In Face of White Supremacist Violence, Families Express Grief and Forgiveness

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In Face of White Supremacist Violence, Families Express Grief and Forgiveness

'I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul,' says Nadine Collier, the daughter of Ethel Lance

A capacity crowd fills the pews during a prayer service for Wednesday’s shooting victims held at the Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, June 18, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Randall Hill)

The families of nine black people slaughtered in this week's white supremacist massacre in Charleston, South Carolina on Friday addressed the confessed killer in court—delivering emotional messages of grief, anger, love, and forgiveness.

Relatives' statements came amid nationwide mourning, demands for justice, and calls to tackle the root causes of the killings: the legacy of white supremacy and racism in America.

The bond hearing in North Charleston was the first public appearance of Dylann Roof, the white man who confessed to the killing and reportedly said he wanted to start a "race war." He attended the hearing via video link.

Roof was addressed by some of the relatives of the people killed, all of whom were black. Their names are: Depayne Middletown Doctor, 49; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59.

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Nadine Collier, the daughter of Ethel Lance, said at the hearing through sobs: "I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul."

Felicia Sanders, the mother of Tywanza Sanders, was present at the time of the massacre. She survived by pretending to be dead, along with a five-year-old child. Tywanza Sanders, the youngest person killed in the massacre, reportedly died while trying to shield his 87-year-old aunt Susie Jackson, but both were killed.

"We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms," said Sanders, speaking to Roof. "You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know," she said. "Every fiber in my body hurts, and I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son, but Tywanza was my hero."

She said, "May God have mercy on you."

Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, said: "I’m a work in progress and I acknowledge that I’m very angry. She taught me we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate. We have to forgive."

Meanwhile, NAACP president Cornell Brooks on Friday underscored the growing call for the Confederate flag to come down from South Carolina Statehouse grounds.

As the Charleston City Paper explained:

The NAACP has been calling for tourists and businesses to boycott the state for years due to the flying of the flag. In 2000, activists won a small compromise by having the flag removed from the Statehouse dome and placed atop a memorial to Confederate soldiers on the Statehouse grounds. However, the flag remains highly visible; it is the first thing you see as you approach the Statehouse from the north on Main Street.

"We cannot have the confederate flag waving in the state capital," Brooks said at a press conference in Charleston. "Some will assert that the Confederate flag is merely a symbol of years gone by, a symbol of heritage and not hate. But when we see that symbol lifted up as an emblem of hate, as a tool of hate, as an inspiration for hate, as an inspiration for violence, that symbol has to come down."

"As a movement, we must say what our President cannot or will not say. This was an undeniable act of terrorism intended to strike fear into the hearts of Black communities at a time when we have bravely stood together declaring that #BlackLivesMatter everywhere."
—Movement for Black Lives
Brooks went on: "The fact that this shooting took place in a church, in a Bible study, where the shooter asked for the pastor by name, it says to us we have to examine the underlying racial animus and racial hate. This was not merely a mass shooting, not merely a matter of gun violence. This was a racial hate crime and must be confronted as such."

Echoing Brooks' argument, a coalition of groups under the Movement for Black Lives banner—including Ferguson Action, Black Lives Matter, and Black Youth Project 100—issued a statement on Friday speaking to the scourge of racism that extends far beyond South Carolina.

"Whether its the murder of four schoolgirls at a Birmingham church in 1963, the killing of twelve year old Tamir Rice by Cleveland police officers, or the suicide of Kalief Browder after years of being unjustly imprisoned and tortured as a teenager at Rikers Island jail—our communities continue to suffer the many strains of a cancerous racism allowed to flourish in this country," the statement reads. "While the arrest of this shooter must come as a small comfort to the families of those killed, we know we cannot arrest our way out of this country’s history or its present."

It continues: "Therefore, as a movement, we must say what our President cannot or will not say. This was an undeniable act of terrorism intended to strike fear into the hearts of Black communities at a time when we have bravely stood together declaring that #BlackLivesMatter everywhere."

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