Don’t make Dylann Roof a martyr
After being found guilty of 33 counts for the massacre of nine African American churchgoers in Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., white supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof was sentenced to death by a federal judge on Wednesday. During the trial, Roof showed no remorse for his actions and presented no evidence in his defense.
While many saw the sentence as justice finally being done for the heinous hate crimes Roof committed, I question whether that ruling only furthers Roof ’s twisted cause. A greater punishment would be to sentence Roof to life in prison without the possibility of parole so that he can see minorities thrive in American society, and his plans of fueling a race war being foiled.
I can understand the feelings of people who believe a death sentence for Roof is justified. However, I can’t help but wonder if this is really what Roof wanted all along: to become a martyr for white supremacy and the race war he hoped to ignite.
We can’t ignore the power of symbols. They have the potential to spark movements and serve as a rallying call to anyone who may feel disenfranchised. Just as when a suicide bomber is celebrated by his peers for sacrificing himself for a cause, a similar validation may be held by white supremacists.
We should be more concerned with the people and online hate groups that radicalized Roof. We must address those hateful ideas and beliefs that give birth to white supremacy terrorists. I’d rather see administrative and legislative changes to policies that enable systemic racism and allow white supremacist groups to go undetected.
According to the FBI report on hate crime statistics, 2015 saw a 7 percent increase, which accounted for more than 4,000 offenses based on race/ethnicity/ancestry. More than half of the hate crimes targeted African Americans. We won’t know the official number of hate crimes in 2016 until late this year, when the FBI files its report. However, there have been several reports of spikes in hate crimes following a presidential election that exploited racial resentments.
There are too many people who share in Roof ’s sentiments. We’re at a point in this country where movements like the self-described “alt-right” have surged in recent years, preaching white nationalism and openly criticizing multiculturalism and immigration in order to protect what they perceive as threats to the white race.
If we truly want to prevent more attacks like the massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church from happening again, then we must use all available resources to combat domestic terrorism. Creation of martyrs is not a winning strategy against hate.
Dylann Roof had hoped to ignite a race war when he killed black churchgoers in 2015.