Dylan Roof, the murderer of nine innocent praying churchgoers from Mother Emmanuel AME Church, has been sentenced to death for his heartless crime. I think most people can agree that Dylan Roof’s actions warrant severe and long-term punishment. However, the death sentence unfortunately erases many important and necessary conversations that need to be had. Now that Roof has been sentenced to death, he and his crime will be put to rest in the minds of too many. What is imperative for us to move forward and possibly learn and heal as a nation is a more sustained conversation about the how and why behind Roof’s heinous acts.
When Roof walked into a Mother Emmanuel on a summer evening in 2015 and was embraced and prayed for, no one asked why he was there. It did not matter in the eyes of these God loving congregants. If a man comes into the house of the Lord, according to scripture, he should be welcomed and loved. And even after Roof senselessly killed mothers, brothers, grandmothers, husbands, wives and children, he was still forgiven, as scripture instructs Christians to do. Sentencing Roof to death absolved him and any individuals and groups who may have taught or introduced Roof to that level of hate.
To merely dismiss Roof as a monster, the devil or heartless soul is missing the larger more sinister foundation behind his act of malice. Who taught Roof about the Rhodesian flag on his jacket, a symbol of oppression and colonialism in eastern Africa? Why did Roof consistently pose with the Confederate flag? Who took those photos of Roof burning the American flag, and why was that not a cause for alarm that an 18-year-old spouted miscellaneous manifestos of hate, white supremacy and bigotry? What websites and literature did he read? Did Roof learn these lessons of hate in his own home or community, or did he join a larger more widespread online community across the United States and even abroad?
Roof’s death sentence these larger questions unanswered, and we are left with the murders of nine innocent people. We are also left with the state sanctioned death of a citizen who committed a truly horrendous act in which no real answers were ever sought. The foundation and reasons behind his actions will never be known, and unfortunately that, shortsightedness only further contributes to the possibility of this type of atrocity happening once again, especially in the current race-baiting climate encouraged by the new president.
I will continue to honor Cynthia Hurd, 54, Susie Jackson, 87, Ethel Lance, 70, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, the Hon. Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41, Tywanza Sanders, 26, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, 45, and Myra Thompson, 59. I will also continue to think more deeply about the real conversations that need to be had so we can move forward, heal and collectively act as a Black American in this country.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.