President Barack Obama addressed Charleston church killer Dylann Roof, praised the history of the black church and denounced gun violence in America in a stirring eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney Friday afternoon. Mourners gathered at the College of Charleston for funeral services for Pinckney, one of nine people killed at Emanuel AME Church.
Obama emotionally recalled his acquaintance with Pinckney, who served as a South Carolina state senator as well as senior pastor at Emanuel AME until his slaying on June 17. Dylann Roof, 21, shot Pinckney and eight other congregants to death during a Bible study at the historic black church in downtown Charleston.
“We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith, a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance. A man of service who persevered knowing full well he would not receive all those things he would promise, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life to those who followed him,” Obama said. “He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen. He was full of empathy.”
Roof remains in police custody and faces nine counts of murder. Obama did not address Roof by name, but delivered a strong rebuke to the “alleged killer” who carried out the massacre.
“Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Rev. Pinckney and that Bible study group. … Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Rev. Pinckney so well understood – the power of God’s grace,” the president said.
Obama also addressed the sudden renewed debate over the Confederate battle flag. Roof posed with Confederate flags and imagery in several photos posted to his personal website.
“For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens," the president said. "It’s true a flag did not cause these murders, but as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge … the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a remainder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.”
The president closed his eulogy with a heartfelt plea on the country’s continuing plague of gun violence, stating the “vast majority” of Americans desired some sort of gun control.
“It would be a betrayal of everything Rev. Pinckney stood for if we allow ourselves to slip into comfortable silence again,” he said.
Obama ended his address by leading the assemblage in singing "Amazing Grace."