THE SHOOTING deaths of nine people in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, S.C., is a tragedy, one that came about because of the hatred that Dylann Roof allegedly harbored in his heart.
But Roof, who allegedly laid out his plans to kill African-Americans in a racist screed on a website he administered, is not unique. He is but the latest in a long line of domestic terrorists who are too often driven by racial hate.
We saw his predecessors in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, when a bomb killed four little girls. We saw them in Selma, Ala., in 1965, when the segregationist violence of Bloody Sunday gripped our national conscience. We saw them in Memphis, Tenn., in 1968, when an assassin's bullet killed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
If, in fact, it is true that Roof, an unemployed high-school dropout already facing drug charges, walked into a church, sat with his intended targets for an hour, then callously killed preachers and old women while spouting racist rhetoric, none of us should be surprised. Roof, by his own admission, is steeped in racist ideology. Sadly, it's an ideology that's even older than our country, a belief system we must fight against, down to its very symbols.
That's why I agree with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who yesterday joined the growing chorus of politicians calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from South Carolina's capital grounds.
Not only is that flag a symbol of hatred against African-Americans. It represents rebellion against our very nation. That it flies just a stone's throw from South Carolina's capitol building by mandate of the state legislature is outrageous, especially in light of the fact that the American flag and the South Carolina flag are currently at half-staff. Despite the national and local calls for its removal, South Carolina's legislature has not broken its summer recess to return to the capitol and take the legislative action necessary to have it removed.
If they do not do so immediately, we have no choice but to call for an economic boycott of the state.
If South Carolina wants to flout national norms by flying the flag of the Confederacy on government property, then we must act. If South Carolina wants to put states' rights above the interests of a civil, democratic society, then we must give the state its wish. If South Carolina wants to be segregated from the rest of us, then by all means, we should let it. And if we must ostracize the state financially in order to make this point, then so be it.
Will the forced removal of the Confederate flag end racism? It certainly will not. But it will begin the needed conversation about the culture of hate in this country and force us all to look squarely at the quantifiable truths that illustrate how race impacts life in America.
For example, black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than their white counterparts. Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than whites, and more than twice as likely to be searched once pulled over, according to Justice Department statistics.
But to challenge and ultimately defeat the racism we face in our daily lives, we can't rely solely on statistics. We can't wait for sympathy. We must use the one tool that all of America understands. We must use our dollars.
Yet, even as we lay economic siege to South Carolina, we must not forget the nine people who were killed. We must hope that their families receive the justice they deserve. We must pray that Emanuel AME Church will continue its mission of love.
And as we anxiously await justice in this heinous act, we must continue the struggle against racism wherever we find it.
We must boycott the state of South Carolina.