In 2015, people fought back. Against racial injustice in our policing, in our policies, in our politics. Yet, what small victories we won can easily seem overshadowed by the innumerable failures of our justice system. We saw little justice.
This week, we failed Tamir Rice. We’ve failed Sandra Bland. Rekia Boyd. Mia Hall. Freddie Gray. There are so many names. I encourage you to say them aloud. To speak them when you wonder if you’ve given all you can give.
Today, I want to focus on these names: Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Myra Thompson.
On Wednesday, June 17, 2015, a 21-year old white supremacist named Dylann Roof attended a prayer service at Emanuel AME Church. After they kindly received him, he shot and killed them all. While many of our leaders on the right scrambled to disassociate the issue from race, Roof revealed his wishes to ignite a race war.
You know the story. You know how much it hurt. You know like I know that it feels like it was so long ago while also feeling like we’ve never woken up to a new day. I retell all of this because in a country where we continue to struggle for any semblance of equality, we found some shred of hope in the people of South Carolina following an unprecedented, sick tragedy. We were devastated. We were divided. Then we were angry and we united.
I felt the change back in August 2014. We were watching the coverage of Ferguson, MO, following the police’s murder of Michael Brown. (Darren Wilson was cleared of charges, officially.) As CNN’s Jake Tapper reeled in a cloud of tear gas, he panicked, “. . . there is nothing going on on this street right now that merits this scene out of Bagram. Nothing.” This is the new America.
We watched the coverage for hours, for days, for weeks. Coverage of injustice after injustice. Then less and less. Until it became normal. Until I became complacent. Disaffected. Used to it.
When Charleston happened, I was ashamed. This was not a case of a police officer shooting down a black person out of some deep-seated paranoia. But it was what that culture has created. It’s what the Donald Trumps of the world are feeding. Hate is the product of fear and ignorance, something that Americans are rich in. All you need is someone to stir the two together. I was ashamed because I let myself drown out what to me had become white noise (ironically enough). It was clear to many of us what had to be done following the mass shooting at Emanual AME. We had to take that disgusting flag down from our State House grounds.
Photos taken by Karla Turner
For weeks we fought while in our State House politicians argued the merits of heritage, ignoring the fact that the flag was placed on the grounds in direct opposition to earlier efforts by the civil rights movement. They quoted scripture, they hemmed and hawed over whether our not we could maintain our Southern values while removing such a symbol of hate from a place of honor. It was ridiculous and maddening. But…
2015 was the year many of us first exercised our right to peaceful protest in a country where we witnessed the severe lack of protections we have to safely do so. We spent the Fourth of July up at the State House Grounds, suffered the relentless heat, thrust our moist pits into the air to hold up our signs greeted by approving honks or hateful shouts. We ignored the efforts of white supremacist groups, simply pointed to them as our elected leaders looked on, we saw what this generation has to fight against. We wielded our rights like a sword. We let our representatives know that we weren’t silent, we weren’t ignorant, we weren’t shutting up. And on July 10, 2015, we took that fucking flag down.
Let us all remember what that felt like. The swell of the cheering crowd, the tears, the elation. I felt there was no oxygen left to breath as the mass of people inhaled and fell silent a second before the flag began to descend. I’ll never ever forget that day and that feeling. Let us speak the names of the fallen. Let us cherish their memory and fight for the freedoms they weren’t granted. Let us enter 2016 with the fire this past year’s tragic events has ignited in our hearts.
Assemble. Speak. Vote.
Happy New Year.