AME, elected officials reflect on Charleston shooting during service

By Tom Momberg

Southeast Queens tried to come to terms with the shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. as several city leaders gathered at the Greater Allen AME Church in Jamaica to share their perspectives.

Members of the congregation were eager to hear their elected officials speak Saturday, reflecting on the loss caused by a single disturbed young white man, Dylann Roof, 21, who after attending Bible study for an hour at the historic black church, is accused of opening fire and killing nine people.

Roof was arrested and appeared in court within days. The victims’ family members took the opportunity to speak in the Southern city, offering God’s forgiveness and love in the face of suffering.

And as the Emanuel African AME Church in Charleston reopened for services over the weekend, Greater Allen AME Rev. Floyd Flake said the strength shown by the people in Charleston can guide the rest of the country to rise above hate, and not give in to the terror one man tried to create.

“For many of us whose opinions are waffling, we are trying to determine what this is really all about… But look into the mind of a people who come to a prayer meeting every week and still can stand strong with what has happened,” Flake said. “These people did not show anger, but they talked about it in their relationship with God.”

State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Hollis) said he would not have been so forgiving in the moment.

“I have been struggling with this and trying to figure out what to do because I’ll tell you: Part of my heart wanted to see him hang that evening,” Comrie said when asked to speak. “Part of me wanted to see immediate retribution for someone that I view as pure evil.”

But Comrie said the one thing he would do, and suggested others join him, is never speak the shooter’s name ever again.

“I want to put out a call to the media: These copycats happen because the name is in the media. He is doing this for publicity… he wasn’t trying to do anything but try to make a name for himself, and we should take that away from him,” Comrie said.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also spoke during the church’s memorial service. He said the only way to defeat hate is not to fight it with more hate or to dwell on racism and violence, but to move on, remember and forgive.

“Well, the sanctuary and solace of that Bible circle, of that wonderful church, was shattered. But we all know the wound is fresh and we will heal together. Indeed the perpetrator has been apprehended and will face the mighty hand of justice, although we know justice won’t bring back those nine beautiful faces.”

Dr. Henrietta Fullard, the assistant director and presiding elder of the Jamaica Long Island District of the AME Church, said the church’s mission was always to open its doors and to serve communities, which is exactly what Emanuel African AME Church did, meaning there is much to accomplish moving forward.

“We must put an end to the naysayers of our mission, bringing us once again to ward against a senseless act of terror and a brutal execution of our sisters and our brothers,” Fullard said, delivering her sermon. “Yes, we are black. Yes, we are Christians. Yes, we are African Methodist Episcopals, and there is nothing you can do about it.”

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.