Federal hate crimes filed in Charleston church shooting
By Brian E. Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
COLUMBIA, SC (FinalCall.com) – A federal grand jury in South Carolina returned a 33-count indictment against Dylann Storm Roof, a 21-year-old admitted white supremacist, charging him with federal hate and firearms charges for killing and attempting to kill Black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., because of their race and to interfere with their exercise of their religion.
United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the indictment at a July 22 press briefing in Washington, D.C., after a month-long federal investigation of the case.
“This federal grand jury indictment follows an announcement I made on June 18, 2015, that the Department of Justice was conducting a hate crime investigation into the shooting incident at Emanuel AME,” said Attorney General Lynch. Nine people were killed in the church basement.
“As set forth in the indictment, several months prior to the tragic events of June 17, Roof conceived of his goal of increasing racial tensions throughout the nation and seeking retribution for perceived wrongs he believed African Americans had committed against white people,” said Lynch.
Essential to his plan was finding victims inside a Black church “to ensure the greatest notoriety and attention to his actions,” the attorney general added.
“Mother Emanuel was his destination specifically because it was a historically African-American church of significance to the people of Charleston, of South Carolina and the nation.”
Welcomed into the church, Roof joined the Bible study. The victims had bibles, Roof had a 45-caliber Glock pistol and eight magazines loaded with hollow point bullets, said Lynch.
Roof is charged under the “Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act” which prohibits using or attempting to use a dangerous weapon to cause bodily injury on the basis of race. The Shepard-Byrd Act was enacted specifically to deal with unique harm caused by racially motivated violence.
Since South Carolina does not have a hate crime law, the federal indictment is separate from state charges on nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.
If convicted Roof faces anywhere from life imprisonment to the death penalty, but no decision has been made whether to seek the death penalty after a blood bath that drew international attention and prompted conversations about race and white domestic terrorism.
DeAndre Muhammad, the Charleston, S.C., representative of the Nation of Islam, said given Roof’s actions—particularly killing a state senator—capital punishment is called for.
“The weight of the nine, including a state senator (Clementa Pinckney) is the weight of an assassination … the weight of the pressure … the agony … the sorrow of the families and the people who had to deal with that and still haven’t recovered. That’s a life for a life,” said Muhammad. “Everything of violation that they could put on him—hate crimes, domestic terrorism or whatever—should warrant him the death penalty. He shouldn’t stay alive,” said Muhammad.
The state president of the National Action Network, Elder James Johnson, said he was pleased with developments in the case. “It’s going to have to play out with the state and the federal,” he said. “Both of them carry the death penalty; it will be hard for him to wiggle his way out.”
Elder Johnson argued it will be difficult for the alleged shooter to get off because Roof signed an affidavit admitting he committed the atrocities.
Roof will be represented in the federal case by David Bruck, who defended Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Susan Smith, the white South Carolina woman convicted of drowning her young children in a lake after falsely claiming they were carjacked and kidnapped by a Black man. Roof’s trial is tentatively scheduled to begin July 11, 2016.