Church shoot­ing is one of dead­li­est US hate crime in­ci­dents


Thou­sands of hate crimes are re­ported in the United States ev­ery year, but rarely do they in­volve the car­nage seen at a black church in South Carolina where nine peo­ple were gunned down dur­ing a Bi­ble study meet­ing.

Wed­nes­day’s at­tack pro­voked com­par­isons to the 1963 bomb­ing of a Birm­ing­ham church, which killed four lit­tle girls and wounded more than 20 con­gre­gants in one of the dead­li­est at­tacks car­ried out dur­ing the civil rights move­ment.

“The fact that this took place in a black church ob­vi­ously also raises ques­tions about a dark part of our history,” U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said Thurs­day.

“This is not the first time that black churches have been at­tacked. And we know that ha­tred across races and faiths pose a par­tic­u­lar threat to our democ­racy and our ideals.”

The at­tack was also rem­i­nis­cent of the 2012 at­tack on a Sikh tem­ple by a white su­prem­a­cist U. S. mil­i­tary vet­eran that left six peo­ple dead in Wis­con­sin.

The death toll in Charleston is “un­prece­dented” in terms of re­cent U. S. in­ci­dents of racially- mo­ti­vated vi­o­lence, said Jens David Oh­lin, a law pro­fes­sor at Cor­nell Univer­sity.

Most of the mass shoot­ings that have stunned the na­tion in re­cent years were per­pe­trated by men­tally dis­turbed peo­ple with no po­lit­i­cal mo­tive.

But the ac­cused Charleston gun­man — 21- year- old Dy­lann Roof — is be­lieved to be a white su­prem­a­cist who re­port­edly told his vic­tims: “I have to do it. You’re rap­ing our women and tak­ing over the coun­try. You have to go.”

Are Hate Crimes ‘ter­ror­ism’?

The shoot­ing comes at a time of height­ened racial ten­sions in Amer­ica, with many ques­tions raised about po­lice tac­tics, es­pe­cially with re­spect to mi­nori­ties, af­ter sev­eral high-pro­file deaths of black men at the hands of white of­fi­cers.

The Charleston car­nage im­me­di­ately pro­voked calls to la­bel the at­tack as ter­ror­ism, in part to rec­og­nize the na­tion’s long history of racial vi­o­lence.

“Rad­i­cal­ism can come in many dif­fer­ent forms. One can be a Mus­lim sup­porter of IS, and another a far-right racist,” said Max Abrams, a po­lit­i­cal science pro­fes­sor at North­east­ern Univer­sity in Bos­ton.

“We need to ap­ply a con­sis­tent set of stan­dards in terms of la­bel­ing in­ci­dents as ter­ror­ism or not,” he told AFP. “It’s un­fair oth­er­wise be­cause peo­ple might be left with the im­pres­sion that only Mus­lims com­mit ter­ror­ist at­tacks.”

Richard Co­hen, pres­i­dent of the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter, agreed.

“Since 9/11, our coun­try has been fix­ated on the threat of ji­hadi ter­ror­ism. But the hor­rific tragedy at the Emanuel AME re­minds us that the threat of home­grown do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism is very real,” Co­hen said.

The United States ut­terly re­shaped its se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus and in­vested bil­lions in try­ing to pro­tect it­self from ter­ror­ists in the wake of the at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

While the fo­cus has been on cap­tur­ing ji­hadists, non-ji­hadist ex­trem­ists have proven to be more deadly in re­cent years, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by the New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion.

A to­tal of 26 peo­ple were killed in seven at­tacks by ji­hadists on U.S. soil in the 14 years since al-Qaida mil­i­tants killed more t han 3,000 peo­ple in New York, Washington and Penn­syl­va­nia af­ter hi­jack­ing four air­planes. The dead­li­est of those at­tacks was the 2009 shoot­ing by army psy­chi­a­trist Ni­dal Hasan, who killed 13 peo­ple and wounded more t han 30 oth­ers at Fort Hood in Texas. Dur­ing t he same pe­riod, the New Amer­ica Foun­da­tion tracked 18 at­tacks by right-wing ex­trem­ists that left 39 peo­ple dead.

The list in­cluded the slay­ing of three peo­ple by a neo-Nazi at a Kansas Jewish cen­ter last year and the Sikh tem­ple at­tack in 2012.

Nearly half of the nearly 6,000 hate crimes tracked by the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion in 2013 were racially mo­ti­vated. Twothirds of those at­tacks were mo­ti­vated by a bias against blacks.

There are cur­rently 784 hate groups op­er­at­ing in the United States, ac­cord­ing to the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter.

While t he num­ber has dropped off sig­nif­i­cantly af­ter sky­rock­et­ing in the wake of Obama’s elec­tion in 2008, it re­mains 30 per­cent higher than it was in 2000.

The growth was fu­eled by “anger and fear over the na­tion’s ail­ing econ­omy, an in­flux of non­white im­mi­grants, and the di­min­ish­ing white ma­jor­ity, as sym­bol­ized by the elec­tion of the na­tion’s first African-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent,” the civil rights group said in its latest re­port.

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