Has Emanuel Murders Brought About Change?

By Barney Blakeney

As the fifth anniversary of the massacre at Emanuel AME Church is observed this month, I’m conflicted about several things. I don’t want to do anything that would dishonor the nine victims of the massacre or their survivors so I’ll just say a lot of healing is needed, starting with the congregation at Emanuel.

The slaughter June 17 at Emanuel was horrendous. I think only those who saw the carnage truly know how horrible it was. Dylann Roof used a .45 caliber handgun loaded with hollow-point ammunition to shoot the victims and expended eight magazines shooting each victim multiple times. As a hospital emergency room orderly while in high school and police reporter the past 40 years, I’ve seen the aftermath of shootings. A lot of people actually saw what Dylann Roof did – the survivors, cops forensic people – I can hardly imagine what that scene looked like.

Its horror inspired a lot of people to respond with empathy, sympathy and money. Memorials rose at the sight, tributes were held, President Barack Obama attended a funeral and led in the singing of Amazing Grace. The spirit that hovered over Charleston after the massacre was unlike any I’ve ever felt. I think a lot of people truly felt the horror Roof had created. But despite all that, Charleston and the world continues to conduct business as usual.

As Emanuel still mourned, Charleston County School Board a block away deliberated and chose its administrative leader (School superintendent) in a racially controversial and contentious process. A month later the racially contentious Confederate Flag finally was removed from the grounds at the South Carolina Statehouse. But the racist attitudes that prevailed in Charleston prior to the Emanuel massacre still prevailed.

As our community prepared for the anniversary of the Emanuel massacre, I heard one local promotion announce June 17 was the night that changed Charleston. I know that’s true for many, especially those personally touched by the murders, but I’m disheartened that truth means something so totally different for others.

For a lot of people the murders at Emanuel represents economic and social capital. A friend just yesterday argued that the deaths of the Emanuel Nine didn’t bring down the Confederate Flag. The NAACP economic boycott begun 17 years earlier to bring removal of the flag finally succeeded, my friend argued. I just scratched my head. Each year since the flag came down after the Emanuel massacre the South Carolina Secessionist Party temporarily has raised it on the July 10 anniversary of the date it was removed.

I keep hearing this buzz from ‘community leaders/activists’ who credit themselves with directing the social calm that followed the murders as victims’ survivors espoused their forgiveness of Roof. How does one gauge a catalyst for calm in a community that remains calm through countless acts of racist mayhem which include police shootings, social lynching and economic injustice?

We become passionate about injustice every June 17 because the victims of the Emanuel massacre provide financial, political and social capital. If you want support for your initiative – no matter what the initiative – tie it to the Emanuel massacre.  Despite the sadness born from the horror of the Emanuel massacre, this is a time for capital gain.

In the meantime, eight of the state’s lowest performing public schools are located in predominantly Black CCSD Constituent District 4. Income inequality in our community five years after the Emanuel massacre is the same as it was before the massacre. Before the Emanuel massacre, the median income for Blacks in our community was less than half that of whites. Today the median income in the metro Charleston area is about $74,000 annually. The median income for Blacks is about $32,000. What has changed since that dreadful night?

I believe there is a saying about racism and discrimination that leads to horrors like the Emanuel massacre – we can create laws, but can’t legislate people’s hearts – I think it says.

Just this week two incidents captured on Facebook indicate how despite all the horrible displays of racism and hatred demonstrated by the murders of George Floyd in Minnesota and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia which have created an unprecedented incendiary racial environment, two local public employees have published racist statements – on Facebook no less!!! One was a school district employee whose work impacts the minds of our children and the other is a law enforcement officer.

The sound of bullets being fired into the bodies of the nine murdered victims at Emanuel that night don’t ring hollow, but for me, the sound of all the disingenuous voices bellowing cum by yah love and unity certainly does. If you go to work every day and the only people there on your level are others who look like you, has the deaths of the Emanuel Nine changed anything in your world? If your circle of friends only includes others who look like you, has anything in your world changed since June 17, 2015?

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