representing South Carolina’s 45th District. He was elected to the state House at age 23, making him the youngest House member at the time.
President Barack Obama held a press conference to address the shooting and give his condolences to the victims.
“The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history. This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked. And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals,” said Obama.
This isn’t the first time Charleston has been in the news. Just ten weeks ago, a North Charleston police shot down an unarmed Black man named Walter Scott. Officer Michael T. Slager fatally shot Scott in the back after a tail light stop. He was later charged with murder following the emergence of video footage showing the incident with Scott.
The incidents occurred 12 miles apart from one another, and both Slager and Roof are being held in the Administrative Segregation Unit in the Charleston County detention center.
“I refuse to act as if this is the new normal or to pretend that it’s simply sufficient to grieve, and that any mention of us doing something to stop it is somehow politicizing the problem,” Obama said at a speech before the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco.
Charleston has a long and storied history of racial tension, dating back to the beginning of slavery. Some of 70% of African slaves were brought to America and shipped to Charleston’s port. Making the city a breeding ground for the cruel treatment to African Americans.
Founded in 1822, Emanuel A.M.E. is the oldest Black church in the South. The church was founded as a pillar of hope and a place of escape from the dehumanizing racism Blacks in the South faced from predominately white churches.
The church massacre have caused racial tension in the city to resurface; and Roof’s murders will be charged as a hate crime. As the case unravels in court soon, the Confederate flag is brings up concerns about the institutionalized glory of racist roots.
During slavery, the Confederate flag was the battle flag of proslavery traitors who refused to accept election results of a then mandated desegregated nation. The flag became a symbol of slavery, treason and a threat of intimidation to African Americans who wanted to practice their rights during and after the Civil War.
Many want the flag to be removed from the state capitol and some Republicans in the area are defending the right of South Carolina to fly it. However, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley announced her call to remove the flag from the state capitol on June 22.
“The murderer, now locked up in Charleston, said he hoped his actions would start a race war. We have an opportunity to show that not only was he wrong, but that just the opposite is happening,” Haley said. “My hope is that by removing a symbol that divides us, we can move our state forward in harmony, and we can honor the nine blessed souls who are now in heaven.”
On Friday, June 26, President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will travel to attend Pinckney’s funeral, according the Office of the Press Secretary. Obama will give the eulogy at the funeral. Funeral services for the other eight victims will be held the same week according to Emanuel AME Church’s interim pastor.