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For South Carolina race violence survivors, love trumps hate

People greet the Rev. Anthony Thompson, husband of victim Myra Thompson before a memorial ceremony marking the first anniversary of the shootings at Emanuel AME Church, during a prayer service where nine people were killed by a gunman, in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., on June 17, 2016.  

As they wept and danced simultaneously on Wednesday evening, remembering their fallen soul mates, the gathering at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in this South Carolina city, where the first shots of the American Civil War were fired, reminded the country of the less-talked but lingering question of racial hate.

On June 17, last year, 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, who had driven for hours to reach the church, sat in a bible study for nearly an hour before shooting nine people at this 200-year-old church, which has been at the forefront of black resistance — against slavery, for civil rights in the 1960s and more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement.

In his sermon, Pastor Anthony Thompson, whose wife Myra Thompson was among the victims, recalled meeting Mr. Roof in a courtroom recently. “I told him Jesus loves and forgives,” he said. The congregation, good number of them white, said ‘Amen,’ and broke into dance to the song, ‘I give myself away, take my heart, take my life as a living sacrifice.’ The song, written and recorded in 2009 by William McDowell, a black pastor-based in Orlando has acquired cult status among worshippers.

President Barack Obama was in Orlando on Thursday, mourning the victims of the terror strike on Sunday. “Our politics have conspired to make it as easy as possible for a terrorist, or even just a disturbed individual to buy extraordinarily powerful weapons, and they can do so legally,” he said. Around the same time last year, Mr. Obama had said the same thing at the Emmanuel Church.

But as he admitted in Orlando, there is little that he can do as the Republicans can only see the Islamist threat, and overlooks racial hatred and gun proliferation. Many Republicans interpreted the church shooting as an attack on Christianity and religious liberty rather than an act of racial hatred. Mr. Obama is himself the target of hatred of white supremacists in the U.S. “I had to do it. You rape our women and you are taking over our country. And you have to go,” the Charleston shooter told his victims as he reloaded his rifle, according to one survivor’s account reported earlier.

“We are proud of him. But the unprecedented hostility that President Obama faces is due to the fact that is black,” said Wayne Singleton, the music director at Emmanuel. He was driving to the church on June 17, but had to divert due to a personal matter. “We have come a long way towards racial equality. But we are not there yet,” he said. Anthony Thomson Jr., the 29-year-old son of the pastor, and a delegate to the Democratic National Committee next month, pointed to the fact white people joined the black community in large numbers in the aftermath of the shooting.

Underrepresented in other institutions, churches remain a sanctuary and an organisation for black people and hence they are target too. Clementa Carlos Pinckney, the pastor of the church who was shot dead, was also a member of the South Carolina State Senate and was the youngest African-American to be elected to the State legislature when he was 23. A black church was burnt down the day Mr. Obama was inaugurated and several incidents of arson followed later.

“We ask ‘why do they hate us’ about Islamist terrorists. But we pretend to not see the hatred that we perpetrate,” John Handricks, a white tour guide, who described himself as “a spiritual person who believes in all religions,” said after the worship. “I had wished the shooter to rot in hell. But today’s sermon set me free. I am ashamed of some of our leaders. Trump must learn from this act of grace.”

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2020 7:51:32 AM |

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