Obama praises grace, urges ac­tion

Eu­lo­giz­ing pas­tor slain at Charleston church, he says ‘ we don’t need more talk’ about race.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Michael A. Me­moli michael. me­moli @ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ mike­mem­oli Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Jenny Jarvie in Charleston, S. C., con­trib­uted to this re­port.

CHARLESTON, S. C. — Pres­i­dent Obama chal­lenged the na­tion Fri­day to face up to its legacy of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, in­sist­ing that it would be­tray the mem­ory of the vic­tims of the mas­sacre at a black church here to “al­low our­selves to slip into a com­fort­able si­lence once again.”

Dur­ing a mov­ing ad­dress in which he fre­quently slipped into the ca­dences of a pas­tor and even led the pre­dom­i­nantly black au­di­ence in a ren­di­tion of “Amaz­ing Grace,” Obama re­turned re­peat­edly to the themes of race and re­li­gion.

He praised the grace shown by the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies and hailed South Carolina’s quick ac­tion to­ward re­mov­ing the Con­fed­er­ate bat­tle f lag from its Capi­tol grounds in re­sponse to the racially mo­ti­vated killings, but said, “I don’t think God wants us to stop there.”

The killing last week of nine wor­shipers, in­clud­ing the Rev. Cle­menta Pinck­ney, pas­tor of the Emanuel AME church and a state sen­a­tor who was an early sup­porter of Obama’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial bid, re­quired that Amer­i­cans not “set­tle for sym­bolic ges­tures” and fol­low up “with the hard work of more last­ing change,” Obama said.

“For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past in­jus­tices con­tinue to shape the present,” he said. “Per­haps we see that now. Per­haps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough ques­tions about how we can per­mit so many of our chil­dren to lan­guish in poverty, or at­tend di­lap­i­dated schools, or grow up with­out prospects for a job or for a ca­reer.”

At times in his more than six years in of­fice, Obama has seemed to strug­gle with the ex­pec­ta­tions that came with be­ing the na­tion’s f irst black pres­i­dent, par­tic­u­larly in speak­ing about race. Ref­er­ences to his faith have also been spar­ing, a con­se­quence in part of the po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge that his af­fil­i­a­tion with a com­bat­ive black pas­tor posed dur­ing his f irst pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

He em­braced both themes on Fri­day. A draft of his re­marks pre­pared for the pres­i­dent’s re­view Thurs­day night was re­turned to aides the next morn­ing with sig­nif­i­cant re­vi­sions and ad­di­tions by the pres­i­dent on a yel­low le­gal pad to in­cor­po­rate his own re­flec­tions.

He called for changes to the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and polic­ing tac­tics as well as an ex­am­i­na­tion of how bias “can in­fect us even when we don’t re­al­ize it,” from the overt use of racial slurs to “the sub­tle im­pulse to call Johnny back for a job in­ter­view but not Ja­mal.”

The grace shown by the fam­i­lies of the nine vic­tims to­ward the shoot­ing sus­pect, Dy­lann Roof, was an ex­am­ple for oth­ers to em­u­late, Obama said. Grace is not earned but given to us by God, he said, cit­ing Scrip- ture and adding, “It is up to us now to make the most of it.

“None of us can or should ex­pect a trans­for­ma­tion in race re­la­tions overnight,” he said. “Ev­ery time some­thing like this hap­pens, some­body says, ‘ We have to have a con­ver­sa­tion about race.’ We talk a lot about race. There’s no short­cut. We don’t need more talk.”

Thou­sands lined the swel­ter­ing streets of his­toric down­town Charleston hop­ing to claim a seat for Obama’s eu­logy dur­ing Pinck- ney’s fu­neral at the TD Arena, just blocks from the Emanuel church.

“This is the true mean­ing of in­te­gra­tion,” said Lee Ka­plan, 70, a re­tired white psy­cho­an­a­lyst, as she stood with her hus­band look­ing at the crowd that stretched more than six city blocks.

The au­di­ence in­side in­cluded Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, for­mer Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, the Revs. Jesse Jack­son and Al Sharp­ton, and about 40 mem­bers of Congress, in­clud­ing House Speaker John A. Boehner, who for the first time joined Obama on Air Force One to travel here.

Many, wear­ing their Sun­day dress, joined in what was for much of the day a cel­e­bra­tory at­mos­phere, full of joy­ful hymns and solemn prayers, dur­ing the “home­go­ing cel­e­bra­tion” for Pinck­ney that pre­ceded Obama’s ar­rival.

To cries of “Amen,” the Rev. John Richard Bryant, the se­nior bishop of the African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, said that many won­dered why “they have not viewed more anger and bit­ter­ness and ha­tred as a re­sult of the blow we’ve taken.”

“Our se­cret is in our Lord,” he said. “Some­one should have told the young man: He wanted to start a race war. But he came to the wrong place.”

Obama like­wise praised how the com­mu­nity re­sponded to a killer hop­ing to cre­ate “di­vi­sions that trace back to our na­tion’s orig­i­nal sin.”

“Oh, but God works in mys­te­ri­ous ways,” he said.

He also praised Repub­li­can Gov. Nikki Ha­ley for her lead­er­ship in call­ing for the per­ma­nent re­moval of the Con­fed­er­ate f lag.

That f lag, Obama said, “has al­ways rep­re­sented more than just an­ces­tral pride,” and to many was a re­minder of sys­temic op­pres­sion. Its re­moval would not dis­honor Con­fed­er­ate sol­diers, he said, but “the cause for which they fought; the cause of slav­ery was wrong.”

The idea of change, even if in small in­cre­ments over time, has been a fo­cus of Obama’s in re­cent weeks. Com­ment­ing on the shoot­ing in a re­cent in­ter­view, the pres­i­dent said dis­crim­i­na­tion was “still part of our DNA that’s passed on,” and that although race re­la­tions have im­proved “sig­nif­i­cantly,” there are still con­crete steps to be taken to con­tinue that progress.

But even as the au­di­ence hung on his words, the emo­tion in the arena was pal­pa­ble when Obama re­turned to his speech’s theme of grace by singing that most fa­mil­iar church hymn. One pas­tor later thanked the “rev­erend pres­i­dent.”

Af­ter singing, Obama listed the nine vic­tims by name, fol­lowed by a pro­nounce­ment that each had “found that grace.”

“Through the ex­am­ple of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us,” he said, then of­fered a brief prayer: “May we f ind our­selves wor­thy of that pre­cious and ex­tra­or­di­nary gift.”

Win McNamee Getty I mages

MOURN­ERS SING gospel hymns dur­ing the fu­neral for the Rev. Cle­menta Pinck­ney in Charleston, S. C. Dur­ing the eu­logy, Pres­i­dent Obama led the crowd in a ren­di­tion of “Amaz­ing Grace,” and said each of the nine peo­ple killed last week had “found that grace.”

David Gold­man As­so­ci­ated Press

PRES­I­DENT OBAMA em­braces clergy mem­bers at the fu­neral, where he also called for changes to the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem and polic­ing tac­tics.

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