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Denmark Vesey was a terrorist…

But Dylann Roof is not?
Published in June 25, 2015


Denmark VeseyDylann Roof’s act of terrorism still requires that he gets due process under U.S. law. Technically and journalistically, you have to refer to him as a suspect—even though there were eyewitnesses to the massacre and damning evidence on his computer. When talking about his crime, the politically correct way is to refer to it as “alleged.” I am hard pressed to find a situation where the same judicial treatment happened when a black suspect killed a white victim.

Police brought Roof some hamburgers after his arrest. After all, the kid was hungry. He had only had a bag of Doritos and water earlier that day. At the arraignment, Judge James Gosnell gave the families on the nine victims the opportunity to tell Roof via video the impact of his evil actions. While he had them all there, Judge Gosnell reminded the court that Roof’s family were also victims and that the community needs to “rally round them.”

Roof went into sacred space last week pretending to fellowship with the unsuspecting members of Emanuel AME Church family. Roof sat next to the church’s minister, Rev. Clementa Pinckney for nearly an hour of the prayer meeting before he carried out his terrorist attack. (Pinckney was also a long time state senator.) Before the bullets stopped flying, nine African American church members perished and others were traumatized by the attack. Roof would later tell police that he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”

I doubt that Roof whose white supremacists views drove him to target Mother Emanuel Church knew the deep history of the church.  From his own accounts, we know that he chose historic Charleston because it once had the highest radio of blacks to whites in the country. He probably never heard of Denmark Vesey.

Denmark Vesey is one of Emanuel’s founders and in 1822 organized a slave revolt. The revolt was exposed when a couple of members of the church shared the plot with authorities before it could be carried out. Vesey and 34 others were executed for the revolt and the original church was burned to the ground. For decades, the congregation was forced to go underground but remained unwavering in its desire to be free and proud citizens of Charleston. Emanuel AME was a key institution for organizing during the Civil Rights Movement.

The Emanuel AME Church massacre is another log on the bonfire of white supremacy. And while some members of the church have already forgiven Roof for his terrorist actions, there are others in Charleston who will be moved by the acts of resistance of a proud and determined Vesey some 200 years ago.

In a state that seceded the Union because of its love for white rule over slavery, South Carolina has continuously challenged the full citizenship and participation of its black residents. Roof’s actions are an extension of South Carolina’s past and current history of white supremacy.

Black South Caroliners and other fair minded people must fight for the removal of the Confederate flag as the official state flag. They have endured the flapping of the Confederate flag in their faces as they continue the fight for the right to vote, to get access to health care or to have decent housing. The flag is a symbolic inspiration to white supremacists to continue their fight for domination.

The Anti-Racist Collective (ARC) is a local group of white activists who organize around issues of racism. In its statement, ARC reminds us that the Charleston tragedy  “is not just the extremists, but something infused into media, criminal justice, education, and countless other mainstream institutions” and that it didn’t happen in a vacuum but “within the context of hundreds of years of lynchings, mass deaths, and violence towards black people in our society.”

I agree with ARC’s call for “white people to end their silence and raise their voices against the continued legacy of violence that our community perpetuates against communities of color.” White allies need to step up the work among white people. The fact that Roof is not some old left-over from the Civil Rights days suggests that intensified anti-racist work needs to be done with the current generation of young whites.

Healing cannot happen in cases like this unless there is admission of wrong doing by all involved and that real justice for the victims prevails. True healing for centuries of hate and racism means a complete transformation of the racist institutions that perpetuate white supremacy.

This country cannot survive when one sector of the society is violently restricted from attaining their human and civil rights. History has shown us that where there’s repression, there will always be resistance.

The spirit of Denmark Vesey has been unleashed.


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