WASHINGTON (AP) — The weariness, the rage, the depressing conviction that black life is stuck in a murderous loop fueled by racism — these emotions resounded in black America after the deadly shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Nine people who had gathered to pray in one of the main sanctuaries of black life — the church — were slain.
This, following a string of black men killed after coming into contact with police officers in cities across America and racist actions on campuses. Even though African-Americans are long accustomed to dealing with difficulty where their race is concerned, the confluence of events appeared to be taking a toll.
“We really are a people who are suffering from racial battle fatigue,” political essayist and commentator Chauncey DeVega said Thursday.
Authorities say Dylann Storm Roof sat with members of Emanuel for an hour during Bible study Wednesday night before gunning them down. The Charleston police chief wouldn’t discuss a motive, but a friend of the 21-year-old white man told The Associated Press that Roof had complained about black people “taking over the world.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the first black woman to serve as the nation’s top prosecutor, opened a hate crimes investigation.
The Rev. Anthony Evans of the National Black Church Initiative said he planned to travel to Charleston to help churches learn to defend themselves. He said the attack evoked “a point of deep moral frustration that cannot be explained.”
“At the same time, they want individuals such as myself as clergy to preach peace and coming together,” he said. “They only want us to not let the people get out of hand, and I’m not willing to stand in front of that angry crowd anymore and tell them that their anger is the wrong emotion to feel.”
President Barack Obama, too, sounded weary.
“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” the nation’s first black president said Thursday. “Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.”
The Charleston slayings followed nearly a year of heightened racial tensions that began with the death of Michael Brown, 18, who was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. It flared up in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray, in Cleveland after the death of Tamir Rice, in Staten Island, New York, after the death of Eric Garner.
Threats came, too, on U.S. campuses. At Duke University, a noose was found hanging from a tree. Spray-painted swastikas and nooses were found at dorms on the State University of New York’s Purchase campus. Just Thursday, a man pleaded guilty in federal court to threatening African-American students and employees at the University of Mississippi by helping place a rope around the neck of the statue of James Meredith, the school’s first African-American student.
Those events unfolded against a backdrop of above-average black unemployment, crime-stricken communities, criticism of the state of the black family, black culture and education, and even debate over the meaning of blackness itself. In the days before the Charleston shooting, the nation had been riveted by the saga of Rachel Dolezal, who resigned as head of the NAACP’s Spokane, Washington, chapter after her parents outed her as a white woman pretending to be black.
To Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League, the Charleston attack serves as yet another reminder that there’s “racial tension, racial conflict and, in some places, racial hatred in this nation.”
“It just underscores the fact that we have a lot of work to do,” Morial said.
Jesse J. Holland covers race, ethnicity and demographics for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @jessejholland.
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