Friday, June 17, marks a year since a gunman killed nine black worshippers in a Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The anniversary has arguably been eclipsed by the Orlando, Florida, massacre, where 49 people were killed and 53 were wounded Sunday.
But South Carolina’s U.S. senators took to the Senate floor Thursday to remember the parishioners who died, allegedly at the hands of a young white man, Dylann Roof. One of the victims was Clementa Pinckney, a state legislator and minister.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., reflected on his state's response to the shooting. “His goal was to start a race war,” Graham said about Roof. “Well, he failed miserably. Quite the opposite happened in my state. I’ve never quite seen anything like it.”
While unrest followed other recent killings of African-Americans (by police), South Carolina came together. “Here’s the difference,” Graham said. “We’re all in such a state of shock that somebody could come into a church, and just randomly kill the people they prayed with … but what woke us up was the way the families behaved. They decided to channel their grief into something constructive, not destructive."
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., was emotional when he took the Senate floor. He talked about texting his friend, Pinckney, to see if he was OK. “It left a silence that was deafening,” Scott said. The families who forgave the shooter are what turned the tragedy around. “They have truly been the rock on which we all stand,” he said. “The world will also see this from Charleston, South Carolina – they will see that you cannot destroy love with hate.”
Roof pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in July to federal hate crime charges. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in Charleston on 33 counts. Many of them included hate crimes. On the state level, he already faced nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.
The state is seeking the death penalty against Roof, South Carolina's Ninth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said in September. He will stand federal trial in November for the attack.
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