'Stand With Charleston': Communities Across Country Rise Up for Black Lives

Photo by David Goldman/Pool/Epa
Worshipers mourn at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina on Sunday.

As Charleston’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church reopens for services, people across the United States on Sunday are marching through the streets, mobilizing in their faith communities, and staging direct actions to demand an end to white supremacist terror nationwide.

"What happened to our family is part of a larger attack on Black and Brown bodies," wrote Rev. Waltrina Middleton, a family member of Rev. Depayne Middleton, who was killed in the massacre. "We call on all people, public officials, faith leaders and Americans from all walks of life to help address the festering sores of racism as it spurs an unforgiving culture of violence."

Maurice Mitchell of Movement for Black Lives—a national coalition of groups including Ferguson Action, Black Lives Matter, and Black Youth Project 100—told Common Dreams that others in the city and state are echoing this call. "We reached out to our folks on the ground in South Carolina and asked what we could do," explained Mitchell, who is a national organizer based in New York. "We spoke with folks from Black Lives Matter and Southerners on New Ground and family members of people killed. They asked if we would organize parallel actions."

Mitchell said that, since the Movement for Black Lives put out the call to "Stand With Charleston," the response has been overwhelming, with actions now planned in at least 27 cities and towns from Durham, North Carolina to Chicago, Illinois to Galloway, New Jersey.

"It is important we come together and act," said Mitchell. "We've been working against anti-black violence in the form of police killings, but it has always been our contention that anti-black violence has many forms. The root of it is white supremacy. The root of it is the inability to see the full humanity of black people and communities. We draw a direct connection between anti-black violence at the hands of law enforcement, vigilantes, and organized white terrorists."

Sunday's coordinated actions come amid other nation-wide responses to the white supremacist massacre in Charleston this week that killed nine people, all of them black: Depayne Middletown Doctor, 49; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59.

Queer liberation organization Southerners on New Ground is organizing members, especially those who are white, to "act up and act out by calling in to conservative radio talk shows and sharing your opinions." The group explains: "Too often, in our news feeds and in our communities, we only talk to people who already agree with us, the other liberals or other radicals. When we do this we miss the conversations we need to be having in order to confront this legacy of white violence at its source: the right wing fear of Black people that fuels this hatred."

Social media users, in addition, are staging a Twitter action under the hashtag #PropheticGrief on Sunday "to stand in solidarity with the Emanuel AME Church of Charleston, South Carolina."

And over the weekend large crowds in Charleston and Columbia protested to demand the immediate removal of the Confederate flag, a symbol of white supremacy that still flies at full mast over the capitol building. They are joined by people across the country signing petitions and voicing outrage.

"There is an overwhelming mainstream narrative right now around reflexive forgiveness without a conversation about reconciliation and complicity," said Mitchell. "We think anger and rage are appropriate emotions." Mitchell emphasized that it is important to contextualized what happened in Charleston in a broader "history of white terrorism" that extends nationwide.

Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, elaborated on this context in a recent article:

We were never meant to survive. We were stolen from our families and our land, brought to this country in the bottoms of boats, chained together like animals. We were forced to work for, nurture and nourish, and build a country that never truly considered us human and still refuses to honor our humanity. The founding documents of this country designate us as only three-fifths of a human being. When we dared (and dare) to reclaim our humanity, we were (and are) beaten, lashed, hung from trees, limbs cut off, set on fire, shot and raped. This isn't something that happened in the past. This is still happening to Black people in 2015. In fact, just a few months ago, Otis Byrd was found lynched, hanging from a tree outside of Jackson, Mississippi.

And indeed, there are already fresh signs of backlash against racial justice protesters. The president of a police union in Louisville Kentucky released an open letter on Thursday in which he unleashed threats against "sensationalists, liars and race baiters" and put them "on notice." The missive came in response to community anger over a white police officer's recent killing of a black man.

But, Mitchell emphasized, there are many reasons to feel hopeful. "This moment has inspired black people to act in new ways, at least for this era, and lean in to risk and self-organizing and to develop a sophisticated analysis and develop a growing network nationally. We are very encouraged by the organizing and the heart and resilience we are seeing on the ground, and we are hopeful that it will continue—that we might be able to precipitate a meaningful, transformative political and cultural shift in this country."

"People asked is this a movement or a moment," Mitchell added. "We are  more than 10 months into this wave, and we have answered that question. The new question is, How long will this movement sustain, and what will come of it? I am hopeful."

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