The atrocity in Charleston: ‘Let this trauma drive the struggle for Black Liberation’
By Lamont Lilly
June 18, 2015
When nine defenseless people are killed in a church, it’s not a
“shooting,” it’s a massacre. When a 21-year-old white male
who wears racist hate badges on his jacket walks into a church and murders nine
unarmed Black people, I don’t call that just a “hate crime”
by a lone wolf. It’s a terrorist attack by a white supremacist.
Unfortunately, the following description is exactly what happened on June 17
in Charleston, S.C., between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.
According to witnesses and recent reports, the accused 21-year-old gunman,
Dylann Roof, walked in to Emanuel A.M.E. Church around 8:00 p.m. Local police
were called around 9:00 p.m. According to witnesses and on the scene survivors,
Roof reloaded five times. Eight people died at the scene, including the
church’s pastor, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney.
After a 14-hour hunt, Roof was finally arrested in Shelby, N.C., just a few
miles west of Charlotte, N.C., which is the former home of police shooting
victim Jonathan Ferrell.
Adding insult to painful injury, the flag on South Carolina’s Capitol
lawn — the flag of the Confederacy — is now flying at half-staff to
“commemorate” the nine Black lives, dead at the bloody hands of a
racist terrorist. Such a gesture is nothing less than a slap in the face to
human dignity — acid to an open wound of injustice and inequality.
We don’t need to have a conversation about race. We need to have a
conversation about revolution and Black Liberation. There’s a difference,
a political and very serious difference. Ironically, Charleston’s
historic Emanuel AME Church has a deeply entrenched history in the struggle for
Black Liberation and people’s resistance.
In 1822, Denmark Vesey, one of the church’s original founders, was
investigated and captured by slave authorities for his plan of organizing a
slave revolt there in Charleston. After being sold out by an informant, Vesey
and 36 other enslaved African descendants were hanged.
For the church’s involvement in a plot to resist, it was burned to the
ground by local authorities and vigilantes. Black Codes and Jim Crow laws were
quickly enacted to restrict all forms of slave assembly, including churches
statewide. Traveling passes became required, while the slave patrol became the
first form of organized and paid U.S. policing. Black people were literally
forced to worship underground in that church for over 30 years until 1865.
Common sense says you don’t fly a “Confederate flag” at half
mast to commemorate a history like this.
Anyone who knows the history of the U.S. South is well familiar with the
ruthless legacy of the state of South Carolina. Charleston was at one point the
largest and most important slave port in North America. This same city and
local municipality is directly responsible for the brutal death of Walter Scott
just a few months ago. Scott was shot eight times in the back by a Charleston
police officer. Only because that killing was captured on live video was truth
able to reach the masses.
When Black youth from the oppressed communities of Ferguson, Mo.,
Baltimore and Oakland, Calif., decided to stand on courage and rebel
against police brutality, racism and the capitalist system, they were called
“thugs,” “rioters” and “hoodlums.” For some
reason, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, a well-trained white supremacist, is
being referred to by corporate media as a “lone wolf” who must have
been “mentally ill.” That media completely fails to address the
core issues, nor have they used the correct language.
Now is the time for the Black Church to return to its roots of organized
resistance, of freedom fighting and liberation. As we also remember the 1963
bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four little girls, let us
channel this anger into movement building just as our ancestors did. Let this
pain inspire us to rally our communities and organize every block. Let this
trauma drive a new generation to pursue their freedom and complete
May the people rise above their oppressors.
Lilly is a leader of the Durham, N.C., branch of Workers World