During the past two months I’ve had the privilege of teaching our Journalism Ethics and Issues class at Northeastern, in which I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the news and related issues with 10 bright, engaged young people. Our last class is Wednesday, but, for me, one of the highlights took place Monday, when we talked about the Charleston shootings.
I’m posting the slides I used for the last part of the class, but I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression. It was the students who led all but the last hour of the three-and-a-half-hour class. I could easily have let them continue, but at some point I figured I had to start earning my salary.
The issues that engaged them the most were whether the media are more reluctant to label a white supremacist such as Dylann Roof a “terrorist” than, say, they would be with an Islamist extremist, and how much coverage the media should give to the perpetrator of a notorious crime versus the victims. Although no one took the view that the media should refrain from naming Roof and reporting on his motives, we were unanimous that the media should focus as much as possible on the lives of the victims and their families.
This has been a great group of students, and I’m going to miss them.
Look at this image of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church‘s home page. Nothing has changed since the horrifying murders of nine people Wednesday evening. The site also includes this quote from Sister Jean German Ortiz, who, I assume, is or was a member of the church: “Jesus died a passionate death for us, so our love for Him should be as passionate.”
They died passionately for our sins — we, the inheritors and conservators of a Confederate-flag-waving, gun-drenched culture that has only partly come to terms with our legacy of slavery and racism. The Washington Post has sketches of each of the nine: Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons and Myra Thompson. Sadly, with the possible exception of Rev. Pinckney, we’ll have an easier time remembering the name of the shooter, Dylann Storm Roof. There’s only one of him, and in any case evil holds our attention more easily than good.
I’m not sure why this terrible crime would spark any disagreements other than the inevitable disagreement over guns. But for some reason people are debating whether this is a “hate crime” or an act of “terrorism.” It strikes me that it’s obviously both — a home-grown act of terror committed by someone filled with hate.
But enough bloviating. Here is a short list of articles I’ve read that I hope will broaden our understanding.
I begin with our finest essayist, Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic, who has written an eloquent demand that South Carolina remove the Confederate flag immediately. He writes:
This moral truth [a reference to a speech by a Confederate politician] — “that the negro is not equal to the white man” — is exactly what animated Dylann Roof. More than any individual actor, in recent history, Roof honored his flag in exactly the manner it always demanded — with human sacrifice.
The New York Times publishes a piece by Douglas R. Egerton, the biographer of Emanuel AME founder Denmark Vesey, on the history of the church — a history marred by numerous racist attacks, the most recent coming in 1963. Here’s Egerton:
For 198 years, angry whites have attacked Emanuel A.M.E. and its congregation, and when its leaders have fused faith with political activism, white vigilantes have used terror to silence its ministers and mute its message of progress and hope.
Egerton also links to a 2014 Times article on the unveiling of a statue of Vesey, who, along with 34 others, was executed following a failed slave rebellion. Incredibly, there were those who opposed the statue on the grounds that Vesey was a “terrorist.” Think about that if you hear anyone deny that Roof carried out an act of terrorism.
I’ll close with my friend Charlie Pierce, who posted a commentary at Esquire on Thursday that demonstrated tough, clear-eyed thinking at a moment when the rest of us were still trying to figure out what had just happened. Pierce writes:
What happened in a Charleston church on Wednesday night is a lot of things, but one thing it’s not is “unspeakable.” We should speak of it often. We should speak of it loudly. We should speak of it as terrorism, which is what it was. We should speak of it as racial violence, which is what it was.
Please keep the nine victims and their families in your thoughts today.