LOS ANGELES — Whether it be a Sunday service or Bible study session, clergy officials here say they will not be intimidated in the aftermath of last week’s shooting at an African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina that left nine people, including the local pastor, dead.
The Rev. John E. Cagers III of Ward African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, said he reassured his congregation that their place of worship in University Park would remain just as it always has been: a safe gathering place.
“We made a collective affirmation of the fact that we refuse to neither be intimidated nor succumb to the wishes of the hate mongers,” Cagers told The Wave this week.
Cagers said he prepared a special Sunday service for Father’s Day June 21, but changed his message after hearing about the 21-year-old white male who fired shots during a Bible study June 17 at Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina.
Dylann Roof told investigators he shot and killed the people he sat with during Bible study to start a race war, according to law enforcement officials.
As the nation learned more details about the shooting, victims and Roof, Cagers said he met with Los Angeles police officers to explore every security measure to deter copycats, but stopped short of hiring armed security guards.
“If we would have gone to those extremes, we would have let domestic terrorists and nut jobs win,” he said.
At another local church, a spokesperson for First AME briefly discussed security details.
“Our church [here in Los Angeles] has been threatened in the past and we do provide security,” Michael Ellison-Lewis said.
The safety measures are not related to the recent shooting, but based on the black church’s history of being the target for violence like the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 that killed four girls and injured 22 others and the burning of predominately black churches across the nation, Ellison Lewis said.
Both local AME churches said they plan to send a representative to the June 26 funeral service for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a senior pastor at Emmanuel AME and a South Carolina state senator who was one of the nine slain during the shooting.
For people inside and outside church walls, the church massacre echoed the racial violence seen in the 1960s.
State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell called for action in response to the Charleston shooting.
In a statement, she said, “It’s time to address the ‘banality of evil,’ the so-called right of those who contribute to violent racism while denying their responsibility by being its cheerleaders, blaming its victims and excusing its perpetrators. Not only must each of us be accountable, we must hold each other accountable.”
In the spirit of accountability, local activists chimed in with their support of South Carolinians who demanded the removal of the Confederate flag on government buildings.
At a June 24 press conference held outside the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, civil rights activists joined Project Islamic Hope to burn the Confederate flag.
“Our coalition of activists not only support the call by [South Carolina] Governor Nikki Haley, we’re taking it a step further by burning the Confederate flag in memory of all our slain ancestors who have been murdered by those who have fought under this flag and by those who continue to be inspired to kill African Americans,” activist Najee Ali said.
“That flag to us, represents racial hatred and racial terrorism so it had to be burned,” Ali said.
Onlookers observed the burning of a printed copy of the flag and chanted, “burn baby, burn.”
“Right now in America, we are so divided and the last thing we need is more symbols to continue to divide us,” said Alayna Gilbert, one of the organizers of the event.
Those who show support of the flag say it does not represent racial hatred, but Southern heritage or history. For demonstrators, they say the flag should only be visible in museums.
Since the shooting, major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Sears, Amazon and others have voluntarily ceased to sell Confederate flag-themed merchandise.
“It doesn’t represent all of us,” Gilbert said. “So until we can have symbols that are inclusive … that join us together, we really don’t need things to continue to divide us.”
In the days following the church shooting, media outlets trying to find a motive for the massacre, uncovered a website believed to be registered to the Emanuel AME shooter, Roof, called “The Last Rhodesian.” The site shows photos of Roof posing with weapons, holding a burning American lag and proudly standing at sites connected to the Confederacy.
The website also featured a 2,000-word manifesto in which he describes the Trayvon Martin shooting as being the pinpoint of his hatred against black people.
“I read the Wikipedia article and right away I was unable to understand what the big deal was,” Roof wrote on his website. “It was obvious that [George] Zimmerman was in the right. But more importantly, this prompted me to type in the words ‘black on white crime’ into Google, and I have never been the same since that day.”
At the end of the manifesto, the South Carolina native provided some clues as to why he chose the Charleston church.
“I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to whites in the country,” he wrote. “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the Internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
State Sen. Mitchell promised to fight back against such blatant hatred and racism.
“I will grieve for those whose lives and futures racism has taken by acting on this promise: Not another victim will be taken without my voice and vigor being raised in protest,” she said in her statement. “And yes, I mean more accountable law enforcement and less access to instruments of human death.”