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Church shooting no aberration: Racial violence too common

SO ENDS A week bracketed by strange, conflicting bookends: On one end, the news of a white woman appropriating a black identity. On the other, the news of a white man bent on eliminating black lives in a horrible shooting at a church in Charleston, S.C.

And while Rachel Dolezal sparked many conversations, let's call that story what it was : a novelty, an aberration.

The other story - the hatred that led to a mass execution of nine black lives who had gathered to study the Bible in an historic black church in Charleston - is, alas, not an aberration. Not in this year, not in this century, not in this country.

Not for Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner or the other victims of homicide. Today, blacks are four times more likely to be murdered than the national average, according to the Violence Policy Center.

Another mass execution may require us to bemoan the easy access to guns, and a culture in which a father wouldn't think twice about giving a gun as a birthday present to his clearly troubled and "adrift" 21-year-old son. But focusing on the gun issue right now detracts from the issue of hatred.

Most of this country's mass executions - in movie theaters, malls, and schools - are marked by the randomness of their victims and the insanity of the shooters. But the specific targeting of the Charleston victims - in a church, a space that has traditionally been a haven for black lives -makes an intolerable event even more chilling.

We agree with the Department of Justice who say they will investigate this as a hate crime.

"I have to do it," the gunman was quoted as saying. "You rape our women and you're taking over our country. And you have to go."

How does a 21-year-old learn to hate so early? His comments and the little we know suggests it's a hate born of his own lack: maybe lack of direction, of agency, of economic power that curdled into a hatred for those he saw as "taking over." His family and community built that hate, but this country and our divisive political and economic dynamics don't help, either. That's not an excuse or a pass, but if we are going to grapple with this damaging hatred, whether perpetrated by troubled young men or police officers, we have to lift up the layers to find out what's underneath. And given how racial hatred has remained a constant in this country's history, this scrutiny is long overdue.

President Obama responded by admonishing the country to "reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries."

Indeed, does any other advanced nation have a government report called "Guide for Developing High-quality Emergency Operation Plans for Houses of Worship" with a whole section addressing how to deal with a live shooter? This 2013 FEMA report includes recommendations for church personnel to figure out "how those present in buildings and on the ground will be notified that there is an active shooter incident underway . . ."

This in a country supposedly founded on the pursuit of religious freedom and tolerance.

We have all died a little because of Wednesday. The greatness of the United States as a beacon for freedom is damaged - again. Our resiliency and ability to grow stronger is in question. And we as a country do not have nine lives.

Nor did Charleston have nine lives to spare.