PBS town hall to focus on Emanuel AME shooting

Crowds fill the sidewalk and street in front of Emanuel AME Church on June 19 in Charleston for songs and prayer in remembrance of the nine shooting victims. PBS will film a Saturday town hall meeting, “America After Charleston,” before a live audience at Circular Congregational Church. The hourlong broadcast will air at 9 p.m. Monday.

For PBS broadcaster Gwen Ifill, news of the gunfire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church hit her like “a sock in the stomach.”

“As a journalist, you spend a lot of time distancing yourself,” she said. But this time, the news came all too close to home.

A lifelong member of AME churches, Ifill worships at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. She’s the daughter of an AME minister, and her brother, too, serves as presiding elder of a church in Atlanta.

So a Wednesday night Bible study is something she not only can relate to, but it’s where she and those closest to her could have been the night a white man walked into a church, intent on killing blacks.

“It’s the people that you do know, stories that seem very familiar to you, that hit (twice as) hard,” she said.

America’s response to the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at Emanuel will be the subject of a Saturday town hall meeting organized by PBS and moderated by Ifill — a co-anchor and managing editor of PBS’s “The NewsHour,” and managing editor of “Washington Week.”

PBS will film the meeting, titled “America After Charleston,” before a live audience at Circular Congregational Church. The hourlong broadcast will air at 9 p.m. Monday.

“The events in Charleston have sparked national conversations about the meaning and significance of the Confederate flag, put new focus on the political call to action, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and has made race and the changing demographic landscape a central topic in the 2016 elections,” a news release detailing the event stated.

Saturday’s discussion will include input from the victims’ families, community leaders and other commentators from across the country, the release said.

Ifill described the upcoming discussion as a “scientific look at attitudes about race.” The talk won’t rehash the details surrounding the massacre, but will focus instead on the nation’s reaction and the circumstances that bred the act, described by some as the deadliest hate crime in South Carolina’s history.

Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old Eastover man, faces nine counts of murder and 33 federal charges for hate crimes and religious rights violations in connection with the shooting.

“We want to examine where we, as a nation, are,” Ifill said. “Are we in a situation that’s as dire as it seems?”

The Emanuel shooting was a “terrible local tragedy,” but it had a “radiating effect,” making the rest of the nation re-evaluate racial discord linked to deaths in Ferguson, North Charleston, Cincinnati, New York and elsewhere, Ifill said.

“They’re not the same, but at the heart of it, all were black victims,” Ifill said.

Ifill moderated a similar event, “America After Ferguson,” a year ago following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

“(That discussion) confirmed for me that when you get out of your bubble and talk to actual people, you’re always going to be surprised by the way they engage with each other,” Ifill said. “We just don’t listen enough anymore in our society. At PBS, that’s part of our mission, to keep those kinds of conversations alive even when they aren’t in the headlines.”

“America After Charleston” was produced for PBS by WETA Washington, WGBH Boston and South Carolina ETV Network, according to the news release.

The audience for the taping is at capacity, according to PBS. For more information, visit pbs.org.

Reach Christina Elmore at (843) 937-5908.