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Hate Crimes of Today and Yesterday Mourned

It’s been almost a year since the mass shooting in the Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel AME Church, in which nine innocent black parishioners were killed by a hateful white supremacist shooter. But a year later, the faith of the church’s congregation remains strong.

Bible study has continued at the site — nearly 200 people filled the pews last Wednesday evening to pray and study in a service led by Rev. Anthony Thompson. He read the same passages that were read on the right of the fateful shooting. On that day a year ago, his wife, Mya Thompson, read those passages and was killed by the young man who entered the sacred building and opened fire.

“Like Abraham, change has to first start in each one of us,” Rev. Thompson said to the congregation. “We can’t just believe God and expect mountains to move, walls to come down, wars to be won and our lives to be changed. The change has to first start with you and me.”

Emanuel AME was founded in 1816 by members of the black community, and it is no stranger to hate crimes. It was burned down in 1822 by white supremacists and faced an 1834 law prohibiting black churches. Churches, especially for the black community, are safe havens and the centers of communities; they also provide education to young children, including many of the three-fourths of kids who are enrolled in preschool programs.

At the service on Wednesday, Thompson and Kylon Middleton, the pastor of Mount Zion AME Church, spoke of forgiveness. The service was filled with singing and laughter — but police officers guarded every entrance as a grim reminder that they still might not be safe.

However horrific the Charleston shooting last year was, it did not result in an substantial change in federal gun control policy. Indeed, only after last week’s shooting in Orlando, which targeted mainly Latino and African American LGBT people at a gay nightclub’s Latino night, do Senators appear to be taking serious action.

Senator Chris Murphy ended a 15 hour filibuster with a reminder of the Sandy Hook shootings of 2012, in which 20 children between the ages of six and seven were gunned down.

Violence towards marginalized and underrepresented groups has reached a high at the same time that state governments have been passing laws for — or against — better representation. For example, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has finalized a set of rules that prevents employees and businesses from discriminating against transgender New Yorkers.

“Today we are sending the message loud and clear that New York will not stand for discrimination against transgender people,” Cuomo said in a statement Wednesday, the same day that parishioners in South Carolina paid tribute to those they lost. “It is intolerable to allow harassment or discrimination against anyone, and the transgender community has been subjected to a second-class status for far too long.”