One year ago, June 15, a 21 year old white male entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina while in the middle of evening prayer service. Before those inside could sense any hint of danger, the youth drew a handgun and started blasting away at the churchgoers, killing nine and wounding one. When the gunman was caught the following day at a traffic stop, he readily confessed to the killings and the fact that he had planned it for half a year beforehand.
He also revealed his chilling objective for what he had done: to ignite a race war in the United States. As of Thursday December 13 as The New York Times tells it, the Charleston Church shooter, Dylann Roof by name, has been found guilty in all 33 counts of criminal charges against him at FederalDistrict Court, including federal hate crimes. The now 22-year- old stood impassive as the verdict was read on him at court, in the presence of two survivors of his attack and the relatives of those who died. While the question of culpability has been decided, it will not be until January 3 next year when Roof presents himself at court once more for sentencing, will it be determined whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison without parole, or be executed for his crimes.
Jury deliberations on Roof’s case that Thursday was brief as such things go. The fact that even his defense attorneys concede that he did what he did and told the truth about it while in FBI interrogation pretty much ensured that the only verdict coming out that day was the obviously expected one. Shooting survivor Felicia Sanders noted, “I knew it was going to be guilty, guilty, guilty, all the way through.” Her son was among those killed by Roof at the church, and her husband Tyrone Sanders called him “pure evil”.
The depths of Roof’s inhumane and horrible action was profound in how the trial revealed the extent of his plotting to kill a large amount of African Americans in one go; the EAMEC was but one of several possible targets, among other churches and even the College of Charleston, making his final choice out of the knowledge that security is next to non-existent and that his intended victims will not be able to fight back or hide themselves effectively. Even worse, Roof’s views were not turned radical by contact with others, but that he radicalized himself by obsessing over crimes involving black against white.
Roof’s murder spree was an early precursor of sorts to the heightened racial tensions happening right now in the coming presidency of Donald Trump which was said to have empowered such actions. It was memorable how an image of Roof embracing the Confederate battle flag spurred the South Carolina State House to stop flying it in the grounds.
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