(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of ScoopWhoop)
Police are investigating the shooting of nine African Americans at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina, as a hate crime committed by a white man. Unfortunately this is not the first time that violent acts by a caucasians have been termed a hate crime, or a lapse of sanity. Mainstream media will not term this incident an act of domestic terrorism, they will not say, the white male shooter, Dylan Roof is a possible terrorist. Instead the go-to explanation will be mental illness. He will be humanised, called a sick man, a victim of mistreatment and inadequate mental health resources.
The Charleston shooting involved the assassination of a US state Senator and the intentional killing and terrorising of African Americans. This can simply be concluded as an act of domestic terrorism.
Yet everyone from the media, to law enforcement to elected officials, continue to cower from the facts and continue to refer to Roof as an unstable, mentally ill killer. Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley, Jr. called this attack everything but terrorism: "This is an unfathomable and unspeakable act, committed by a hateful and deranged mind"
The US media practices a different policy when covering crimes by Muslims or African Americans. They are termed terrorists and thugs, motivated by evil intent instead of victims of external injustices.
Emanuel AME Church
The US media also has a tendency to vilify African-American victims, combing through their lives they find something to pin on them in order to make it seem like they were complicit in their own deaths.
This will however, be difficult for the media to accomplish in this incident. All those who were killed on June 17 were simply participating in a weekly Bible study. It is also noteworthy that the shooters choice of church was most likely deliberate, given its storied history. The Emanuel AME Church was the first of its kind in the South, founded in 1818, it was built by a group of men including Morris Brown, a prominent pastor and Denmark Vesey, the leader of a large yet failed slave revolt in Charleston. In 1822 the church was burned to the ground by fearful whites, as it was built by funds from anti-slavery societies.
With this in mind it is clear that killing the church pastor and members was a deliberate act of hate. There was a message of intimidation behind this shooting, an act that mirrors a history of terrorism against the black community. Recognition of the terror, this act and others similar to this impose on communities seems to have been forgotten post September 11. The subsequent "Islamophobia" that has gripped the media and everyone else suggests that terrorism only applies in cases where the accused is dark skinned.
18 U.S.C. Section 2331
Even though all the facts are not known as yet, what is available can easily make the case that this was an act of domestic terrorism under US law. The controlling federal statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 2331, provides that domestic terrorism means activities with the following three characteristics :
- Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law
- Appear intended (a) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (b) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (c) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
- Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the US
Elements one and three of this law are clearly fulfilled. Roof committed an act that was dangerous to human life (nine lives in fact) and it took place in the United States. It is in the second point that contention exists, was the act of violence "intended" to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to affect the conduct of a government.
It is important here to look at all the facts with a fine toothed comb. First of all, this was an act that was clearly intended towards a specific group - African Americans. The perpetrator travelled two hours from his home town in Lexington, to attack a church in Charleston. As mentioned earlier this is a historic church for the black community, it represents their struggle with slavery and their fight to defeat it.
During the shooting, Roof allegedly told witnesses he was there "to shoot black people", he also made it seem like this was his duty, saying, "I have to do it. You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go". These remarks make it seem that this was a deliberate attack, "intended" to kill black people in this specific church, an act to terrorise them and make them feel unsafe in their place of worship. Thus making this an act of domestic terrorism and subsequently Dylan Roof, a terrorist.
"Any death of this sort is a tragedy; any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy," President Obama said at the White House. "There is something particularly heartbreaking about a death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place we worship", quoted the Washington Post.
At this point one can only hope that the media won't fall back on the typical narrative ascribed to white male shooters: a lone, disturbed or a mentally ill young man betrayed by society. This is not an act by "one hateful person", it is a manifestation of the racial hatred and white supremacy that continues to infest American civil society, centuries after the Emanuel AME Church was burned to the ground.
Have a look at President Obama's address to the nation after this fateful incident.