Dylann Roof deserves the death penalty. Any way you slice it.
He shot dead nine black Americans in a Charleston church. He committed a hate crime against an entire race of people. He committed domestic terrorism in a house of worship. He shows no remorse.
The death penalty prosecution of Roof is set to begin Nov. 7 in federal court in Charleston. It’s my hope that Roof is sentenced to death for his heinous, racist and calculated crime. I say this not just as the brother of one of the victims, but also as a Charleston native, as a churchgoer, as a former lawmaker and as an American.
In a Washington Post op-ed that appeared in the Charlotte Observer on Tuesday, Wade Henderson contends that executing Roof validates a punishment that a disproportionate number of blacks versus whites receive. Mr. Henderson, an African American civil rights attorney, believes Roof should be sentenced to life in prison, not death. I disagree.
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Dylann Roof deserves the death penalty. I say this despite being an African American who knows all too well that police officers and courts don’t treat my people fairly.
Being a black man in America means wrestling with the issue of capital punishment and the sad reality that blacks are disproportionately punished by death, especially when the victim is white. I’ve wrangled with the issue and have always come down to the belief that some crimes are just too awful, too heinous for the perpetrators to receive anything less.
As an N.C. senator, I voted for a racial justice act, legislation that gave defendants greater opportunity to defend themselves and avoid capital sentences. But I do believe there is a place for the death sentence and Roof claimed his place when he slaughtered my sister, Cynthia Graham Hurd, and eight other prayer group members.
Mr. Henderson’s argument against the death penalty for Roof actually promotes racism. Our African American brothers and sisters don’t receive fair and equal treatment in our judicial and criminal justice systems. But that doesn’t mean that when our people are the victims – the ones innocently slaughtered – that we should seek some sort of moral high road rather than demand justice and a punishment befitting the crime.
Black lives continue to matter less in this country – another sad truth that news headlines remind us of on a daily basis.
Black lives matter less if you are a criminal or a suspect. Black lives matter less if you are driving or walking down the wrong street at the wrong time. Black lives matter less if you are wearing the “wrong” clothes or playing your music too loudly.
Now you are telling me that black lives matter less if you are praying in a church.
Suggesting that Roof be allowed to serve a life sentence is like validating a prejudice that goes like this: Only blacks who commit heinous crimes against humanity and our country deserve to be executed.
It is saying: White lives matter more and that white victims matter more.
My sister’s life mattered. The lives of the eight innocent souls who died by her side mattered.
Dylann Roof deserves the death penalty.
Malcolm Graham is a Charleston native and former Charlotte City Council member and N.C. state senator.