President Obama delivered the euology for slain pastor and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney with thoughts on racism today and a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”
Obama admitted he didn’t know Pinckney well, but said the legislator “encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen.”
The accused shooter at the Emanuel AME Church, Dylann Roof, committed “an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress, an act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination, violence and suspicion, an act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin,” the president said.
“Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace,” he said, adding “this whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace.”
“We may not have earned this grace with our rancor and complacency and short-sightedness and fear of each other, but we got it all the same… For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate Flag stirred into many of our citizens. It’s true a flag did not cause these murders. But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge, including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise, as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.”
Removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of South Carolina’s capital, Obama argued, “would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong. The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.”
But, the president continued, “I don’t think God wants us to stop there” at just taking flags down.
“Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal-justice system and lead us to make sure that that system’s not infected with bias, that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure,” he said.
“Maybe we now realize the way a racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal, so that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote.”
Obama also resurrected his calls for more gun control, stressing “for too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.”
“The vast majority of Americans, the majority of gun owners want to do something about this. We see that now,” he said. “And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions, ways of life that make up this beloved country, by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.”
The president added it would “be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.”
“Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.”
Southern history, Obama added, “can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world…. That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think.”
Obama then broke into singing “Amazing Grace,” with the organ player at the capacity service joining in.