by Samia Warsame

 charleston shooting

photo by AP Images

After the shooting at the AME Church, the cry for the removal of the Confederate flag was swift and was taken down from the state’s capitol a month later.

On June 17, Charleston, South Carolina was in the middle of a media firestorm when 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The young man came into the church, armed with a .45 caliber and within an hour into the prayer meeting, stood up and began firing. 26 year-old Tywanza Sanders was the first to get killed after he dived in front of his elderly aunt, 87 year-old Susie Jackson. Roof killed seven others before fleeing the scene.

According to prosecutors, Roof was planning this massacre for months, trying to ignite a race war. His Facebook was adorned with pictures of himself sporting various symbols of hatred, such as the apartheid-era flags of South Africa and Rhodesia stitched on his jacket and the Confederate flag clutched in his fist. In his online manifesto, Roof wrote, “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.” On June 29, President Barack Obama delivered a rousing eulogy at the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was one of the nine victims of the shooting. He addressed not only the senselessness of the act, but also brought up the removal of the Confederate flag from the state’s capitol. “Removing the flag from this state’s capital would not be an act of political correctness,” he said. “It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong.”

When the news of the shooting hit national headlines, many people were appalled and shocked. How could a sane person come into a sacred building and proceed to murder nine innocent churchgoers? Once again, the debate over gun control was brought up, along with a harsh exposure of racial relations in America. Despite all of this however, the surviving men and women of that fateful day showed a rare trait that is usually not prevalent in these sort of cases. “I was really impressed by the power of the people, the family and the community who were forgiving him [Dylan Roof] in court.” said history teacher Richard MacDonald. “The power that their religious beliefs played in how they handled just really blew my mind.” The shooting also incited a national debate over the real meaning of the Confederate flag, and the ugly history it carried over the years. “Roof targeted those people based on his beliefs.” said junior Kyla Pearson. “He used the racist beliefs of the Confederacy to justify his actions.”

A month after the Charleston shooting, Governor Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina signed a bill into law that ordered the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the Capitol grounds. The flag is now housed at the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. A month after that, stores nationwide such as Sears, Amazon and Wal-Mart, pulled Confederate flag merchandise from their shelves in the wake of the murders. “We never want to offend anyone with the products that we offer. We have taken steps to remove all items promoting the confederate flag from our assortment — whether in our stores or on our web site,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Brian Nick to CNN.

On July 22, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church opened its doors again and worshiped for the first time since the Confederate flag came down on the Capitol grounds. Even as they recognized the victims at the service, this day was as much about celebrating themselves as they continued to heal. The church was packed with people of all races and nationality as Rev. Norvel Goff, the interim pastor spoke about the history of the church and how that the shooting has brought the spiritual community together. “The blood of Mother Emanuel requires us to now only work for justice in this case,” he said. “but for those who are still living in the margin of life, those who are less fortunate than us, and that we stay on the battlefield until there is no more fight to be fought.”