Dylan Roof: What Comes After the Trial?
The Dylan Roof federal trial ended on Thursday, December 15, 2016. He was found guilty of all 33 federal counts. The verdict was not in doubt as he candidly observed, “We all know I am guilty.” The federal trial moves into the sentencing phase on January 6, 2017. The state trial will begin on January 17, 2017, with prosecutors explicitly stating they intend to seek the death penalty.
Reading the coverage of the federal trial in the national news revealed glimpses of the horror and emotion the families had to relive. The massacre was replayed through the media and snapshots of the trial. Even more troubling was the revelation that Mr. Roof had a list of churches—many of them AME—where he intended to find and murder Black people.
We know that the state verdict will probably mirror the federal verdict and the discussion will turn to the extent that Mr. Roof will have to atone for his heinous crimes. Listening to the thoughts and comments of AMEs, there is tension between embodying Christian teachings by wanting or needing to forgive and the desire for justice and revenge. In their last moments on Earth, those slain by Mr. Roof showed Christian empathy and love in the face of pure evil. They are gone but he remains—for now. Does the death of Mr. Roof equate to justice for ones who follow Christ?
The cathartic release obtained by seeing the executioner’s needle or switch masks the fact that Dylan Roof was not a lone gunman—despite the protestations of the defense. He was the product of a system of prejudice and racism that has been shrouded in the gentility of Southern customs and manners. The same people who were so swept up and hurt by the carnage inflicted by one of their own, voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump. (According to CNN exit polls, the President-Elect won 70% of white voters in South Carolina). South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley—the same person who sat and mourned with us and called Trump “everything a governor does not want in a President”—is now designee for the Trump Administration’s Ambassador to the United Nations.
It is clear that the same environment that birthed a Dylan Roof elected a Donald Trump. This is the situation that we are called to face. So, while we may find solace in verdicts and punishments, the fight against the real culprit for the murder in Mother Emanuel—America’s vitriolic racism—continues.