AMAZING GRACE AND TEARS

I was driving down to Kent to get some Salvadoran pupusas, something I used to eat in San Francisco with my Salvadoran ‘family’ with whom I shared a flat in the Mission District, listening to RENEGADES, the excellent podcast conversation between two giants – Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen. They were talking about the effects of different types of music on them and on America and they came to the time when President Obama made the decision to sing Amazing Grace during a eulogy he was giving at a funeral for several individuals in Charleston. He was there to speak and he explained that he had gone to so many mass shootings prior to this during his administration that he and his speechwriter were “out of words” to utter in such circumstances, and it came to him to rely on this old hymn to help heal the wounds there and unite. This was the case where the folks holding a Bible study at the African American church had invited the white perpetrator in, and that he had repaid their kind welcome by killing a large number of them. That congregation had found it in their hearts to forgive this young man for his crime of hatred. I wept as I moved along the freeway. Amazing Grace indeed.

The Charleston Church Massacre took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015.  Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, killed nine people including the senior pastor and South Carolina State Senator Clementa C. Pinkney during a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  The shooting increased the awareness of racial violence and terrorism in the United States particularly against African Americans and led the South Carolina Assembly to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds.

The shooting occurred on Wednesday, June 17, 2015, around 9:05 p.m. at Emanuel AME during Bible study.  According to accounts of survivors who witnessed the shooting, Roof was invited in for fellowship and sat next to Senator Pinkney.  Taking his pistol from his fanny pack, he first shot twenty-six-year-old Tywanza Sanders.  The other victims included eighty-seven-year-old Susie Jackson, the great aunt of Sanders, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton Doctor, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman Singleton, Myra Thompson, and Clementa C. Pinckney.  The nine victims would later be known as the Charleston Nine.

Roof fled the church. After an FBI-led national manhunt, he was captured the next morning at a traffic stop in Shelby, North Carolina, 243 miles northwest of Charleston. Roof was arrested and returned to the Sheriff Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston, South Carolina. While at the jail, Roof’s cell-block neighbor was former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager who was charged with the murder of Walter Lamar Scott. Roof would later confess to the murders, explaining that he wanted the murders to start a race war. He additionally told investigators that he almost changed his mind about the shootings because church members had been very nice to him.

On June 19, 2015, Roof was charged with nine counts of murder and one count of possession of a firearm. That same day, Roof appeared in Charleston County court via video conference at a bond hearing where the victim’s families spoke to Roof and forgave him for what he did. On June 25, 2015, two funerals were held for Ethel Lance and Sharonda Coleman-Singleton at the Emanuel AME Church. Clementa Pinckney’s funeral was held the next day at the basketball arena of the College of Charleston where President Barack Obama gave the eulogy. Funerals for the other victims, Tywanza Sanders, Susie Jackson, and Cynthia Graham Hurd, took place the following day. The last victim, Daniel Simmons, was buried on July 2, 2015.

On July 7, 2015, Roof was indicted on nine murder charges along with other federal charges that included hate crime and civil rights violations charges. His trial began in Charleston on December 7, 2016 and on December 15.  He was found guilty on thirty-three charges against him and was sentenced to death on January 10, 2017; however the sentence was later reduced to life in prison without parole on April 10, 2017.

The Charleston Church Shooting prompted Black Lives Matter protests and calls for the removal of Confederate monuments and memorials across the United States including the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017.

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