Je Suis Charleston

Last month 9 innocent people were gunned down in Charleston, South Carolina, for no other reason than the colour of their skin.

Dylann Roof, the shooter in this particular case of racial onslaught has subjected a whole community to a level of pain that I cannot begin to understand and forced an entire nation to mourn the death of what little sense of tolerance it had saved from being discharged out of a police officer’s service pistol.

Only this incident of racial homicide was not the result of institutional oppression, but rather the end-game of one man’s convoluted ethno-political philosophy.

I found myself on Monday evening outside the United States embassy in London – a grandeur glass powerhouse overlooking Grosvenor Square. A giant bronze eagle rests on its roof, looking ready to pounce on any jogger interfering with American interests.

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At 7pm I arrived outside the embassy, where gathered around a statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower was a growing crowd of activists and community workers preparing to hold a vigil in remembrance of those whose lives were lost; and perhaps to remind the embassy staff that their home country ought to be doing more to combat the casual broadcast of racist media and the apparently completely acceptable action of giving a psychologically disturbed neo-Nazi a .45-caliber Glock without any efficient background check or concern for the fact that he was only 21 years old.

As the crowd outside reached around 100 in numbers, we took a stand outside the embassy gates, arranged some placards and a banner reading ‘Je Suis Charleston’ and began singing hymns and reciting poetry in the name of each victim of the shooting. This was no heated rally like I had seen outside Westminster on Saturday; rather, the scene here was something sombre, mellow and touching. At 8pm the crowd began to sing Amazing Grace whilst police looked on from either exit to the Square, seeming distant as if they felt it disrespectful to venture too close. Some light rain began to fall towards the final verse.

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Teju, the woman organising the event, alongside the rest of the ‘Shake! Platform’ and members of the ‘My Heart Signs’ choir took turns reciting poetry between each new song, the park behind them was empty now, and the police officers manning the park exits had disappeared to the echo of ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’. The crowd began to sing more passionately; wave and clap. One woman began to boom in a gospel voice over the crowd.

The hymns finished, and Teju thanked us all for attending. I thought that this meant it was over, but just before we all dispersed, Teju asks that the whole crowd move over to the embassy gate where two young kids, masked in Keffeyeh’s are holding a Confederate flag – the same flag that Dylann Roof posed with in pictures seized by the police. They held the flag high and Teju explains the significance of someone posing with such an ancient symbol of hate and oppression, the crowd cheers, and the two kids set the flag ablaze on the gates of the embassy to chants of ‘No Justice, No Peace’ and ‘It is our duty to fight for our Freedom’.

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There were 8,855 firearms homicides recorded in the U.S. in 2012. There have been numerous incidents of police shooting unarmed black civilians in recent years in the U.S. – most recently in April 2015 when a South Carolina police officer shot a fleeing man 8 times in the back before planting a weapon on his corpse.

It seems that the time has come for the United States to admit that there is something in the inner-workings of it’s society that is eating away at the edges, and the consequences of this are manifesting themselves on the innocent men and women like those killed in Charleston last month.

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