Last night, a prayer meeting was held at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. "Mother Emanuel," as it's known to the community there, is one of the oldest African American churches in our entire country. Its historical significance is plentiful: It was burned to the ground in 1822 over racial tensions, but the congregation built it up again. Then, all-black churches were banned by the law, but its faithful members found ways to meet in secret. An earthquake in 1886 destroyed the church, but once more, its faithful congregation came together to let it rise. In many ways, this church is the physical manifestation of faith: It has weathered oppression, hellfire, and disaster, but it always reemerges stronger than before.
Last night at one of the church's regular prayer meetings, a small group of people gathered with their pastor, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney. The Reverend was an influential man who started preaching at just 13 years old. At 26, he joined Mother Emanuel, where he had served his congregation for 15 years. He became the youngest-ever African-American to serve in the State Legislature at just 23 years old. He had appeared in the pages of magazines and newspapers for his thoughts on faith and politics. He was, without any shadow of a doubt, a leader in Charleston.
The Reverend had a new guest that joined his 8 o'clock prayer meeting last night. A slender 21-year-old man came to sit in and join the small group that was gathered. He was wearing a sweatshirt, blue jeans, and Timberland boots that looked worn at the toes. His name was Dylann. He sat there, in those clothes, for about an hour.
Then, he stood up and opened fire on the people praying next to him, allegedly re-loading his gun five times. While wielding his gun, he reportedly said, "I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go." Nine people were killed, three men and six women. The Reverend was among them, and so was his sister.
Hate is a wicked thing, and it sometimes compels people to commit senseless acts of violence. But while this event unfolds before our very eyes in the news cycle, and we see people tweeting or reporters commenting, a narrative will begin. We will inevitably learn more about the victims. We will see their photos, which may reveal their smiles, how they liked to do their hair, what they liked to wear. We'll hear from their mothers and fathers, their brothers, sisters, best friends, and significant others. We will remember them even though we may not have known them. We will feel hurt for their loss, and we may think of our own families, our own friends. This is called compassion, and it's an important part of sorting through tragedy: It helps us pay our respects, and it reminds us to love one another and call for justice. That's what faith aims to do.
But then, another narrative will unravel: the shooter's. The reports may say things like "mentally ill" or "disturbed" or point to a history of child abuse. Undoubtedly, our news cycle will try to explain what we're all asking ourselves: Why?
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley is quoted as saying, "The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying is hate." And yet, our media coverage is reluctant to identify this as a hate crime, putting the phrase in quotations, as if there is speculation as to why a white man would walk into a historically black church and kill only black people.
According to fact, the shooter in this event is a terrorist. Terrorism is defined as "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes." But the problem is, the shooter is white, so he won't be labeled as such. Some will think terrorism belongs to people with browner skin. And so, we'll instead hear about his upbringing, and the events that led him to this shooting.
In a perverse way, by attempting to make sense of his crime, the news will try to help us understand him. That makes the people watching at home more comfortable. But the news, for the most part, didn't try to help us understand the feelings of the communities in Baltimore or Ferguson. The repeated cries that have echoed throughout the news for so long have said three words over and over again: Black Lives Matter. The validation of black lives begs repeating because it is not a commonly held belief for many people in this country. The voices are going unheard. And the more we divert our attention from this simple fact, the more we exacerbate the issue.
In the wake of this current tragedy in Charleston, the Huffington Post offered this quote from the late Reverend Clementa Pinckney: "Could we not argue that America is about freedom whether we live it out or not? Freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness. And that is what church is all about: freedom to worship and freedom from sin, freedom to be full of what God intends us to be, and to have equality in the sight of God. And sometimes you got to make noise to do that. Sometimes you may have to die like Denmark Vesey to do that. Sometimes you have to march, struggle, and be unpopular to do that."
Today, our thoughts and prayers are with the community of Charleston, the loved ones of those we lost, and the police, who are searching for the shooter so he's brought to justice. But the greater cause and the greater fight will continue on.
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- ^ Reverend Clementa Pinckney (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ was wearing (www.cnn.com)
- ^ His name (twitter.com)
- ^ reportedly said (www.nbcnews.com)
- ^ defined (dictionary.reference.com)
- ^ Baltimore (www.teenvogue.com)
- ^ Huffington Post (twitter.com)
- ^ Watch These Teens Explain What It's Like Growing Up Black (www.teenvogue.com)
- ^ What We Need to Understand About Freddie Gray and Baltimore (www.teenvogue.com)
- ^ Breakthrough in Baltimore: Freddie Gray's Death Is Ruled a Homicide (www.teenvogue.com)
Source : http://www.teenvogue.com/my-life/2015-06/charleston-church-shooting
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