In the early evening hours of June 17, 2015, a young white man walked into the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. He sat down with a group of church members, including the church’s pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, also a South Carolina state senator, for Bible study. After listening to the discussion of Biblical principles, perhaps love and forgiveness, and maybe even praying together, the man stood up and began shooting the church members. According to one horrifying account, he reloaded five times, killing nine people, including Reverend Pinckney. According to some reports, he later told police that he almost did not go through with it because they were so nice. But, he killed them anyway.
All of the victims were black. Based on news accounts of the shooter’s racist views, that was not an accident. The shooter was quoted as saying he was there to “shoot black people.” He said, “You’ve raped our women and you are taking over the country.” Before leaving the church, he menacingly told one of the survivors to tell everyone what he had done. The shooter was later captured and charged with murder. He has reportedly confessed to the shootings. Federal authorities are investigating the shootings as a hate crime. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said, “The only reason someone would walk into a church and shoot people that were praying, is hate.”
In response to this tragedy, President Obama called for tighter gun control laws. Others have said that South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds as a tribute to the victims and their families. Yes, we should take the opportunity to talk about race relations and how such hatred can be harbored within the borders of our state. Yes, we should talk about our state’s policies and how they can be used to promote unity and not division. Yes, we should have a civil discourse on the meaning of this event.
But first, the citizens of South Carolina have taken to the streets! We have taken to the streets . . . to pray. We have taken to the streets . . . to hold hands. We have taken to the streets . . . in love and forgiveness. We have taken to the streets . . . in peace and unity. We have filled our churches and public halls . . . to honor the memory of the victims.
At the shooter’s bond hearing, victims’ family members said, “I forgive you.” Yes, they expressed their hurt and sadness, but they responded with an attitude of forgiveness. “May God have mercy on your soul.” “You hurt a lot of people, but God forgives you, and I forgive you.”
I am proud to call South Carolina home.