When an unarmed Trayvon Martin was slain in a white suburban neighborhood, I cried for our Black husbands, brothers and sons who can’t walk our streets in peace. I sobbed for Eric Garner, whose life was literally choked out of him in broad daylight by a New York City Police Officer, despite his pleas. And Walter Scott. And Renisha McBride. And there’s far too many more names to go through that all paint the unsettling picture that, in this country, Black people are branded with targets on our backs.
On Wednesday night, a gunman opened fire inside the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine innocent people who had gathered there for weekly bible study. I fell to my knees for each one of them.
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I’m intentionally omitting the name of the suspect here, because he doesn’t deserve the infamy. Instead, I will honor the names of the innocent: Rev. Clementa Pinckney; Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr.; Myra Thompson; Cynthia Hurd; Sharonda Singleton; Tywanza Sanders; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor; Susie Jackson; and Ethel Lance. Read more about their lives of purpose. Remember their names.
The suspect, who is white, has since confessed to police. He is charged with nine counts of murder and possession of a firearm and federal authorities are investigating the case as a hate crime. His motive? He wanted to start a race war. A survivor from the tragedy has been quoted saying that the suspect told the victims before killing them that he was “there to kill Black people” because Blacks have "raped our women” and are “taking over the country.”
How can we be taking over the country when we can’t enter a retail store without being trailed by suspicious eyes? We teach our young men how to behave during a routine traffic stop — don’t make any sudden movements and keep your hands on the steering wheel — with the intent that it just might save their life. Even our little girls are subjected to undue humiliation and ridicule, as seen in the recent McKinney, Texas, pool party incident.
Where is it safe to be Black?
For generations, it was inside the church. It was there where we sought solace from the racism, both blatant and subdued, and it was out of the church that came the leaders of our modern Civil Rights Movement. It is there, now, where people of all races are gathering at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to stand in solidarity against hate. I refuse to let my faith be shaken by a murderous monster, and I pray that you, too, will find the strength to dry your tears and act.
Because prayer alone isn’t enough to bring about the change this country so desperately needs. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. championed, it is not violence that will not make meaningful change, but action. And this case, I look to President Obama’s statements Thursday about the Charleston tragedy.
In an emotional address, he touched on the ever-growing gun control debate, saying, “At some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”
With the 2016 general elections growing near, this is the time for us as Black people to wake up and actively support the candidates and issues — be it police brutality, gun control, and so forth — that align with our values as a community.
If not for ourselves, we must do it for the Charleston Nine and countless others whose voices were cut short.
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