Editorial: Unite against inhumanity of church atrocity

A police officer working out in the heat wipes his brow while patrolling the back of Emanuel AME Church on June 18, 2015, where nine were slain the night before. Lauren Prescott/Staff

Charleston has suffered considerable tragedy in its 345-year history, including war, fire, storm and earthquake. But in terms of shocking inhumanity, the atrocity that occurred Wednesday night in a place of worship on Calhoun Street transcended those past horrors.

That’s because our Holy City was defiled by this horrendous pairing of words — “church massacre.”

Nine people at a Bible study gathering were killed by a single gunman at the historic Emanuel AME Church, located on Calhoun Street between Marion Square and the main branch of the Charleston County Library. Those murdered included state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor.

The suspect, Dylann Roof, was apprehended Thursday morning in North Carolina.

Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen has classified it as a “hate crime.” So has the FBI. Mayor Joe Riley described the murders as “beyond incomprehensible.”

But the loss is all too real, and our collective sense of grief is overwhelmed by the utter savagery of the act.

American mass shootings have occurred on college campuses, schools, malls, military bases and elsewhere. They are ghastly and appalling.

This was wholesale murder in a church.

Bringing the killer to justice can’t bring back the innocent lives brutally ended Wednesday night.

It would, however, be a significant step forward on the long journey back from again staring into the abyss at mankind’s awful potential for the unspeakable.

And this latest case of a lone, deranged person with a firearm killing so many others should further inform the ongoing debate about gun policy in our community, state and nation.

The Second Amendment guarantees “the right to keep and bear arms.” But that assurance, written in the 18th century, should be reasonably and practically interpreted in light of 21st century realities — including the grimly familiar prevalence of U.S. gun violence.

President Barack Obama delivered this apt reminder Thursday at the White House after expressing “deep sorrow” over the killings: “We don’t have all the facts but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting a gun.”

So now Charleston joins Columbine, Colo.; Blacksburg, Va.; Newtown, Conn.; Fort Hood, Texas, and other communities on the ever-lengthening list of American places scarred by modern mass shootings.

And now Charlestonians — and our neighbors across the tri-county and state — stand together to mourn our dead and comfort their grieving family and friends.

A shared revulsion for the killer’s inhumanity — and for the persisting poison of racism that apparently sparked his barbaric deed — unites us. A shared commitment for a better, more understanding future drives us.

President Obama sounded confident about that resolve, hailing “the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, of all faiths, of all places of worship ...”

As Mayor Riley put it Thursday: “We are all in this together.”

And together, Charleston must — and will — rise above this tragedy, too.