This is racial terrorism

Charleston killings show persistence of bigotry and hate

What follows is a slightly edited version of the speech Attorney General Maura Healey delivered at the Charles Street AME Interfaith Service in Boston on June 21 to honor the Charleston victims. 

I COME TO this sanctuary heartbroken. I come to this sanctuary heartsick. And, I come to this sanctuary angry.

I am angry, because how many more black lives need to be sacrificed at the altar of white hate. It’s 150 years after the Civil War, 50 years after Selma and the Voting Rights Act, and nearly 25 years after the riots in Los Angeles. This country is not where it should be.

This is racial terrorism. This is hatred, perpetrated by an evil person whose demonic intent and actions we cannot fathom, let alone begin to understand. A despicable and most vile act.

Worse yet, he did not act in isolation, and he is not the only one accountable. Everyone who contributed to his distorted thinking, to his hatred, to his bigotry, and to his violence is accountable. Because no child is born with hatred in his heart. No child is born with racism in her mind. Today, babies were born across this city and across our country. Children, helpless, waiting to be fed, held, made warm, comforted, and loved. A child does not know hate, does not know disparity, does not know difference. Where does that begin?

This person was born in 1994. In 1994, people. What did he learn? What did he accumulate along the way? There were family members, there were bloggers, there was social media and TV, there were teachers and schools, and there was government and community members who collectively are accountable. What did people do to stop it?

So what happens next? Where do we go from here? We focus on Charleston, but this is not just about Charleston — this is about America. Racism, bigotry, hatred, violence persists. And it is up to all of us to change it. In government, in the boardrooms, in the classrooms, and in communities across this country. We need action to address disparities that exist in voting rights, housing, employment, criminal justice, education, in the accumulation, or not, of wealth. We have work to do.

Only when our government and our society as a whole commits to the ideals of equality and justice will our children grow up with love in their hearts rather than hatred.

The Confederate flag should come down, of course it should. It is a symbol of racial hatred. It is a repudiation of equality and justice. And it is also a symbol of division. No government should fly a flag or show symbols that celebrate and honor a divided country, a divided people. To the leaders in the South Carolina General Assembly, and to the people of South Carolina, I ask you, take down your flag.

For we are one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

Today we talk of mourning, the hurt we feel, of healing, and coming together – and that is right. But that is not enough. That will not do. We have work to do. In basketball we say, “I got next” when you want to challenge someone. Tonight, I got next, you got next, our government’s got next. Each and every one of us has got next. We must challenge ourselves and our leaders, every day. Every day, every person must make this their own, to see the world through the other’s eyes, to live the world through the other’s experiences, the other’s circumstances.

And 450 years later, we have to come to terms with the realization that we do not begin from the same baseline. It matters what signals we send. It matters what we do next. All races, creeds, and faiths need to come together. We need to come together, not just tonight, but tomorrow, and every day after that.

To recognize the pain we are experiencing. And to recognize that we need to use this pain to move forward. That we respond to this pain, so that it galvanizes us, so that it strengthens us, so that it steels us for the work ahead.

And let me say this about Mother Emmanuel. I know that Mother Emmanuel, the AME, the church, will survive this assault. You have been assaulted and terrorized before. But I know that the church will continue to be the beacon, the sanctuary it has been for centuries. As we have been taught by Matthew:

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“Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against me.”

Lord have mercy on us all and give us the strength for the work ahead. Amen.