A federal jury in South Carolina sentenced Dylann Roof to death today for killing nine black parishioners inside a church during a bible study session. It took the jury less than three hours to decide upon this sentence.
The sentence is obviously just, and it is a reminder of why we need the death penalty. A sentence of life imprisonment would be horribly inadequate in Roof’s case. It would not come close to fitting the crimes.
Roof wasn’t even repentant at his sentencing hearing. He said, “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”
Roof also riffed on the fact that he was tried for hate crimes. He declared, “Anyone that thinks I’m filled with hatred has no idea what real hatred is.” He distinguished between hating black people and “hating what they do.” He also said the prosecution hates him.
In his own twisted way, Roof touches on the problem with hate crime legislation. It doesn’t matter what Roof is “filled with” or whether he hated the people he murdered or their race. Roof killed them in cold blood. That, not his inner feelings about race, is what warrants him being put to death.
The victims’ family members, at least those quoted here, were in accord with Roof’s sentence. “Justice was served,” said Kevin Singleton, whose mother, Myra Thompson, was killed.
Aja Risher, granddaughter of a victim, stated:
I didn’t think the verdict would affect me the way it has; I haven’t stopped crying. But I’m so happy that their lives matter. It’s not just a terrible tragedy that happened. It renews my faith a little bit.
If this case didn’t warrant the death penalty, what case would? He took it upon himself to take nine beautiful lives. Now 12 people of all races have said his life is the price he needs to pay for that.
The same victim’s daughter added that she had been ambivalent about the sentencing of Roof, but “now that [the jurors] have said he will get the death penalty, I feel that they have given him what he deserves; it is well with my soul.”
Without a death penalty, our society would be unable to make manifest the full heinousness of crimes like Roof’s and to express fully the outrage they rightfully engender. We would be unable adequately to demonstrate, as Aja Risher put it, that the victims lives (in this case black lives) truly matter.
I respect those who want to abolish the death penalty. But they should be required to explain why lesser punishment is sufficient for someone like Roof.