#CharlestonShooting: Five key angles on the massacre at a historic black church in South Carolina

As we follow ongoing developments in Charleston, S.C., here are five key angles that caught our attention in the last 24 hours:

1. The tip

"I LOVE this story," said GetReligionista emeritus Mollie Hemingway. In an email, she told me that it "gets religion." Hey, that's what we're all about!

Kudos to the Shelby Star in Cleveland County, N.C., for reflecting the religion angle in its scoop:

Debbie Dills was running behind Thursday on her way into work at Frady’s Florist in Kings Mountain.
It was God’s way of putting her in the right place at the right time, the Gastonia woman said.
Dills and her boss, Todd Frady, made the initial calls around 10:35 a.m. that led to the arrest of suspected Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof in Shelby. 

Later in the story, Dills talks more about her faith:

Dills, the minister of music at West Cramerton Baptist Church, said she had been praying for the victims in Charleston since the news broke last night.
“I was in church last night myself. I had seen the news coverage before I went to bed and started praying for those families down there," she said. "Those people were in their church just trying to learn the word of God and trying to serve. When I saw a picture of that pastor this morning, my heart just sank."

The Shelby Star deserves credit for allowing Dills to tell the story in her own words — including the religious angle.

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2. The response

Full disclosure: Hamil Harris, the Washington Post writer who produced this story, is a friend and fellow member of the Churches of Christ.

So feel free to accuse me of bias when I say that Harris is tied into the pulse of black churches — particularly those in the Washington, D.C., area — better than any journalist I know.

In this story, Harris taps into those connections:

From church leaders to political leaders, the mass shootings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church pricked the hearts of many in one of oldest and most prominent church denominations in the country.
“The AME church has a real strong connective bond across the country,” said Dakarai Aaron, a member of the Board of Stewards at Metropolitan AME church in Washington DC. “When one of us hurts all of us hurt.”
Metropolitan AME, which is the “National Cathedral Church,” of the AME Denomination, will host a community prayer service to remember the victims of the shooting at noon on Friday.
“We are all concerned about this tragedy, but we are also concerned about how we can work together as a beloved community across race denominational lines,” Aaron said.

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3. The crime

The New York Times tackles about an important question about the characterization of the massacre at Emanuel AME:

The massacre of nine African-Americans in Charleston has been classified as a possible hate crime, apparently carried out by a 21-year-old white man who once wore an apartheid badge and other symbols of white supremacy. But many civil rights advocates are asking why the attack has not officially been called terrorism.
Against the backdrop of rising worries about violent Muslim extremism in the United States, advocates see hypocrisy in the way the attack and the man under arrest in the shooting have been described by law enforcement officials and the news media.
Assaults like the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and the attack on an anti-Islamic gathering in Garland, Tex., last month have been widely portrayed as acts of terrorism carried out by Islamic extremists. Critics say, however, that assaults against African-Americans and Muslim Americans are rarely if ever called terrorism.
Moreover, they argue, assailants who are white are far less likely to be described by the authorities as terrorists.
“We have been conditioned to accept that if the violence is committed by a Muslim, then it is terrorism,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights advocacy group in Washington, said Thursday in a telephone interview.
“If the same violence is committed by a white supremacist or apartheid sympathizer and is not a Muslim, we start to look for excuses — he might be insane, maybe he was pushed too hard,” Mr. Awad said.

On a related note, the Poynter Institute's Al Tompkins offers excellent advice on whether journalists should characterize the Charleston shooting as an act of terrorism:

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4. The security 

"Are churches safe?" NBC's Nightly News asked in the wake of the South Carolina tragedy.

A lot of my minister friends are asking the same question on social media and wondering how churches can protect their flocks (with side debates over gun control and what Jesus would do).

The church security issue is generating a lot of headlines nationwide, including this timely story from the Detroit News:

Detroit — Sadness, anger, frustration, calls for healing and racial unity — and concerns about church security — were expressed Thursday during a local prayer vigil in the wake of the South Carolina shooting in which nine died.
City Councilman Andre Spivey, who also is pastor of St. Paul A.M.E. Church on Detroit's east side, hastily organized the vigil at Bethel A.M.E. It was attended by several ministers and about 50 worshipers who prayed for the victims of Wednesday's shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Spivey said he was a longtime friend of one of the victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, church pastor and a South Carolina state senator. Spivey said he "broke down" when he heard the news.
"We preached together," he said. "Our lives paralleled; we're both 41; we're married with two kids; we're both public servants.
"He was a free spirit — a southern, gentlemanly spirit. All his work is not in vain."
Spivey was among several people at the vigil who said the shooting was a stark reminder that no place is safe — including church.
"The reality is, things can happen anywhere now," he said. "(Church) is a haven of rest and safety ... when you cannot be safe in God's place of worship, where can you be safe?"

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5. The mass murder

Sue me, but I'm going to praise another friend at the Washington Post: Former GetReligion contributor Sarah Pulliam Bailey provides highly relevant background on the history of violence at houses of worship in the United States:

The Charleston shooting ties for the most people killed during a mass murder at a faith-based institution in recent memory, according to Carl Chinn, who runs what is considered to be the most extensive database on violence at houses of worship by searching Google for news. The FBI defines mass murder as four or more killed in a single act, typically at one location.
“It’s certainly one of, if not the most, vicious attacks I’ve seen at a faith-based organization,” said Chinn, who described the shooting as the 13th mass murder at a faith-based organization in the country.
Nine people were killed in 1991 at the Wat Promkunaram temple near Phoenix, the worst mass murder in Arizona history. Johnathan Doody, tried three times for the execution-style murders of nine people at the Buddhist temple, was sentenced in 2014 to 249 years in prison.
Some are comparing the Charleston shooting to the bombing at a church in Birmingham in 1963. Four members of the Ku Klux Klan planted dynamite at the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four girls and 22 others. Chinn describes that bombing as the first mass murder at a faith-based organization in U.S. history.

As I mentioned yesterday, the headlines bombard us as we — like you — try to make sense of what happened in Charleston.

If there's a story — good or bad — that we should highlight, please share the link below or tweet us at @GetReligion.

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