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THE SITUATION ROOM
Charleston Church Gunman Appears in Court; Shooter's Family Speaks Out; President Obama Speaks on Charleston Shooting; Possible Charges on Charleston Shooting Suspect; New Calls to Remove Confederate Flag. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 19, 2015 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:11] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Forgiveness. The Charleston church gunman makes a stoic court appearance by video, and in a stunning emotional moment of compassion, the survivor of the massacre forgives him. What compelled the judge to call the gunman's family victims, as well.
Shooter's motive. New details of the young man's conversion to hate. How he got his weapon, why a friend took it away from him only to give it back. Could this massacre have been prevented?
Domestic terror. The Justice Department says it will consider terror charges as it investigates the church massacre. Was the killing spree more than a hate crime?
In mourning. The nation grieves in the wake of the latest mass shooting. We're standing by to hear from President Obama and for a vigil in the shattered city of Charleston.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the dramatic and tearful court appearance by Charleston church gunman Dylann Roof, the 21-year- old who sources say has admitted to killing nine people in an African- American church in hopes of starting a race war. We heard Roof speak for the first time as he appeared by video, showing absolutely no emotion when a survivor of the massacre and relatives of the victims addressed him, many in tears, some offering forgiveness, one saying, "May God have mercy on you."
The Justice Department has just announced it's investigating the shooting as a possible act of domestic terrorism, as well as a hate crime.
And CNN affiliate WBTX is citing a source as saying Roof researched the church and targeted it, because it turned out to be an historic African-American church.
We're expecting President Obama to speak out about the shooting in a few moments this hour, and we're standing by for a vigil tonight in Charleston. We're covering all angles of the breaking news with our correspondents; our guests, including South Carolina Senator Marlon Kimpson.
First, let's go to CNN's Martin Savidge. He's in Charleston with more on the dramatic court hearing today. Tell our viewers, Martin, how it went.
SAVIDGE: Wolf, you know, non-hearings are pretty typical, but there was nothing typical about this particular bond hearing because of what we already know. Family members were there. The suspect was not. It is the most powerful words I have ever heard spoken at any bond hearing. Listen to the victims confront him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I forgive you and my family forgives you, but we would like for you to take this opportunity to repent. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful-est people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts, and I will never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son, but Tywanza was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. But as we said in Bible study, we enjoyed you, but may God have mercy on you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everyone's plea for your soul is proof that they -- they lived in love, and their legacies will live in love, so hate won't win.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I acknowledge that I am very angry, but one thing depends (ph) always join in, in our family with, is that she taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hate, so we have to forgive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAVIDGE: The heartbreak you could hear in almost every word there. Out of respect, the camera did not focus on the victims' families, as they spoke. One of them obviously, clearly a survivor.
But there was also some controversy. The judge before the proceeding began issued a statement, and he asked that there be consideration for the suspect's family. Listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIEF MAGISTRATE JAMES GOSNELL, CHARLESTON COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA: We have victims, nine of them, but we also have victims on the other side. There are victims on this young man's side of the family. Nobody would have ever thrown them into the whirlwind of events that they have been thrown into. We must find it in our heart at some point in time not only to help those that are victims, but to also help his family, as well. (END VIDEO CLIP)
[17:05:28] SAVIDGE: It was the feeling not that so much those comments aren't necessarily true, just many felt it was inappropriate at that particular time with so many grieving family members inside that courtroom.
We should also point out that the family members could see the suspect, but the suspect could not see them. There was no video return. He could only hear what was being said.
And lastly, there was no bond in this particular case. The judge didn't have the authority when it comes to murder, and there are nine murder charges against Dylann Roof, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, there are. Thank you very much, Martin, for that.
We're also learning new information about Dylan Roof's behavior in the weeks before the killings, including rants about race and a plan to, quote, "do something crazy."
CNN's Brian Todd is working this part of the story for us. Brian, what are you finding out?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have breaking news this evening. We just got a statement from the family of Dylann Roof. This is the family speaking out for the first time in electronic form, with a paper statement on this tragedy.
Here's what they said, quote, "Words cannot express our shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night. We are devastated and saddened by what occurred. We offer our prayers and sympathy for all those impacted about by these events. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those killed this week. We have been touched by the moving words from the victims' families, offering God's forgiveness and love in the face of such horrible suffering."
Wolf, that just in from the family of Dylann Roof.
Also tonight, Wolf, we have learned that Dylann Roof may well have been planning some kind of extreme act for some time. There may have been a dispute within his family over his purchase of a gun, and that he had violent ideas about provoking tension between the races.
TODD (voice-over): The license plate saying "Confederate States of America," patches on his jacket, the flags of Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, symbols of a life descending into a pattern of racial hatred.
But it was Dylann Roof's behavior, a friend says, which really scared him.
JOEY MEEK, FRIEND OF DYLANN ROOF: He was just saying he wanted segregation, he wanted a race war. He wanted it to be white with white, and black with black.
TODD (on camera): What did you say when he said that?
MEEK: I mean, I didn't agree with his opinion at all on that, and we just argued about it.
TODD (voice-over): Joey Meek had been friends with Dylan Roof in middle school. They'd lost touch a few years ago, but reconnected in recent months.
Meek says Roof recently talked about a six-month plan he had to, quote, "do something crazy." He says he doesn't know details of the plan. He said one night recently Roof drank a liter of vodka. That's when Roof talked about a race war, Meek says, and when Meek decided to take action.
MEEK: That same night, I took his gun, and I hid it. And the next morning, I didn't want to get in trouble and him say I stole his gun, so I put it back in his trunk.
TODD (on camera): How do you feel about that now?
MEEK: Terrible. I mean, terrible, but then again, I can't go back, because I was looking out for myself, really. Because I didn't want to get in trouble for stealing a gun.
TODD (voice-over): Meek says Dylann Roof's parents gave him money for his 21st birthday, which Roof's grandfather confirmed to CNN.
MEEK: They didn't want Dylann to have his gun.
TODD: But Meek says ultimately, Roof's parents seemed to give in.
MEEK: His parents gave him the cash for it for his birthday in April, and they both split the price of the gun in cash and gave it to Dylann to go buy the gun and put it in his name.
TODD: We don't know if Roof's parents knew he was going to use the money to buy a gun. Despite our multiple attempts to speak to Dylann Roof's family, they haven't yet spoken publicly. Roof's grandfather told us off camera this is, quote, "a horrible situation." The family's pastor relayed a message to the victims' families.
PASTOR TONY METZE, ST. PAUL'S LUTHERAN CHURCH: What they ask and what I ask is that we continue to hold all these families in our prayers and that the whole world, our nation, Charleston, our community understands we love them, God loves them.
TODD: There was other bizarre behavior from his friend recently, Meek says.
MEEK: One day he asked me if I can videotape him burning an American flag, and I said hell no, he's crazy.
TODD: Now Meek's got his own message for the victims' loved ones. MEEK: I'm sorry this all happened to everybody, and it could have
been prevented if -- if people would have taken him seriously. But Dylann wasn't a serious person, and no one took him serious. But if someone had taken him seriously, this would all have been avoided.
TODD: Joey Meek says the day before the shootings, he woke up and he saw Dylann Roof outside his home. He says Roof was sleeping inside his own car. Meek says that Roof gave him and some other friends a ride to a nearby lake and said he would be back that night or Wednesday morning. Meek says that was the last time he saw Dylann Roof -- Wolf.
[17:10:15] BLITZER: Was this friend, Joey Meek, who notified the authorities about Roof after the shootings, he actually notified the police when he heard that initial description, right?
TODD: He did, Wolf. Joey Meek says that he was watching the news coverage of this all night long, and he called the FBI the next morning, giving them detailed descriptions of what Dylann Roof was wearing, the sweatshirt; giving them a detailed description of the license plate on his car.
Joey Meek says he believes he was crucial in helping the authorities to apprehend Dylann Roof. He says he doesn't want to be called a hero for this. He just wants the families of the victims to know that he tried to help.
BLITZER: That's interesting. Police tell us, in the police department affidavit that was released today, they said the father and the uncle of the defendant contacted the Charleston Police Department and positively identified the defendant and his vehicle as those they saw in the photographs. They also contributed, presumably, to the capture of Roof.
All right, Brian, thanks very much.
Let's talk a little bit more about all of this, as we await the president of the United States. Joining us is Marlon Kimpson. He's a South Carolina state senator. He served with the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, and he knew him well.
Dylann Roof's family, as you heard, Senator, just released its first public statement. Among other things, they said this -- this is the family of Dylann Roof -- "Words cannot express our shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night. We are devastated and saddened by what occurred. We offer our prayers and sympathy for all those impacted by these events."
What's your reaction when you hear that, Senator?
MARLON KIMPSON, SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATOR: Well, I'm certainly happy that they apologized. It was the right thing to do.
BLITZER: What else do you want to hear from this family? KIMPSON: Well, I was listening to the commentary earlier, and one of
the parishioners, a family of the decedent -- by the way, they showed extreme courage not coming into that courtroom filled with hate, but calling for repentance. And it is only my hope, being a person of faith, that he will truly repent for his sins.
I can't speak for the criminal, but I can tell you in the state of South Carolina, he will be brought to justice. And we will vigorously prosecute the case to the fullest extent, including any and all punishment.
BLITZER: It was pretty amazing to hear some of those family members, the people who survived, in effect, actually saying, at least one or two of them, that they forgive Roof. That's pretty compelling, isn't it?
KIMPSON: It's very compelling, and it's telling. It's very telling. You know, these family members, their relatives who were massacred, they were here for prayer. They welcomed this criminal into their -- into the sanctuary.
The doors of the church are always open at Mother Emanuel, and that is what most of the parishioners want. We will continue to open the doors of the church and for those seeking to give them their lives to Christ, that's the whole purpose of the church.
This community is a very resilient community. After our mourning, we will come away with a proactive agenda. That's what I'm looking forward to do, rolling up my sleeves, and doing the work that is in the best interests of South Carolinians.
BLITZER: Our CNN affiliate, WBTV, is reporting a source as saying that Roof actually wanted to target that particular church, Emanuel AME, because it was a historic African-American church. When you hear that, how angry does that make you?
KIMPSON: Well, it makes me very angry, obviously. But the question is, where do we go from here?
And when I talk about prosecuting this criminal vigorously, I'm really speaking about to the extent we don't have laws on the books such as hate crime legislation. We want to enact those types of reforms. We also want to reform our gun laws. They need to be more consistent. There are too many guns that can get in the wrong hands, and so we have a lot of work to do.
The other thing is there's been a great debate in the last few days about removing divisive symbols. Be need to take symbols of the past down in South Carolina, and put those symbols in places like a museum, where history is appropriately recorded.
[17:15:16] BLITZER: Friends of Dylann Roof say he wanted to spark a race war. When you hear that, you say, you know, this -- it's beyond words, if you will, but what goes through your mind?
KIMPSON: Well, he's not. The people of South Carolina are better than that. This is a small -- he will be a small footnote in our pages, if even that.
We have -- the community has galvanized, just like we did most recently with the Walter Scott shooting. We're going for galvanize for a positive agenda. So he loses. He loses. The state of South Carolina will win, because we will move forward, ever resolved to ridding this state of hate and ridding this state of division.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Senator, because we have more to discuss. We're also awaiting the president of the United States. He's getting ready to address the nation's mayors out in San Francisco. He's had another day to reflect on what has occurred in Charleston, South Carolina.
Much more with Senator Kimpson and the president, when we come back.
[17:21:02] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. An emotional court hearing for the Charleston church gunman, Dylann Roof, who appeared by video. Relatives of most of the nine victims were allowed to address Roof directly. Through tears, some of them offered actual forgiveness to the 21-year-old, who showed absolutely no reaction.
CNN affiliate WBTV is now citing a source as saying Roof researched the church and he targeted it, because it turned out to be an historic African-American church.
We're back with the South Carolina state senator Marlon Kimpson. He served with the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of the victims of this massacre.
What did you think, Senator, about the statement that the judge, Judge Gosnell, made at the hearing today, when he also suggested that Roof's own family were victims, as well?
KIMPSON: Well, I think it was a poor, poor choice of words. Had I been the magistrate, I would not have made those unnecessary comments. It was largely dicta. He is there to interpret and impose a sentence, not editorialize his judicial sentence.
And so I haven't heard all of the words. I just heard a bit of the clip. We know this is a troubling time for everyone. But his job is to focus on dictating a sentence and announcing the sentence based on the facts of the crime. So it's an unfortunate poor choice of words that I would have not stated, had I been the magistrate judge.
BLITZER: We actually heard Dylann Roof, the killer, speak for the first time today. What was your impression of his demeanor in court?
KIMPSON: Well, I didn't see -- as you know, I'm plugged up here. I haven't seen his facial reaction, but I understand he was pretty unfazed by the whole episode.
BLITZER: He was -- he didn't show any emotion. He was totally stoic, and just was looking without reacting in any way. You also know, though -- you want to say something, Senator? KIMPSON: Well, it's -- it epitomizes his attitude towards this
senseless reckless massacre that he committed. This is a guy that has no heart, but we are going to prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law, and we're going to come away from this horrific tragedy focused on an agenda.
BLITZER: You favor the death penalty?
BLITZER: The NAACP president, the national NAACP president, Cornell William Brooks, he condemned the shooting as an act, in his words, of racial terrorism. Do you agree with him?
KIMPSON: Well, as the facts unravel, I have to agree. You know, the definition of terrorism is one who uses violent means to achieve a political objective. I think that's what this criminal did.
I can't imagine any set of facts, the facts that we've heard so far, that he wouldn't meet all the elements of a crime, including a hate crime.
And so to the extent South Carolina doesn't have hate crime legislation, we need to have that. To the extent we don't have an appropriate definition of terrorism, we need to do that.
We also, again, need to look at our gun laws, and we really need to have a real discussion about the symbols in South Carolina that divide us. You know, this is 2015. 2015. And we've got to put artifacts in a museum, particularly artifacts that divide and polarize this nation. We need symbols that are of unity.
And I can tell you this. Many of my colleagues agree that we intend to do something about it. If nothing else comes out of this, we will come away focused on a legislative agenda, so that we can move this state forward.
BLITZER: All right, Senator, thanks very much for joining us. Senator Kimpson of South Carolina.
By the way, we're standing by to hear from the president momentarily. We'll hear what he's saying, now that he's had another day to reflect on what has happened in Charleston.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, here in Washington is now weighing terror charges against the Charleston church gunman as well as hate crime charges. We're just -- we're getting new information about the investigation. Stand by.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today is June 19...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [17:30:22] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The breaking news we're following, the Justice Department here in Washington has just announced it will consider terror charges against Dylann Roof, he's the 21-year-old South Carolina man who sources say has now admitted gunning down nine people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.
Roof, as you see there, he appeared in court by video just a little while ago. We're watching what's going on. They're watching the president of the United States right now. He's out in San Francisco speaking before the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He's thanking a lot of the mayors right now, but shortly he's also going to be speaking about what happened in Charleston, South Carolina.
In fact, you know what, let's go to the president of the United States right now. He's addressing all the mayors. He's going to be speaking about Charleston, South Carolina.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The San Francisco Giants championship visit. I know how excited the Bay Area is over the Golden State Warriors' championship. I want to thank two outstanding public servants, Governor Jerry Brown and Leader Nancy Pelosi, who are here with us today. And I want to thank this year's leaders of the Conference of Mayors, Kevin Johnson, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlins Blake, and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.
I also want to mention a few outstanding mayors who are getting ready to step down. Michael Nutter of Philadelphia has done outstanding work. Greg Ballard of Indianapolis, an outstanding mayor, doing great work with My Brother's Keeper. Thank you. Annise Parker of Houston. And my dear old friend Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio. And finally a great mayor, one of my favorite people, and I know one of the people all of you admire so much, a great mayor, Joe Riley of Charleston.
Joe's back home doing one of a mayor's sadder, more important duties today. Honestly the entire country has been shocked and heartbroken by what happened in Charleston. The nature of this attack in a place of worship, where congregants invite in a stranger to worship with them only to be gunned down, adds to the pain.
The apparent motivations of the shooter remind us that racism remains a blight that we have to combat together. We have made progress, but we have to be vigilant because it still lingers. And when it's poisoning the minds of young people, it betrays our ideals and tears our democracy apart.
But as much as we grieve this particular tragedy, I think it's important, as I mentioned at the White House, to step back and recognize these tragedies have become far too commonplace. Few people understand the terrible toll of gun violence like mayors do. And whether it's a mass shooting like the one in Charleston or individual attacks of violence that add up over time, it tears at the fabric of a community. It costs you money and it costs resources. It costs this country dearly.
More than 11,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013 alone. 11,000. If Congress had passed some commonsense gun safety reforms after Newtown, after a group of children had been gunned down in their own classroom, reforms that 90 percent of the American people supported, we wouldn't have prevented every act of violence or even most. We don't know if it would have prevented what happened in Charleston.
[17:35:19] No reform can guarantee the elimination of violence, but we might still have some more Americans with us. We might have stopped one shooter -- some families might still be whole. You all might have to attend fewer funerals.
And we should be strong enough to acknowledge this. At the very least we should be able to talk about this issue as citizens. Without demonizing all gun owners who are overwhelmingly law abiding, but also without suggesting that any debate about this involves a wild-eyed plot to take everybody's guns away.
I know in today's politics, it makes it less likely that we see any sort of serious gun safety legislation. I remarked that it was very unlikely that this Congress would act. And some reporters I think took this as resignation. I want to be clear, I'm not resigned. I have faith we will eventually do the right thing.
I was simply making the point that we have to move public opinion. We have to feel a sense of urgency. Ultimately Congress will follow the people. And we have to stop being confused about this. At some point as a country, we have to reckon with what happens. It is not good enough simply to show sympathy.
You don't see murder on this kind of scale with this kind of frequency in any other advanced nation on earth. Every country has violent, hateful or mentally unstable people. What's different is not every country is awash with easily accessible guns. And so I refuse to act as if this is the new normal or to pretend that it's simply sufficient to grieve and that any mention of us doing something to stop it is somehow politicizing the problem.
We need a change in attitudes. Among everybody -- lawful gun owners, those who are unfamiliar with guns. We have to have a conversation about it and fix this. And ultimately Congress acts when the public insists on action. And we've seen how public opinion can change. We've seen it on gay marriage. We've seen it beginning to change on climate change. We have to shift how we think about this issue. And we have the capacity to change, but we have to feel a sense of urgency about it.
We as a people have got to change. That's how we honor those families. That's how we honor the families in Newtown. That's how we honor the families in Aurora. Now, the first time I spoke in this conference in 2008, I said that America would be succeeding despite Washington, they should be succeeding with some help from Washington. As president, I've made it a priority to partner with mayors like you.
BLITZER: So the president making his statement on Charleston once again making a very strong, very strong statement in favor of more gun control here in the United States. Similar to what he said yesterday, although I think it was a bit more robust today in front of all of these mayors.
We're going to continue to monitor what he's saying. He's moving to other subjects right now but I want to get some quick reaction to what we just heard from the president of the United States. Sunny Hostin, our CNN legal analyst, is with us, she's in Charleston.
What did you think, Sunny?
[17:40:12] SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think we've been hearing this president talk over and over again about gun control, gun reform, and I think what he said really rings true, that no one better, no public official other than our mayors, of our major cities understand the import of gun violence. As you know, Mayor Rawlins Blake of Baltimore is a good friend of mine. And we often talk about guns and gun control and gun violence.
She is actually now the president of the Conference of Mayors. And I understand that the mayors are going to be discussing that very issue this weekend. And so I think his remarks were just right on target given what we are seeing in our country, and especially given what we've seen these past few days in Charleston.
BLITZER: Matthew Horace is with us as well, the former ATF special agent in charge. He appointed out, Matthew, that 11,000 Americans were killed by gun violence in 2013. And once again he said you don't see this kind of gun violence, in his words, in any other advanced nation on earth. You see it here in the United States, he says, because of prevalence of a lot of guns. Your reaction to that?
MATTHEW HORACE, FORMER ATF SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: Well, you know, coming back, drawing on my experience at the ATF, you know, we used as our motto, we enforce the laws that Congress enact. And it's very frustrating oftentimes because everyone that has a gun that shouldn't is not prohibited. And as Sunny would tell you, we can only investigate people for criminal misuse and possession of firearms.
So clearly there are a lot of people in this country that have firearms that shouldn't, but they're not prohibited from.
BLITZER: Tom Fuentes, you're our FBI assistant director, you're a law enforcement analyst right now. If there had been tighter gun control, I think the president himself even acknowledges there's no guarantee this young guy couldn't have walked into that church and killed those people.
TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: No, it wouldn't have changed a thing, Wolf, in this case because they didn't even talk about handguns. You know, we're talking about trying to ban assault rifles after the Sandy Hook elementary slaughter, and nothing changed then. We're trying to talk about taking away armor-piercing shells from the citizens, the only country in the world that allows that, and then we hear about hunters need that because I guess wear body armor out in the -- out in the field.
We talk about the militarization of our police but we have the most militarized public on earth. So the amount of guns, 300 million guns for a population of 330, yes, it's absurd, and it wouldn't change with handgun in this case.
BLITZER: I want to bring in our justice reporter Evan Perez.
Evan, what are you learning about this new phase, apparently new phase in the Justice Department's investigation looking into whether or not this was actually, not only murder, not only a hate crime, but also an act of terror.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the fascinating things about this case is the fact that if this man had entered this church wearing some symbol from ISIS or al Qaeda, there'd be no doubt that this is terrorism, and so a lot of people have been asking the Justice Department why not this? And so we got a statement from the Justice Department that says that essentially that the heartbreaking episode was undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community, and the department is looking at this crime from all angles, including hate crime and as a domestic terrorism act.
And I want to add just one quick thing about the -- about the gun. In this case the FBI, the ATF, I've been looking into the purchase of this gun. It was a legal purchase, according to everything that they've seen. He had $400 that he got from his father, and he went and bought this gun with additional money that he had on the side.
The seller of the gun, which is a gun store there in South Carolina, is cooperating with the investigation. They're providing all the information from all appearances he had every right to own it.
BLITZER: He was charged with a felony but not convicted yet. It was still in adjudication. As a result, he was -- it was legal for him to purchase that gun.
PEREZ: Exactly. And the federal background check procedures rely on the states to provide information. And if he hadn't been reported yet as somebody who was abusing drugs or somebody who was indicted in a felony or been found guilty of a felony, really there's nothing you can do about it.
BLITZER: All right. I'm going to have everybody stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. We're following the breaking news. Coming up, there's renewed debate also about the confederate flag as it flies near South Carolina's capitol. There are now passionate calls to take it down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: That symbol has to come down. That symbol must be removed from our state capitol.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're following the breaking news in Charleston, South Carolina, a city reeling after the violent shooting investigated now as a hate crime. The terror attack on Emanuel AME church is renewing a debate over South Carolina's flying of the confederate flag near the state capitol. Today the head of the NAACP made a very passionate plea for that flag to come down.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROOKS: Some will assert that the confederate flag is merely a symbol of years gone by. A symbol of heritage and not hate. But where we see that symbol lifted up as an emblem of hate, as a tool of hate, as an inspiration for hate, as an inspiration for violence, that symbol has to come down. That symbol must be removed from our state capitol.
[17:50:09] And where we have some of our leading policymakers, in Washington, in Columbia, and in Charleston, very much aware of the heritage of the confederate flag. But coming to the moment in the midst of reasoned debate, in the midst of emotional tragedy, in the midst of an anguishing moment in our country. And we're all coming together and we're saying, yes, there may be multiple sides to this debate. But clearly we all have to be on the side of those who lost their lives in a church.
The flag has to come down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Let's discuss what we just heard from Cornell William Brooks, the president and CEO of the NAACP.
Joining us Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at "Slate" and Joey Jackson is a criminal defense attorney. He's the HLN legal analyst.
Joey, what'd you think?
JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what I think is that whenever you have a symbol and that symbol is representative, yes, of a heritage, but it's representative of something far more than that, something that was a past that is not a very proud heritage. Something that we really can't, you know, at this day and age support in any fathom whatsoever, I think it is time that it comes down.
Wolf, who amongst us hasn't been at a baseball game, and when you -- you know, you do the seventh inning stretch or prior to that, you know, at the beginning, you know, there's the anthem. And we take such pride when we look at the American flag for all it represents. For all it has endured. The land of the free, the home of the brave. It's a symbol upon which we're so proud.
At the same time, when you look at a symbol like this flag and you look at the history and what it represents, it's about time that we turn the page on that part of our history and really started talking about and representing the true history of this country, which is reflective in the other flag that we have, the American flag that we have. That's what we really need to be patriating.
BLITZER: All right. Let me bring Jamelle into this conversation. You tweeted earlier, Jamelle, the definition of terrorism in America is white supremacist attacks on blacks, the only way to understand this shooting. Tell us what you meant by that.
JAMELLE BOUIE, STAFF WRITER, SLATE: So if you look immediately after the civil war, reconstruction, based in the beginning in 1866 up to 1877, you see the emergence of groups like the Ku Klux Klan, of a whole host of neo confederate or a confederate nostalgic groups aiming to restore the status quo through violence against African-Americans. And this continues throughout the 19th century. And through kind of the early 20th century as well.
And the unifying fact of all these groups, which by any definition were terrorist groups, is that they saw black autonomy as a threat and used violence as an attempt to limit it. And I think when you are looking at the history of American terrorism, in large part that is a -- that is that history of extremist violence against African- Americans. And so what's so tragic about this incident in Charleston is it lies in this long and sort of ignoble tradition of that kind of violence.
BLITZER: You have no doubt this was an act of terror?
BOUIE: I have no doubt whatsoever. Not only -- I'll put it this way. Columbia, South Carolina, has a whole lot of black people. This kid lived in Columbia. If he just wanted to kill black people, he could easily have found somewhere in Columbia to do it. If he just wanted to kill black people in Charleston, the area is rife with African- American churches. He went to a particular church with historic significance in a city with historic significance, to kill a leader of the community there. And so to me that is clearly a politically motivated attack.
BLITZER: Legally speaking, Joey, what's the difference? He's already going to be charged with murdering nine people. That potentially has the death sentence. But he's also charged with a hate crime or an act of terror. Legally speaking, what's the practical impact of that?
JACKSON: Well, from a legal practical perspective, Wolf, there's not a difference. Why? Because the killing of nine people makes you eligible for the death penalty and you get the worst of it, which is the taking of your life. And so the reality is that in the event that he is convicted, in the event that it is tried as a death penalty case and the jury so finds, that's it, he's done.
And so, you know, and the other part to this is that the federal government looking at it as a hate crime, Wolf, we should point out, when you charge someone with a hate crime, you have to prove the motivation for which they acted. What he's charged and he's tried for a murder and multiple murders, you do not have to demonstrate a motive at all, simply that he deliberately did it.
So whether you call it a hate crime, whether you call it murder, whether you call it terrorism, I think everyone could agree that it's an act that should not have occurred, that he should certainly be held accountable for. But we know that the jury will hear that the basis of which he did it for, why he went to that church, why he purchased the gun, why he was threatening and intimidating and striking fear in people because of his hatred in his heart.
[17:55:12] So no matter how it's prosecuted it's about accountability. And certainly I think that's what people are looking forward to find.
BLITZER: You make a good point, Joey. Thanks very much, Joey Jackson, Jamelle Bouie. Guy, thank you very much.
Coming up, much more on the breaking news, that emotional court hearing as victims' relatives speak directly, powerfully, to the Charleston church gunman and some of them actually offer forgiveness. Stay with us.