Four years later, Emanuel AME Church and the nine men and women who lost their lives there in a horrific shooting have become symbols. So have the victims’ families and friends and their fellow parishioners.

They’re icons of resilience. Emanuel has, by any reasonable measure, recovered from such a tragic loss stronger and more unified than before. The church’s congregation has inspired the larger Charleston community to break down longstanding prejudices and reassess broken policies.

They’re emblems of the need for gun sensibility. Since June 2015, gunmen have been responsible for tragedies in other churches, synagogues and mosques in the United States and around the world.

Survivors of the Emanuel shooting have been advocates for an end to that kind of intolerable, unthinkable violence. They have offered their sincere testimonies and their lived experience as a call for change and a comfort for men and women in mourning.

Emanuel revealed the so-called Charleston Loophole, which too often allows gun purchases to proceed without a completed background check. So far, state and federal efforts to fix that flaw have fallen short, but it remains a crucial component of a more reasonable system of gun laws.

The church and the survivors are symbols of the transformative power of forgiveness. It took grace of a profound and all too uncommon sort for grieving family members to forgive the shooter who had taken the lives of their loved ones, especially so soon after the fact.

This act removed what little power that gunman might have hoped to still hold behind the walls of a prison. His mission to instill hatred and fear had failed completely. If anything, it has had the opposite effect.

With grace, the momentum toward a better, more just, more loving Charleston will only accelerate. But that movement depends on each of us.

The Emanuel Nine — and their friends, family and loved ones — are symbols, yes. But they were and are more importantly human beings just like the rest of us. Their strength is not inexplicable but rather a reflection of faith and perseverance.

This humanity is not a frailty but a reminder of the tremendous power for good that lies inside of us. Just as a single, terrible act of a hateful young man reminds us of our capacity for evil.

Charleston faces many challenges. Overcoming them will require cooperation among the thousands of men and women who make up this community, who come from thousands of different backgrounds.

We look to the victims and survivors of the Emanuel AME tragedy as symbols of inspiration. But we also recognize them as men and women. This capacity for transformative love and forgiveness is within us all.

Today reminds us to embrace it.

An editorial from The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C.


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