NAACP President Cornell William Brooks on Friday imagined the scene in the basement of Emanuel AME Church, where “a hand of welcome” likely was extended to the mass shooting suspect on Wednesday, where the doors of the church remain open to strangers.
The dozen who had gathered to study Scripture could not have known what was about to transpire, that an angry young man would “lay down his Bible and take up a gun.”
Brooks, who was in Charleston to speak out against the shooting, said it was a consequence of a divided society that continues to foster white supremacy. The dead and injured were not the only targets of what he called “racial terrorism.”
“This is a crime perpetuated against us, and we are all as such victims,” he said, adding that well-meaning Americans cannot allow themselves to remain victims. “We as Americans will not subscribe to that philosophy. We will not give in, we will not give up, we will not give over. We can rise up as a nation and love.”
Brooks called on the nation to re-examine its public policies, remove the Confederate battle flag from the S.C. Statehouse grounds and engage in a broad civic dialogue about race.
He also pledged support for the federal government’s investigation, which should determine whether the gunman acted alone or was inspired by others, directly or indirectly.
“The NAACP came to be in 1909 to fight lynching and racial violence,” Brooks said. “And here we are in 2015 fighting against racial bigotry and violence still.”
He said his organization was communicating with the Justice Department, its civil rights division and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to insure a thorough investigation while simultaneously reaching out to communities to foster healing and understanding.
The NAACP also will scrutinize federal hate crime laws and the standards for prosecuting them as well as help equip federal and state lawmakers with tools for advancing civil rights, he said.
Finally, the NAACP “will strengthen the eyes and ears of local chapters,” which are meant to be a first line of defense for local communities, Brooks said.
“The most powerful tool against racial animus that we’ve seen is being part of the NAACP,” he said. Hate and prejudice must be snuffed out.
“A little bit of bigotry ... is not acceptable,” he said. “In this country, a little bit of racism is a dangerous thing.”