WHAT HAPPENED? (1)
On June 17, 2015, a gunman opened fire inside of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed 9 African American worshippers during a bible study.
The church is one of the oldest black churches in the U.S. and is a center civil rights related organizations. Because of its history, it became a target for 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof. He espoused his racial hatred online and in his manifesto (really, has anyone normal ever written a manifesto?) and wrote about his hatred for black people from jail, to which he was sentenced to life.
The shooting was one of 2 of the deadliest mass shootings at a place of worship, alongside a Buddhist temple attack in 1991. However, in typical and terrible American fashion, it was bypassed in fatalities by the 2017 Sutherland Springs church shooting, and then by the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.
ABOUT DYLANN ROOF (1)
Roof was born in Columbia, South Carolina and lived in a largely black area during the time of the killings. He had been arrested before, once for trespassing and once for drug possession, both in the months leading up to the attack. Because of his narcotics offense, he should not have been able to purchase the gun he used for the shooting, but an administrative error occurred and it was excluded on the background check.
He had told friends and neighbors before that he planned to kill people, specifically in an attack on the College of Charleston, but nobody took him seriously. He began working on his manifesto which included his opinion on black people, Asian people, Hispanic people and Jewish people (Hint: they were not positive). He also had images posing with a hun and a confederate flag.
He claimed that he became "racially aware" after the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, concluding that Zimmerman was right and couldn't even understand the controversy. After that, he scrolled through pages of black people murdering white people, and claimed he was never the same.
On his computer, investigators were not able to find anything that supported the notion that any of his online white supremacist buddies encouraged the massacre. Prosecutors said that he was "self-radicalized" online, and did not adopt his ideologies through personal associations or experiences.
Charleston police began receiving calls at around 9:05 PM of a shooting at the church. The shooter was described: a white man with sandy blonde hair, around 21 and 5"9'. He had entered the church and began shooting with a handgun. He had initially come as a participant in the bible study before he opened fire. (1)
In the hour leading up to the shooting, 13 people, including Roof, were participating in a Bible study. One of those people was state senator Clementa C. Pinckey, whom Roof asked for by name and sat down next to. He listened to the discussion, sometimes disagreeing. (1)
But when the other church-goers began praying, Roof stood up and pulled his gun out. One participant tried to talk him down, asking why he planned to kill the innocent churchgoers. He responded, "You rape our women and you're taking over our country. You have to go." He said he was going to kill them all and began shooting even after one of the men dove at him, trying to stop him. (1)
The man who dove at Roof, Tywanza Sanders, died, but his mother and 5-year-old niece who attended the Bible study survived. They pretended to be dead on the floor. Polly Shepard, the other survivor from the Bible study, was left alive because he needed someone to tell everyone what happened, and he had intended to kill himself. (1)
After the 6 minute shooting ceased, Roof left the church, not before saying racist things to the bodies of his victims. 8 of the victims died at the scene, while the 9th died later at the hospital. (1)
The victim's beautiful lives can not be boiled down to a sentence or 2, but here are some of the things that the friends and family of the victims remembered about their loved one. (2)
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; mother of 3, reverend, high school track coach. A beautiful spirit who loved the Lord, and was beautiful inside and out.
Clementa Pinckey, 41; the pastor of the church and a state senator in South Carolina. A husband and a father of 2 who loved GOd and his community. (3)
Cynthia Hurd, 54; had worked at the library for 31 years, a tireless public servant, a good friend and a woman of faith
Tywanza Sanders, 26; a quiet, warm, intelligent man who died trying to save his 87 year old aunt, mom and niece. 2 of them survived.
Myra Thompson, 59; a Bible study teacher and the wife of a reverend from a nearby church
Ethel Lee Lance, 70; the church's sexton, and the heart of her family. She was a God-loving, hardworking woman who could be called on for anything.
Daniel L Simmons, 74; attended bible study weekly, was a pastor, war veteran and a loving father and grandpa
Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; a member of the church choir and a loving mother of 4 daughters
Susie Jackson, 87; a loving person who didn't have animosity for anyone. She was the type of person who would do anything for anyone
CAPTURE, LEGAL PROCEEDINGS AND AFTERMATH
Immediately, the case was treated as a hate crime. Dylann Roof was captured during a traffic stop at 10:44 AM the day after the murders, approximately 245 miles away from the church. Police received a tip when a woman saw someone driving through town with his description and various confederate flag stickers on his car. (1)
While in custody, Roof reportedly told police that he almost did not go through with his attack because the church members had been so kind to him. (1)
He was charged with 9 counts of murder. At his first hearing, survivors and relatives said they were praying for his soul and forgave him. He was indicted on the murder charges and 3 attempted murder charges on July 7. He also faced weapons charges, hate crime charges and other civil rights violations. He pleaded not guilty on July 31. (1)
He was declared competent to stand trial, and the trial began on December 7, 2016. Witnesses testified in graphic detail about the shootings. He represented himself for sentencing, where he offered no apology or explanation, but said nothing was wrong with him psychologically. During sentencing, the prosecution brought about a piece of evidence via his journal after 6 weeks in jail where he wrote: "I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed." (1)
Because obviously he is an outright monster, he was sentenced to death on January 10, 2017, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole on April 10, 2017. (1)
The shooting sparked conversation about racism and gun control. The Black Lives Matter movement protested the shooting, and many politicians spoke out condemning the actions of Roof, and adding that his ability to legally purchase a gun was a contributing factor to the deaths. (1)
The shooting also triggered call to remove the confederate flag from statehouse grounds, as the flag is kind of a mating call for white supremacists. It was removed in many places, acknowledging that it was a part of our past, but not our future. Many companies, such as Walmart, Amazon and Sears announced they would stop selling merchandise with the confederate flag. (1)
In a poll in the south, 75% of white people described the confederate flag as a symbol of pride, while 75% of black people felt it represented racism. And um, who should we listen to on matters of racism? Also, I have never met anyone in my life who uses the confederate flag for anything and is not racist, so. (1)
The shootings also triggered conversations about historic Confederate figures from schools, streets and cities. (1)
While the vast majority of Americans and people around the world were disgusted and heartbroken by the display of racism and violence, some neo-Nazi white supremacists glorified Roof's actions, and other far-right mass murderers, by calling themselves the "bowl patrol" after Roof's stupid bowl hair cut. (1)
After his sentence was announced, Roof's parents released a statement saying they would always love their son, but did not understand why he committed such a horrible act, and shared their condolences with the families of the victims. (3)
But in some conversations between he and his parents while in jail, they didn't seem as supportive. They told him he had gotten himself into this mess (while Roof replied that no, it was black people's fault) and told him nothing he could ever do would be as bad as what he had already done. They told him not to do anything stupid in court because "everything you do reflects on us as a family" and though they didn't believe he could possibly make anything worse, they begged him not to. (4)
They also joked about the death penalty, Roof laughing about which 2 family members he would invite to watch him die if that was the selected sentence. His mother was outraged that her son fired his attorneys for sentencing, but he said they were sick people who he wished he could fire again. (4)
There are so many, too many, shootings in the United States. So many senseless, tragic deaths that it is nearly impossible to keep track of all of them. But Dylann Roof's name is one I have never forgotten. Because he wasn't mentally ill. He wasn't going through a tough time in life. He was just a racist, white supremacist monster who believed black people should die for no reason, and so he killed them. He never apologized, never expressed any remorse, never felt bad for killing the innocent people he almost let live because of their kindness.
I cannot imagine having such a hate-filled heart. And I also can't imagine having a heart filled with such love and grace and compassion that I could forgive him for what he did, like many of the families have.
Dylann Roof's life is an example of "acceptable racism" turning into "unacceptable racism". He posted images wearing racist emblems and confederate flags. He likely used slurs and spoke negatively about people of color. He even talked to his friends about killing black people. But all of those fall into "acceptable" racism - or rather, racist things that people accept. Maybe people unfollowed him for posting racist things, or distanced themselves from him because of the slurs or threats, but he wasn't seen as a monster for those things.
He took his slurs and flags and words and emblems to the next step, though, and committed a hate crime. Those people who saw his Facebook posts and didn't think anything of it, or simply rolled their eyes when he talked about murdering people realized he wasn't just a quiet, Internet racist, but a full-blown hateful murderer. The friends he should have lost for his words and actions didn't realize how bad it was until the killings.
This is why calling people out for their racism is important. This is why confederate flags and slurs and even micro-aggressions need to be immediately checked. Because you just don't know. Roof told friends he wanted to kill people, and they still didn't know. Call people out for racism when you see it, whether it is a friend, acquaintance or family member. Because 1 slur or 1 confederate flag post could be the clues you get to determine if someone is going to act on their racism and kill.
It has been 5 years since 5 kind, innocent black lives were taken away at the hands of a shooter who has, thankfully, been brought to justice - but nothing will bring them back. And so, in their honor: Be kind and compassionate. Call out racism when you see it. And remember that black lives mattered, matter, and always will matter.