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June 19, 2015

Gunman shoots nine people at Charleston church


A deadly shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina has left the country shocked and calling for answers.

Suspect Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, entered the historically black Emanuel AME Church Wednesday evening for a prayer meeting and waited for an hour before opening fire. Three men and six women died in the attack.

Police have described the attack as a racially-motivated hate crime. The shooter wore jacket patches symbolizing apartheid governments in South Africa and Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe.

White supremacists or anti-government beliefs have motivated at least one attack every five weeks for the past five years, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. And historically black churches are a particular target for white supremacists, she said.

“This kind of violence is really out of control, this kind of domestic terrorism,” she said.

South Carolina Representative Jim Clyburn said it is important to examine the racist beliefs and organizations that motivated the alleged shooter. “Just because he acted alone in this doesn’t mean that he is not getting his motivation from some other kind of organized effort taking place,” he said.

The shooting has spurred the community to come together, Clyburn said. “I think this community is galvanizing. It is coalescing. It is coming together in a way that I think will serve great purposes going forward,” Clyburn said.

Warm up questions
  1. What is a hate crime?
  2. Where is Charleston, South Carolina?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What sorts of groups or messages most likely motivated the shooter?
  2. In a statement the day after the shooting, President Barack Obama said, “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.” Why is this statement significant?
  3. How should the Charleston AME community and broader community of Charleston respond to what happened?
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