Days after several Republican presidential candidates downplayed or sidestepped the issue of race in the shooting deaths of nine people inside an historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., Sen. Lindsey Graham acknowledged that race was the primary factor in the killings.
"There can be no doubt that the shooting on Wednesday night was racially motivated and signals to all of us that the scars of our history are still with us today," Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement Saturday. "Throughout our country, we still have much to do in the name of equality. I want to talk about those issues on the campaign trail."
He added: "I’m from South Carolina. My state, like our nation, has a difficult history of race relations. We have tried to address it through compromise and working together. There is no doubt we have made great progress, but Charleston reminds us there is still much to do."
Graham’s remarks about the massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church came after several Republican White House hopefuls struggled to deal with race and the shootings during appearances Thursday and Friday at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s conference in Washington.
The nine shooting victims were African-American. The alleged gunman, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, reportedly went on racist rants. Saturday, state and federal law enforcement officials were examining a recently-discovered hate-filled website to determine whether it belonged to Roof.
Republican presidential hopefuls at the Washington conference expressed their outrage and condolences over the shootings but largely steered clear of what role race may have played in the attack.
For example, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., didn’t mention the shootings during his speech. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told conference attendees that he didn’t know what was in the mind or heart "of the man who committed those atrocious crimes."
"I do know what was in the heart of the victims," he added. "They were meeting in brotherhood and sisterhood in that church."
However, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, the only African-American presidential candidate, spoke bluntly about the racial element in the shootings, telling the crowd that "If we don't pay close attention to the hatred and division going on in our nation, this is a harbinger of what we can expect."