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Remembering Charleston One Year Later

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Veronica Adams-Cooper
June 24, 2016

Last Friday, June 17, 2016, marked one year since the tragic mass shooting at the historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. During the end of that Wednesday evening’s bible study, a visiting white male youth who had been welcomed in by the members allegedly opened fire on the group as they were closing in prayer. Nine members were killed, now remembered as “The Emanuel Nine,” including the pastor, the Honorable Clementa C. Pinckney, state senator for District 45. Five members survived including Rev. Pinckney’s wife and his six-year-old daughter.

Approximately 2,000 people gathered for the key memorial event with the theme, “Still Speaking from Eternity,” held at the College of Charleston’s TD Arena, the same space in which Rev. Sen. Pinckney’s funeral was held. An encouraging message of hope from the president and the first lady was read to the audience. The memorial also featured speakers including Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, Governor Nikki Haley, South Carolina state Senator Marlon Kimpson (D) and U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R).

Tragically, the Sunday before the Charleston observance the nation suffered yet another heartbreaking mass shooting that became the deadliest one. In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, a Muslim male killed 49 persons and injured 53 others at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. It is alleged that he committed the crime out of hate against the LGBTQ community, as well as to inflict terror. In compassionate support, Rev. Betty Deas Clark, the new pastor for Mother Emanuel, traveled to Orlando to be part of their recovery process.

The ability of these two communities and others to rebound after social disasters (such as mass shootings) or natural disasters is predicated upon the quality of emergency management and corresponding intergovernmental collaboration and coordination present in the community. This article reflects on the tremendous role emergency response and recovery had and continues to have on the healing process for the Charleston mass shooting.

circle-312343_640While the focus is on social healing aspects of federal recovery efforts, it is important to note that collective efforts at the local, state and federal levels require a comprehensive report to adequately capture the value of the governmental response. At the local level, coverage is needed on the roles of former Mayor Joe Riley, Police Chief Gregory Mullen and emergency manager Mark Wilber. For example, Mayor Riley created a special fund for the victims’ families and survivors, which collected more than $3 million. At the state level, a review is needed to explore the efforts of Governor Nikki Haley and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. An example at this level includes Gov. Haley’s signing of legislation for the removal of the confederate flag from the grounds of the state’s capitol. At the federal level, exploration is needed on the roles of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In reflection, one year ago a powerful recovery effort at the nation’s highest level was gravely needed in the wake of the racially motivated attack against Mother Emanuel. The goal of the suspected shooter was to start a race war between whites and blacks. His intent was to choose a very significant target in South Carolina that would cause the greatest impetus for starting such conflict. It is purported that the suspect targeted Rev. Sen. Pinckney for his role as pastor at Mother Emanuel; Rev. Sen. Pinckney’s senatorial leadership, which focused on achieving social equity and gun control; and Mother Emanuel because of its almost 200-year history of fighting for justice and equality for African Americans.

The federal recovery efforts examined involve the bipartisan and racially diverse delegation that attended the funeral for Rev. Sen. Pinckney on June, 26, 2015. More than 5,000 people joined together to remember the nation’s “gentle giant for social equity.” First, the top three U.S. government officials attended: President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker John Boehner, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in attendance as well. Second, a sizable congressional delegation gathered to support one of its fallen state colleagues. Third, President Obama gave the eulogy, which included a vocal reflection on God’s Amazing Grace for our united nation.

As one of the mourners who attended the funeral, I witnessed this strong symbol of unity and solidarity from our national leaders. It greatly exemplified the historical strength of our country to work together to ensure the well-being of our union. These symbolic federal efforts remarkably matched the extraordinary response of forgiveness, peace and love shown by family members of the victims, the survivors, the local and broader communities and Mother Emanuel, which was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize on Feb. 1, 2016. Fittingly, our federal officials’ Charleston recovery actions applied a national balm of love, healing and hope, especially needed as the 400-year milestone for the African-American community approaches in 2019.

Author: Veronica Adams-Cooper is a tenured faculty member at Albany State University, Albany, Ga. She is the director of the Lois B. Hollis Center for Public Deliberation and Participation. Her teaching, service and research agenda focuses on issues of social equity, social healing, ethics, community and economic development, the 1965 Moynihan Report on the Negro Family and restoration for the 1619-2019 African-American Milestone. Email: [email protected].

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