Strong reactions came from the political world Thursday over the tragic massacre of nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.
Wednesday night, alleged shooter Dylann Roof, 21, opened fire on a Bible-study group meeting at the "Mother" Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, killing six women and three men, including the church’s pastor, state Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney. News of the deaths reverberated around the U.S. Capitol, where several politicians reacted to the shooting.
"It is unreal; it's unbelievable. It's another dark day in the history of our country," civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) bluntly said Thursday at the Capitol. Lewis didn't bother with trite, heard-a-trillion-times-before mourning points about "thoughts and prayers" as he reacted to the murders.
"It makes me very sad; I'm very troubled by this. If you can't go to a church and study and pray, what are we coming to as a nation and as a people?" Lewis added. "We've had terrorism in America. Don't tell me the bombing of the church in Birmingham and the assassination of individuals like Medgar Evers—well, call it what you may. It's violence against people because of their views and because of their race.
"You're gonna have many churches having security … ," he concluded.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who is also a reverend, led a prayer of members of the Congressional Black Caucus Thursday in a small room at the Capitol before they departed Washington, D.C., for the week. Cleaver mentioned that his church already has security as he returned to his office after the CBC's prayer session.
Lewis wasn't the only one to "go there" in a way rarely seen in political conversation, written or spoken. The senseless murders in Charleston have prompted a flood of pointed references:
* "This … harkens back to a dark time in the South when peaceful people could not avoid the rage of those with hate in their hearts," said Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) in a statement.
* "This grave assault strikes back at the heart of what it means to be Black in this country," read a line in a statement released by ColorOfChange.org.
* "There is no greater coward than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture," said NAACP President Cornell Brooks, who was headed to South Carolina, in a statement.
* "The Charleston church killings are an ugly reminder of the tragic stain of racism that still taints our nation. … We are very far from eradicating racism," said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) before a labor rally on the Capitol lawn.
Moments after the rally, members of the South Carolina congressional delegation called for a long prayer. Two members of the delegation, Democrat Rep. Jim Clyburn and Republican Sen. Tim Scott, were not in attendance because they had already left to travel back to Charleston.
Before it began, Travis Norton, counsel to Scott, planted nine roses under a tree in front of the Capitol with a sign saying, "We Are Charleston." When he was done, he could be seen weeping alongside other staff during the vigil.
"The horror that occurred at Mother Emanuel last night has truly devastated our community," said Scott on Twitter.