White People For Racial Justice, a white anti-racist collective in Los Angeles, wonders, why is the mainstream media so hesitant in calling this a terrorist act? In cases of mass shootings, which seem to occur with a profound frequency, such as in Sandy Hook and Columbine, there is media outcry when the victims are white. In the case of Charleston, there is no media outcry on the white perpetrator acting as a terrorist. White perpetrators will never be seen as terrorists, nor does the white community feel compelled to formally denounce the actions of this “one lone gunman,” nor will all white people be seen as terrorists as a result of one person’s actions. Instead, we nod our heads in sadness, sit in silence and check out at Trader Joe's. Meanwhile, our Democratic leadership uses this tragedy to focus solely on gun control, rather than racism as the primary issue to address.
This was a violent and intentional action against the Black community. Roof’s choice of location was clear: the AME Church in Charleston has a deep history of surviving violent racism stemming back to the early 1800’s. It was founded by a group of Black men discriminated against by whites at their local church. They faced constant harsh punishment for breaking the literacy laws, meeting without a white majority, and praying at night instead of the enforced daylight hours. In 1822, Denmark Vesey, a civil rights leader and co-founder of the church, was hung for using the church as a space to plan a slave revolt. It was then burned down by white supremacists. After being rebuilt, Blacks were unable to use the space after all-Black churches were outlawed in 1834. Until the end of the civil war in 1865, community members were forced to use the church they built in private. Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King, and Coretta Scott King have all spoken at the AME. Roof was welcomed into the space to pray in a space that has long served as a symbol of Black resistance to our white supremacist system, before he opened fire on the community. Yet, the media is still wondering if this is a premeditated and racially motivated act. White people continue to prey upon people of color and other white people in explicit and systemic ways, jeopardizing the entire planet's existence.
When he was found after this violent action, Roof was detained and not killed on the spot, unlike the approximately 1 ½ seconds it took for police officers to arrive on the scene and kill Tamir Rice. Roof was placed in a bulletproof vest as he walked surrounded by police officers, no doubt to protect him from potential retaliation. This is undeniably different treatment than that offered the teens at the Texas pool party. The timing of the this terrorist attack, a few short weeks after South Carolina cop Michael Slager was indicted on murder charges of Walter Scott, begs more questions. The consistently different treatment of Blacks and whites across the country makes us wonder if the actions of any law enforcement officer, Mayor or Police Chief in America would ever change without a real demand. Perhaps they would be willing to listen if more white people decided to act against racism.
Roof will be centered in this narrative rather than the Black folks he killed, as a "bad apple," and not as a result of the anti-Black culture we all co-create every day. The mainstream media, entrenched in white supremacy, will use this act of terrorism to distance itself from such explicit demonstrations of racism and focus on his alleged mental health issues, because it is too painful to accept that a person is capable of committing such atrocities based solely on hate alone. Right wing media attempts to spin this as an attack on faith, rather than an attack on Black lives. Black rage will be neutralized and the community response pacified, while further entrenching systemic oppression under the guise of unity and an "AllLivesMatter" asymmetric co-optation. This "bad apple" exceptionalism of the #CharlestonShooting social media hashtag allows us to ignore the long legacy and frequency of anti-Black violence, deny the historical scale of this terrorist massacre, and will insist on not implicating white supremacy.
White people of conscience, intent on living in a better world free of exploitation and oppression, must begin building that world today in conscious solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and freedom struggle. We must activate and apply our own grief, outrage and rage against the system that produces and protects killers like Dylann Storm Roof as an inevitable byproduct of the systemic subjugation, devaluation and exploitation of Black people. This may take the form of infiltration, exposure and disruption of organized white supremacist formations: delegitimizing of racialized policing, judicial and incarceration systems, challenging the fundamentally white supremacist educational system at all levels, or making it impossible for the corporate media to continue to spew racist hate and other propaganda unchallenged. We invite other concerned, fed-up white people to leverage the privilege this oppressive system grants us and join us in strategizing and implementing tactics that will correspond to the life-and-death urgency of these times.
We question, why there? Why now? The response we see is that the dominant culture sees a sea change coming. As history has shown us, when justice for the oppressed prevails, the oppressors rise up to fight back to maintain their control. The backlash is expected because the tide is turning to dismantle white supremacy. More white people are talking about race and our legacy of racism in America. White people have a choice to either sit in silence and maintain the status quo, or recognize that our liberation is tied to all oppressed peoples and we must, for the sake of humanity, join the fight to end white supremacy.