The slaying of nine people in a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., was a horrific act of cowardice rooted in racist hatred that has no place in America.
The gunman, identified as 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, reportedly sat with parishioners for nearly an hour Wednesday night while they studied the Bible in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, an institution with a long history of defying slavery and racism.
The killer made ugly statements as he opened fire, accusing his black victims of “taking over our country,” according to news reports. Six women and three men died. Among those slain was Clementa Pinckney, 41, the church pastor and a South Carolina state senator.
Hate movements have always harbored losers, and nothing illustrates that with more clarity than the contrast between the alleged shooter and the African-American pastor he reportedly asked for by name.
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Pinckney was ordained as a pastor at age 18 and elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives when he was 23. A father of two, he was an icon in his city and state.
Roof is being described as an aimless young man with arrests on drug and trespassing charges. He displayed a Confederate flag on his license plate and stitched the flags of apartheid-era African nations onto a jacket.
All but an extremist fringe would reject white supremacist beliefs and symbolism. But perhaps we don’t denounce them strongly enough.
Roof was known for making racist jokes, his high school classmates said. He undoubtedly found people who sympathized with his resentment of black Americans. He lives in a state that flies the Confederate flag on the grounds of its Capitol.
Besides being an apparent hate crime, the slaughter in Charleston added a new page to America’s long tally of mass shootings.
If the nation at this moment cannot countenance a debate on limiting the availability of firearms, we need to get serious about keeping them away from unstable individuals. A relative told Reuters news service that Roof’s father gave him a gun on his 21st birthday.
The people slain in Emanuel AME Church ranged in age from 26 to 87. One man sang in the church choir. A woman managed a library; another was a high school track and field coach.
The losses to their families and communities are incalculable and infuriating.
Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP, put it well: “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.”