A church shooting in Charleston, S.C., that killed nine, didn’t come as a surprise to the Rev. Rose Johnson.
Now a member of the St. Paul United Methodist Church in Gainesville, she lived in Charleston for more than 10 years and attended conferences and classes at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the shooting took place.
“One thing you have to understand about Charleston, they have a history with hate violence,” Johnson said. “They know what it is; it isn’t anything new to them. They know how to call it what it is, because they have so much experience dealing with racial violence and racially motivated crimes.”
Dylann Storm Roof, 21, was arrested Thursday morning in North Carolina in connection with the shooting.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group that tracks hate organizations and extremists, said it was not aware of Roof before the rampage. And some friends interviewed said they did not know him to be racist. Another friend said he had recently complained about black people “taking over the world” and about the need for “the white race” to do something about it.
For 20 years, Johnson worked in a national hate crimes research center, so she knows what constitutes a hate crime.
According to her, Emanuel was a place where anyone could come in and feel welcome.
“Whenever there was a district worship event or conference, Emanuel was almost always the host,” she said.
In order to avoid further violence, Rose Johnson’s advice is to amp up security measures.
“Similar things happen like that all the time — not necessarily as extreme like what happened at Emanuel,” Johnson said. “Churches have to be forever vigilant, working to increase our security awareness.”
Home for the night from a Wednesday night Bible study, the Rev. Evelyn Johnson flipped the TV on and said to herself, “Wow, what is this?,” not knowing the awful news was about an AME church.
Evelyn Johnson, who is not related to Rose Johnson, is pastor at the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Gainesville, a position she has held for five years.
She tried to learn more about the tragedy in order to make sense of it, but she was unable to sleep, saying she felt the world had gone crazy around her.
“Hate is an arsenal of fear. And that fear is self-destructive,” Evelyn Johnson said. “The fear that you have means you really cannot stand your own self. If you hate yourself, you can’t help but hate others. But if you love yourself, you can love others.”
Evelyn Johnson said AME churches were founded after racially-motivated hatred.
A man had been “snatched up from his knees” while praying in a Methodist church in the 1700s, and his struggle led to the creation of the first AME church.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.