Black Amer­i­cans grap­ple with a re­newed un­ease

The shoot­ings res­onate for many on an un­com­fort­ably per­sonal note.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kur­tis Lee, Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske and Es­mer­alda Ber­mudez

As he tugged open the ply­wood door to his news­stand Satur­day morn­ing, Charles Tone turned to one of his cus­tomers with a ques­tion.

“How can they for­give him?” said Tone, 66. “Man, I don’t even know if it can be gen­uine.”

The news­stand at the cor­ner of Manch­ester and Ver­mont — the heart of a his­tor­i­cally black neigh­bor­hood in South Los An­ge­les — of­ten hums with con­ver­sa­tion about pol­i­tics and sports.

Na­tion­wide on Satur­day, peo­ple were talk­ing about the mas­sacre of nine black church­go­ers, al­legedly by a white man, in Charleston, S.C. But among African Amer­i­cans the sub­ject felt more ur­gently per­sonal, stir­ring fear, anger and un­ease aswell as de­bate about what it means to be black in Amer­ica.

Some feel a sense of siege amid the suc­ces­sion of racially charged in­ci­dents — in­clud­ing the fa­tal shoot­ings of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Wal­ter Scott, all

un­armed black males— that pre­ceded the church killings.

Some, like Tone, found it hard to grasp how vic­tims’ fam­i­lies said they could for­give Dy­lann Roof, the man charged in the Charleston shoot­ings, for so cold-blooded a crime.

“Ev­ery­one wants to pray and not take ac­tion,” Har­ri­son Thomas, 64, a news­stand reg­u­lar, told Tone.

“Yeah, man, but what is ac­tion?” Tone said. “What is it?”

A few feet away, bar­ber Rickardo Paris stood in­side the Just Your Style Beauty and Bar­ber Shop, where the tele­vi­sion flashed im­ages of the story — prayer cir­cles, talk­ing politi­cians.

“To be hon­est, none of this is shock­ing to me,” said Paris, 34. “It’s not like all of a sud­den black peo­ple are be­ing wronged.” (Ac­cord­ing to the FBI’s most re­cent sta­tis­tics, blacks in 2013 were tar­geted in hate crimes more than all other races com­bined.)

Nearby in Watts, Do­minique Walker, 26, sat in her car out­side a hous­ing pro­ject wait­ing to pick up her son, whowas vis­it­ing fam­ily.

For days, she said, her so­cial media feeds have been flooded by news of the shoot­ing. It hap­pened more than 2,000 miles away, on the op­po­site coast, inan Old South city vastly dif­fer­ent from her own.

But the wait­ress from Hawthorne said the killings had in­flamed her anx­i­eties about vi­o­lence.

“I keep think­ing, is this the week I’m go­ing to lose some­one close to me? My broth­ers, my un­cles. I worry for all the men I know. Now, it turns out I gotta worry about church, too,” Walker said.

As she spoke she wrapped her arms around her­self. “This is just no way to live,” she said.

Tor­rence Bran­non-Reese, 54, who lives in Leimert Park, said that soon af­ter he heard about the shoot­ing, he sat his grand­chil­dren, ages11, 8 and 5, in front of the tele­vi­sion towatch the news. He told them about the Birm­ing­ham church bomb­ing of 1963, about Em­mett Till and other cases, hop­ing that the past would help them un­der­stand the present.

“I tell them straight,” Bran­non-Reese said. “I don’t want them go­ing out into the world like it’s Dis­ney­land. The real world is full of con­trasts. It’s love and hate; it’s black and white.”

Across the coun­try in South Carolina, Keny­atta Grimmage, 33, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of ad­mis­sions at the Col­lege of Charleston, said he re­sented con­ser­va­tive politi­cians who call the shoot­ing an at­tack on Chris­tians.

“He didn’t have a hate of Chris­tian­ity,” Grimmage said, re­fer­ring to the gun­man at nearby Emanuel AME Church. “He hated African Amer­i­cans.”

Grimmage ob­jected to the de­pic­tion of the as­sailant as a “lone wolf,” say­ing he was part of a larger agenda prop­a­gated by “a group… that won’t let racism die,” a group par­tic­u­larly fu­ri­ous that Amer­ica has a black

pres­i­dent.

“This set us back 40, 50 years,” Grimmage said ofthe shoot­ings. “Race re­la­tions are go­ing out the win­dow.”

Grimmage has three chil­dren, two girls ages 5 and 3, anda 2-year-old son. He­said he is al­ready fright­ened for his son. “He can be mis­in­ter­preted. All any­body has to say is, ‘I feel threat­ened.’ Look at Trayvon Martin.”

Grimmage knows some of his white friends— peo­ple he’s known since high school — are wor­ried he might see them as racists. He said he doesn’t. But when he re­turned to work af­ter the shoot­ing, he felt his trust in non­blacks had frayed.

“It made me ques­tion re­la­tion­ships I have with Cau­casian peo­ple. What do they re­ally ex­pect of me?” he said. “Would they truly have my back?”

He said his 5-year-old daugh­ter isn’t old enough to un­der­stand death, but she knows what a shoot­ing is, and has trou­ble fath­om­ing how some­one could do it in church.

“She loves church, and she was try­ing to make the con­nec­tion. Church and shoot­ing don’t go to­gether,” he said. “She just asks more ques­tions, and I have to fig­ure out how to an­swer in a PGw ay.”

In At­lanta, An­gela Smith, an African Amer­i­can artist who works nights as a driver for Uber, said she was not en­tirely shocked by the Charleston shoot­ing. She grew up in South Carolina, she said, where her mother and grand­mother took pains to re­mind her of the re­gion’s racial history, in­clud­ing sep­a­rate wa­ter foun­tains and lynch­ings.

“You don’t go from be­ing sold and traded for skin tone to be­ing an elite class in one or two cen­turies,” she said.

Smith, 36, said she had closely fol­lowed the Charleston story on the news on her car ra­dio. Yet when she picked up an older white cou­ple from At­lanta’s Harts­field-Jack­son In­ter­na­tional Air­port, she felt the need to turn the ra­dio off as she fer­ried them out to the north­ern sub­urbs.

“I didn’t want to make them feel un­com­fort­able,” she said. “They were chat­ting me up fa­mously, but still, things are very tense.”

Smith does not be­lieve race re­la­tions are worse than a decade ago, but she re­jects the idea that the Charleston shoot­ing is an iso­lated event. She said she en­vies those who are able to be­lieve that.

For the most part, Smith said, in­ci­dents like the shoot­ing have not changed how she in­ter­acts with any­one. “I’m not stay­ing at home. I can’t con­trol that wacko el­e­ment out there,” she said. “I don’t want to have a chip on my shoul­der about it. Ei­ther I let it roll off, or I join the Black Pan­thers. Or maybe there’s a mid­dle ground.”

Back in Cal­i­for­nia, Dar­ren Parker, a civil rights leader, said he thinks an­tiblack hate crimes are fu­eled by fear of de­mo­graphic change, and the up­ward mo­bil­ity of African Amer­i­cans. Parker lives in Lan­caster, where the black pop­u­la­tion has ex­ploded in re­cent decades, from just a few hun­dred peo­ple in 1970 to 20% in 2010.

“Peo­ple start to ask the ques­tion, ‘ Why us?’ And they’re ask­ing, ‘What do we have to do be­fore we’re con­sid­ered one and the same with ev­ery­one else?’ ” Parker said. “It’s painful on sev­eral dif­fer­ent lev­els in our com­mu­nity, and this mass shoot­ing is trig­ger­ing all these emo­tions.”

Parker grew up in the Jor­dan Downs hous­ing pro­ject in Watts. He came to Lan­caster, in the An­te­lope Val­ley, in the 1980s, amid a huge in­flux of black peo­ple seek­ing af­ford­able homes.

For years af­ter he moved there, he­said, sher­iff’s deputies pulled him over so many times they knew his name. He said he had to prove he was just a mem­ber of the com­mu­nity.

Slowly, things have changed, but he said there has al­ways been this sense that black peo­ple have to prove them­selves.

But many “have a deep­rooted faith in the hope that things will be dif­fer­ent,” he said. “There are a lot of African Amer­i­cans say­ing we just have one more river to cross.”

Ir­fan Khan Los An­ge­les Times

IN LOS AN­GE­LES, Tor­rence Bran­non-Reese vis­its with daugh­ter Kel­lie Good­man and grand­daugh­ters Bre’ahn, 11, and Bri’sai, 6months. He watched the news of the shoot­ings with his older grand­chil­dren.

Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske Los An­ge­les Times

IN SOUTH CAROLINA, Keny­atta Grimmage said the church shoot­ings “set us back 40, 50 years.”

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