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Columnist has it wrong, for racism was at the heart of Charleston killings

  • Author: Wanda Laws
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published July 6, 2015

It was truly disheartening to read Paul Jenkins' op-ed (ADN, June 27) regarding the murder of nine people in Charleston, South Carolina. It was riddled with inaccuracies and was a completely politically driven piece about a subject that deserves much more thought and insight.

Jenkins misleads readers with his mention of rates of mass shootings in other countries. Overall gun deaths in America still greatly outpace the rest of the world, even when our mass shooting rates don't rank at the top. However, sometimes rates and averages hide other truths. Norway had one mass shooting, which claimed the lives of 67 people, a very tragic day. But during that same time period of 2000-2013, the U.S. had 113 mass shootings which in total took the lives of 992 Americans. I'll let you decide if that's an equal comparison. (According to the FBI, broadly speaking, the term "mass shooting" refers to an incident involving multiple victims of gun violence).

Jenkins totally misses the point of what President Barack Obama was telling the nation at that eulogy in Charleston. Sure, the president mentioned guns, history, and the Confederate flag. That was to afford us a peek into the depraved mind of the man who killed those innocent people. As for the Confederate flag, it was placed atop the statehouse dome in 1962 in what some saw as a show of defiance to integration and the civil rights movement. There was also little question about the segregationist views of some South Carolina political leaders at the time. Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., famously launched a 24-hour filibuster of the Civil Rights Act in 1957. And the state's governor, Donald Stuart Russell, fought to keep African-Americans out of state universities. There are pictures of the murderer of the nine people posing with that flag.

The Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the people were killed, has a very strong and rich history within the African-American's plight in this country. It is the oldest AME church in the southern United States. Just as sure as we know what that flag meant to the murderer, he knew what that church meant to African- Americans. He made his intentions clear; he hoped to start a race riot.

It is clear Jenkins is misguided because he failed to recognize the message President Obama bestowed upon us was about grace, and how having and showing some will make us a better society. As far as I know, you can be from any political party to have some.

Grace allows us the opportunity to acknowledge and address the hurts we have caused one another. Grace will allow a little light into the darkness the victims' families will always bear because their loved ones are forever gone. Grace is what will allow you to reach deep into your soul and forgive a person that caused you unfathomable pain.

If Jenkins had shown just a mustard seed of grace, he would have used his column to write words promoting unification, tolerance and forgiveness. But, I understand. He cannot express what he appears not to have. Jenkins talks about "a dark, malevolent hatred in some hearts." He finally got something right. Now, if he could find it in himself to do something hard -- reach truth and call it what it is: Racism.

Wanda V. Laws is president of the Anchorage chapter of the NAACP.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)

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