By Jesse Jackson
Not unlike the four little girls killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, today the nation and the world are saddened and outraged at the hatred and senseless killing of nine African Americans in the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina – including its pastor and a state senator.
Over three decades ago Operation PUSH held its national convention centered in this church, and I did two televised Firing Line interviews with William F. Buckley there.
And, not unlike the economic and political context of Birmingham, the nation and its leadership are still failing to see, understand and come to grips with the underlying economic and political circumstances that led to such a tragedy.
This young white man, whoever he is, did not originate terrorism.
He is merely reflecting decades and centuries of institutional and active political terrorism. There were 164 lynchings of African Americans between 1877 and 1950 in South Carolina.
The shooting in Charleston is the result and the product of a protracted political genocide resulting from institutionalized racism, centuries of dehumanization and the current denial of economic and political equality of opportunity.
Today everyone is outraged at the killings, but there is not the same outrage that African Americans are number one in infant mortality, in life expectancy, in unemployment, in cheap wages, in access to capital and denial of bank loans, in imprisonment, in segregated housing and home foreclosures, in segregated and underfunded public schools, in poverty, in heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, mental health issues, HIV/AIDS and the lack of access to health care and more.
We ignore this institutionalized state of terror and the resulting racial fears at our peril.
There is an urgency to identify and arrest this individual before he hurts anyone else, but there is not the same urgency to identify and arrest the current economic and political conditions – the institutional racism and structural injustices – before anyone else gets hurt.
Today in South Carolina, a historically Black university, South Carolina State, is on the verge of closing, but I don’t see the same urgency to save it by the Governor and the South Carolina legislature.
Gov. Nikki Haley appropriately asked South Carolinians to pray for the victims and their families of these killings and decried violence at religious institutions, but she denies poor people access to health care by refusing to accept Medicaid monies under the Affordable Care Act – which is jeopardizing the economic viability of the state’s hospitals and costing South Carolinians thousands of jobs – and she still flies the Confederate Flag on the Capitol grounds.
But these injustices and indifferences are not just limited to South Carolina. They’re national in scope.
We need a White House Conference on racial justice and urban policy to make sure no one else is being hurt because of economic, political and leadership indifference or lack of vision of what needs to be done! Racism deserves a remedy.
The Charleston police chief said, “We will put all effort, we will put all resources and we will put all of our energy into finding this individual who committed this crime tonight.”
We need the President, the Congress, the 50 Governors and state legislatures to put the same effort, resources and energy into ending the crime of racism, economic injustice and political denial throughout the nation. We’ve had enough Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Walter Scott killings.
We’ve had enough infant mortality deaths. We’ve had enough unemployment – always at least twice the rate of Whites.
We’ve had enough of segregated and inadequately funded educational opportunities. We’ve had enough lack of access to capital. We’ve had enough lack of access to health care. We’ve had enough of homelessness and home foreclosures.
We need prayer and we need hope, but we also need a political commitment and a financial budget committed to ending this protracted political genocide.
We need leadership with a vision for racial justice. We need an investment for economic justice – the current rising tide hasn’t lifted all boats.
And we need fairness in political representation. That’s what we need if we are ever going to put an end to the protracted political genocide of which African Americans have been the victims for nearly 400 years in the United States.
We deserve equal economic and political opportunity. We deserve equal justice under the law.
As the AP reported, “the Emmanuel AME church is a historic African-American church that traces its roots to 1816, when several churches split from Charleston’s Methodist Episcopal church. One of its founders, Denmark Vesey, tried to organize a slave revolt in 1822. He was caught, and white landowners had his church burned in revenge. Parishioners worshipped underground until after the Civil War.”