The Charleston massacre: Is American justice blind?

The Charleston massacre: Is American justice blind?
Blog: The latest mass killing raises further serious questions about racism in law enforcement and the media in the US.
4 min read
24 Jun, 2015
Much of the media coverage has highlighted the gap in perceptions of racism [Getty]

On Wednesday evening, 17 June, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the 41-year-old State Senator and pastor at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, was in his church with a number of worshippers who had gathered for a bible study class.

Shortly after 8pm, a white man, later identified as 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, walked in and asked for the pastor. He sat next to Rev Pinckney as he led the bible study, according to witnesses.

Roof sat with the dozen people who were there to discuss scripture for about an hour, before he pulled a gun on the congregants. Tywanza Sanders, 26, who was described by his family members as a peacemaker, tried to calm the gun-toting man down.

He almost did not go through with the attack because everyone in the church was so nice to him.

"You don't have to do this," Tywanza said, according to his cousin who spoke to The New York Times.

Roof replied: "Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country," before he started shooting.

The attacker left nine people dead or dying, including both the pastor, Rev Pinckney, and Tywanza Sanders. He told one woman that he would let her live so she could tell the story of what happened, according to reports.

Dylann Roof fled the scene and authorities started a manhunt that was concluded approximately 13 hours later, at 10:43am on Thursday morning, when Roof was apprehended in Shelby, North Carolina, 250 miles north of Charleston.

A hate crime

NBC News reported that Roof admitted to carrying out the attack against the Emanuel AME church. One source told the news network that the suspect told police that he almost did not go through with the attack because everyone in the church were so nice to him, but he later decided to "go through with his mission".

Police in South Carolina described the attack as a "hate crime", a term echoed by many, including the state's governor, Nikki Haley: "This is an absolute hate crime".

However, many people have raised serious questions about how security authorities and the media have dealt with this violent attack from the outset.

Right after the attack, as the police were conducting their manhunt in search of Dylann Roof, observers questioned why Charleston, a town with a population of approximately 128,000 people, was not locked down like Boston was after the marathon bombing in April 2013.

As the manhunt continued, more information became available about the identity of the attacker, whose profile picture on Facebook showed him wearing a black jacket adorned with the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and white-ruled Rhodesia, which are symbols used by white supremacists.

Despite this revelation that casts further light on the attacker's motives, neither law enforcement authorities nor the media changed the way they handled the case.

Fox News presenter Steve Doocy appeared on the controversial network on Thursday and said it was extraordinary the shooting was being called a hate crime, which some argued was a clear example of media bias and apathy when it comes to black victims.

Americans refuse to consider white men with guns terrorists or dangerous social problems... we like to pin that on other races and religions.
-Jennifer Danielle Crumpton

Mentally ill?

Many have raised questions about why the media portrays white gunmen who carry out mass shootings as mentally ill, while incidents involving black people are described as gang-related and incidents involving Muslims are dubbed as terrorism or terror-related.

"Americans refuse to consider white men with guns terrorists or dangerous social problems... we like to pin that on other races and religions," wrote Jennifer Danielle Crumpton in The Huffington Post.

"It's time to ask what we are teaching [white men], and why they are so violent, and what cultural milieu contributes to their heinous actions."

Such attacks only reflect the deep divisions American society suffers from. Nowhere were those divisions more apparent than in the court in which Dylann Roof appeared through video link on Friday to be formally charged.

"We have victims, nine of them," said magistrate James Gosnell Jr, the white presiding judge.

"But we also have victims on the other side. There are victims on this young man's side of the family. Nobody would have thrown them into the whirlwind of events that they have been thrown into. We must find it in our heart at some point in time to not only to help those who are victims, but also help [Roof's] family as well."

Many will be left wondering if such a sentiment would have been extended to a non-white suspect who had admitted to killing nine people in a politically motivated attack in order to start a race war.

Such a person would surely have been called a terrorist and treated very differently.