Two women who survived last year’s shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston spoke at the Democratic convention Wednesday night.
Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard both spoke of using love and forgiveness to overcome the racial hate of the shooter. Both women were thee only adult survivors inside the historically-black Mother Emanuel church sanctuary when a self-proclaimed white supremacist gunman killed nine others at a Bible study in June 2015. Sanders’ granddaughter also survived the attack, but her son Tywanza Sanders and her aunt Susie Jackson did not.
“Tywanza, my hero,” Sanders told the national audience Wednesday. “Two days later, I forgave the shooter who murdered him. Hate destroys those who harbor it. I refuse to let hate destroy me.”
Sheppard said the accused gunman Dylann Roof had “hate in his heart,” as did as the ISIS-inspired shooter who killed 49 others in Orlando Pulse nightclub attack and the gunman who murdered five police officers in Dallas this month.
“As Scripture says, love never fails,” Sheppard said. “So I choose love. And in this election, I choose Hillary Clinton.”
The two spoke in a segment of the convention that focused on gun violence. However, the pair chose to focus on overcoming hate through love and forgiveness more than calling for changes to gun laws. Sanders, did briefly say she supported Clinton because the former Secretary of State had called for eliminating what’s become known as the “Charleston loophole.”
The “loophole” is a section of federal law that requires gun sellers to complete their sale if a federal background check is not completed in three days. That requirement has come increased scrutiny from Democrats since the church shooting after FBI Director James Comey revealed last year that a paperwork error had prevented the agency from catching a drug charge that should have blocked the sale.
The agency was still trying to catch the error when the three-day hold expired. However, Republicans have questioned whether a longer waiting period would have actually caught the error.
Clinton happened to be in Charleston the night of the attack after making a campaign stop in North Charleston earlier that day. Sheppard said Clinton’s lengthy statement after the shooting that called for more candor on race relations and increased gun control restrictions resonated with her.
“Together, we can fight for that change,” Sheppard said. “Together, we can heal. Together, we can love.”