by Azeezat Fadekemi Sulaiman
For months, possibly even years, Dylann Roof harboured hate in his hearts for fellow human beings like him- because their skin colour was different to his. Like many other racists, Roof didn’t agree that black people deserved to be treated like equal folk who were white like him. Unfortunately for him, black people have won their rights to be treated equally (in most cases), thanks to the work of many historic people in the civil rights movement.
For Roof, this was far too much. The sitting President of the United States is black for Christsakes. Surely, he had to do something about the situation, to rectify the current racial imbalance in America and put those black people back in their place.
It’s hard to try to surmise or even rationalise the thinking and motivation that led an individual to commit the heinous crime of killing innocent people in order to ‘start a race war’. Roof deceived God-loving, good people at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, Carolina on Wednesday night by pretending to be interested in their bible study class, only to open fire on the same people he had only been studying the word of God with for an hour, killing 9 of them.
The sheer horror and depravity of Roof’s actions is proof of the kind of sentiments that run through the minds of some in the US today. The scary thing is that there are many more Roof’s out there, whether in the UK or US and there’s nothing we can do to stop them from carrying out these horrible hate crimes.
Since his arrest on Thursday, questions have been asked about the state of race in America, the treatment given to Roof (note he was led into Police custody in handcuffs, not shot dead like many unharmed black young men who’ve suffered in the hands of American police in the last year), and America’s controversial gun laws.
Roof, a 21-year-old walked into a store to buy a gun after being given birthday money by his parents shortly before he turned 21. Friend’s recount instances where the unemployed youth voiced racist sentiments, telling one he was planning ‘something crazy’ that would start a race war in the US. Other’s say even though he ‘had black friends’, he believed the country should be ‘Whites with whites, and Blacks with Blacks’. A photo posted on Twitter also shows Roof wearing a uniform associated with the Apartheid government in South Africa.
Roof is also said to have had problems with drugs usage and abuse. Put all these together, and anyone in their sane minds would realise that this was a youth with issues. Putting a gun in the hands of such a fellow is basically giving him the power to carry out his deranged thoughts. Americans believe it’s their constitutional right to own a gun, but how many times are they willing to sacrifice this right for the lives of innocent children, men and women who by no fault of theirs have been killed by people with mental issues or simply no motives also bearing that same right to own a gun?
While his family have issued a statement denouncing his actions, surely someone, somewhere knew he possessed a gun. Given his poisonous views about race, and his previous run in with the Police, shouldn’t someone have flagged him up to authorities?
This is not a finger-pointing exercise, but it does mean we as citizens also need to play our part in ending acts of terrorism before they happen, instead of relying on the security agencies to weed out plans or stop terrorists after they’re plans have matured. If you suspect someone of planning or harbouring racist or terrorist intentions, it’s your duty as a citizen to report this to the right authorities. Nine out of ten times, it’s just someone muttering rubbish, but that one time it does happen carries consequences so grave, that we can’t afford to leave it to chance.
Despite Roof’s hopes, America hasn’t crumbled and launched into a race war. Instead Charleston, the town where this crime was committed has pulled together and is trying to make sense of what has happened.
Families, white, black and every other colour have been gathering together to pray for the victims and their family. There have tears of disbelief and despair from all corners of the country and the world as a peaceful community mourns its loss. Here in Britain, we feel their pain as though it were ours. These are our brothers and sisters.
Given how religious our community here is and the amount of time we spend in Church, those victims could also have been any of us in Church participating in Bible studies or praise and worship. As a people, we’ve come too far for anyone or any force to try to take away our fundamental human right to be treated equal and we must continue to fight racism in all it’s forms, whether overt or covert.
Most striking in this horrible situation is the readiness of the victim’s families to forgive Roof despite the fact that he has deprived them of their loved ones by his singular evil act. Ethel Lance’s daughter, one of those who spoke while the accused appeared via video link at his bond hearing on Friday said, “I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
That perhaps was the last thing Roof expected to hear, but this in itself will be his comeuppance even if he doesn’t get the death penalty or spends the rest of his life behind bars.
In memory of those who fell in Charleston’s Shooting
Rev Clementa Pinckney
Rev Sharonda Singleton
Reverend DePayne Middleton- Doctor
Rev Daniel Simmons Sr.