Yesterday Dylann Roof, the white supremacist guilty of killing the church-goers that warmly welcomed him into their community, was sentenced to execution. His crimes are monstrous. Roof premeditated the murder of those welcoming people and carried it out in hate. Killing another human is wrong. Yet, a group of 12 people deciding that Roof be killed is somehow right?
We might hate a criminal for their crimes but we cannot kill them with the same hate that we disapprove of in them. The death penalty is simply not cohesive with our modern liberal values, nor does it work practically.
On the practical side the death penalty does not assist victims in their healing process, it doesn’t deter crime and it’s an expensive punishment. Only 15% of victims in the Boston Marathon Bombing wanted the death penalty against Tsarnaev and while the victims of the Charleston shooting are more divided, research shows that the pursuit of capital punishment prevents healing through prolonging court cases. Indeed, Roof’s conviction would have finished last year if the US Attorney hadn’t have sought execution, thereby preventing further distress for the victims caused by heavy media coverage and the focus on the traumatic events. Roof will likely appeal yesterday’s decision and lead to a decade long process through the legal system. Government doggedly pursues this prolonged distress in the name of deterring crime yet the vast majority of criminologists agree that it doesn’t deter crime and is instead just a simple way for politicians to appear ‘tough on crime’ rather than dealing with the reasons for its existence. In this quest for capital punishment more and more is yet spent on the prolonged court cases that cause so much pain.
I find it truly ironic that many seek the punishment of a deeply hateful, racist man through capital punishment, but this merely upholds the institution of capital punishment, a deeply hateful, racist institution. Many opponents of capital punishment find it easier to remain silent during this case for fear of inadvertently seeming to sympathise with Dylann Roof. Well Roof is disgusting. His lack of remorse and deep seated hatred leads me to very pessimistic thoughts about humanity. However, it is at this time that anti-racist groups show should their support to remove racism within society. By choosing to oppose the death penalty for Roof, they will be standing in opposition to the institution that has so disproportionately punished African-American criminals. Furthermore it is an institution that has lead to the state-sponsored murder of the innocent with an estimated 4.1% of those sentences to death to be innocent. Whilst Roof’s guilt is not in doubt, promoting the use of the death penalty in his case would only serve to continue this unjust practice.
Dylann Roof committed the ultimate taboo: killing another human. He has committed crimes that must be punished. However, to kill murderers such as Roof is reprehensible. He is no threat to society behind bars yet we actively make the choice to kill him for revenge. Revenge that serves no purpose nor satisfies no person. We live in a modern liberal society that regularly punishes criminals. The aim of our punishing them is to restore the order of our society and uphold our values. The death penalty stands in polar opposite to this restorative justice. We must stand up for justice that reconciles and stand against the divisive and abhorrent institution of the death penalty – regardless of the criminal.
(Image courtesy of Charleston County Sheriff’s Office)