State lawmakers grieved Thursday for slain state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, whose booming voice was silenced Wednesday night by a gunman at the Charleston minister’s church.
“We have seen a giant of this Senate fall,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence.
State Sen. Vincent Sheheen, the Kershaw County Democrat who was a seatmate with Pinckney, sat beside his colleague’s empty desk, which was draped in black cloth, according to Senate tradition.
Sheheen wiped away tears as he and other senators watched a video of Pinckney from mid-April.
The video showed Pinckney speaking about the need for police officers to wear body cameras, an issue that exploded after Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer in North Charleston.
Sheheen was one of many senators who stood at the Senate’s podium Thursday and battled tears to talk about Pinckney.
“The most gentle of all 46 of us in the chamber – the best of all 46 of us in this chamber – is the one who lost his life,” he said.
Earlier on the day Pinckney was slain, a fractious Senate session that saw normally reserved senators engaged in heated exchanges over roads, the state budget and leadership.
But Thursday, that rancor was gone.
Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, said Pinckney was one of his favorite people to pick on because of the minister-politician’s big stature and big, booming voice.
“What stood out about Senator Pinckney, more than his big frame and his booming voice, was that astronomically large heart that he had and the love that he had for his fellow man,” Setzler said.
At noon, senators attended a prayer service in Pinckney’s memory at Columbia’s Bethel A.M.E. Church.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin recalled Pinckney’s political rise – from a young page at the S.C. House to a House member and, later, a state senator.
“Usually, we’re not at a loss for words,” Benjamin said, noting the loss for words among the stunned politicians in the audience who were mourning Pinckney. “Usually, we have a lot to say.”
Benjamin also noted that those gathered were diverse – Democrats and Republicans, blacks and whites, Christians and Jews. But, despite those differences, they all gathered to mourn. “We’re all here in God’s house.”
When they met again at 2 p.m. Thursday, state senators approved displaying a portrait of Pinckney in their chamber.