ACLU on the Deadly Shooting in Charleston


All of us at the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties are sickened by the horrific killings in Charleston, S.C. late last night. Police just arrested the suspected white gunman, identified as 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, who opened fire at a historic black church, killed nine people, and fled. Six women and three men were killed, including the church’s pastor, who is also a South Carolina state senator, Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

The gunman reloaded five times. NBC News reports that a survivor of the shooting said the gunman entered the church, asked for the pastor, sat next to Rev. Pinckney and stayed for an hour during the Bible study before he began shooting. She said the gunman said, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over the country. And you have to go.” An NAACP official said the killer told one woman he was allowing her to live so she could tell everyone what had happened.

The attack is an eerie reminder of the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, in which four young African American girls were killed and many others injured. We are mournful that our country is still dealing with institutional racism and race-related violence more than half a century later.

Like then, there is an outpouring of outrage over the killing of innocents, especially in a house of worship. There is outrage over the blatant racism exhibited by the shooter. As a nation, we ultimately came together then to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today, we will fight harder to preserve and extend constitutionally guaranteed rights to people who have been historically denied their rights on the basis of race. At least out of the unspeakable tragedy, we can all recommit to working to create an impact that negates what an angry, racist young man attempted to carry out.

The authors of the Declaration of Independence—which we will celebrate in a few weeks—outlined a bold vision for America: a nation in which all people would be free and equal. More than two hundred years later, it has yet to be achieved. Though generations of civil rights activism have led to important gains in legal, political, social, and other areas, the systems of racial injustice still thrive. From our criminal justice system that disproportionately targets and incarcerates people of color and criminalizes poverty to our public schools, where students of color are often confined to racially isolated, underfunded, and inferior programs, the dream of full equality remains elusive.

Please join us today in mourning the victims, praying for relief, and recommitting ourselves to fight for the dream in which all Americans are free and equal.