America ‘continues to be a racist country’ in wake of SC shooting – political scientist

A crowd gathers outside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church following a prayer vigil nearby in Charleston, South Carolina, June 19, 2015 (Reuters / Brian Snyder)
A South Carolina church shooting left nine African-Americans dead and the nation searching for answers, but the specter of unresolved racial issues continues to loom large, with one political scientist telling RT that America remains a racist country.

As debate over the meaning of Wednesday’s shooting in Charleston, which took place at a historic African-American church, heats up, political scientist Dr. Wilmer Leon, who also hosts a Sirius XM radio program called “Inside the issues,” told RT that the roots of such violence date back to America’s beginnings.

READ MORE: Charleston church shooting suspect charged with 9 counts of murder, firearm possession

“This is an act of terror,”he said.“It fits into a much broader historical narrative in this country, of how Africans in America – and then African-Americans – have been treated since we arrived on these shores in 1619 at Point Comfort near Hampton, Virginia.”

During the attack, a white 21-year-old man, Dylann Storm Roof, allegedly told his victims they were targeted because of their race. Friends and acquaintances of Roof also told the media that Roof was known to make racist comments. One told the New York Times that he wanted “to start a civil war.”

Leon told RT that when the media, and also Americans in general, do not discuss the broader historical background of such attacks, it’s much easier to dismiss the shooter’s actions “as the actions of an irrational white young man.”

“What fails to get addressed when you don’t put it in a historical context is – this is America. This has been America since we arrived on these shores in 1619, and very little has changed,” he said. “Whether it’s the proliferation of extrajudicial killings by police officers over the last few years that we’ve seen, that has a much broader historical context – lynchings in this country.”

“When you don’t put it in that broader context you can never get to the crux of the issue,” he continued, “and the crux of the issue is that America has been, and continues to be, a racist country.”

On Thursday, the Associated Press published a partial list of attacks that have targeted black churches dating back to 1958. Some were burned or bombed, including an infamous attack on a church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 that killed four black girls.

READ MORE: If gun laws passed after Newtown, we would have more Americans with us – Obama

The most recent attack documented by AP, prior to the one in Charleston, involved an arson fire that took place in Springfield, Massachusetts after President Barack Obama was first elected in 2008.

Leon isn’t alone in believing that there is a significant racial component to the shooting that is not new to American history. On Friday, President Obama also highlighted the issue during comments he made to reporters.

“The apparent motivations of the shooter remind us that racism remains a blight that we have to combat together,” he said. “We have to be vigilant because it still lingers… It betrays our ideals and tears our democracy apart.”

However, Obama also pointed to other recent shootings that have shaken America, such as those at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, which saw 20 children and six adults killed. Another at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, saw 12 people die and dozens more injured.

Moving forward, though, he made the case for discussing gun control as a policy solution.

“We should be able to talk about this issue as citizens without demonizing all gun owners who are overwhelmingly law abiding, but also without suggesting that any debate about this involves a wild-eyed plot to take everybody’s guns away,” Obama said.

READ MORE: Charleston shooting suspect made racist statements, 'planned' attack for 6 months

Speaking to RT, Leon said Obama was “unfortunately remiss” when initially discussing potential solutions to such violence in the wake of the attack, arguing that change has to come from both political leaders and activists. Many commentators even described Obama as resigned to the idea that there would be no solution to the problem in the foreseeable future.

“It has to really now come from the grassroots, since leadership at the top is unwilling to pick up this mantle, to call this what it is, and to deal with it in the manner in which it needs to be dealt with,” he said.

Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley Jr. recently added that while Roof’s arrest offers a chance for those victimized by his violence to heal, it also marks a time when honest discussions about race need to happen.

“We in America were not taught African-American history,” he said. “It was never in the history books, and we don’t know the story.”