Dylann Roof – the white supremacist suspect in the 2015 Charleston church massacre – will defend himself when his trial commences in three weeks. He faces dozens of charges stemming from the racist murder of 9 black victims, ranging from hate crime charges to obstruction of religion. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
Jude Richard Gergel, a US District Judge, labeled Roof’s request to defend himself “unwise,” though he chose to permit the 22 year-old white supremacist his lawful request.
The Charleston church massacre occurred on June 17, 2015, at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The institution was pivotal for organizing during the civil rights era, and has hosted a number of extraordinary leaders throughout the years, from Booker T. Washington to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The church is the oldest historically black congregation south of Baltimore, Maryland.
On the night of the shooting, Roof allegedly walked in and joined a bible study underway at the congregation, which welcomed Roof to participate. After an hour, he stood up and proceeded to fire, killing nine including the church’s senior pastor and a state senator.
According to survivor testimony, Roof explained the atrocity in explicitly racist language: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
By gaining permission to defend himself, Roof will potentially be in a position to cross-examine witnesses and family members of the victims – a harrowing prospect, certainly. But if the behavior of the victim’s family members during Roof’s first appearance in court serves as any precedent, the potential antagonism of a racist murderer will only be met with profound human strength.
As Nadine Collier, whose 70 year-old mother Ethel Lance was among the dead, told Roof in the June, 2015 appearance:
I forgive you. You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.
The racist dimensions of the Charleston church massacre are a grim indication of how far we still have to go. In Trump’s America, racially-motivated violence has seen a resurgence. The president-elect has selected Steve Bannon – a noted white nationalist – to serve as his chief policy advisor, as well as Jeff Sessions – an avowed racist and life-long opponent to civil rights – as attorney general.
It is as important as ever to say no to normalization, and to stonewall the Trump Administration’s drive to popularize racism and bigotry for the sake of political expediency.