U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a Democratic candidate for president, delivered a campaign speech today at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, days after two mass murders and feet away from where a white supremacist killed nine at the church in 2015.
The senator's stop at the church, which largely figured the American struggle for civil rights long before a white man tried to start a race war in the basement, was billed as being about "gun violence and white nationalism."
By just standing in the church speaking where human rights leaders before him have stood, Booker connected the horrific acts of the Emanuel killer to President Donald Trump to the El Paso killer who set out to massacre a Texas-Mexico border town.
"To be passive is to be complicit. To ignore hate is to empower it," Booker said. "It is to fall back on that easy false virtue of tolerance."
Wednesday's speech echoes some of the sentiments he expressed during a town hall with state Sen. Marlon Kimpson on Monday.
If he had been president following this past weekend's 2 mass shootings, @CoryBooker says his message to the nation would have differed from what he says he heard from President Trump today. "Leaders accept responsibility," Booker said. "They don't try to blame something else." pic.twitter.com/EACo0My3cH
Quoting one of those leaders, Martin Luther King Jr., Booker asserted the difference between the absence of hate and the absence of the will to do something about it.
"If the answer to the question 'Do racism and white supremacy exist?' is 'Yes,' then the real question isn’t who is or isn’t a racist," Booker said, "but who is and isn’t doing something about it?"
"You are either an agent of justice or you are contributing to the problem," he said.
Pivoting to his job as an elected official, Booker noted that people in his position should use their power to legislate.
In South Carolina, politicians in Columbia have passed no substantive laws in response to the 2015 killings by a man who was able to legally obtain the handgun used in the murders at the church. But that's not for lack of trying: Kimpson has pushed a series of gun safety proposals and S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard has filed three separate hate crime bills, but none of the measures have passed.
The senator went on through a list of policy proposals to strengthen federal gun laws and finished by highlighting the strength of the movement for justice in America's past and the particular resiliency of the Emanuel congregation.
"This is the story of our nation that we must tell, not the absence of racism and bigotry and anti-Semitism."