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June 26, 2015

Charleston mayor: “We are still a work in progress in America”


The racially-motivated shooting of nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, SC, has spurred discussion and debate about racism in America.

21-year-old Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel AME Church and sat at a prayer meeting for an hour before opening fire. The Justice Department is investigating the incident as a hate crime or act of domestic terrorism.

The mayor of Charleston, Joseph Riley, has worked on improving race relations since he was first elected 40 years ago. He takes comfort in the fact that Roof was not from the city of Charleston, but admits that “he wasn’t from another planet. He was from America.”

“There are these pockets of evil and racial hatred that we have to put under a spotlight,” Riley said. “We have got to work as a country to find out where these cells of hate are, and at least bring them into public consciousness.”

Riley said the city has made major strides in the last four decades to improve race relations.

When he took office in 1975, people of different races in Charleston seldom interacted, he said. The first step was desegregation of the community. Some of his other priorities include affordable housing, restoring neighborhoods and public spaces and working on police-community relations.

But Charleston, along with the rest of the country, is still “a work in progress” when it comes to racism, he said.

Warm up questions
  1. What is a hate crime? What is terrorism?
  2. What do you know about the city of Charleston, South Carolina?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What are some of the underlying historical roots of racism in the U.S. South?
  2. How were race relations different in 1975 from today? Are there any similarities?
  3. How do you think courts should determine whether or not a crime qualifies as a hate crime or a terrorist act?
  4. From what the mayor said about his city, how is it similar and different from your own community?
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