CHARLESTON, S.C. — On Friday, families filled a sterile bond-hearing court to face the man accused of killing nine of their relatives at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Charleston County Magistrate James Gosnell Jr. opened the largely symbolic session with an unusual plea. “We have victims, nine of them. But we also have victims on the other side,” Gosnell said of the Wednesday church shooting. “There are victims on this young man’s side of the family. No one would have ever thrown them into the whirlwind of events that they have been thrown into.”

The moment came and went, and quickly the attention shifted to the words of resolve and forgiveness voiced by family members in attendance. But later, Gosnell’s words were stuck in the craw of some members of the Charleston community.

Suddenly, a judge who had a very small role to play in the tragic episode was thrust into the spotlight.

“If you listen to the judge, he has already forgotten these people,” the Rev. Curtis Gatewood told a crowd at a prayer vigil outside Emanuel Church on Friday.

Later, Gatewood said in an interview that the comments seemed emblematic of a tendency to give the benefit of the doubt to white people accused of crimes. “We never hear that kind of thing when young African American males are charged with much less than that,” he said.

“People say he is so much an example of why we have the problems that we have,” added Dot Scott, president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP. “To ask for forgiveness for the perpetrator without addressing the trauma. … It is an example of what we are dealing with in terms of who is being valued.