Reverend Broderick Greer
WHEN Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors created #Blacklivesmatter, their “love note” to black people, they couldn’t have had Wednesday night’s terrorist attack at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in mind.
They were, however, mindful of the myriad ways in which black people throughout American history have been terrorised in their houses of worship, including the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963.
In the early 19th century, Mother Emanuel AME Church was itself destroyed by local white citizens who were committed to quelling the embers of black rebellion sparked by Denmark Vesey.
I thus pause when pundits label domestic terror attacks like this one “isolated”.
There is nothing isolated about the violence exacted upon black people by law enforcement officers, vigilantes or terrorists.
When police officers or extrajudicial neighborhood watchmen shoot dead descendants of this nation’s formerly enslaved population, they are recommitting themselves to the white American tradition of squashing out black life at every juncture possible.
Over the past three years alone, I’ve learned that – in the social economy of white American supremacy – black people can’t walk to a convenience store, ask for assistance after a car accident, play with a toy gun or study the Bible without the looming reality of the violent white gaze.
There is nothing isolated about the terrorism allegedly perpetrated by the peacefully-captured suspect, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, when the Ku Klux Klan members who bombed 16th Street Baptist Church 50 years ago walked away with no federal charges.
It is now the responsibility of federal prosecutors to use the full power of the law to exact justice in the name of the nine black lives lost on the eve of the anniversary commemorating the suppression of Denmark Vesey’s planned uprising; it is our duty to stay focused and hold them to their obligations.
But to deny the interconnectedness of white American terrorism and violence perpetrated on the bodies of black people is to linearize and domesticate time, and to ignore the oceanic, circular nature of history – a history that assures us that some cable-news pundits will more readily humanize Dylann Roof than his black victims, like the Reverend Clementa C Pinckney, Mother Emanuel’s pastor and a South Carolina state senator.
In the wake of the lynching of Walter Scott in April, the Rev Pinckney assisted in presiding at a prayer vigil held in his honor.
That the Rev Pinckney, an outspoken advocate against police brutality, died from gunfire in his own church is a testament to the potency of white supremacy in American life.
That Dylann Roof, a young white man, was greeted with open arms in a predominantly black space, and yet reportedly used that hospitality as a catalyst for terrorism, is exactly why so many black people were suspicious of the white woman pretending to be black. Because, not even in black churches – havens of rest from the rigor of white supremacy – are we immune to white violence.
While I would like to think federal charges in the eventual prosecution of Mr Roof is a probable and desirable outcome, I can’t allow my wishful thinking to get too far ahead of me. Back in April, documents were released that revealed the fact that National Guard officials referred to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri – American citizens – as “enemy forces”.
When an armed facet of a government sworn to protect and serve the citizens of this nation is characterising a group of mostly black protesters as “enemy forces”, I know that federal protection – from police brutality, gun violence and vigilantism – isn’t as practical or realistic as previously assumed.
Therefore, a truly intersectional, multiracial, multifaith and secular movement for human rights must continue to put pressure on the federal government, until the federal government itself actually acts like black lives matter. – Guardian
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