The mass murder at the Charleston AME church is not a hate crime. It is not a “senseless act of evil,” the motive of which is unknowable. The murder of nine citizens in a house of worship associated with black liberation is an act of terrorism – period.
Terrorism is the target of defenseless civilians in symbolic places with the express intent of making a population feel powerless and vulnerable everywhere. The 9/11 attacks were designed to punish Americans for the nation’s actions abroad. The bus bombings in Israel are designed to make Israelis fearful in spite of their possession of a nation to call their own. And this grisly murder was – in the words of the killer himself – a message to African Americans that he was “taking the country back from them” – that they “had to go.” This was an attempt to terrorize all African Americans for the recent revelations of systemic racism; to punish them for having made strides in the national conversation; for having been proved right about abuses at the hands of the state. It is therefore terrorism, and the networks that supported this act need to be rooted out in every bit the same way that we deal with al-Qaeda.
If church-loving, responsible-gun-owner-worshipping America isn’t wracked with outrage over the Charleston mass murder, then we’re beyond help. This very page has been besieged by racist dead-enders claiming that it’s totally normal to throw 98-lb teenage girls at a pool party to the ground (if they’re black) or to kill unarmed people at a traffic stop (if they’re black) and all of the rest of this past year’s circus of lawlessness and death. But this terrorist attack needs no more of that “wait for the rest of the story” garbage that gets trotted out every time something looks horridly unjust. This event represents millions of American citizens who have been targeted in a campaign of racially-motivated domestic terrorism. This attack was a premeditated violation of their Christian religious monuments and a promise that they will never live in this land in peace and justice.
So where do you stand on domestic terrorism, America? Will you shake the devil’s hand and dare dismiss this as a lone wolf with no clear motive? Or will you face the wretched truth that your fellow citizens have been the targets of a terror movement and stand shoulder to shoulder with them at long last?
Since the 17th century, Africans have given their blood, sweat, and tears to work this land and build this nation, often under pain of the lash. They are at home here, fully at home, and deserve unwavering protection on this soil. Lend a voice, lend a hand, or forever admit the darkness and cowardice of your own heart.