The Killing Seemed So Important At The Time

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?

55 comments on “The Killing Seemed So Important At The Time

  1. Keith

    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.

    You seem to find no difference between the words kill and murder. Yet they’ve used different words to describe them for so long that even the Bible makes the distinction in the 10 commandments.

    Roofe murdered people. The State wants to kill him for it.

    The rest is window dressing, altered depending on how you want to rationalize the acts.

    There are serious reasons to object to the death penalty (the fact we screw it up so much?) But let’s not kid ourselves that murder and killing are the same. No matter how it strikes you.

    1. SHG Post author

      If you look closely, you’ll see that I picked the words carefully. There are killings that can be justified of necessity, such as self defense. There are killings that aren’t intentional but happened anyway. But there is no self-defense involved here. There are no accidents. The intentional taking of another person’s life, without the equivalence of saving another life, is all we’re talking about. So let’s not kid ourselves, regardless of what word is chosen, somebody ends up deliberately dead at the hand of another, whether Roof or the government. The rest is window dressing.

      1. cthulhu

        When the prosecution rejects a guilty plea and sentence of LWOP so that the State can kill the perpetrator, then the State is seeking vengeance, not justice. Thank you SHG for eloquently pointing out the hypocrisy of the government and its supporters in this case.

    2. 0dder

      “You seem to find no difference between the words kill and murder”

      Well, include me in that club, because while I’ve been trying I can’t find any *meaningful* distinction between them. I’m hoping you’ll clarify.

      “Yet they’ve used different words to describe them for so long that even the Bible makes the distinction in the 10 commandments.”

      It does? I can find one reference to “kill” in the 10, and none to “murder.” How can the 10 Commandments draw a distinction between the two when the latter isn’t even mentioned?

      “Roofe murdered people. The State wants to kill him for it.”

      If I’m following you correctly (and please do tell me if I’m not), you’re saying that murder is bad, but (justified) killing is not. Which is not really a distinction at all because “justified” is arbitrary and dependent on your point of view.

      1. Keith

        SHG and I seem to disagree on a fundamental distinction as to whether a killing can be of necessity if done by the State. I won’t take up his wall arguing it here.

        As for the distinction you are missing, I was reading the original language, not the (poor) translation that says “Thou shalt not kill”.

        The original לא תרצח (don’t murder), is quite different in meaning from לא תהרוג (Don’t kill).

        One note that may or may not interest our host is that the two sets of tablets contain a different word for another commandment. They first state “Do not commit burglary”, then morph into “Do not commit larceny”. Both are collectively referred to as “Though shalt not steal”.

        The responsa on the differences seem to track with many of the comments I see here on the pages of SJ.

        1. SHG Post author

          That’s a curious distinction on larceny v. burglary. While both fall within the generic “steal,” they are very different, as you know.

        2. 0dder

          You’ve touched on — but provided no illumination to — my original question to you: what is the difference between murder and kill? As to the vagaries of the (“poor”) translation, there is still the fact that taking the life of a human is mentioned only a single time in the Commandments. Because it is singular, by definition there can be no compare/contrast between the murder and kill, regardless of what one might think it could/should mean. In the Commandments it is *either* murder or kill. Choose one.

          As to the plain English definitions of kill (cause the death of (a person, animal, or other living thing)) and murder (the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another), I’ll state again that the distinction relies on a person’s point of view/values/etc. Whether it’s justified or lawful or a “necessity if done by the State” is still a subjective and arbitrary measurement.

          Finally, as to the “two sets of tablets contain a different word for another commandment” I can’t help but think of the classic Mel Brooks, “The Lord Jehovah has given unto you these 15 … … 10! 10 Commandments for all to obey!”

          1. Keith

            You’ve touched on — but provided no illumination to — my original question to you

            You make a lot of assumptions. I don’t share them. Unless SHG wants this to devolve into the merits of the death penalty, I think I’ll end it there.

            The Mel Brooks clip was great though.

            1. 0dder

              It’s kind funny (in a sad way) watching your head explode when much of the time (probably even most, and certainly in this case) I agree with you. I’ll admit that I allow it to frustrate me to the point where I often string you along. I probably should stop doing that. Sorry, man.

            2. SHG Post author

              I remember when my daughter was 12 and couldn’t stop without having the last word. Happens here all the time with people who try to pretend they’re trolling me so they don’t look like whiny butthurt bitches, but the key is that they just can’t stop without trying to have that last word. My daughter grew out of it.

            3. Patrick Maupin

              “So when will you learn from your daughter?”

              You could have posted anything to prove Scott’s assertion that you need to have the last word, but this is just too precious. I LOLed at this, but I’m not laughing at Scott.

  2. Andrew Wiggin

    I’d be very surprised if Scott didn’t have more than a passing familiarity with the difference between “kill” and “murder” in modern English, and even a good (but longer than one word) translation for the Hebrew word which poorly translates into English as either “murder” or “kill”.

    1. SHG Post author

      Perhaps the Hebrew (I don’t speak Hebrew, so I can’t say for sure) recognizes something we don’t. Dead is dead. How one gets there doesn’t change that fact.

      1. Andrew Wiggin

        Although I am still in favor of the death penalty in theory, I have to say that you and Mark (and J. Tolkein) have changed my mind against it being used by the state against people who have been rendered harmless by incarceration.

        1. cthulhu

          “Deserves death! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

          1. B. McLeod

            So, if Roof bites off somebody’s finger and dives into a molten chasm with the Ring of Power, that judgment call will be borne out. I’m not holding my breath.

  3. Hal

    While I agree w/ your overall point about the perverse irony of the state killing people because they killed people, I think you erred in laying out your argument.

    “Yet, the passionate gang argued that it was terrorism, because it was.” The passionate gang may not have been very articulate in making their case, but the Charleston church shooting was an act of terrorism. It comes down to intent and Roof’s intent was to start a race war.

    BG Russ Howard, speaking at a symposium @ Dartmouth some years ago, defined terrorism as “Politically motivated violence, by non state actors, that targets noncombatants”. This is the best definition that I’ve heard, it is succinct, draws a valid distinction between acts of war and more mundane murders, and does away with the trope that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”.

    Whether terrorism should be punished more harshly than some other murders is another issue. I have a hard time seeing any reason why it should, and a still harder time seeing a moral justification for the death penalty.

    1. SHG Post author

      What difference does it make whether it’s called murder or terrorism? If the only purpose is to find new, more outrageous, words to express our feelings, then it serves no purpose. Howard’s definition is fine, but so what?

      1. Troutwaxer

        Because brown people who have a political agenda and kill white people are “terrorists,” like those damn Muslim terrorists in San Bernardino who killed all the good, fine Americans. But white people who have a political agenda and kill brown people are mere “murderers.”

        In practical terms, that means we’re licensed to chase down the friends and allies of brown “terrorists” and criminalize them, but we don’t have a license to chase down the friends and allies of white “murderers.” In part this is due to laws which require that terrorist groups be designated by the State Department, but domestic politics also plays a role and makes it difficult to designate violent, right-wing groups in the U.S. as something other than individual murderers.

        If you’re inclined to dig into that particular morass, you might look up “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” which was a report issued by the DHS and widely maligned by Conservatives, who treated it as a political attack.

          1. Troutwaxer

            Either you failed completely to recognize that I was pointing out an injustice (rather than agreeing with one) or you didn’t read the comment all the way through. As an act of charity I’ll let you blame it on the tryptophan in some leftover turkey.

        1. Mike

          Seriously dude, put the crack pipe down.

          Liberals and the MSM, but I repeat myself, try to pin every mass shooting on “right-wing extremists”, until they find out the shooter was actually from the left. I believe that is the side you’re on?

          1. SHG Post author

            It doesn’t matter if they’re left, right, middle, brown, white, mocha or mint chocolate chip. It doesn’t matter if they murder because they’re nuts, prejudiced, jihadists or self-righteous. Afterward, their victims are the exact same kind of dead.

            1. Mike

              I know they are just as dead, no matter who the murderer is. And I apologize for taking troitwaxer’s bait and wasting your bandwidth for a political argument about which side’s extremists are worse than the other’s. They are all bad.

    2. Agammamon

      “Politically motivated violence, by non state actors, that targets noncombatants”.

      I would ask

      What is ‘politically motivated’? What does that mean?

      Why are ‘state-actors’ afforded a pass? Why is politically motivated violence OK when ordinary people do it in the name of other ordinary people but not OK when ordinary people do it themselves? All this formulation does is set up a special class of people who are allowed (by the rest of us – no matter what form of government you have, its power ultimately comes from the apathy of the people) to commit violence on others free from the things that constrain the rest of us.

      And this is strange position to hold when you realize that a state is only a state when other states deign to recognize its a state – which usually requires a hell of a lot of politically motivated violence from non-state actors to accomplish.

  4. B. McLeod

    I have no problems with the death penalty for Mr. Roof. Sure, it may be liberal hypocrisy in this instance, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong. It is the one way to be certain beyond any doubt that he will never again be able to randomly kill some number of people he doesn’t even know, based on their pigmentation.

    1. SHG Post author

      Most people don’t have a “problem” with Roof (Mr.? So formal?) getting the death penalty, but would it be a problem to give him LWOP? The murders of the Petits in Cheshire were far more horrific and brutal, but no pigmentation involved. Are they better murderers than Roof?

      1. B. McLeod

        Free food, clothing and shelter for life. Free medical care for life, and at a standard above that available to most poor working people. Plus the possibility of escape and additional crimes. Plus the possibility that “LWOP” won’t mean that when he is old and some “progressive liberal” starts the Feelz machine cranking on why he should get out. Those are the problems with LWOP.

        1. david

          Daily beatings. Daily rapes. Ground glass in your food. Solitary.
          Give give him a few months of that, and he’ll be asking for the death penalty.
          Given the racial breakdown of most US prisons, this guy will not have much fun in prison.
          Just sayin’

  5. 0dder

    “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?”

    Well said. I’ve had the same thought for years, just couldn’t put it into words quite so well. I’m stealing it. You can’t stop me! 😛

    I’d change one thing, though: I’d remove “racially” from your followup sentence: “But then, all the self-righteous would never get to kill when it was their turn.” Lots of (most?) people are self-righteous regardless if they’re racist in the one direction, the other direction, or not at all.

  6. Lawrence Kaplan

    I hold no brief for Loretta Lynch., and agree with SHG’s criticisms of her. But saying that she is “not much better” than Dylann Roof is unacceptable , even as hyperbole.

  7. Lawrence Kaplan

    SHG: of course, I will continue to read Simple Jusrice with its thoughtful and hardhitting posts, even if its host doesn’t know how to take criticism with any grace, so you really think Loretta Lynch is not much better than Dylann Roof? Do you really? So what are you picking at ? My use of the word “unacceptable”? And, of course, as is your usual wont , you use that to evade my rather mild criticism. But hey , it’s your blog , and you make the rules .I should have known better than to think you might cut out the snark and actually address the point I made. Mea culpa.

    1. SHG Post author

      Address what point? You disagree with what I wrote? You’re allowed. There’s nothing to address other than the narcissism that makes you think you’re entitled to demand I address your mild criticism.

      Calling it “unacceptable” isn’t an argument but your value judgment. There’s nothing more to say.

    2. Patrick Maupin

      Is she better because she’s only killing one person (this time)?

      Is she better because she’s keeping her hands clean?

      Is she better because she’s not man enough to do it herself?

      Is she better because you agree that her target needs killing?

      You accuse Scott of hyperbole, and you characterize his comparison as “unacceptable” yet you articulate no reasons why that would be.

      And then when called (mildly, I would say) on your own hyperbole (or not; maybe you really don’t understand what “unacceptable” means) and lack of substance, you falsely claim you made some point, and that Scott is the one “picking at” and “evading” and that Scott should have responded to your supposed point.


  8. Lawrence Kaplan

    Patrick Maupin: Yes, I believe that Loretta Lynch, for all I like neither her and her policies, is much better than a cold blooded murderet who walks into a church and guns down ten people? And, no, I do not believe that her target needed killing and I agree with SHG ‘s main point that the Federal government should have allowed Roof to plead guilty and accept life eithout parole. But she is still much better, and I really don’t think that you and SHG, despite your piling on me, think differently. Or maybe you think that Lynch deserves LWOP?

  9. JME

    Of course, Roof made this mostly irrelevant today by deciding to represent himself. Suicide by jury is a hell of a way to go.

  10. Pingback: Dylann Roof Now Has A Fool For A Lawyer

Comments are closed.