What Are the Implications of Sentencing Dylann Roof to Death?
How will executing Dylann Roof help the Black community?
Author Ta-Nehisi Coates pondered the irony of executing Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof in an interesting piece for The Atlantic.
On the evening of June 17, 2015, the white Nationalist quietly sat in on a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church before opening fire on the unsuspecting worshippers killing nine, including state senator Clementa Pinckney.
In addition to a count of murder for each of the deceased, Roof faces three counts of attempted murder, possession of a firearm and federal hate crime charges.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Tuesday that she would seek the death penalty in the case.
In the article, Coates argues that killing Roof flies directly in the face of the nonviolence trope American “powers that be” impose on victims of racial hostility and injustice.
“The symbol of this approach is, of course, Martin Luther King Jr. One problem with using King in this way is that the actual King had an annoying habit of preaching nonviolence, whether it was convenient or not. Whereas American power generally regards nonviolence as a means of cynically enforcing order, King believed protesters should be exemplars of nonviolence, but not its unique employers.”
He allows that adopting King’s mantra is no easy task for this country, making the assertion that the very formation of any nation is inherently violent. It is the duty of all governments to protect the interests of its citizens at all costs. Still, he argues, the US should strive to lead by example and sparing Roof’s life is the ideal opportunity.
“If the families of Roof’s victims can find the grace of forgiveness within themselves; if the president can praise them for it; if the public can be awed by it—then why can’t the Department of Justice act in the spirit of that grace and resist the impulse to kill?”
Finally, Coates concludes that the execution will do nothing but support the same system that has disproportionately arrested, incarcerated and put to death millions of innocent African-Americans.
“Moreover, killing Roof does absolutely nothing to ameliorate the conditions that brought him into being in the first place. The hammer of criminal justice is the preferred tool of a society that has run out of ideas. In this sense, Roof is little more than a human sacrifice to The Gods of Doing Nothing. Leave aside actual substantive policy. In a country where unapologetic slaveholders and regressive white supremacists still, at this late date, adorn our state capitals and our highest institutions of learning, it is bizarre to kill a man who acted in their spirit. And killing Roof, like the business of the capital punishment itself, ensures that innocent people will be executed. The need to extract vengeance cannot always be exact. It is all but certain that a disproportionate number of those who pay for this lack of precision will not look like Dylann Roof.”
Friday, the Atlantic posted a few responses to Coates’ piece, including a rather interesting conclusion by reader Tim Tyson, that an execution may lead to a spike in mass killings by white supremacists.
“Capital punishment in this case will do nothing to deter similar violence. In fact, making a white supremacist martyr of Dylann Roof may ultimately cause more violence, just as the government’s lethal violence at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco in 1993 inspired the white supremacist terror bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.”
Does Tyson have a point?
There’s a wealth of conspiracy theorist websites and youtube videos dedicated to debunking the incident as fake, a government-endorsed charade meant to inspire irrational fear and tougher gun control laws.
Hours after the shooting neo-Nazi leader Morris Gulett applauded Roof on his website, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“I, for one, am very glad to see young people like Dylan Roof acting like men instead of the old 60’s era hippies stoned on weed and interracial love,” Gulett wrote.
“We had better see much more of this type of activism if we ever expect to see our America return to it’s [sic] rightful place in the world and our children grow up in a clean safe healthy enviroment [sic].”
Radar Online reported the Ku Klux Klan updated its recorded greeting for new recruits to a congratulatory message following the attack.
“The KKK would like to say hail victory to the young warrior in South Carolina, Dylann S. Roof who decided to do what the Bible told him. If we had 10,000 more men like this young man, America would not be in the shape that it is in now.”
Is it unreasonable to assume that these hate groups would mobilize and finally make good on decades-long promises of a “race war”?
Roof’s trial is scheduled for Jan. 17 2017.