White supremacy is dead—or at least that is what some people in America would like us to believe. They try convincing us that the hatred wrapped in starch white hoods and swastika laden flags no longer inhabit this great land. However, white supremacists and their vulgarity are alive and well, contaminating our nation with their racism and bigotry.
On June 17, 2015, 22-year-old Dylann Roof, a proud white supremacist and neo-Nazi, shot and killed 9 African-American churchgoers during a service at the historically prominent Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Roof committed acts of racism and neo-Nazism in his daily life, posting photos on the Internet of himself with a Confederate Flag and a gun. But those were just photos, or so everyone thought. On June 17th he decided to take his hatred once step further, killing nine innocents in cold blood. He has since said that he hoped to incite a race war through the killings, which he in turn hoped would lead to the reinstitution of segregation. Roof was arrested and put on trial for his heinous actions. After a long trial, Roof has been found guilty of all 33 counts he has been charged with, which is not only a victory for the families of his victims, but for African-Americans across the country, who have suffered long enough at the hands of hatred. On January 3rd, 2016 the trial will conclude with the jury deciding whether or not Roof gets to spend his life in prison, or receive the death penalty for his crimes.
But, should Dylann Roof receive the death penalty? Should we kill him for his crimes?
There is no denying that the murders Dylann Roof committed were monstrous, heartless and malevolent. His actions exhibit the darkest side of humanity, a side that is riddled with death, destruction and cold-bloodedness. Because of Dylann Roof, nine people never got to watch another sunset, say another prayer, or kiss their loved ones goodnight. Roof snatched the breath right from their lungs, and his crimes are unforgivable. Roof and his white supremacist ideals are poisoning America’s freedom, hope, and future. His very existence is a stain on all of humanity’s existence, and he is worthy of punishment. But, is death the answer?
I’ve been an advocate of abolishing the death penalty for some time now. It is something I am quite passionate about, and I advocate for the belief every chance I get. The one question I always get is, “What if one’s crimes are so heinous, so deplorable, so unforgivable that they deserve nothing but death? What if someone murders innocents for no reason other than the color of their skin?” And I’ve always wondered what I’d do if that situation arose: would my opinion of the death penalty be clouded by absolute detestation and abhorrence towards the individual at hand?
Then, Roof went on his murder spree. I was livid, I was dismayed, and I wanted revenge. Nonetheless, after that anger and loathing passed, I was faced with the fact that Dylann Roof might actually be put to death. My ideals and my advocacy for the abolition of the death penalty snapped me back to reality. I knew what I believed in.
Dylann Roof might be the worst of the worst, but we cannot kill him. We cannot kill one who kills others, because through our act of killing we become no better than them. By murdering murderers, we are placing ourselves on the same pedestal as those we are seeking to punish. By killing him, we will be engaging in the evil that lies within him, and that evil will be with us forever.
If we make the choice to give Dylann Roof the death penalty, we all need to live with that. We all need to live with the fact that we killed a man. Yes, that man is cruel, and a relentless murdering racist, but we must remember that we are good. Although Dylann Roof deserves death, we do not deserve to kill him. We do not deserve to have that blemish on our souls for the rest of time, because death is permanent, and death is forever.
The United States is the only Western nation that still retains the death penalty. While all the other developed nations of the world have long abolished this archaic practice, America has stuck with it. We still maintain this Code of Hammurabi from long ago, where an eye for an eye, and a life for a life is considered justifiable. But it isn’t justice—it is harsh, despicable and ancient. It is a practice that eats at the souls of the executioners—all of us— and teaches our children that murdering another human being is okay. Isn’t that what we are trying to punish Roof for? Why would we fight murder with more murder? It’s something we must contemplate.