Attacks have come ‘too many times,’ Obama says
The Boston Globe, by Matt Viser
For the 14th time in his presidency, President Obama decried a shooting attack Thursday, this time expressing sorrow and anger over the murder of the nine worshipers in a historic black church in South Carolina.
The shocking, apparently racially motivated violence at a place of worship — a church that was once burned down by antiabolitionists — clearly disturbed the president, who mentioned that he and Michelle Obama personally knew the pastor who was among those slain in the Wednesday night massacre.
“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times,” Obama said from the White House briefing room, as political leaders from Capitol Hill to Charleston participated in vigils and began asking questions that for now have few answers.
“Now is the time for mourning and for healing,” Obama said, with Vice President Joe Biden standing sternly by his side. “But let’s be clear: At some point we as a country have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.”
But the president acknowledged that the gun lobby and its allies in Congress likely would prevent tighter regulations, as they did after the December 2012 school massacre in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 elementary school children and six adults.
The slayings Wednesday in Charleston, which targeted pillars of a community, stunned a nation attempting to move on from this kind of violence. Members of Congress gathered outside the Capitol in an impromptu prayer vigil, holding hands and bowing heads.
“Any death of this sort is a tragedy,” Obama said. “Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy. There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.”
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush canceled his campaign events in Charleston, and Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is also running for president, flew home. Obama continued on his scheduled fund-raising swing to California and on Thursday night was raising money at the homes of movie mogul Tyler Perry and television producer Chuck Lorre.
The location and the apparent motivations of the shooter rocked state and national officials.
A church is supposed to feel safe, they said, and prayer should be solemn. Worshipers shouldn’t have to be afraid of what might happen if they close their eyes and bow their heads.
“We woke up today, and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken,” Governor Nikki Haley said during a tearful news conference. “Parents are having to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe, and that’s not something we ever thought we’d deal with.”
Dylann Storm Roof, the alleged shooter, is a 21-year-old who grew up decades after the civil rights era, when racism, violence, and church burnings were far more commonplace and blatant. And while his Facebook page showed that he had African-American friends, it also contained images of him wearing Apartheid-era patches on his jacket and showing off a license plate with a Confederate flag.
The crime was especially horrific because it seemed to combine several dark threads that course through American society: racial violence, domestic terrorism, and mass shootings perpetrated by a lone young gunman.
At Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., relatives of one of those slain were comforted by fellow parishioners.
“Once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun,” Obama said.
And of the of scene of the shootings, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, he said, “This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America.”
Obama mentioned his connection to the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church who was killed in the attack. He also noted that the building had been burned to the ground in the 19th century because its worshipers worked to end slavery. When all-black gatherings were banned, the congregation met in secret.
The shooting highlighted two issues that the nation’s first black president has had to persistently address during his 6½ years in office: race and mass shootings.
Obama spoke more cautiously about the apparent racial motivations of the attack, citing the ongoing investigation. But federal authorities are investigating the murders as a hate crime. And Sylvia Johnson, a cousin of the pastor who was killed, told an NBC affiliate that she was told by a survivor that Roof sat through a Bible study before launching the attack, reloading five times.
“He just said, ‘I have to do it,’ ” Johnson said. “He said, ‘You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.’ ”
In his statement, Obama referenced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the hope and unity that came after four girls were killed in a 1963 bombing of a black church in Birmingham by the Ku Klux Klan.
“The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history,” he said. “Hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.”
It was the 14th time the president has made a statement on a shooting attack, according to statistics kept by CBS News’s Mark Knoller. The toll has included the attack at Fort Hood in Texas in 2009, in which 13 soldiers were gunned down; the 2011 attack on then-Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, in which six people were killed and 13 others, including Giffords, were injured; the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., in which 12 people were killed; and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown.
Obama said the nation needs tighter gun restrictions.
“The politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now,” he said. “But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point, it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.”