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Killings in Charleston Put Race Relations in U.S. to Test

Racial tension in this country became the focal point of discussion last week with the killing of nine African-Americans in Charleston, South Carolina.

The accused 21-year-old killer, Dylann Roof, was apprehended in Shelby, North Carolina, the very next day. It appears this likely will be tried as a hate crime as it should be.

When you are brazen and bold enough to go into a Wednesday night prayer service and Bible study, sit through most of it and then open fire, hate is the word that characterizes your actions.

The city of Charleston has come together to condemn this act of violence. The descendants of slaves and slave owners joined hands as prayer vigils were held all day into the evening.

The mayor and the governor of South Carolina have asked for prayer and peace for the citizens of the city and the state. Nikki Haley, governor of the state, said, “The heart and soul of South Carolina was broken.”

President Obama offered his condolences to the families, in particular to Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of Emanuel AME Church where the shooting took place. Pinckney was one of the nine people killed.

I listened to the breaking news in shock and disbelief. Didn’t America learn anything from the Birmingham Alabama church bombing that killed four little Black girls 52 years ago during the Civil Rights era?

I have always thought of churches as safe places. Yet again, I always thought of schools as safe places. We know now from the school shootings in Colorado and Connecticut that they are not safe places for students. As a result, in cities across America, we have school resource officers with guns who protect our children and teachers.

Now looming large on the American landscape will be an effort to have a police presence in and outside our places of worship. America, what are we becoming? Slowly in the eyes of some, we are becoming a police state. One day we might be carrying guns into the church. It will be like the cowboy channel that I watch on Saturday morning. It will be the Wild West in 2015. God cannot be pleased with us!

Why does it take some major tragedy to happen before we see the races coming together? It should not take mass murder for us to understand we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper. Can’t we have community meetings about the way we treat one another? Maybe learning more about our neighbors would be a start.

I knew everyone in my neighborhood in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Doors left open and windows unlocked didn’t mean robbery, it meant trust. Now, we triple bolt our doors, tell our children not to speak to anyone and, if we run out of sugar at night, too bad.

The bond for the weapons charge against Dylann Roof has been set at $1 million. The presiding judge said he had no authority to set bail on the murder charges. How can you kill nine people, in a church no less, and have a bond set at $1 million? With South Carolina being one of the country’s leaders in having hate groups, he could possibly get the necessary bail money. Now if that happens, shame on the Palmetto state.

How about no bail and place him in an undisclosed location on suicide watch until he needs to appear in public? And how about not letting anyone see him until absolutely necessary.

Unfortunately, there are more Dylann Roofs out here. They are simply waiting for the right opportunity to strike unsuspecting victims. Hate groups have as their primary objective to extinguish whatever is good about this great land.

Symbols in this land have a great influence on what happens in a particular region. South Carolina has the confederate flag flying high atop the state capitol in Columbia as its supporters embrace it as a symbol of their Southern heritage. For Black people, that flag evokes memories of slavery, injustice and inequality. It is difficult for me to see how justice and equality can prevail when there is a symbol of injustice that serves as a constant reminder.

Maybe in the healing process conversations will start about how to bring down that flag. How can citizens, both Black and White, in Charleston take steps toward lingering and festering racial problems?

Nine people were killed by an individual with a handgun. Efforts to better control access to guns and curb gun violence could start in South Carolina. Just maybe it could be a signal for other states to act. Is this the time to mount the effort? I hope so.

Let us pray for the families of those affected by this senseless tragedy. Our country is the greatest country in the world.

Let’s act like it.



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