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Domestic Terrorism and Hate Crimes in America

Note: Caroline, already an excellent writer who just completed her sophomore year at a college in Michigan, asked me last March if she could intern for me this summer to get more experience and exposure writing different kinds of articles and documents for my three business websites and business blogs. Yesterday was her very first day as my intern, and this is her very first submission: the day after the Charleston Massacre and written from her unique point of view. It wasn’t in the “plan” for her to do political writing on this purely political blog separate from my business blogs, but circumstances often dictate a change in our “plans”.–A post by Caroline Peterson.

Say Their Names. These were Americans murdered by another American--domestic terrorism AND a hate crime.

Say Their Names. These were Americans murdered by another American–domestic terrorism AND a hate crime.

As a 20-year old, white, female college student in America, seeing the headline “mass shooting” is not something shocking; “9 people shot dead” is nearly as common as “politicians say things they shouldn’t have and now they’re trying to backtrack.” The (white) perpetrator is always “crazy,” an “anomaly,”  someone mentally ill whose mal intentions could never be predicted. It’s not called an act of domestic terrorism; how could a white gun-touting American be a terrorist? The surrounding community affected by the mass shooting is always “stunned” by the violence, but ultimately “brought together” through the tragedy, with a candlelight vigil and a promise to prevent any such violent acts in the future. But I’m not stunned by the events in South Carolina, and I can guarantee I’m not the only one who’s noticing a pattern.

It’s comforting to call these instances “shocking tragedies”: it absolves someone from any responsibility for addressing larger societal and social issues. If the perpetrator is labeled as mentally ill and a social deviant, then it’s only because of their sickness that crimes occur. In this narrative, there is no cultural or societal sickness, no ingrained hatred that leads to these atrocities.  It’s easy to say, “Well, that was an unfortunate tragedy—better get on with life.” However, such thinking is not only unproductive, but dangerous. It allows for it to occur again and again, every time being written off as a fluke, a bad apple in the bunch, without anyone ever considering the larger systemic hatred and oppression.

The alleged shooter of the members of the Charleston, SC, Emmanuel A.M.E. Church.

The alleged shooter of the members of the Charleston, SC, Emmanuel A.M.E. Church. We will NOT “say his name.”

The crime in Charleston, South Carolina, took place in a historically significant place and an important safe space for the African-American community, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. A white man entered the church, prayed with the churchgoers, looked them in the eye, and then shot them dead. He sat and prayed with the people he was going to kill, bringing his gun into their place of worship, firing openly at them, instilling sheer terror in their hearts. It was an American entering a safe and historically sacred space and terrorizing other Americans—serving as a quite accurate definition of an act of domestic terrorism. Likewise, it is a hate crime in that it was specifically targeted to a certain group of people. Not all acts of domestic terrorism are hate crimes, since some are carried out for the purpose of terrorizing people in general, not a specific race, religion, or cause. However, the shooting in Charleston was clearly directed toward the African-American community; a white man terrorized and murdered black worshippers in one of the “oldest black congregations south of Baltimore, Maryland,” according to the church’s website.

I’ve heard on the radio that the Charleston community is coming together and mourning the tragedy, and in no way do I judge them for doing so. After all, I’m a well-off, well-educated white young adult who wasn’t directly affected by the shooting. But I want all of us who may label this as an unfortunate and “shocking” tragedy to take a step back, look at the facts, and realize that this is a racially fueled terrorist attack that we’ve allowed to happen again and again.

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Caroline Peterson

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