The Wednesday night killing of nine people by a white gunman in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, highlights the need for everyone to come together and discuss the difficult topics of race, politics and religion, according to the Liberty County NAACP president.
“It is another tragedy in our country — not just in South Carolina, but our country as a whole,” Graylan Quarterman said Thursday.
Multiple media outlets reported Thursday morning that Dylann Storm Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina, in a mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, was captured in Shelby, North Carolina.
Roof reportedly attended a prayer meeting Wednesday evening at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston’s popular, historic downtown area, for nearly an hour. Then, according to media reports, he said, “You rape all our women, and you’re taking over the country, and you have to go,” and opened fire, killing nine people.
Quarterman said society is screaming for inclusion, not exclusion. Somehow, he added, society failed Roof.
“What was taught to this young man to make the decision that he made to walk into the house of the Lord and take the lives of individuals there?” Quarterman asked. “I am concerned that we have done so much in this country to divide and not to include. Society is screaming for leadership for inclusion.”
Charleston officials referred to the shooting as a hate crime, and the federal Justice Department has opened an investigation, media outlets say.
Reports indicate that six women and three men — including the church pastor, state Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney, D-Ridgeland, whose district includes Jasper County, which borders southeast Georgia — were killed.
An extensive manhunt ensued overnight, with the suspect’s identity being released Thursday morning before he was captured.
Quarterman offered his condolences to the grieving families and to the nation as a whole in facing another tragedy that could cause further division.
“We sympathize. We are prayerful for the strength and encouragement of the families that lost their loved ones, for the community that is mourning and for the nation that is hurt,” Quarterman said. “But we hope that we will find strength in this tragedy and a solution for inclusion with leadership across this country.”
Quarterman said the Liberty County NAACP will offer an opportunity for the public to come together and speak openly on topics of race, politics and religion — those tough topics many are taught to avoid in polite discussion. The tentative date will be in August.
“The NAACP is an organization of inclusion and not exclusion,” he said.
The Georgia State Conference of the NAACP issued a statement about the tragedy Thursday. The statement references a common nickname for the historic Charleston church that was the scene of the mass shooting, “Mother Emanuel.”
“The Georgia NAACP expresses profound sadness and renewed vigilance in the wake of the senseless apparent hate crime that claimed the life of Pastor and State Senator Clementa Pinckney and eight other citizens who gathered in prayer,” says the statement, issued by Georgia NAACP President Francys Johnson. “Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is a venerated house of worship founded during dark, difficult days in this nation’s founding. It endured despite slavery, Jim Crow, and it will survive this midnight as well.”
Cornell William Brooks, the national NAACP president and CEO, added, “There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of Scripture. Today I mourn as an AME minister, as a student and teacher of Scripture, as well as a member of the NAACP.”
President Barack Obama, who said he and first lady Michelle Obama personally know several members of Emanuel AME Church, including Pinckney, said he has had to make statements following mass shootings too many times since he has been president.
“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” according to the full text of his remarks, posted at washingtonpost.com. “It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.”
And the racist intent of the suspect can’t be ignored, Obama added.
“The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history,” he said. “This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked, and we know the hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.”