Events test­ing calls for for­give­ness

Roof doesn’t want men­tal health mulled

The Denver Post - - NEWS - By Er­rin Haines Whack

The vic­tims’ fam­i­lies spoke words of for­give­ness in Charleston, S.C., af­ter nine black peo­ple were mas­sa­cred in a his­toric church by Dy­lann Roof, a white man who har­bored dreams of launch­ing a race war. The rel­a­tives were held up as ex­am­ples of grace amid hor­ror, and the city stayed calm.

Now, Roof has been con­victed in a fed­eral trial, bring­ing re­lief tem­pered by un­cer­tainty over whether he will get the death penalty for his crimes — and whether wanting to see Roof pay with his life is at odds with the call to for­give.

Roof’s guilty ver­dict came less than two weeks af­ter a jury dead­locked in the case of Michael Slager, a white ex-po­lice of­fi­cer charged with fa­tally shoot­ing Wal­ter Scott, a black man, as Scott tried to flee an April 2015 traf­fic stop. The sen­tenc­ing phase of his trial is sched­uled for next month.

The prox­im­ity of the cases — tried in court­houses across the street from each other — left Charleston min­is­ter Ky­lon Mid­dle­ton un­sure about where jus­tice ac­tu­ally dwells.

Mid­dle­ton counted the slain pas­tor of Emanuel African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church, Cle­menta Pinck­ney, as his clos­est friend. Mid­dle­ton sat in the court­room daily, from the start of jury se­lec­tion un­til Roof’s ver­dict was ren­dered, mourn­ing his friend and wrestling with for­give­ness as he watched a trial with an out­come that felt es­pe­cially un­cer­tain.

“You can’t as­sume peo­ple are go­ing to do the right thing,” said Mid­dle­ton, pas­tor of Mount Zion African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church. “Some peo­ple, based on race or bias, ... will never go against some­one of the same race.”

Af­ter the Slager mis­trial, noth­ing is a fore­gone con­clu­sion — even with an abun­dance of ev­i­dence, said Herb Fra­zier, co-au­thor of a book about the June 2015 Emanuel church shoot­ings that left nine wor­shipers dead. They were shot by Roof af­ter he was wel­comed into their weekly Bible study.

“A lot of this is un­set­tling emo­tion­ally, and there seems to be no res­o­lu­tion to any­thing,” Fra­zier said.

Roof was con­victed Thurs­day af­ter more than a week of of­ten emo­tional tes­ti­mony that in­cluded sur­vivors’ ac­counts of the killings. At his bond hear­ing last year, sev­eral rel­a­tives of Roof ’s vic­tims said they for­gave him and asked for God’s grace on his soul. The ges­tures of com­pas­sion were praised as a re­mark­able re­sponse to over­whelm­ing grief and tragedy, and held forth as a model for the coun­try.

Feli­cia San­ders, whose son Ty­wanza was killed by Roof as he at­tempted to shield a church el­der, has been forced to grap­ple per­son­ally with the ques­tion. She told Roof at his bond hear­ing last sum­mer, “May God have mercy on you.”

One of two adult sur­vivors of the shoot­ing, San­ders was the first prose­cu­tion wit­ness in Roof ’s trial. Dur­ing the trial, San­ders called him “evil, evil, evil” and said he “should rot in hell.”

Mid­dle­ton said the fam­i­lies’ im­pulse to for­give may have been more knee­jerk than gen­uine emo­tion re­sult­ing from a process of con­tem­pla­tion.

“I don’t think they had time to ab­sorb the fact that their loved ones were heinously mur­dered,” Mid­dle­ton said. “The coun­try au­to­mat­i­cally ex­pected us to be for­giv­ing, caus­ing the na­tional per­cep­tion of the won­der­ful peo­ple of Charleston.”

The Rev. Mark Tyler, pas­tor of Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, is still try­ing to process the Charleston shoot­ings and the no­tion of for­give­ness. Af­ter the Slager de­ci­sion, Tyler was dis­cour­aged that “400 years later, we’re still in the same place, with many peo­ple feel­ing like black peo­ple don’t be­long here.”

“Re­peat­edly, black peo­ple in Amer­ica have shown the will­ing­ness to for­give, but too many refuse to meet us there,” Tyler said. “The rest of the coun­try looked at that mo­ment and said, ‘This is won­der­ful,’ think­ing (blacks) have for­given white peo­ple for all of the wrongs that have hap­pened in Amer­ica.”

Ac­tivist Bree New­some — who made head­lines last year when she scaled a flag­pole at South Carolina’s capi­tol and pulled down the Con­fed­er­ate flag af­ter the Emanuel shoot­ings — placed the Slager case on a con­tin­uum of in­jus­tices against black peo­ple. New­some said her faith was moved by the fam­i­lies of the shoot­ing vic­tims, but she doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily sub­scribe to the no­tion of for­give­ness around black death.

columbia, s.c. » Dy­lann Roof doesn’t want ju­rors to con­sider his men­tal health when they de­cide next month whether he should face the death penalty for killing nine black Charleston church wor­ship­pers, ac­cord­ing to a hand­writ­ten mo­tion he filed late Fri­day.

Roof ’s de­ci­sion to not call men­tal health ex­perts to tes­tify isn’t too much of a sur­prise. In his hate-filled, racist jour­nal read to the jury dur­ing his trial, Roof said he doesn’t be­lieve in psy­chol­ogy.

“It is a Jewish in­ven­tion and does noth­ing but in­vent dis­eases and tell peo­ple they have prob­lems when they don’t,” Roof wrote.

Roof, 22, is act­ing as his own lawyer dur­ing the penalty phase of his trial, which starts Jan. 3.

The same jury that con­victed him Thurs­day on 33 charges, in­clud­ing hate crime and ob­struc­tion of re­li­gion, will de­cide if Roof is sen­tenced to life in prison with­out pa­role or death.

In his hand­writ­ten note, he said: “I will not be call­ing men­tal health ex­perts or pre­sent­ing men­tal health ev­i­dence.”

Roof’s lawyers un­suc­cess­fully tried to stop him from be­ing his own lawyer, say­ing he was a high school dropout and that they feared Roof fired them be­cause he was afraid the at­tor­neys would present ev­i­dence that would em­bar­rass him and his fam­ily when try­ing to save his life.

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