Dylann Roof’s death sentencing isn’t a sign of hope
We still have to remind people black lives matter
On January 10th 2017, Dylann Roof, an admitted white supremacist, was sentenced to death for his racially motivated massacre of nine churchgoers at Mother Emmanuel, a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. For the first time in a long time, violence directed towards the African American community has been reprimanded, but it isn’t enough to conclude that every future aggressor will face the same fate.
Roof went into Mother Emmanuel in June of 2015 with a clear purpose. He scoped out his targets, sitting in a bible study for nearly an hour, and then fired 70 rounds from a .45 caliber semi automatic handgun, shooting each of his nine victims repeatedly. At the end of his rampage, Roof told one of three survivors, Polly Sheppard, he was sparing her life so she could “tell the story.”
Roof’s case was clear cut. Throughout both the guilty and penalty phases of the trial, not once did Roof deny his guilt, try to hide his motivation, plead insanity, or display an ounce of remorse. In fact, according to a manifesto on his website, which has now been deleted, he believed the massacre to be an act of bravery. In his two hour interview with FBI agents, Roof explained his belief that white people had already become “second class citizens,” and he had to commit the crime because “no one else was brave enough.” In the closing argument of the penalty phase of the trial, Roof insisted on how “[he] felt like [he] had to do it,” and still does.
While Roof’s conviction may seem like progress, little political change has actually come about since the shooting. Less than a month after the shooting, South Carolina’s state capital removed the confederate flag from its grounds following a lengthy debate. However, the massacre wasn’t enough to produce stricter gun control laws, despite the fact that the background check system failed to identify Roof’s prior record of drug abuse, which could have prevented him from buying a weapon.
There was no possible way to circumnavigate Roof’s guilt. He didn’t shy away from what he did: he was honest. As cold and calculated as his crime may seem, Roof’s racially skewed intentions were so glaring that there was little use in actually proving so in trial. “I am guilty,” he states in the FBI interview, “we all know I’m guilty.”
Roof’s crime came only a couple of months after South Carolina Officer Michael T. Slager fatally shot an unarmed Walter Scott. Like most cases of police brutality, even with recorded proof, Slager wasn’t convicted for Scott’s death. The jury was within one vote of a guilty verdict, but just couldn’t reach a unanimous decision, resulting in a mistrial. “I cannot in good conscience consider a guilty verdict,” stated the anonymous juror.
Convicting an admitted white supremacist for a hate crime against the African American community isn’t revolutionary. For there to be progress, black lives need to matter when the perpetrator’s intentions are hazy.