Cory Booker speaks on white supremacy, race and guns in South Carolina

Booker spoke at Mother Emanuel AME Church following deadly mass shootings.

August 7, 2019, 1:50 PM

2020 presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker stood at the center of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Wednesday morning and delivered a powerful speech focused on the rise of white supremacy in America, following this weekend's deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that left 31 people dead.

"I know I cannot separate the office I seek from who I am -- but I am not here today to ask for your vote," Booker said. "I am here today to ask if we have the collective resolve to change the reality we live in. I am here today to ask if we have it in us to tell ourselves the honest story."

It's been just over four years since nine worshipers were gunned down inside the historic church during an evening prayer service. The killer, a white man, was sentenced to death in 2017.

The New Jersey senator has been extremely vocal on racism following the weekend shootings. On Monday, he tweeted that President Donald Trump is "weak" and "wrong" adding that, "White supremacy is not a mental illness, and guns are a tool that white supremacists use to fulfill their hate."

Wednesday morning, without mentioning Trump by name, Booker once again placed blame on the president's actions, saying, "White supremacy allows political leaders to promise to 'build the wall' -- while not building hospitals, schools or infrastructure critical for the success of all Americans."

"The act of anti-Latino, anti-immigrant hatred we witnessed this past weekend did not start with the hand that pulled the trigger. It did not begin when a single white supremacist got into his car to travel 10 hours to kill as many human beings as he could," he said.

"It was planted in fertile soil because the contradictions that have shadowed this country since its founding remain a part of our body politic," Booker continued. He added, "It was sewed from the highest office in our land, where we see in tweets and rhetoric, hateful words that ultimately endanger the lives of people in our country."

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker speaks about gun violence and white supremacy in the sanctuary of Mother Emanuel AME on Aug. 7, 2019, in Charleston, S.C.
Meg Kinnard/AP

He said for those who aim to lead a community of any type, you must love everyone in it as well because "patriotism is a love of country."

"You can't love your country unless you love your fellow country man and woman. All of them," he said, adding that the country is at a crossroads that can't let conversations revolve around discussions of who is and who is not a racist.

"If the answer to the question, 'Do racism and white supremacy exists' is yes, then the real question isn't who is or isn't a racist, but who is or isn't doing something about it," he said.

The senator has advocated for a ban on assault weapons throughout his presidential campaign and renewed that stance Wednesday morning.

He also said he supports congressman Jim Clyburn's legislation that closes the federal background check loophole "that enables one man to take nine souls from this very congregation."

"We know that these are not problems that will just go away," Booker said. "Inevitably, this is a hard and painful and difficult work. It will take sacrifice and struggle."

Booker said tolerating injustices is "no great aspiration," and expressed an urgency for people to combat it.

"We must acknowledge as a country that as much as white supremacy manifest -- manifests itself in dangerous and deadly acts of terror, it is perpetrated by what is too often a willful ignorance, or dangerous tolerance of its presence in our society," he said.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker speaks about gun violence and white supremacy in the sanctuary of Mother Emanuel AME on Aug. 7, 2019, in Charleston, S.C.
Meg Kinnard/AP

Trump is visiting both El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Wednesday to offer his condolences to victims, meet with leaders and community members still grappling with the aftermath of horrific mass shootings and talk about his apparent plans to combat the scourge of gun violence in the United States.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Booker said he hopes the president shows up ready to "take responsibility for his past actions and statements."

"The things he said that have added to climates of hate and fear, and let's be clear, he was responsible for driving so much of this hatred in our country," Booker said. "He's given the people license to not only hate, but to foment that hateful violence. And this is a time that the President of the United States should take responsibility and he has not done that. That's unacceptable."

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