African-American faith leaders in Minnesota are applauding the removal of Confederate symbols from statehouses and flags following racially motivated killings in Charleston, S.C., but they say reforms must not stop there.
"These are symbols of legalized terrorism that these flags are flying in our country in 2015," said the Rev. Jessica Jackson of Impact Living Christian Center in Minneapolis. "It is a big deal to me that those flags come down, and that those specific communities begin to heal about what it meant to have those symbols flying over their statehouses."
The shocking killings on June 17 must be acknowledged as an extension of historical racism and terror against African-Americans, three leaders of predominately black churches in the Twin Cities told MPR News' Tom Weber on Wednesday.
"It has become a crisis in reality to bring an understanding that we do have racism in America," said Bishop Richard Howell, Jr. of Shiloh Temple International Ministries. "The deliberate intention to kill these individuals was a human manifesto of the truth that is in America today."
Mourners gathered Wednesday in Charleston to remember state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of the Emanuel AME Church, who was killed during the prayer service. Jackson said "there's always death and destruction that happens to be a catalyst to change."
Dylann Roof, a young white man, was arrested and charged with killing Pinckney and eight other people at Emanuel AME. That's led many to call for South Carolina lawmakers to remove a Confederate flag from a pole on the capitol grounds. Alabama recently removed a Confederate flag from that state's capitol area.
"This is not a new moment. We are familiar with this moment, churches have been terrorized and targeted and the people in it have been intimidated and murdered before," Jackson said. "I think pausing to acknowledge that is what is so significant in this moment."
Rev. Nazim Fakir of St. Peter's African Methodist Episcopal Church said the Charleston killings and the high-profile killings last year of black men by police have pushed the country to the point where a conversation about racism can no longer be put off.
"The heart of it is that our country is founded and built on a white supremacist structure," Fakir said. "Every institution, every government institution, everything is built around this structure and built to uphold this structure."
The country as a whole can only move forward from mourning when these root causes are explored in partnership across ethnic and racial lines, Jackson said.
"Getting at the root causes of how someone like this young man could emerge and do such a heinous act, we have to go from this surface place to a deeper place," Jackson said. "We made progress in it over the years, over the decades and centuries, but there's still a lot of work to be done."
Minnesota has struggled with extreme disparities between African-Americans and whites in education, income and incarceration rates. Fakir said solving these disparities needs to be the focus as stronger relationships are built between African-Americans and whites.
"The only way to combat white supremacy is for whites to say that it exists and we will help you fight against it," Fakir said. "Oftentimes, whites are not willing to put their white privilege on the line and say, 'I'm willing to not be able to do this so my sisters and brothers from other mothers can have the justice and equality that they deserve.'"
Jackson said institutional policies and laws that exacerbate inequality need to be examined and exposed, but that people also need to confront racism in their everyday lives.
"I need you to go home, and I need you to stand up to that uncle, that cousin, or maybe even dad, who makes those racist comments," Jackson said. "You have to find the courage within you and the wisdom to respond in a way that doesn't tear down that relationship."