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Gary Younge
Charleston church shooting: Without gun control, racism will keep killing black people

This time it’s different.

Mass shootings have become a banal fact of death in America. (Last year there were 283 incidents in which four or more people were shot.) The nation as a whole, meanwhile, has become newly sensitised to racial violence, with growing activism around police shootings. In April video of a white policeman shooting Walter Scott – an unarmed African American – eight times in the back in as he ran away in North Charleston, South Carolina, went viral.

But the shooting of nine black church-goers in Charleston (not far from where Scott was killed) by a white gunman in what police are treating as a “hate crime” marks a doubling down on the nation’s twin pathologies of racism and guns. Both are deeply rooted in the nation’s history since its founding: neither are going anywhere soon.

The timing of this particular tragedy, given the heightened consciousness and activism around the #BlackLivesMatter movement, provides a particular lens through which to view this massacre. When Barack Obama won the South Carolina primary in 2008 a huge multiracial crowd gathered in the state capitol of Columbia and chanted “race doesn’t matter”.

With each new well-publicised account of racial violence, be it at the hands of the state or the public, claims that the arrival of a black president signals the arrival of a post-racial era collapses under the weight of its own delusion.

Racism isn’t dead. We know this because it keeps killing black people.

The fact that Clementa Pinckney, a state senator, was among the dead indicates that nobody is safe. The fact that it took place in a church during a prayer meeting indicates that nowhere is safe.

America does not have a monopoly on racism. But what makes its racism so lethal is the ease with which people can acquire guns. While the new conversation around race will mean the political response to the fact of this attack will be different, the stale conversation around gun control means the legislative response to the nature of this attack will remain the same. Nothing will happen.

After Adam Lanza shot 20 primary school children and six adults in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 before turning his gun on himself, nothing happened. Seven children and teens are shot dead every day in America and nothing happens.

So these nine victims will join those who perished before them – a sacrifice to the blood-soaked pedestal erected around the constitution’s second amendment that gun lobbyists say guarantees the right of individuals to bear arms. Where guns are concerned this is what passes for American exceptionalism – an 18th century compromise with fatal 21st century ramifications.

For the parishioners of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston nothing will ever be the same again. And for those who have the power to prevent it happening again, nothing will change.

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