Posts Tagged ‘Murders at Emanuel AME Church’


On February 25, 1994, Baruch Goldstein entered a mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron during prayer and massacred 29 worshippers. This was a calculated act of terrorism. Goldstein entered a sacred spot for Muslims during Ramadan. That year it was also the holiday of Purim. His crime was sparked by his hatred of Palestinians – a senseless hatred

Last November 18, 2 Palestinians walked into Kehilat B’nei Torah in West Jerusalem bearing guns, axes and knives. They proceeded to murder 5 people in the middle of prayer, including the noted rabbi Moshe Twersky, who was an American as well as Israeli citizen. This was a calculated act of terror. The murderers knew the time of the shacharit service. They came in shouting “God is great!” They did not select a military site or any place with political significance. Their crime was sparked by their hatred of Jews – a senseless hatred.

Almost 7 months later to the day, last Wednesday night, June 17, a young white man entered Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. He entered during a Bible study session. After sitting quietly for about an hour, he opened fire with his hand gun, reloading a few times, killing 9 members of the church including the senior pastor, Clementa Pinckney, who was not only the pastor but a respected state senator as well. One of the 3 women who survived reported the young man stated, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over the country. You have to go.”

Why did he choose Emanuel AME? This is an historic church, founded in 1816. In 1822 one of its founders, Denmark Vesey, a freed slave; was arrested, tried and found guilty of planning a slave rebellion. The list of historic figures who were members include Harriett Tubman. The list of distinguished figures who have spoken there include Booker T. Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The killer chose this site because of his hatred of blacks – a senseless hatred.

I cannot imagine anyone who does not see the murders in Hebron and Jerusalem as acts of terror. Yes, these incidents are different from the shootings at Emanuel AME because they occurred in the context of the political situation between Israel and the Palestinians. But anyone who justifies either of these terrorist acts because of their political leaning is allowing their own senseless hatred of the other side to drive them. When blinded by hatred, you cannot see the humanity of the victims. The question is, are we ready to see the murders at Emanuel AME as a terrorist act as well? Are we ready to acknowledge this terrorism as a result of the senseless hatred of racism?

Too often we dismiss murderous crimes perpetrated by white males as being the acts of lone wolves, or the mentally disturbed. While I am sure some incidents are unpredictable and certainly anyone who takes another person’s life is mentally disturbed; we are fooling ourselves if we do not recognize a real sickness that infects our country – the sickness of senseless racial hatred. We are afraid, as a society, to have that discussion to speak openly and honestly about the persistence of racism in America.

Look at the discussions in the aftermath of the murders at Emanuel AME. Both the political left and right elevated gun control to the to of the agenda. This despite the fact that the gun used was legally purchased by the perpetrator’s parents and given to him as a birthday present. Turning the murders at Emanuel AME into a discussion on gun control avoids the conversation that really needs to happen. Some folks tried to characterize the shooting as an act against Christians, or against religion. Some make the discussion about mental illness. Some say we will never understand the killer’s motivation in expressing this hatred.

But we do understand it. From what we know about the accused killer, he holds an extreme racist ideology highlighted by his hatred of black Americans.

Too often, politicians and the media, look at each incident; be it a murder of an African American or a police shooting of an African American, as an isolated incident. But they are not. Maybe the Ferguson, MO shooting of Michael Brown was not racially motivated. Add to that, however, the long list of other shootings of blacks by police, such as the 12 year old boy shot for having a pellet gun, or the 34 year old mother of a 5 year old little girl. Look at the long list of police shootings from 2014. Look at the arrest records of young black males to young white males for similar crimes. Look at how many of each race ends up in prison. In reacting to the Emanuel AME murders, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley stated that it was inconceivable to her that such an act could occur.

But it is conceivable. Because the hate is real. Hate is the undercurrent for too much of our political dialogue now. Hate is the undercurrent when referring to the person who is unlike yourself, be they different color, religion or even political party. I am not someone who takes Donald Trump very seriously, but how much of his rambling speech upon entering the Presidential race was based on senseless hatred of Mexicans, of immigrants? We are a country that is good at spewing hate and terrible at confronting the reality of this senseless hate.

The Talmud, in tractate Yoma, states that senseless hatred is considered as grave a sin as idolatry, immorality and bloodshed – all together! Our Torah in Leviticus 19:17 states, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” Of course we do not even see the person who is different from us as a brother, we see them as an “other.” In the front of the list of hatreds is racial hatred. It is the scar our country bears. It is the dark hearted undercurrent that we are still not willing to confront. Until we do, the timer is now running counting down till our grieving for the next Emanuel AME.

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