Saturday, June 20, 2015
Goodness and Mercy and The Charleston Massacre
Later, after he was caught, he admitted to the police that the parishioners were so nice to him he almost didn't do it. It was the twist of the knife for those of us already grieving over his murder victims. One single second of conscience, one deviant drop of human kindness, and the people who welcomed him into their fold might have been saved.
He deliberately targeted the "Mother Emanuel" African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, a revered historic black church, in service both publicly and secretly since 1822--the oldest of its kind in the south. A landmark. A haven. But if he thought his actions would destroy the church, he was as delusional as he is evil.
After Roof was caught, surviving family members were given the chance to talk to him about their losses, about what he did to them when he took the lives of their loved ones. Roof stood silently, barely moving, as each one took the microphone. He must have been expecting the screaming rage I would have felt had he killed one of mine. He no doubt could have identified with that. But what he got instead was forgiveness. Merciful forgiveness.
One by one, the mourners, still in shock at what he had done, described to him how they felt, and then, one by one, they offered their forgiveness. Their goodness and mercy finally broke through. This morning Roof is on suicide watch. There are reports that he is remorseful.
The pity of it is, it doesn't matter now. He can't bring back the nine people he murdered, no matter how much he may wish it. And he'll never be anything but what he is: a vicious racist murderer. He planned it, lived for the chance to do it, bragged about doing something hurtful to blacks, because he is a white supremacist and white supremacists are honor-bound to act on their hatred toward people of color.
The black community in Charleston is in mourning. In this country where racism keeps rearing its ugly head, we are grieving, too. We show it in our anger, in our determination to avenge these deaths, in our renewed resolve to do something about guns in this country, in our attempts to force our leaders to call this massacre what it was: a racist hate crime. But the people closest to the attack are honoring their dead by singing freedom songs, by celebrating the lives of the dead, and by calling for forgiveness. They are the reason this one event, horrific and tragic as it is, will be a catalyst for change.
Just as the September, 1963 bombing of the 16th Avenue Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, causing the tragic deaths of four young girls attending a Sunday school class, gave the Rev. Martin Luther King a more authoritative voice and moved the Civil Rights Movement forward, so will this latest attack on innocents bring about the kind of dialogue that demands change.
We can't be distracted by calls for better gun control or more attention to mental illness. We'll get to them. For now, the conversation has to stay on racism. We need to work on eliminating it. Not just diminishing it or hiding it under the carpet, but eliminating it.
It'll take all of us who care We have to do it in a way that honors those who have died, and in a way that is satisfactory to the mourners left behind. We have to do it in such numbers there is no question that those who oppose racism are in the majority. We have to do it now.
(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Liberaland)