Who Was Clementa Pinckney? The Pastor & South Carolina State Senator Was Beloved By His Community
Described as a "hate crime" by officials, the horrific shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina, church Wednesday has left at least nine people dead. The gunman is still at large as of early Thursday morning, and officials have yet to disclose the identities of the victims. But multiple reports from news outlets and local community leaders have come out to confirm that one of the fatalities was the pastor of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. So who was Clementa Pinckney? Update: Police confirmed Thursday that six women and three men were killed in the shooting. Three people also survived.
Pinckney, 41, was not only pastor of the historic black church, affectionately called "Mother Emanuel," but also a South Carolina state senator, representing Senate District 45. At the age of 27, he was the youngest black man to ever be elected to the South Carolina state senate in 2000. Before that, he won election to the state's House of Representatives when he was 23. His committee assignments included senate finance, banking and insurance, transportation, medical affairs, and corrections and penology. His church profile online quotes a Washington Post columnist describing Pinckney as a "political spirit lifter for surprisingly not becoming cynical about politics."
As a college student, he was named one of the "Top College Students in America" by Ebony magazine, according to his pastor's bio. He received his B.A. in business administration at Allen University and went on to receive multiple graduate degrees, including a master's in divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.
The last time Charleston made national headlines was in April, when cell phone video surfaced of a white police officer fatally shooting black man Walter Scott in the back. The former officer, Michael Slager, now faces murder charges. Pinckney helped lead the prayer for Scott's vigil, where he campaigned for police body cameras to help keep authorities accountable and called for an end to gun violence.
Body cameras help to record what happens. It may not be the golden ticket, the golden egg, the end-all-fix-all, but it helps to paint a picture of what happens during a police stop.
Scott's death motivated Pinckney and other black caucus members to push for a body camera bill in South Carolina. Reverend Al Sharpton, who is set to attend a prayer vigil in Charleston Thursday, tweeted his memory of Pinckney.
In response to the tragic shooting, U.S. Senator Tim Scott released this statement:
We stand together in prayer for Pastor Pinckney and his congregation at Emanuel AME, and for the families who are enduring unimaginable pain at the loss of their loved ones. We will come together as a city and as a state to lift up those who need us most right now.
In a talk from 2013, Pinckney shared the history of Emanuel AME, one of the oldest and most prominent churches in the country.
What our church and denomination stands for is really the universal vision of all people being treated fairly under the law as God sees us in his sight.
Pinckney is survived by his wife Jennifer Benjamin and two children, Eliana and Malana.
Image: Emmanuel AME