“You Cannot Change the World By Doing What’s Convenient or Comfortable”
One Plea of “Mercy” for Dylan Storm Roof
When I read that the death penalty is being sought against Dylan Storm Roof, for the murders of the nine men and women whom he shot to death in Mother Emmanuel A. M. E. Church, a year ago this month, I felt a sense of sadness and remorse. My sadness however was not felt only for Dylan’s fate, but for the fate of race relations in a country that as Americans we love.
As much as we mourn the loss of lives that were taken in such a horrifically insane manner, taking the life of Dylan Roof, will not bring any one of them back. In fact, to issue the death penalty would be expressive of the same barbaric disregard for human life that he showed towards parishioners who expressed only kindness towards him.
The deaths of the nine men and women of Emanuel grieved this entire nation, as well as people around the world. We here in South Carolina are presented with a great opportunity to continue the legacy of the Charleston Nine by not just professing to be a humane society, but by actually showing that we are.
I am an African American woman, a mother and a grandmother whose hope it is for a more kinder and just society for people of all races and ethnicities. I am hopeful that one day skin color and religious belief or practice will not continue to divide us.
There is no question that what Mr. Roof did was wrong. However, as terrible of a thing that he has done, he is a member of a community of citizens called Americans. As Americans, we are connected by a shared history, and that history is in part founded upon the branding of the flesh of human beings to document them as property, as inventory, and not as people.
Because Mr. Roof grew up in a country whose foundation was built upon a blatant disrespect of human life, it seems ironic that a country whose history was established upon laws that made it legal to commit cruel and inhumane acts against human beings including children, for financial gain, would establish laws that would sentence an individual to die in a most inhumane manner because he committed a cruel and inhumane act against humans beings. The message that this type of reasoning sends is at its worst hypocritical, and at best conflicting.
Our forefathers owned human beings, and yet they established laws to govern our nation. Laws that children are taught did not recognize African Americans as human beings, and certainly not equal to whites. It took a civil war just to grant them freedom and document their humanity.
Collectively as a people and a nation, we have journeyed to this point in our country’s history where a 21-year-old white male entered a church and assassinated nine people. The result of racism. Racism was described by Toni Morrison, during an interview with Charlie Rose, as “Bereft.”
“The people who do this thing, who practice racism are bereft, there is something distorted about the psyche. It is a huge waste and it is a corruption and a distortion. It’s like it is a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is. It feels crazy, it is crazy, and it has as much of a deleterious effect on white people and possibly equal as it has on black people.”
What has being a nation of people, whose history of race relations in this country, as exhibited through the Civil Rights movement, produced? It has produced confused citizens like Dylan Roof. How can we as a country not take responsibility for his brokenness and for ours? Laws punish, but they also protect. Dylan clearly shows signs of mental illness.
Dylan is one of America’s sons and we have failed him. We are products of a history based on treating people like the “Other” and like they do not belong here in the United States of America, a country built by the free labor of slaves.
We must admit that we have, and in many cases continue to set bad examples of what a humane country looks like. Our country’s stance on race was aired on television for all to see. During the Civil Rights Movement African American men, women and children marched with signs in hand that read “I am a Man” “I am Somebody” “We Shall Not Be Moved” and were attacked by German Shepherd dogs, beaten with clubs, and sprayed with water from fire hoses, while Jim Crow Laws segregated even water fountains.
This is an opportunity for our country to begin doing a better job of teaching that what happened to African Americans and Native Americans in this country was wrong and that it should never be replicated, and when blatant acts of racism occur we must denounce them.
We can change race relations in this country by teaching America’s children to respect diversity, and to see all people first and foremost as human beings.
Yes, justice must be served against Dylan, but let’s not forget our history. A history that included the horror of lynching a human being and then setting the corpse on fire while children were in attendance having a picnic with their parents.
Dylan deserves to pay for his crimes, but must we kill him as if exterminating him is going to heal race relations in this country? It is my plea that Dylan Storm Roof not receive the death penalty, and that this country cease to use it as a method of punishment for crimes committed until America’s judicial system puts itself on trial for the enforcement of unjust laws that destroys people lives.
Capital punishment is immoral, and making an example of Dylan by sentencing him to death by the cruelest method of punishment imaginable will not deter repeated behavior of the same from happening.