June 21st, 2015
11:08 AM ET

Charleston Mayor on State of the Union: "...the tragedy of this is unspeakable"

Today on CNN’s State of the Union, Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, Joseph Riley, Jr., joined chief Washington correspondent and anchor, Jake Tapper.

Text highlights and a transcript of the discussion are below.

MANDATORY CREDIT: CNN’s “State of the Union”

TEXT HIGHLIGHTS

Riley on the community’s reaction to the Charleston shooting: “…my heart is broken, as all the people in our community, white and black. I mean, people's eyes well up when we see each other. They're hugging, the white and black people holding hands and singing and praying. …I was thinking this morning the closest thing, I think, was the feeling people had when President Kennedy was assassinated. …people are telling me they just can't stop crying in the community, white people, black people. It's - the heartache is indescribable.”

Riley on the status the victims’ families: “They're very strong. …yesterday, when I spoke to them, we had all the time together with the support systems, which is terrific. And we told them that every - that all of them have one person or contact, and we're going to take care of them from here on out, as long as needed, everything. …I think the - telling them and reminding them of the love that the people in this community have for them is so nourishing, because they're isolated in their homes, if you will, and worn out. So they're being buoyed by this outpouring of love and generosity. You know, we have somebody walk in here just a minute ago, gave me a check for $10,000 [from a private citizen] for the fund. Yesterday, I got a check for $100,000 [from the Carolina Panthers] for the fund.”

Riley on being a long-time advocate for the African American community: “…I had to exert leadership that would be tough, because things had to change. And they have changed. And people's attitudes have changed. And the community has grown together in the most beautiful and remarkable way. …that's part of leadership. See, what you do is, you understand the truth, where people's hearts would really like to go when they get there, and - and then you take unpopular positions, shooting for that goal, which is the truth and achievement. So, that's what it was. And it was a bumpy time back then, but I knew we were headed in the right direction. And we got there.”

Riley on his project to build the International African-American museum in Charleston: “…my main project that will be the most important thing I do is to create the International African- American Museum here. And we're working on it, raising money. It's in design. We got more money to raise. But 40 percent of all enslaved Africans that came to North America came here. …We don't understand that history. …the more we understand the history of Africans being brought here in chains, and then their contributions to America, we still have some work to do. …we have to use this moment, whatever it tells us, whatever we - from this heartbreak, we have got to use this heartbreak in the most positive way, how we can be better, how we can do more, and certainly how we can care for these families.”

Riley on wanting the Confederate Flag removed from the Capitol of the State and being an advocate for gun restriction: “…that [Confederate Flag] needs to go to a museum. It sends, at best, mixed messages, and, at worst, for people, hateful people like Roof, it's an affirmation, because they have appropriated something and used it as a symbol of hatred. …the country is just having a very difficult time dealing with the proliferation of guns. And we have to use this most recent tragedy to keep us working on that… …what we have now is nine beautiful people, all of them beautiful, wonderful people, prayerful people, studying the Bible, who were killed. If we, in America, can't use this as a reason to address these issues, then, you know, we're not doing a very good job.”

VIDEO HIGHLIGHT

Charleston Mayor talks "heartbreak" in his city

FULL TRANSCRIPT

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This city has been bowed, but not broken. Many are crediting in part the leadership of Mayor Joseph Riley. He's been mayor here in Charleston for 40 years. I spoke with him just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: Mr. Mayor thank you so much for joining us.

JOSEPH RILEY, JR., MAYOR OF CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: You're welcome.

TAPPER: Today, a very powerful day, a very emotional day. You have been mayor here since 1975. What are you feeling? What are you going through right now?

RILEY: Well, my heart is broken, as all the people in our community, white and black.

I mean, people's eyes well up when we see each other. They're hugging, the white and black people holding hands and singing and praying. I mean, this is - the tragedy of this is unspeakable. And it's just heartbreaking.

These beautiful people right over there at Bible study, and an evil man with this bigoted mind taking their lives, it's - nothing has happened in this community in my life like this. I was thinking this morning the closest thing, I think, was the feeling people had when President Kennedy was assassinated.

TAPPER: Really?

RILEY: Everyone - everyone's heart was broken. And that's - people - people are telling me they just can't stop crying in the community, white people, black people. It's - the heartache is indescribable.

TAPPER: I know you have met with the victims' families. I can't imagine what they're going through. How are they?

RILEY: They're very strong.

And, of course, we know, when you go through loss, you have a reserve kind of built up. But, you know, yesterday, when I spoke to them, we had all the time together with the support systems, which is terrific. And we told them that every - that all of them have one person or contact, and we're going to take care of them from here on out, as long as needed, everything.

So we have got a great system set up, but I think the - telling them and reminding them of the love that the people in this community have for them is so nourishing, because they're isolated in their homes, if you will, and worn out.

So they're being buoyed by this outpouring of love and generosity. You know, we have somebody walk in here just a minute ago, gave me a check for $10,000 for the fund. Yesterday, I got a check for $100,000 for the fund. And...

TAPPER: From the Carolina Panthers.

RILEY: The Panthers. Today, from a private citizen, $10,000.

And so that, I think, is so helpful for them, in their grieving, to understand that they are the opposite of being alone, that this community, and I think this country - I mean, I have heard from mayors and governors from one coast to the other, from Alaska to Florida, and just with an outpouring of heartfelt sympathy.

So, I the - that's of great help to the families.

TAPPER: You have been an advocate for the African-American community for a long time. Some people used to call you behind your back Little Black Joe, Lyndon Johnson.

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: They did, LBJ.

TAPPER: They didn't mean it as a compliment, but you took it as one.

(LAUGHTER)

RILEY: Well, I took it - I took it as a compliment.

You know, that was a long time ago. And what I knew was, I had to exert leadership that would be tough, because things had to change. And they have changed. And people's attitudes have changed. And the community has grown together in the most beautiful and remarkable way.

But - but it - that's part of leadership. See, what you do is, you understand the truth, where people's hearts would really like to go when they get there, and - and then you take unpopular positions, shooting for that goal, which is the truth and achievement.

So, that's what it was. And it was a bumpy time back then, but I knew we were headed in the right direction. And we got there.

TAPPER: Do you think that this horrific act of terrorism, of racist terrorism, is indicative in any way of the fact that society, and not just one bad person, but society, still has a ways to go?

RILEY: Yes. It's one bad person and some other bad people, I'm sure. And we need to shed light on that. We have got to find out what these hate groups are up to. But...

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: Was he part of a hate group, or you just mean his friends or...

RILEY: His friends, but whatever, that some - you know, whether he got something - what he got from the Internet, and other stuff is coming out. We don't know how accurate that is.

But I think we are - we are in process in America, in process of understanding each other, and in process of the African-Americans being fully and completely and collectively and overwhelmingly supported and engaged. We have made so much progress.

I mean, the president of the United States is an African-American, and all - and our community here and everything is done, but I think we - the dialogue of race, the one - my main project that will be the most important thing I do is to create the International African- American Museum here. And we're working on it, raising money. It's in design. We got more money to raise.

But 40 percent of all enslaved Africans that came to North America came here.

TAPPER: Right.

RILEY: We don't understand that history.

So, for us to help present it here, to help our country understand, the more we understand the history of Africans being brought here in chains, and then their contributions to America, we still - we still have some work to do. This is one really bad person. He's not indicative of any broad cross-section of America, but I think it's - we have to use this moment, whatever it tells us, whatever we - from this heartbreak, we have got to use this heartbreak in the most positive way, how we can be better, how we can do more, and certainly how we can care for these families.

TAPPER: I know that there's - I know that today is about healing and about mourning. But, tomorrow, people will go back to work. And maybe tomorrow will be a day for politics and people trying to talk about what needs to be done in light of this tragedy.

You have been an advocate for further restrictions on guns. You have been an advocate for taking the Confederate Flag down from the Capitol of the State. What else do you think needs to be done in this state?

RILEY: Well, I think in the state and in our country - and I will say, we will have, sadly, nine funerals in the next couple of weeks. And so I think the political action could reasonably - aggressive political action might reasonably and respectfully let those funerals happen.

But, certainly, the Confederate Battle Flag that was once atop the state capitol - I led a 110-mile march to Columbia, I walked it, to get the flag off the dome. It was the state - American flag, state flag, Confederate. We got it down.

Then the legislature, to compromise, put it in front of the capitol. And that needs to go to a museum. It sends, at best, mixed messages, and, at worst, for people, hateful people like Roof, it's an affirmation, because they have appropriated something and used it as a symbol of hatred. So, I think that needs to go into a museum. And I think it will. And then the country is just having a very difficult time dealing with the proliferation of guns. And we have to use this most recent tragedy to keep us working on that. We have to do that. It is insane, the number of guns and the ease of getting guns in America. It's not - it just doesn't fit with the other achievements of this country.

And it's a small, really small group, well funded, that keeps this issue from being appropriately addressed. And it's not that people shouldn't - can't own guns and all of that. It's just that there are so many and the ease of getting them, and there's no accountability. And that's - those are - those are pieces of unfinished business.

And what we have now is nine beautiful people, all of them beautiful, wonderful people, prayerful people, studying the Bible, who were killed. If we, in America, can't use this as a reason to address these issues, then, you know, we're not doing a very good job.

TAPPER: We're going to have much more in terms of debate on both the flag and guns, but I know you have got other things to do that are not associated with politics today.

Our thoughts and our blessings are with you and the people of this town.

RILEY: Thanks for having me.

TAPPER: Thank you, Mr. Mayor. I appreciate it.

RILEY: Thank you. Thank you.

END INTERVIEW


Topics: CNN • Jake Tapper • State of the Union
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