The only emotion I refuse to feel in reference to the horrific murders at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC is hopelessness. I refuse to give up and give in. Hopelessness would be an affront to the nine people killed with bullets of hate in their house of worship. It would be allowing that hate to win. I’ll allow a moment of helplessness, but no hopelessness.
And that’s so very difficult. It’s so very difficult when we see scenes like last night’s tragedy replayed with minor variation, when our society and our legislators and our culture refuse to respond with conviction and care for our lives, when we listen to our President say, again, “I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.”
It’s completely natural and necessary to ask WHY, which can lead to assumptions and conclusions and beliefs fueled by both best intentions and the worst prejudices. Some have pointed out the obvious race hatred and supremacist philosophy the murderer displayed in various venues. Others have mentioned that State Senator Pinckney, also a Reverend at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, had recently introduced gun reform legislation just weeks ago.
But there is also the HOW, which is usually easier to comprehend than the WHY. The gun that was (presumably) used in this tragic massacre was a recent birthday gift. Despite having an arrest record for drug-related charges and trespassing, the murderer could have purchased a gun in South Carolina without a permit, license, or training. And apparently, his father thought it was a good idea to give his son (with an arrest record and overtly racist enthusiasm) a .45 caliber handgun. There’s the HOW of getting the gun.
In the aftermath of tragedies like this, I try to remain quiet so I can listen. I listen with the consciousness that I have the privilege and space to be able to remain quiet for a time and listen.
I listen to hear the sounds of Hope. The sounds of a forward quest for Justice. I listen for the sounds of Love. Because without them, Anger, despite its initial release, will only create more Anger and Violence and Hate. Anger can only be fruitful when guided by Love and Hope and Justice.
This time, in the midst of many other thoughtful and hopeful responses, I came across the Charleston response statement from King Center CEO Bernice A. King. Please read it in its entirety here.
“We must interrupt business as usual and change the trajectory of our nation. And, as my father shared in his eulogy for the four little girls killed in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing, “…We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.
We must choose to be concerned about the system, the way of life and the philosophy which produced the Charleston gunman. It is critical that we are concerned, for our concern reflects our attention to our ultimate choice between “nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.” We must choose Nonviolence 365.”
How each of us responds is a choice. And it will be different for everyone in our own time. But we must all respond in some way. Don’t ignore it because it doesn’t directly affect you. Don’t dismiss it because it happens so often. Don’t turn away because the problem is too big. Get Angry. Get more Angry. Scream for Justice. Whisper for Justice. Educate for Justice. Search for Hope. Reach for Love. Wrap it up in a motivation that begins and ends and thrives with Love.