In a chaotic week dominated by reaction to the mass shooting in Florida, South Carolina’s senators appeared on the Senate floor Thursday to remind colleagues of the one-year anniversary of another tragic shooting – this one in their state.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., became emotional as he remembered the events of June 17 last year, when a gunman killed nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston at a Wednesday night Bible study. Scott told his colleagues about texting his friend, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor at Emanuel AME and a state senator, to see if he was OK. He never got an answer.
“It left a silence that was deafening,” Scott said.
But it was the grace and forgiveness shown by the families of the victims that turned the tragedy into a unifying event for the state, Scott said. He spoke of the victims reverentially, emotionally, often striking the note of a preacher.
“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.”
After asking for a moment of silence, Scott somberly read the names of the victims out loud.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also spoke on the Senate floor about the response of the victims’ families and their city.
“His goal was to start a race war,” Graham said, referring to the alleged gunman, Dylann Roof. “Well, he failed miserably. Quite the opposite happened in my state. I’ve never quite seen anything like it.”
“Why was it different in South Carolina?” he asked. “We’ve had shootings around the country where people took to the streets, there were riots, sores were exposed, scabs were pulled off old wounds.
“Here’s the difference: 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.
“If we go back to our petty ways, they’ll have died for nothing,” he said. “To the people of South Carolina, I’m proud of the way we handled this tragedy, but we’ve got a long way to go.”