Our collective resistance to addressing the scourge of gun violence in the US is pathological. Waking up this morning to news coming out of Charleston, South Carolina, where, again, a lone shooter gunned down nine people, this time inside a historically black church, for Christ’s sake, there is a sense of despair and sadness that conjures up childhood memories of the Old Testament book of Psalms. Time and time again, the psalmist asks God a simple but difficult question: Why? Why must we continue to endure so much pain and suffering?
In the photographs of family, friends, and members of Charleston’s Emanuel African American Methodist Episcopal Church, we see signs of grief and turmoil that share the sorrow of a psalmist whose soul is full of troubles. The emotional weight of this photograph in particular captures more than just a natural response to another violent crime. What we’re seeing here is how events with no good explanation move us toward a deep cultural reservoir of prayer, music, and poetry. Indeed, if there is one takeaway from this photograph, it is that there is an ongoing history of blood, sweat, and tears that inhabits American black bodies and souls in ways that white folks simply cannot understand.
(photo: David Goldman/AP. caption: Lisa Doctor joins a prayer circle early Thursday, June 18, 2015, down the street from the Emanual AME Church following a shooting Wednesday night in Charleston, S.C.)