President Obama on Charleston Shooting: ‘I’ve Had to Make Statements Like This Too Many Times’

The president, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, spoke from the White House Thursday on the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

President Obama looks on during an investiture ceremony for Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the Warner Theatre on June 17, 2015 in Washington, D.C. 
National Journal
June 18, 2015, 8:28 a.m.

Once again, Pres­id­ent Obama ad­dresses a na­tion in mourn­ing.

Wed­nes­day night, a lone gun­man opened fire in a his­tor­ic Afric­an-Amer­ic­an church in Char­le­ston, South Car­o­lina, killing nine. Po­lice are in­vest­ig­at­ing the shoot­ing as a hate crime. The sus­pect, a 21-year-old white male, has ap­peared in pho­to­graphs wear­ing pro-apartheid paraphernalia. He was ap­pre­hen­ded Thursday morn­ing. “First, we must con­firm this in­di­vidu­al is in­volved in it,” At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Lor­etta Lynch said shortly after the ar­rest.

Pres­id­ent Obama was joined by Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden dur­ing the Thursday press state­ment.

(RE­LATED: Politi­cians Can­cel Cam­paign Events in Wake of Church Shoot­ing)

“There is something par­tic­u­larly heart­break­ing about a death hap­pen­ing in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace in a place of wor­ship,” Obama said, not­ing the his­tor­ic­al sig­ni­fic­ance of the church in which the shoot­ing oc­curred. “Moth­er Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church. This is a place of wor­ship that was foun­ded by Afric­an Amer­ic­ans seek­ing liberty. This is a church that was burned to the ground be­cause its wor­ship­pers worked to end slavery. … This is a sac­red place in the his­tory of Char­le­ston and in the his­tory of Amer­ica.”

The shoot­ing promp­ted Obama to re­it­er­ate his po­s­i­tion on com­batting gun vi­ol­ence in Amer­ica.

“I’ve had to make state­ments like this too many times,” Obama said. “We don’t have all of the facts, but we do know that once again in­no­cent people were killed in part be­cause someone who wanted to in­flict harm had no trouble get­ting their hands on a gun.”

(RE­LATED: The Justice De­part­ment Has Opened a Hate-Crime In­vest­ig­a­tion In­to Char­le­ston Shoot­ing)

The pres­id­ent con­tin­ued, sug­gest­ing that the coun­try has to act to pre­vent gun vi­ol­ence. “Now is the time for mourn­ing and for heal­ing, but let’s be clear at some point, we as a coun­try, we have to reck­on with the fact that this mass vi­ol­ence does not hap­pen in oth­er ad­vanced coun­tries,” Obama said. “It doesn’t hap­pen in oth­er places with this kind of fre­quency. It is in our power to do something about it.”

Obama: “This is not the first time that black churches have been at­tacked.”

Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden echoed these words in a joint state­ment with his wife re­leased Thursday af­ter­noon. “As a na­tion we must con­front the rav­ages of gun vi­ol­ence and the stain of hatred that con­tin­ues to be vis­ited on our streets, in our schools, in our houses of wor­ship, and in our com­munit­ies,” the Bidens said.

Obama said he and the first lady knew the pas­tor killed in Wed­nes­day night’s shoot­ing. “To say that our thoughts and pray­ers are with them and their fam­il­ies and their com­munity doesn’t say enough to con­vey the heartache and the sad­ness and the an­ger that we feel,” he said.

Char­le­ston May­or Joseph Ri­ley said in a press state­ment that both Pres­id­ent Obama and Vice Pres­id­ent Biden have per­son­ally called him, of­fer­ing con­dol­ences and as­sur­ances of fed­er­al sup­port.

“We all woke up today, and the heart and soul of South Car­o­lina was broken,” said South Car­o­lina Gov. Nikki Haley, fight­ing through tears. “We have some griev­ing and pain that we have to go through.”

Obama of­ten cites his own life and ex­per­i­ence in try­ing to nar­rate hor­rif­ic events and ex­press em­pathy for vic­tims. After the school shoot­ing in New­town, Con­necti­c­ut, he ref­er­enced his feel­ings as a fath­er whose daugh­ters were not much dif­fer­ent than those who were killed. In the wake of the death of Trayvon Mar­tin and its res­ult­ing tri­al, Obama spoke of his ex­per­i­ence be­ing an Afric­an-Amer­ic­an man in Amer­ica.

The shoot­ing in Char­le­ston hits on both of these iden­tit­ies.

“The fact that this took place in a black church ob­vi­ously also raises ques­tions about a dark part of our his­tory. This is not the first time that black churches have been at­tacked.”

He quoted the words Dr. Mar­tin Luth­er King said in the wake of the 1963 bomb­ing of a black church in Birm­ing­ham, Alabama.

“‘They [the ones who died] say to each of us,’ Dr. King said, ‘black and white alike, that we must sub­sti­tute cour­age for cau­tion. They say to us that we must be con­cerned not merely with who murdered them but about the sys­tem, and the way of life, the philo­sophy, which pro­duced the mur­der­ers,’” Obama said, quot­ing King. “‘Their death says to us that we must work pas­sion­ately and un­re­lent­ingly for the real­iz­a­tion of the Amer­ic­an dream.’”

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