NAACP president: Church mass shooting is a "soulless act"

CHARLESTON, S.C. --NAACP president Cornell William Brooks is calling the mass shooting that killed at least nine people Wednesday night at a historic black church "morally incomprehensible" and a "cowardly, obscene act."

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Among the dead were six women and three men, including pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney. They were gathered for Bible study inside Emanuel AME Church when the gunman opened fire. The Department of Justice is investigating the massacre as a hate crime.

"I've led Bible studies over the years many times, and when you lead a Bible study, your job is to make people feel welcome, to encourage them to participate in the discussion. And so for you to participate in the study of scripture and then to pull out a gun and take nine innocent lives is a soulless act. Absolutely soulless," Brooks said.

Brooks, who was a minister at an AME church, said Emanuel AME was not only the crossroads of the Civil Rights movement, but also the foundation of freedom during the days of slavery.

"It was a place where insurrections, revolts, revolutions, if you will, of freedom, were launched," Brooks said.

He added that the Emanuel AME Church was a "deeply historic church" that is "emblematic of the AME demonization" because the African Methodist Episcopal church was born "not as a consequence of a theological schism, but really as a protest and a social justice movement."

"This is not only the desecration of the sanctuary, it's a desecration of the soul of the country," Brooks said.

The church will reflect its history "by resolving to go forward," Brooks said.

"We as a country, we as the NAACP, Charleston as a community, where I have family, people will come together, they will be strong, they will demonstrate resilience. This will not cause people to shrink in fear. They will show up at their churches, they will participate in Bible study," Brooks said. "And the NAACP being on the ground, we will continue to wrap our arms around people, to extend our support to engage and participate in the investigation. So we will not shrink from this adversity."