People argued at the time whether it was “terrorism.” It was one of those absurd arguments, as if giving it the current flavor of the most extreme name of awfulness made it as awful as it needed to be. After all, Dylann Roof was already in custody, so it wasn’t a cry for additional resources needed to locate the killer, whether he was a white supremacist nutjob or a domestic terrorist. It was a Seinfeld episode about murder.
Yet, the passionate gang argued that it was terrorism, because it was. After the State of South Carolina had already decided to seek the death penalty for murdering nine black parishioners in a church, there being little doubt of his commission of the crimes and the only real question being punishment, the feds horned in on the action.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Tuesday that the Justice Department would seek the death penalty against Charleston church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
“The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision,’’ Lynch said in written statement.
What’s meant by the “nature” and “resulting harm” that “compelled this decision,” from the then-new Attorney General?
Last July, Lynch announced federal hate crime charges against the then-21-year-old suspect, alleging that Roof sought to ignite racial tensions across the country by targeting Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church because of its local and historical significance.
The word “fashionable” isn’t ordinarily used to describe a horrific crime, but when it’s a mass murder like this, the compelling narrative is fashionable. It’s a “hate crime.” It’s “terrorism.” Because murder isn’t a good enough word to describe murder anymore, not when the murders involve secondary issues like “racial tensions,” as if these murders by a 22-year-old were going to “ignite” anything.
This rhetoric came from Loretta Lynch, whom many now have romanticized into the kinder, gentler Attorney General under President Obama, who spread love and happiness throughout the land before the Sith Lord took over. Except here she was, calling for state-sponsored killing, which was ordinarily anathema to the same people who sought it now, who argued the day before that the death penalty was cruel and unusual, but because of racial tensions, was suddenly the only penalty that sufficed.
How calling for death meshes with the romantic image of Lynch can only be rationalized by the most passionate. The only linchpin between the two is the clash of race and murder, when the invocation of racial hatred creates a black hole where the word “execution” is suddenly acceptable.
Jury selection is about to begin in Roof’s trial. There didn’t need to be a trial, as his lawyers made the usual and reasonable offer to avoid the mess.
Mr. Roof, whom a judge on Friday declared competent to stand trial, has offered, in exchange for a sentence of life in prison, to plead guilty. The government has refused to make such a plea agreement.
For those paying attention, life in prison without possibility of parole is what we like to call the slow death penalty rather than the fast one. And the fast one doesn’t tend to be too fast either. It just costs a whole lot more. And just in case the jury doesn’t impose death for any of the nine people Roof murdered, since they can only kill him once and don’t actually kill him over and over for each of his victims, South Carolina would then get a turn at convicting him and sentencing him all over again.
If the purpose of the government was to secure a conviction and punishment, the defense’s offer of LWOP would have done the trick. Indeed, there’s a fair chance he wouldn’t last too long inside anyway, as there are a couple of folks in prison, what the unduly wordy prefer to call “prisoners of color,” who will be happy to take care of things. Or maybe Roof will be “protected” by being placed in solitary confinement, tantamount to torture, for the rest of his life. As a young man, that could be a very, very long time.
But in this case, to the extent most people even remember it despite how huge it seemed until the next shiny moment of outrage came along, Roof needs killin’, so the nice AG lady says no deal to life and start picking that death-qualified jury.
In a court filing the same day the attorney general made her decision public, the Justice Department cited nine aggravating factors, including that Mr. Roof had “expressed hatred and contempt towards African-Americans, as well as other groups, and his animosity toward African-Americans played a role in the murder charges in the indictment.”
Prosecutors also said that Mr. Roof had “demonstrated a lack of remorse” and that he had caused “injury, harm and loss to the individuals that he killed as well as to the family, friends and co-workers of those individuals.”
So a killer was filled with hate? So a killer wasn’t remorseful? Here’s the thing with people who murder other people: they tend to be bad dudes (or hombres, as the case may be). Roof is deplorable. He may well be irredeemable. But LWOP isn’t exactly a stern talking to, “Now Dylann, never do that again, and I mean it!”
The families of the dead have achieved a more graceful state, coming to terms with Roof’s hatred.
“I want that guy every morning when he wakes up, and every time he has an opportunity for quiet and solitude, to think of what Tywanza said to him: ‘We mean you no harm. You don’t have to do this,’” said Andrew J. Savage III, a Charleston lawyer, referring to Tywanza Sanders, a 26-year-old man who died in the attack. Mr. Savage represents three survivors, including Mr. Sanders’s mother, and many family members of the victims who became known here as the Emanuel Nine.
This trial, this inchoate execution, isn’t for their benefit.
Such a strategy, he suggested, was to the detriment of the families of the victims.
Roof was filled with hate. Lynch, who couldn’t keep her fingers out of the killing that South Carolina was fully able to manage on its own, isn’t much better. Nor are the voices of love and happiness, who demand that Dylann Roof be put to death to appease their fury.
“I think what the federal government did is what the federal government thought it had to do, which was speak on behalf of the nation,” Mr. Savage said. “I was always told, ‘Well, Andy, if we don’t move for the death penalty in this case, when would we?’”
All the sweet talk aside, we’re still just a nation filled with people who want to kill, the only difference being what we kill about. Of course, there is an answer to “when would we?” How about never? But then, all the racially self-righteous would never get to kill when it was their turn. Does it still seem so critically important to kill Dylann Roof today?