Cold-Blooded Killer or Mentally Disturbed?

You often hear about mass shootings on the news, but when it happens in your hometown, a small part of you dies. A few nights ago, a small part of me died. It was killed by emotions of anger, sadness, disappointment, a lack of understanding, and unabated rage.

As a white man walked into what many consider one of the safest spaces and killed nine black people, yes indeed, a part of me died.

A part of me died because, in America, we don’t expect to go to church and die a violent death. In America, our faith is the only thing transracial that we have.

But the early news reports began making excuses for this white man who killed black people in cold blood, instantly labeling him mentally disturbed. This is not too different from Christopher Dorner, who killed four people and injured three others in California, yet we labeled him a monster.

See, a part of me died at the vicious hands of a double standard by the national media. Three hours into reporting, while Dylann Roof had not yet been named and still at large, his race was not mentioned.

As I took to social media to share information given by the Charleston Police Department and local Charleston news organizations, I was challenged on what was perceived as my highlighting of the attacker’s race.

…in America, we don’t expect to go to church and die a violent death. In America, our faith is the only thing transracial that we have.

I explained that race is commonly a part of a perpetrator’s description. Still, my challenger insisted Roof’s race was broadcast because he was white.

His race may be considered a small detail, but a detail that would change the dynamics of this story. The same detail that calls protesters in Baltimore thugs or teenagers in McKinney unruly. For him, a detail that shifts this narrative from an evil man to an injured man because he is white.

Why isn’t Roof a thug or terrorist? If he had brown skin and wore a taqiyah, would he be an extremist or mentally disturbed? This goes to the heart of a privileged society, one that has fooled itself into thinking it has arrived into a post-racial place.

We are not in an appreciatively different racial space than we were some 60 years ago. The national news initially reported this with the same attitudes that may have been held at the founding of the historical Emanuel A.M.E Church, in the early 1800s. A white man that has killed black people in church is merely mentally disturbed. Somehow, we will see this as not his fault, but the fault of his illness. Privilege still has its benefits.

A part of me died when I heard Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, Rev. Clementa “Clem” Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sr., and Myra Thompson died in a senseless shooting.

For as much of me has died, more of me lives believing that our brighter days are still ahead. Our society is beginning to have these conversations. There is hope in speaking the truth. Let’s call this killer what he is. Because no matter what colors are in play, killing peaceful people in church always represents the worst in us.

By Brandon Gates

Born and raised in Charleston, South Carolina, Brandon Gates is a freelance journalist who has reported in print and on-air domestically and abroad. He seeks to tell human interest stories through a minority lens. Brandon is a graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism and is working on his first children's book as part of an effort to increase child literacy.