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MTV 2015 Upfront Presentation - Press Junket

News of the Charleston, South Carolina hate crime at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church rocked the nation last night when news spread that a White gunman—who has now been identified as Dylann Storm Roof—shot and killed nine people inside the historic building. The New York Times reports that after attending a Bible study for about an hour, Storm opened fire, killing nine of the 13 people inside (six women and three men) including Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who also worked as a State Senator and civil rights activist in the area.

Charleston, S.C. is the birthplace of Charlamagne Tha God, the Breakfast Club host and television personality who is often very vocal about his roots growing up in the area, and hasn't shied away from the topic at hand on social media today. The Power 105 mainstay and MTV 2 host is also very vibrant about his thoughts on civil rights in America, particularly today. With the tragedy cutting especially close to home for Charlamagne, XXL spoke with him earlier today to get his perspective on what it all means. —Miranda J.

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Members Of Congress Hold Prayer Circle For Charleston Shooting Victims

XXL: With this happening right in your hometown, does this come as a shock?
Charlamagne Tha God: Yes, it actually does. You see so many different situations where there’s police brutality, and you see the Black and White narrative there. As a young Black man in America, there’s enough to deal with. When I heard about the situation in Charleston, my first thought was, I hope it wasn’t racially-motivated. I was hoping it was just an isolated incident from a psychopath, because the last thing we need on top of everything else that’s going on in this country is racially-motivated hate crimes from civilians. It’s not like we need any more reminders that being Black in this country is a direct threat to our lives. I’m like, "Yo! This was in my own backyard!"

Don’t get it twisted, South Carolina is a place where the Confederate flag still flies over the State House lawn. It’s a state damn near built on racism. So you know that it exists there, [but] just to see it in your own backyard, it was a shock. It was a church, so initially I didn’t even think that it had anything to do with racism. I thought it had something to do with religion. So when you find out it was racially-motivated, it was absolutely a shock. I’m in downtown Charleston all the time. I was born in Charleston. I was raised in Moncks Corner, which is 20 minutes away, but I was born in Charleston. I was born downtown at MUSC. My mother used to teach at Courtenay Middle School in downtown Charleston. Whenever I’m home, I’m in downtown Charleston.

With something of this magnitude happening, it’s like we’re back in the 1960s. No one is safe.
Absolutely. The church; I don’t know if people know it or not, but Emanuel AME Church is a historical African-American church. It was founded by a guy named Denmark Vesey. I always talk about Denmark Vesey because [he] was a slave in Charleston, South Carolina who had his freedom, but his family wasn’t traded. So what he did, he was leading one of the largest slave revolts in the history of the country [in 1822], but some of the people that were going to revolt with him actually told on him. They ended up killing Denmark Vesey. He got arrested and hung. This was actually the anniversary of that slave revolt. So I don’t know if it was a coincidence or the guy planned it that way, but for him to go into that church that was founded by Denmark Vesey on the anniversary of Denmark Vesey’s slave revolts and do that, I was like, Wow. That’s a different level of hate.

I almost hope that was a coincidence, because that’s some crazy premeditated-type shit.
Exactly. You’ve got to really know your history to know that. He’s only 21. Maybe he read it somewhere. I don’t know, but I just thought it was crazy that he did that in that church that Denmark Vesey founded on the anniversary of Denmark Vesey’s slave revolt.

With this, Freddie Gray, Eric GarnerMichael Brown and all the other tragedies lately, it’s almost like there's a huge outcry for unity in the Black community. Do you think so?
I mean, not even the people amongst the Black community. There needs to be unity amongst all Americans. At the end of the day these aren’t just Black issues, they’re American issues. These are people’s constitutional rights being violated. Nobody should want that. Martin Luther King said it the best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” You think that somebody who is that evil that can walk into a church and kill a group of people everywhere, you don’t think that will eventually boil over to other people?

For sure.
You think he’s really just mentally stable enough to know, "I just really want to kill Black people," or whatever he’s against? No. So it’s an American issue. But I feel [that] as Black people we need to make a united front more than ever, because we are Public Enemy Number One, for whatever reason. We need to eliminate the threat of each other from each other. The last people who need to be beefing are the people that look like us, the people who are our color and understand our struggles. We definitely need to eliminate whatever issues we got going on amongst each other, whether it’s the gang warfare or people fighting over drugs or people beefing online and just deciding they want to go bang on each other. We need to dead all of that. I definitely think we need more unity and group operations. I think we can get a lot more accomplished together than we can separately.

Congress forms a prayer circle on the White House lawn (Getty Images)

Members Of Congress Hold Prayer Circle For Charleston Shooting Victims

Certainly. One thing I liked was when The Breakfast Club sat with Farrakhan last week. Was there anything that he said during the interview that really stuck out to you, in terms of the Black community uniting?
Yeah, the one thing that always strikes me when I hear Mr. Farrakhan talk: Mr. Farrakhan says that when situations like this happen, they tell us, "Be peaceful." But he’s like, "We’re always peaceful. We’re not the ones who are causing these problems. They’re causing these problems with us." Then there was one situation where I said to him, "People think that you hate White people and you’re anti-Semitic." He said, "If I did feel that way, I would have killed one of them a long time ago." He said, "Me or nobody from my organization has ever harmed a White person." That should make everybody open their eyes like, "Woah. We’re not the ones out here profiling ourselves. We’re not the ones out here slamming each other to the ground and putting knees in our back." People that are supposed to protect and serve us are doing this to us.

The injustices are happening constantly over and over to us. When is somebody going to stand up and be like, "Y’all got to chill out, Black people are Americans too." Those are our fellow countrymen as well. It has to become more of an issue than just us yelling and screaming. The cultures are very blended now. A lot of White people are starting to see, like, “Hold up, they’re not just yelling, screaming, marching and protesting for no reason for all these years. It’s really going down."

Speaking of marching and protesting, when these things initially happen, there is an extreme call for justice. Then it fades away. Do you think people are giving an adequate effort or a mediocre effort in making changes?
I think the effort is getting stronger, because like you said, we’ll see these situations and then it’ll go away. But the problem now is, these situations aren’t going away. They keep happening over and over again. I think people are starting to realize that this is not just an isolated incident. It’s pretty bad. Just being Black in America is a severe threat to my livelihood. I’m paranoid all the time. I’ve never felt like this and I’ve got friends from all walks of life; White, Black, Jewish, Spanish. But just me as an individual who knows better, who knows that all cops aren’t bad—I still feel paranoid. I’m driving in my car and a cop is behind me, I’ll pull over and let him pass. I don’t want no problems. Now I have to worry about civilians with these racially motivated hate crimes walking in churches and shooting people just because we’re Black? Man, listen.

What’s one word you would use to describe the current state of Black lives in America right now?
I’m going to always say "Strong." The reason I’m going to always say that is because everything that we’ve been through as people already, and everything that we’ve already withstood—from slavery to the Civil Rights era—I’m going to always look at my people and say Black lives are Strong. We’re strong and we’re going to get through it, but we just have to fight. We’ve got to draw inspiration from our ancestors. We’ve got to draw inspiration from the people who came before us.

We just have to fight. That’s what they did. They spoke out against these things and they marched, they protested. Another thing that Mr. Farrakhan always says that’s real is, "You’re going to die anyway, find something to die for." That’s what they were willing to do that I think a lot of us aren’t. We’ve got to be willing to die for the cause to make the next generation better.

Related: Hip-Hop Reacts to the Shooting at a Historic Black Church in Charleston