WASHINGTON – Standing in an iconic black church in Charleston, S.C., where a white supremacist killed nine people in June 2015, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., spoke on how "racist violence has always been part of the American story."
The Democratic presidential candidate's speech at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church hit on white supremacy's evils while highlighting racism's role in U.S. history.
"We need to be honest: about not just who we are, but who we have been," Booker said. "That means we need to acknowledge that the very founding of our country was an act of profound contradiction. Those who sought freedom in so many ways, for so many people, perpetuated its very opposite."
Booker's trip to Charleston came as President Donald Trump makes visits to Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, where mass shootings over the weekend killed 31 people.
Authorities are investigating the El Paso tragedy as a possible hate crime and some of Trump's critics have directly linked his inflammatory rhetoric about minorities and immigrants to the shooter's "manifesto," which police say was filled with anti-Latino and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Booker criticized Trump during his speech, saying the El Paso shooting, "was sowed by a president who spews hateful rhetoric and endangers the lives of people of color and immigrants in this country."
Booker didn't hold back when speaking of the country's early years, saying, "Bigotry was written into our founding documents. Native Americans were referred to as 'savages' and Black people as fractions of human beings."
Booker called on the nation to acknowledge its perpetuation of white supremacy through "willful ignorance or dangerous tolerance of its presence in our society."
"You reap what you sow," Booker said, saying Trump "spews hateful rhetoric and endangers the lives of people of color and immigrants in this country."
Trump dismissed criticism of his rhetoric while speaking to reporters before leaving for Dayton and El Paso on Wednesday. He accused his critics of "looking for political gain."
Booker called for action, advocating for the passage of legislation to close the loophole that allowed the Charleston shooter to get his weapon, a ban on assault weapons, federal licensing for all guns in America, and the revamping of the federal government's efforts to fight domestic terrorism and hate crimes.
In addition to the policy changes, Booker noted that "I am here today to ask if we have the collective resolve to change the reality we live in. I am here today to ask if we have it in us to tell ourselves the honest story."
Then-President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney at the same church in 2015, where he denounced the shooting and had called for stricter gun control laws. Pinckney, a state senator and pastor, was killed in the Charleston shooting.
"It would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again," Obama had said at the time, warning Americans not to "go back to business as usual" and "avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society."
Former Vice President Joe Biden also plans to speak later Wednesday about white supremacy and its links to the violence in El Paso. According to remarks released by his campaign, Biden will say that Trump "has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cory Booker denounces white supremacy at Charleston church shooting site