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Charleston Pulls Together After Tragic Church Shooting


Let's hear a voice from Charleston, S.C. That's the city where a man shot and killed nine people this week. The suspect is a 21-year-old white man who presents himself as a white supremacist. The shooting came inside the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It's one of the oldest and most historic black churches in the country. We've reached Pastor Thomas Dixon; he's co-founder of The Coalition - People United To Take Back Our Community and president of the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment. Welcome to the program, sir.

PASTOR THOMAS DIXON: Yes, good morning.

INSKEEP: I understand it's been difficult to sleep there in Charleston.

DIXON: Yes, yes. It's been a busy couple of days, very busy.

INSKEEP: The possibilities for this being a profoundly divisive incident are pretty obvious. Has this crime been divisive in any way?

DIXON: I think that the original intent was in the outcome and the aftermath to create chaos. We saw this type of thing happen in the '60s with Charles Manson and his followers; the expected outcome was some type of a race war. I think that this gentleman has missed the mark on that. He picked the wrong group of people in order to have that happen because since this has happened, there's been an overwhelming outcry and a voice to the people saying that this needs for us to result in us coming together and galvanizing and not to be further divided.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you brought up history because there's some very recent and some more distant history that I wanted to ask you about. The recent history is that an unarmed black person was shot by a police officer in the back while running away in North Charleston. Was it already a tense situation in Charleston because of that?

DIXON: Yes, in some aspects. But I don't believe that the level of racial tension in Charleston was very high. We proactively dealt with that situation. And because of that, I don't think that this situation added too much fuel to the fire that might've led to a real spark.

INSKEEP: And let me ask about the deeper history. We're talking here about a shooting inside a church that has been linked with the civil rights movement and before that was linked with Denmark Vesey, who was accused of attempting a slave uprising in Charleston in 1822. How connected, if at all, does this event feel to the past of Charleston, S.C.?

DIXON: In the selection of this location, I can't say specifically whether this was intentionally targeted, and I have read very little of the information that's come out. I've been in the streets. But I believe the research in order to know the struggle of the African-American community for freedom and equal rights that came out of that church. And I believe that really that he said OK, this is the right location. Let me go there.

INSKEEP: Pastor Dixon, did you know any of the nine people who were killed?

DIXON: I knew State Senator Clementa Pinckney - Pastor Pinckney.

INSKEEP: What was he like in life?

DIXON: Well, Clementa Pinckney was a good man. As a pastor, he exemplified leading his flock, interacting with his flock, teaching his flock. He was a true man of God. And it was obvious the way that he interacted with others within his congregation and within our local community - a stellar individual. I've talked with people recently who knew Clementa of Pinckney from grade school and they said that he has always been like this, just a great person since day one.

INSKEEP: Pastor Thomas Dixon, of Charleston, S.C. thanks very much.

DIXON: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.