Friday, June 19, 2015

In Aftermath of #Charleston Church Slayings, a Day of Forgiveness and Thought

At the Charleston Post and Courier:

Dylann Storm Roof stared at the camera in front of him and blinked occasionally.

He saw a judge on a video screen and heard crying. But he couldn’t see the rest of the courtroom on the other end of the video link. He couldn’t see the people who fought through tears and stood up in the crowded room.

He heard the words of Felicia Sanders as she rose and spoke. Roof had been accused of killing her son and eight others as Sanders watched two nights earlier at a downtown Charleston church.

“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” she said. “We enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on your soul.”

The bond hearing Friday afternoon served as the first opportunity for family members to talk to the 21-year-old Eastover man suspected of fatally shooting the nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. They spoke of hurt, grief and longing for a chance to say goodbye to the people they loved. They also offered forgiveness, despite the accusation that Roof, a white man, had carried out one of the worst American hate crimes of the generation at the historically black church.

Roof also could not see beyond the courtroom, where Charleston has been transformed by tragedy into a ground zero for the racial strife reignited in recent years by a call of “black lives matter.” He faces nine murder charges in the attack that some say exposed an underbelly of the Deep South that bubbled to the surface in a bloody way around 9 p.m. Wednesday at 110 Calhoun St.

The Confederate battle flag still flew above the Statehouse, despite calls from critics nationwide to take it down. And some pointed to the bond judge who faced Roof as another example of deep-rooted problems here. The judge, who has been reprimanded and suspended for using the N-word in the past, called Roof’s family members victims, too.

“Saying that semblances of that ugly underbelly does not exist would be a disservice to the lives that were lost,” said Antonio Tillis, a longtime African studies professor brought to the College of Charleston amid the school’s turmoil over the hiring of a Confederacy memorabilia aficionado as its president. “We need to question our national identity and Americanism. Who gets to claim it? To hear a young man say that black people have taken over the country, we have to question that.”

But that man also couldn’t see the wall of flowers being built on the sidewalk in front of the church, each bouquet with a message from people in Sheridan, Wyo.; Crawfordsville, Ind.; and Madison, Miss. Black and white visitors from other states knelt next to residents from Charleston and cried as they penned messages on a banner. Roof also couldn’t hear what they said.

“Where is our country going?” Donna Lea Needham, 83, of Sanford, Fla., said as she cried. “How many times is hatred going to cause this kind of sorrow? This has gone on for long enough.”

That call on Calhoun Street echoed from the courtroom with the victims’ families, to Charleston City Hall, to California, where President Barack Obama again spoke out against the violence.

“It is not good enough to simply show sympathy,” he said. “We as a people have got to change. That’s how we honor those families.”
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