COLUMBIA — The casket of Clementa Pinckney is heavy, both physically and symbolically.
Sergeant Derrick J. Gamble of the South Carolina Highway Patrol said he felt both weights as he and his unit his carried the state senator inside the capitol for the last time. Pinckney was brought there Wednesday on a horse-drawn caisson to lie in repose a week after he and eight others were gunned down inside their church by a racist.
Gamble said his 11-year-old daughter had asked him this week, “Why did he shoot them?” and added that someone told her that all white people were “mean.”
“I said, ‘Stop right there,’” Gamble said. He told his daughter that mean people can come in any color and to give people the benefit of the doubt until they give you a reason to think otherwise.
Gamble is not naive, though. Early in his career as a patrolman, Gamble stopped a driver who told him “No [he waves his hand] is taking me to jail.”
“I told him, ‘You’re right, but Trooper Gamble is taking you to jail.’”
Thousands lined up outside the statehouse to enter and view Pinckney’s open casket while the state’s notorious Confederate flag flapped nearby. Governor Nikki Haley on Monday asked the legislature to begin the process of taking down the flag, and lawmakers voted Tuesday to begin debate on the issue this summer. With a tight face, Haley welcomed the entourage for Pinckney to the back steps of the State House, where the flag memorial is not visible.
Gamble’s unit worked efficiently; the stomp of their boots drowned out by the whir and clicks of cameras. The 21-year veteran of the highway patrol said he takes great satisfaction in “doing the Pinckney family proud” and called the assignment “bittersweet.”
Soon after, Gamble took his turn standing at attention next to Pinckney’s casket—positioned behind a statue of John C. Calhoun, the state’s most famous defender of slavery—as mourners streamed by. The entire time his eyes were fixed on the far wall.