Other Views: Where to begin to understand tangled web of Charleston tragedy

Following are excerpts of various commentaries on the South Carolina shootings.

The Charlotte Observer

So now we mourn.

We mourn for nine men and women killed Wednesday during a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

We mourn for their husbands and wives, their children and their families, including Charlotte’s Malcolm Graham, a former North Carolina senator whose sister was among the nine victims.

We mourn like we did with Sandy Hook, with Aurora, with too many other killings that tie us together in sorrow.

Now we ask the questions.

Who was Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old who sat among the bowed heads for an hour before deciding the time was right to kill? Why did he pick these people, this place? And, of course: Where did his gun come from?

We debate such things regularly on these pages.

We write about the easy availability of weapons, even for the mentally unfit, and we lament the unwillingness of lawmakers here and in Washington to do simple things like toughen background checks.

We write about race and the toxic conversations we have about it, and we worry where those conversations lead people.

But we don’t know yet to what extent either may have played in this shooting.

We don’t know that any tougher law or any better conversation on race would have stopped it from happening.

We do know that it is entirely and disturbingly possible that the killer was simply someone so consumed by hate or debilitated by mental illness that our boundaries, legal and otherwise, did not apply to his behavior.

So now we pray.

That we will do more to get help to those with mental illness. That we will do less to make it easier for them to kill. That even if these things wouldn’t have prevented this tragedy, that they might stop another.

And now we mourn. For nine people killed. For families that face a cold, concrete path ahead. For ourselves. Again.

The Washington Post

Rachel Dolezal, the white former Spokane NAACP branch president who purported to be an African-American, has, through her duplicity, hurt herself, her family and all those whose lives are closely linked with hers.

What she did (or failed to do), however, did little harm to the NAACP, the pursuit of civil rights and justice or the prospects of blacks in America. The media attention devoted to Dolezal has bordered on obsession. And it says more about our powerlessness to resist sensational and essentially trivial pursuits.

The shooting in Charleston is another matter.

The slaughter of nine black worshippers at the historic Emanuel African American Episcopal Church by a lone white gunman Wednesday night is where our attention belongs. The enormity of the crime that came out of nowhere is almost beyond comprehension: six women and three men, including the pastor and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator, shot dead. The pain registers far beyond the walls of the church or the Charleston city line. Terror, revulsion and outrage are being felt in homes, churches and in African-American communities across the country.

Perhaps it is because we have been here before.

Charleston now takes its place on the list of atrocities in recent black history, joining, among others:

•  The 1955 kidnapping, beating, and shooting of 14-year-old black Chicagoan Emmett Till, whose broken body was dumped in the Tallahatchie River in Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white woman;

•  The 1963 murders of four black girls, 11-14, who died in a KKK-led church bombing in Birmingham, Ala.;

•  The 1963 assassination of NAACP Mississippi field secretary Medgar Evers outside his home in Jackson, Miss.

•  The 1964 murders of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County, Miss.;

•  The 1968 assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King in Memphis, Tenn.

Bloomberg View

President Barack Obama is rarely at a loss for words. But language seemed to fail him Thursday when he spoke about gun violence and the mass shooting that killed nine people at a historic black church in Charleston.

“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” he said. “Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.”

By one count, it was the 14th time the president has made a statement related to a shooting. Citing “the politics in this town” — a phrase never uttered in a positive context these days — Obama offered no hope for responsible gun legislation from Congress. He called for an American reckoning with gun violence. But he sounded like he had no capacity for inspiring one.

Interestingly, the president was more hopeful about the other disturbing aspect of this case: racism. “The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history,” he said. The alleged gunman is reported to have spouted racist accusations before firing.

Obama’s tone on race was in notable contrast to his despair about guns. “The good news is I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome,” he said.

Perhaps because his own life is such a profound marker of progress, Obama is often optimistic about issues of race. He seems to understand that cultural change is hard and takes time.

And so it will be with the culture of guns. As with racism, legislation is necessary but not sufficient. As Obama said, the nation needs to “shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.” The proliferation of guns in dangerous hands is in part a problem of culture. Recklessness about guns is tolerated — accepted, even — in too many communities.

In this regard, racism and violence are too much alike. Neither, however, need be a permanent fixture of American life.