Call Dylann Roof what he really is

This column also appears on JCOnline on June 22, 2015

By Clyde Hughes

Esquire was hardly my go-to publication when I wanted to read opinions about the horrific event that happened in Charleston, South Carolina, this week. But the closing paragraph in a piece by Charles Pierce struck a nerve.

“What happened in that church was a lot of things, but unthinkable is not one of them. What happened in a Charleston church on Wednesday night is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is unspeakable. We should speak of it often. We should speak of it loudly. We should speak of it as terrorism, which is what it was. We should speak of it as racial violence, which is what it was. We should speak of it as an attack on history, which it was.”

To make the attack at Emanuel African Methodist Church out to be anything less than an act of terrorism or racial violence would be a grave injustice. If we react to this any less than we would a terrorist attack on our soil, or an attack on our very history, would be an injustice.

I have heard how Dylann Roof was a disturbed young man, but as the Washington Post’s Karen Attiah put it, how often do you hear that “disturbed young man” description used for someone who committed a similar act who wasn’t white?

This attack on an African-American church harkens back to the 1960s, when these crimes were often carrying out against blacks in the South. Yet in just about any black church someone like Roof would have never been turned away. That’s the sad irony of it.

This truly could have been any black church on a Wednesday night. Any church would have done the same as Emanuel, welcoming Roof in, members putting their arms around him, reading the Bible and talking to him about their love of God and their fellow man. Those are the churches that I know and grew up with.

Yet, he felt it was OK to walk into that kind of giving environment with a loaded gun, kill nine people while reloading five times and leaving one person alive because he wanted the world to know about it.

That is not a problem of a loner who supposedly developed his hatred of African-Americans out of the thin blue sky and conjured up the need to kill people of darker skin out of nowhere, as some are suggesting. It is everyone’s problem. If we don’t treat it like it’s everyone’s problem, we give license to the next shooter — and there will be a next shooter.

If we don’t care now, we never will. I am not talking about caring, as in attending a memorial service, giving money to a fund so you can say you did your part and start to pretend that everything is solved.

We need to care in the way we build human bridges, build solutions and build understanding. We should be compelled to act, much the way North Carolina florist Debbie Dills was compelled when she spotted Roof’s car and helped bring him to justice.

We should be compelled to move beyond platitudes and become meaningfully involved with things in our community that will create long-lasting change. We should be compelled to finally get off the sidelines and connect with people of different races and cultures, because lives truly are at stake.

Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” probably put it best that we are dealing with a “gaping racial wound that we pretend doesn’t exist.” There are already some who are trying to change the conversation away from race.

Could Roof be mentally ill? Maybe, but he has not been diagnosed as such, and even if that was the case, it would not excuse or lessen one iota the racial overtones of this incident. For some, such talk is simply an attempt to avoid the race topic altogether at the expense of stigmatizing the mental health community even more than it already is in this country. Just stop it, please.

Nine people have been murdered in South Carolina for no other reason than being African-American. Don’t let it be in vain.