With some calling the killings “domestic terrorism,” and others sharply disagreeing, callers to WJCT’s First Coast Connect were sharply divided in reactions to Wednesday’s mass church shooting in Charleston, S.C., that left nine people dead.
“It is fair to call it domestic terrorism,” said JeffriAnne Wilder, professor of sociology at the University of North Florida. Wilder is a noted speaker across the country on race and diversity issues.
“Sometimes it is hard for us to recognize that. But we’ve seen similar cases in not-so-distant history of people walking into mosques and synagogues and killing peaceful people inside. Those were also acts of terror.”
Dylann Roof, 21, has been taken into custody in Shelby, N.C., after authorities say he opened fire during a Bible study group at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, the oldest historically African-American church in the South.
Witnesses say the gunman stood up and said he was there “to shoot black people,” according to law enforcement officials.
“Here is a church with a rich history steeped in advocacy and activism, pushing forward notions of justice and equality — to see this happen is horrific, just senseless. Just 50-odd years ago, something similar happened at a church in Birmingham,” Wilder said. “It seems that in this country, every time we think we’re moving toward a post-racial society something like this happens.”
A picture of Roof on social media shows him wearing a jacket with what appear to be the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and nearby Rhodesia, once ruled by a white minority prior to its modern identity as Zimbabwe.
Federal authorities have opened a hate crime investigation into the church killings.
“All things point toward it being a hate crime, and hopefully with this being categorized in that way, they’ll have the resources to bring this man to justice,” said Wilder, who politely disagreed with callers and other pundits who objected to labeling the shooting spree “domestic terrorism.”