Pinckney, whom the shooter reportedly sought when he entered the church, was an outspoken advocate of police-worn body cameras -- a technological attempt at addressing the issues of inequality and injustice that have vexed this country since its very beginnings. And so it would seem possible that a mass shooting at a black church in Charleston might also involve a challenge to the emerging consensus on policing the police -- along with the burgeoning idea that, as protesters from Ferguson, Mo., to North Charleston have repeated: "Black lives matter."
This and much else, of course, remains unknown about the shooting at Emanuel AME. Why did the shooter walk into Emanuel AME to begin with? Why did he reportedly ask for Pinckney and sit near him for about an hour before initiating carnage? But law enforcement officials are comfortable enough to describe it all, even at this early juncture, as a hate crime.
In 2013, the most recent year for which national hate crime data is available, police departments around the country reported a total of 5,928 such incidents to the FBI. Hate crimes are generally defined as those in which a person was driven to break various laws -- including commit murder, arson and/or other violent crimes -- by animus toward an entire group or population. The nation's hate crime data, which many civil rights organizations have long complained is incomplete because it relies on local law enforcement agencies to recognize and report incidents to the FBI, offers only a partial look at the landscape of hate and division in the United States.
But the patterns within it do offer some important clues.
Of the thousands of hate crimes reported in 2013, nearly half (48.5 percent) involved crimes motivated by racial animus, and another 17.4 percent were driven by some form of religious intolerance. It is unclear how many, like the incident at Emanuel AME, might have involved some elements of both. White perpetrators of hate crimes -- many of them young and male like the just-apprehended accused Emanuel AME church shooter, Dylann Storm Roof -- were involved in the majority of both types of crime.
And in the wake of the shooting at Emanuel AME, it might also be worth noting that one of the nation's earliest attempts to address hate crime and acts of domestic terrorism was also a matter involving race. In 1871, Congress passed a law known as the "Ku Klux Act," giving President Ulysses S. Grant broad latitude, including via martial law, to track down and punish members of the white-supremacist Ku Klux Klan. At the time, the group had made a habit of harassing and often brutally murdering African Americans, but also Republicans of all races because of their views on political issues involving race.
One of the group's favored tactics involved the singling out of outspoken black individuals and community leaders, subjecting them to horrific torture and then, leaving behind said person's mutilated corpse. The tactic had two aims: (1) to silence the outspoken; (2) to discourage those left alive from emulating the dead. It was a form of organized physical violence with strong psychological elements. It was domestic terrorism.
Today, Charleston would appear to be a community touched by many of the problems of America's present -- and its past.