This piece is dedicated to the families who lost their loved ones on June 17th, 2015.
On the evening of June 17th, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof entered The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina and, following roughly an hour of studying with the parishioners, shot and murdered 9 innocent people. According to witnesses, Roof reportedly told the parishioners before opening fire that “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have got to go.” Also, according to his roommate Dalton Tyler, Roof had always held racist views and claimed “he wanted to start a civil war… and then kill himself.”
This horrendous event will inevitably prove to be another stain on America’s troubled past and present, a reminder that behind the curtains drawn by wishful thinking and ignorance, violence and racism are still very much alive. However, what’s astounding about this occurrence is the events that followed shortly after in court, as family members of the victims stared into Roof’s eyes and forgave him. This piece will further identify the tragic details of the Charleston shooting as well as unearth the important lessons to be learned.
6. Racism is Still An Issue in America.
It’s incredibly saddening that in the 21st century, racism is still evident in many parts of the world. Living in British Columbia, It’s very rare to witnessed any forms of racial discrimination or violence, and resultantly, I haven’t considered racism a pressing issue. However, racism certainly still is a pressing issue in the United States and has been for a long time before the Charleston shooting.
Over the past two years, protests have ensued over the controversial killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Many people – from both black and white communities – have condemned these killings as unjust on the grounds that the police acted over the top and would’ve acted differently if the aggressors were Caucasian. By stating that I am by no means declaring that the officers involved in these killings were racist, I’m simply explaining the reasons behind the protests.
What this latest shooting in South Carolina has indeed proven is that there are individuals in society willing to kill others on the basis of skin colour. Not only is this disgusting on a number of levels, but it’s also a sign that we still live in a sick world that’s in desperate need of help.
5. The Power of Forgiveness
Gandhi once said “Jesus is ideal and wonderful, but you Christians – you are not like him.” It’s a rare occasion when Gandhi is proven wrong, but the families of the Charleston victims did when they forgave Dylann Roof.
I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I do certainly recognize the sincerity of some of Jesus’ teachings. In Luke 23:23 of the bible, as Jesus is being crucified on the cross, he looks up to the sky and says to god: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Now, I personally could never imagine forgiving someone who had murdered a close family member and caused such a tremendous amount of suffering. However, it does go to prove the power religious teachings can have and acts as a testament to those who are able to forgive whilst suffering from unimaginable agony.
What touched me the most was a quote from the daughter of the victim, Ethel Lance. “You took something very precious from me and I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you.”
4. The Definition of a Terrorist Act
Following the 9/11 attacks, it feels like acts of violence have only ever been declared acts of terror if they were carried out by radical Islamists. However, terrorism is defined as any use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. According to this definition, Roof certainly committed a terrorist act: he specifically used violence to harm and intimidate the African-American population whilst admitting he wanted to ignite a civil war.
Furthermore, it’s interesting to note that by this definition, the Jim Crow laws that were enforced by the United States government to enslave and suppress the black population for centuries also fits the description of a terrorist act. The primary lesson to be learned here is that anyone who uses violence or intimidation for political purposes is by definition, committing a terrorist act. Dylann Roof certainly did commit one.
3. Prescription Drugs Are a Problem
According to John Mullins, a classmate of Roof, “he used drugs heavily a lot… He was a pill popper, from what I understood. Like Xanax, and stuff like that.” Furthermore, it was reported by the Wall Street Journal in February, that Roof was interrogated by police for illegally possessing strips of Suboxone, a strong prescription drug used to treat opioid addiction and reduce pain. This is important to note as there have been many recorded instances where users of Suboxone have become threatening and violent.
If you’re interested in further investigating the effects of this drug, drugs.com provides a specific forum related to how Soboxone can change personalities. The reason I write about Roof’s drug abuse is because it turns out that, according to writer Dan Roberts, nearly every mass shooting in the past twenty years has been carried out by individuals on pharmaceutical drugs, including Eric Harris who horrifically murdered classmates and teachers at Columbine High School, and Adam Lanza who murdered children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I’m not claiming Roof’s drug use is the reason he carried out the attack, but I am stressing that more research needs to be done in understanding the ramifications of prescription drugs.
2. The Gun Debate is Far From Over
Following every mass shooting there’s a demand for increased legislation to regulate gun ownership. It was reported in a number of polls following the Newtown shooting in 2012, that as many as 9 in 10 Americans supported new gun control legislation that would enforce universal background checks. However, all attempts to legislate new gun control measures have failed.
In a speech by Barack Obama immediately following the Charleston shooting, he stated that it was necessary “to be able to talk about this issue as citizens without demonizing all gun owners, who are overwhelmingly law abiding.” Clearly, the debates over gun control are far from over, but unfortunately it could take a long time before any measures are enacted. Considering this, it’s urgent we search for other solutions in the mean time to ensure these tragic shootings don’t repeat themselves.
1. Public Schools Should Teach Lessons on The Dangers of Racism
In the 21st century, racism should be a thing of the past – and depending on where you live, racism probably is just a thing of the past and has no effect on your life or neighbourhood. However, there are many statistics that prove racism to be a massive problem, especially in the United States.
For instance, although African-Americans comprise only 13% of the U.S. population and 14% of the monthly drug users, they make up 37% of arrests for drug-related offences. Also, shockingly in 2010, it was reported by the U.S. Sentencing Commission that African Americans receive 10% longer sentences than whites through the federal system for the same crimes.
What’s clear is that we need to find a way to promote equality and decrease the levels of racial discrimination. Perhaps instead of resorting to gun control, public schools should start teaching students at a young age the dangerous reality of racism. Ultimately, it’s our children that will inherit the future, and the sooner we teach them that skin colour has nothing to do with personality or character, the better.