Just over a year ago, a young white supremacist walked into one of the nation’s most historic black churches, studied the Bible with a small group, then killed nine of them, hoping it would be the beginning of a race war.
Last week, a sniper in Dallas apparently tried to fulfill his prophecy.
Just over a year ago, in the midst of unimaginable agony, many of those who lost loved ones in that Charleston church publicly forgave the shooter, Dylann Roof. Today, I’m not sure others have the courage to follow in the path of those families. Honestly, I’m not sure I do.
Their decision calmed tensions before they could flare. But I was angry, because too many times I had witnessed horrors get downplayed, then fade into the recesses of our minds after justice wouldn’t come and I’d hear people excuse the bad actor for contrived reasons. Even after I sat in the home of Marjorie McIver, who lost a sister in that Charleston shooting, and heard her explain why she forgave – because her faith called her to – my anger didn’t dissipate.
My anger grew as I watched over the next several months many of those who praised the family’s ability to forgive support the racialized rhetoric of a top presidential candidate while excusing every questionable officer-involved shooting.
The videos of two more recent shootings, data showing police shootings are up this year, and the unaccountability for the death of a man who had his neck broken and died in police custody in Baltimore only made matters worse.
Then we learned that the Dallas sniper reportedly said he was tired of officers killing black people, that he wanted to kill white police officers in return.
My initial reaction was still anger. Anger at the heartless killer who turned a peaceful Dallas protest into a massacre. Anger at those poised to fan the flames through ugly headlines and tweets. Anger at those who praised the Charleston families’ heroic act of forgiveness but scoff at the thought of forgiving the Dallas shooter. Anger at myself for not wanting to immediately mourn the loss of five people killed while trying to protect others.
Anger has been the watch word of this election cycle, anger at income stagnation, anger at immigrants, anger at those who are angry at immigrants, anger at rank, hyper-partisan political rancor, anger at cops, anger at those who are angry at cops.
We are comfortable in our anger, righteously pointing to all the reasons it is justified.
We get off on counting the ways in which our individual anger is more important than anyone else’s.
My anger matters more.
My rage matters more.
The injustices and grievances I’ve experienced are more in need of attention than anything you’ve faced. And the past week has provided everyone even more reason to be angry.
Anger begets anger – except for those strong enough to break the cycle when everything in their bodies, in their souls, tells them to keep the angry wheels churning.
Anger didn’t leave the families of the Charleston shooting as they spoke words of forgiveness, hasn’t left them since. For months, McIver had trouble getting up in the morning after sleepless nights of trying to ignore the images of her sister’s bullet-riddled body.
She’s angry at the hate that led to Roof taking the life of her sister and eight others but refused to allow it to consume her.
In the midst of a horrific tragedy, McIver chose forgiveness while seeking justice and a way to lessen the chances there will be more Dylann Roofs.
I didn’t fully appreciate the power of their act until today. I hope it’s not too late.
Bailey is a former (Myrtle Beach) Sun News columnist and editor.