On July 4, as people celebrated the United States’ Independence Day and I watched the smoke settling from the fireworks of the night sky, I could not stop thinking about the fog that looms over the nation.
Nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina were shot and killed on June 17 by Dylann Roof. In the aftermath, many were unsure of what to make of the situation. Many people were quick to blame guns in order to spark another debate over gun laws. Media outlets called for a greater awareness of mental health awareness.
Many sigh and claim, “We may never know why he did it.” Others question whether labeling it is important or not because it will have no effect on the severity of Dylann Roof’s punishment. But, in order to properly condemn such acts and keep them from happening again, we must not hesitate to call it by its name.
This was an act of domestic terrorism.
The FBI defines domestic terrorism as “primarily occurring on American soil and involving acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”
Though it’s clear that this act was dangerous to human life, the question seems to be whether or not it appears intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, and ongoing investigations suggest that others may have known about his plans.
“I have no choice,” Roof wrote. “I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
This attack was symbolic. It was political. The church that Roof attacked has historical significance to the Black community, as it has been attacked multiple times in the past. Witnesses claim he said he came to the church “to shoot Black people.”
Roof is a white supremacist. He is a racist. There is a picture of him wearing badges linked to apartheid Africa and another picture of him burning an American flag. Based on his Internet postings and his drunken comments to one of his friends, he wanted to start a “race war.”
He wore a badge linked to apartheid Africa.
He burned the American flag.
He wanted to start a race war.
And yet, we still question whether he should be called a terrorist.
There should be the same outrage and response from over this attack as there would over any attack against Americans incited by such hate. Too often we are stuck in this idea that only foreign terrorism or Islamic terrorism are what Americans should be afraid of, but the rise of this racial climate starting in our own backyards is completely ignored. If this had been a person of color, they would have been called a thug or a terrorist in a second. Instead, former FBI agent Jonathan Gilliam told CNN he most likely had a mental illness and Sen. Lindsey Graham said he was “one of those wacked out kids.”
We, as a nation, are going down a very dangerous path if we fail to realize these disparities and how far this has gone. If Donald Trump, a U.S. presidential candidate, can stand on national television and claim that Mexican immigrants are rapists and bump up to second in the Republican candidacy, there’s a problem much greater than one lone wolf. Racism is still deeply rooted in this nation.
We put in pen that all men were created equal 223 years ago.
It’s about time we start acting like it.
Rabab Jafri can be reached at email@example.com.