The Reverends Irene Monroe and Emmett G. Price III joined Boston Public Radio for their regular Monday segment, "All Revved Up." They talked about the shooting in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina last week, including what to label the shooting, and whether we're focused on the right things in the wake of this awful event.
The Rev. Irene Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist who writes for Bay Windows and the Huffington Post. You can follow her here on Twitter. The Rev. Emmett G. Price III is a professor of music at Northeastern University, and the author of The Black Church and Hip Hop Culture. You can follow him here on Twitter.
What should we be calling what happened in Charleston last week? Some people say a hate crime, others terrorism, others might say both. And — do you think removing the Confederate flag will do some good?
Irene Monroe: While [the shooter's] act is an explicit act of bias, it's the implicit acts that really build up, and we don't have an ability to talk about. [Calling it a] 'hate crime' as opposed to domestic terrorism, people will talk about the Confederate flag as a symbol of heritage, and they wouldn’t do that with the swastika — we're sort of tiptoeing.
Is it encouraging we're at least having conversations about these sorts of things?
This is not a gun issue, it's not a flag issue. This is really an issue about the American consciousness.
Emmett Price: Of course, you know I’m the utopian optimist, and I'd like to think [so]. We're still dealing with the bandages [of the shooting], right? This is not a gun issue, it's not a flag issue. [...] This is really an issue about the American consciousness — who are we, and who do we want to be? And, how do we want to relate to one another?
Monroe: A first act of racial reconciliation is to take down that symbol. [...] These are people born under that flag. My God, do they have to die under that flag? [...] Take that flag down. I think that would start a dialog about race.
Should we focus on mental health in this case, or is that really only addressing one facet?
Price: [We say] this young man who created this horrific act [...] is 'crazy,' he's 'deranged,' and so that ends that conversation. [...] We never get to that point where [we talk about things]. There's a huge population in this country who believes that same thing he believes!
Monroe: To label him as mentally ill [means] you don't want to have the conversation about race, and number two, it doesn't allow for any culpability [for] the community that is harmed by this. [...] We've had a century of domestic terrorism because of the Ku Klux Klan, and nobody wanted to call that particular group a terrorist group, but it was. [...] There's a political aspect to it, as well as a personal aspect of it.
Price: This is an indictment of so many different things, and it goes back to why we are not courageous enough to have the conversation because it means things are gonna change! [...] When you have the magistrate who stands there at the first hearing and goes into this thing about how Roof's family are the victims here, I mean, Jesus Christ, what are we doing here?!
Some anti-violence crusaders like Tina Cherry — whose son Louis Brown was killed in a shooting in Boston — say that forgiveness is an important part of the process. Maybe this judge wasn't artful enough in the way he said this?
Price: It's okay when the family of the nine [murder victims] say to him, 'we forgive you.' It's not okay when the authority, the judge, from the platform of the judicial system, says 'Hold on y'all, don't care about these people, there’s some other people [too].'
Monroe: It's the tenet of Christianity. Luke 23 says, 'Father, forgive them for they do not know what they have done.'
Was the forgiveness offered by the families of the nine victims also calculated, in a political way?
Monroe: This helps them to go out and not riot, so I think that's important. [Remember] the 1963 bombing where four little girls were killed at 16th Street [Baptist Church]. We forget that the night Obama was elected, Macedonia Baptist Church in Springfield was burned down.
You're both leading congregations. What was it like this weekend in church?
Price: It was a hard weekend because you 're answering these questions from individuals. [...] I’m consistent, I’m love and hope, even in the midst of this crisis and this storm. [...] The fact is that you gotta stay focused on God's plan, and don't get sidetracked on these obstacles. [...] It's a hard argument every day, but this weekend was a little more difficult
Monroe: You have parishioners, family and friends who live up here who have family in South Carolina. [...] You have to talk about how we move forward. So that's why one of our anthems, 'We Shall Overcome,' gives us redemptive hope!
>>The above interview questions are paraphrased. Price and Monroe's responses are edited where noted [...].