While the country — and South Carolina, in particular — is once again debating racism in America, NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday offered a video of men in prison expressing regret for their own gun violence. All of the men in the video are black.
The segment was part of Sunday’s show, which focused on the recent killing of nine black people at a bible study group in Charleston, South Carolina. The alleged shooter, Dylann Roof, is accused of making racist statements during the rampage and in an online manifesto that describes black people as “stupid and violent.” He has been seen in photos online holding a Confederate flag and wearing the flags of apartheid-era South Africa and white-ruled Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
“The circumstances you are about to see are very different from the racist violence in Charleston,” Meet the Press host Chuch Todd said in the introduction to the video.
“But their lessons remain important, and we simply ask you to look at this as a colorblind issue,” he said.
“The last thing we wanted was to cloud the discussion of the topic,” Todd wrote on the NBC website after receiving a wave of negative feedback on social media about the video.
“The original decision to air this segment was made before Wednesday’s massacre. However, the staff and I had an internal debate about whether to show it at all this week. When we discussed putting it off, that conversation centered around race and perception — not the conversation we wanted the segment to invoke,” he said.
In a panel discussion responding to the blowback, Todd said, “It wasn’t meant to be a black and white issue. And I understand maybe it’s one of those moments when people are only seeing through black and white.”
The church where the shooting took place, Emanuel A.M.E., is historically significant for its role in the history of black religious freedom in the South. Among other things, last week’s shooting has raised questions over whether it is appropriate to fly the Confederate flag — a “symbol of racial hatred” outside the South Carolina statehouse. The shootings are being investigated as a hate crime.