U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, Jr. (D-10) says “it’s unfortunate that we only respond once there’s a major disaster,” explaining that no one denounced the Confederate flag until after a South Carolina church shooting that left nine dead.
“It’s unfortunate that we only respond once there’s a major disaster, you know, the Confederate flag didn’t come down until those poor people were massacred in a church, and then this country found the will to say it was wrong,” Payne said towards the tail end of a tank car safety meeting in Jersey City on Monday.
“I don’t know if they would’ve even said it was wrong unless they had seen … these really true, Christian people come to that young man’s hearing and say I forgive you not two days after their loved ones were massacred.”
Dylann Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina, was arrested for the killings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by authorities in North Carolina on June 18, waiving extradition at his first court appearance (h/t CNN).
South Carolina prosecutors revealed earlier this month that they will be seeking the death penalty for Roof (via Reuters), who had previously voiced a disdain for African Americans on multiple occasions.
“And I think that’s what got to this country’s heart, and even people that defended that flag for so long, you know, when those people showed up and said I forgive you … there was only one way that could go,” Payne added.
“They showed true Christian heart. Those people were true Christians, because I don’t know if I could have had the faith in me, at that time – two days later – to say what they said. I cried when I heard them come in there and say that. I cried.”
Payne and U.S. Rep. Albio Sires (D-8) both voiced their thoughts on the tragic shooting the day it happened, with Payne calling it a “horrific and senseless act.”