The Charleston terrorist attack of nine victims who gathered for a Bible study in Landmark Church, South Carolina was evidently an act of terror, despite many media reports avoiding the term. Firstly I would like to state that my solidarity and compassion lies with the victims who died and their families. Respect should be given in enabling the families of those who died, to get the support they need to deal with the their grief and this is why it is even more important to acknowledge the full extent of the incident.
The suspected racially motivated attack has shaken the city and many people around the world but why is this not being classified on the news as an act of terrorism? Terrorism expert Brian Phillips had reportedly agreed that it was clearly evident that this was indeed an act of terror. Phillips described the fact that there are many elements that define terrorism and they are an act that uses violence, an act that is perpetrated by an individual or non-governmental group, political, social or religious motivations and intimidating a wider audience.
The attacker, Mr Roof, fits in to almost of all of these descriptions, which define terrorism, and he is clearly a terrorist. Would it have been different if the attacker was a Muslim? Would they automatically be labelled a terrorist without a second thought? I feel that it is important to raise this issue because labelling terrorism in reporting on perpetrators who are carrying out acts of terrorism should be consistent no matter what background they are from.
There are also various legal frameworks for terror crimes, as this act is considered to be more threatening to the society at large and therefore affects the overall punishment of the perpetrator. As a journalist in the media, I always feel that there is a level of hypocrisy that is evident in many news media outlets and government law enforcement agencies that refuse to remain consistent on reporting on real acts of terror.
Mr Roof is clearly a terrorist, he killed nine people in a racially motivated crime, he sat in the church with them and then let off gunshots, mass murdering them all. This is not just a hate crime, as many organisations like to make out. This is terrorism and the punishment should be treated in accordance to the fact that this is not just a guy with 'personal issues' this is a man who deliberately gun shot nine innocent victims in a holy place of worship.
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights advocacy group in Washington, had said that, "We have been conditioned to accept that if the violence is committed by a Muslim, then it is terrorism,"Awad further went on to state that, ""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.
I would hope that the many mainstream reporting can remain consistent and not discriminate against certain groups easily labelling one person a terrorist and another a 'gunman'. If there is discrimination evident in the reporting of certain groups to describe their acts then it is better not to use the word terrorist at all.
As Charleston continues to try to heal from this tragedy Mayor Joseph Riley announced the creation of the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund which will be used to help the families of the victims.
I only pray that the families get the support they need at this difficult time and that unity prevails, discrimination in all forms end and consistent reporting is implemented.