A Shooting During Bible Study
He walked nonchalantly into Charleston’s predominately Black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (the Church). The young Caucasian man took a seat and joined a bible study class that had already begun. Because the church had an open door policy, he was welcomed to join the seated Afro-Americans in fellowship. The date was June 17, 2015, and the time was about 9:00 pm. No one in the class could have imagined that the unassuming young man would soon unleash unimaginable violence against them.
As the class wound down, the young man suddenly rose to his feet. Without saying a word, he reached into his pocket and took out a Glock automatic handgun. He began to shoot his fellow worshipers one by one. When the rampage finally ended, nine people lay dead on the floor. Among the dead was the church’s senior pastor, Clementa Pnkney, who was also a State Senator. The shooting struck deep in the conscious of American. Some people wondered if the nation was returning to the social and racial strife of the 50s and 60s. Showing a path to reconciliation and respect, President Obama traveled to South Carolina on June 26 to deliver the eulogy at the services for State Senator Pinckney.
The shooter probably thought that he had killed everyone, but he hadn’t. A survivor of the massacre told the police that the man had used racial epithets while he was firing.
Security cameras recorded the shooter fleeing, if it could be called that, from the scene. The police recovered the camera’s footage and posted the shooter’s likeness on the Internet and with the news media. At a news conference, police officials requested the public’s assistance in identifying and apprehending the shooter. Within hours, the police had received a major break in the case; the father of the alleged shooter had contacted them. The man tearfully told them that picture of the suspect was that of his son, Dylann Roof
The elder Roof voluntarily cooperated with the police. The Charleston police issued an all-points bulletin (APB) for Dylann Roof’s arrest. A description of the car that Roof might be driving was included in the bulletin. The information the elder Roof provided led directly to the arrest of his son. In my opinion, the Charleston Police Department should be commended for their professional work in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
In the morning of June 19, 2015, Police in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, captured Roof. A commuter driving along a highway observed a car that fit the description of the car described in the APB. She pulled along the side of the car and identified Roof as the driver. Using her cellular phone, she called her boss to tell him who she had just spotted. The co-worker contacted an acquaintance who worked in the local police department. A few phone calls later, deputies of the Shelby Police Department caught up to Dylan’s car and took him into custody. The 48-hour manhunt came to an end without a shot being fired nor was anyone injured during the arrest.
Given the circumstances of the shooting, it was not surprising that the first news reports lacked substantive details about the shooting. People with personal knowledge of the shooting supplemented the news medias’ versions by tweeting and posting on social media their accounts of the tragedy. What the reports and accounts had in common was that the shooter was a White male and victims were Black. Most Americans sighed in resignation that the shooting would occasion another debate to nowhere over the question of race. From what I had heard and read, it seemed likely that Roof’s attack had been racially motivated. Yet, there has never been any evidence that Roof acted as part of a White conspiracy.
South Carolina police initially charged Roof with nine counts of murder. Subsequently, state prosecutors impaneled a grand jury to consider evidence of the shooting. On July 7, 2015, the State Prosecutor’s office issued a statement that Roof had been indicted on nine murder counts, three counts of attempted murder and a weapons count. Much to the consternation of many civil rights advocates and local community activists, the state criminal case against Roof was proceeding professionally and without any public grandstanding.
Opinion polls indicated that a majority of Blacks and liberals wanted Roof charged with a hate crime. I believe that if he had committed the crime in a jurisdiction where hate crimes were chargeable, he would have been indicted for having committed one. For better or worst South Carolina has no statutory provision for charging of hate crimes.
Without knowing the substantive facts of the case or the evidence against Roof, many people clamored for Roof to get the death penalty. These “newly anointed advocates of the death penalty” probably were spurred on by Gov. Nikki Haley who publicly stated that the case warranted the death penalty. South Carolina does permit the imposition of the death penalty for certain convictions. State prosecutors decided to carefully consider their options in terms of punishment. They knew that it would have been professionally negligent to seek the death penalty without first conducting numerous mandated investigations. Community activists and their allies began to question the South Carolina’s desire to “seek justice.” They publicly expressed the view that if the shooter had been Black and his victims had been White justice would have already been rendered.