Though Emanuel AME Church is only a few blocks from temple, I can go days, weeks, without passing it. Tonight, after hearing that a jury found Dylan Roof guilty of all 33 charges he faced, I felt called to its historic building like there was an oscillating beacon of light emanating from its stately steeple.
And maybe, on some level, there is.
So many have been drawn to the doors of Mother Emanuel in the past 18 months. Though far less frequently now, people still place flowers, leave cards, take photos. Visiting groups from all over the country specifically come to offer their support, participate in study sessions and worship, offer their love and hands on the road to healing.
But perhaps we’re not meant to follow the beacon to its source; perhaps we’re meant to follow the path it illuminates and journey out.
The beacon from the steeple of Emanuel is a light that shines on all of our communities, all of our institutions, all of the systems upon which this nation is built. It’s a light that shines to the North and West, not only in the South. It’s a light that illuminates policing and housing and education and voting. It’s a light meant to reach into the small nooks and crannies so easily, so often, hidden in shadow.
Today’s verdict in the trial of Dylan Roof consoles us that the most extreme act of hatred – an abhorrent and devastating massacre – can be called out for the racism that it is. But the absence of a verdict in the trial of Michael Slager a week and a half ago confirms our fears that anything less than a massacre, a confession, a supremacist manifesto can still masquerade as something else.
Today’s verdict is significant. None of us will ever forget what happened at Mother Emanuel on June 17, 2015, and justice has been served. But what about the more insidious acts and examples of racism that abound each and every day?
There, my friends, the jury is still out.