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Malcolm Graham: Trump's Do-Over Too Late

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Alex Olgin
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WFAE News

More than 70 people of multiple races and religions gathered at the Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church in Charlotte today to respond to the tragedy in Charlottesville over the weekend. Former North Carolina State Sen. Malcolm Graham says President Trump's comments Monday condemning  hate groups didn’t come fast enough. His sister was one of nine killed in Charleston two years ago while praying in a historically black church.  

Updated at 6:49 p.m. August 14, 2017

Dozens of people bowed their heads in prayer to open what was billed as the “Stop the Hate Rally.” Several faith and community leaders spoke about the need to join together and stop the hate. Malcolm Graham said every time there is an act of racism, it needs to be called out immediately.  

“An apology today is about two days too late,” Graham said. “We have to call out racism when we see it. We have to call it out when we hear. We have to call it out when we feel it.”

Graham said President Trump is emboldening white supremacists. He points to his failure over the weekend to denounce hate groups by name and his hiring of Steve Bannon as chief strategist. Bannon is the former head of the alt-right website Breitbart News. Graham said the violence needs to stop.

“If you want to march and let vile things roll of your tongue, I’m ok with it,” said Graham. “That’s your right to free speech. But when the speech is channeled into violent actions, whether it is firing a gun into a church or plowing down a car into a crowd, that’s terrorism plain and simple.”

The event was organized by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP. The group's president Corine Mack said now is the time to address racism head on.

“I’m going to ask my white brothers and sisters in the movement to go deeper in conversations when you hear offensive conversations offensive language,” she said. “It is your responsibility to step up and stand up. We cannot allow racism to rule in this country.”

There were about 30 people in the audience, including special education teacher Robert Walton. He was disappointed that the event consisted of only people speaking from a lectern.  

“I was kinda looking for opportunities in Charlotte to participate in some sort of a mass event,” Walton said. “And again it was a bit disappointing to see how few people are here. But I’m hoping the dialogue is continuing in homes.”

There were several religious leaders and people running for elected office who spoke including mayoral candidate Joel Ford.  Mayor Jennifer Roberts attended, but didn’t speak. When asked why, Mack said Roberts is too political when she speaks and noted that she requested the National Guard’s presence during last year’s demonstrations after the Keith Scott shooting.