There’s an inside joke among black Washingtonians: We’re all from Carolina. That is to say, somewhere in our lineage, whether by blood or church heritage, we’ve all got a connection to North or South Carolina.
No such connection was in play Wednesday night/Thursday morning, when we learned that a terrorist had entered a church, sat for about an hour among the congregants and then opened fire.
The gunman fled.
He fled like Timothy McVeigh, who in 1995 detonated a truck bomb in front of a federal government building in Oklahoma City. The building also housed a day care center, and two other men were charged in the bombing. McVeigh, a Persian Gulf War vet, was 26 when he committed mass murder and 33 when he was executed in 2001.
Terrorists and other mass killers don’t always run, though. James Eagan Holmes didn’t. Armed to the teeth with a shotgun, Smith & Wesson assault rifle, a Glock handgun and several rounds of ammunition, Holmes tear-gassed and then sprayed an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater with bullets. Police found him just outside the theater, where he was preparing to wrap things up. Holmes was calm and did not resist arrest. Coloradans will weigh the death penalty when his trial is complete.
Dzhokhar Anzorovich “Jahar” Tsarnaev, the 2013 Boston Marathon bomber, was 19 years old when he set out to maim and kill. He was convicted in April and sentenced to die by lethal injection in May. Tsarnaev turns 22 in July.
Live by the sword, die by the sword.
That’s what Massachusetts, Colorado, South Carolina and other death penalty states say. Oklahoma allows executions by firing squad, and Utah has brought back such executions. A South Carolina state lawmaker, Republican Rep. Joshua Putnam, has proposed legislation that would allow capital offenders to be shot to death. The Palmetto State’s chief forms of executions were by hanging and, later, the electric chair, which was used until 1995, when lethal injection was introduced. South Carolinians also used to burn death row inmates to death.
The last execution in South Carolina was 2011, and two prisoners were sentenced to death in 2014.
Of course, it’s too early to tell what is going to happen to Mr. Roof, since he just committed his heinous acts on Wednesday night and entered a courtroom in Shelby, North Carolina, to waive extradition. By the time of the Friday evening newscasts, Mr. Roof should be back in Charleston, standing face to face with prosecutors and a judge.
People want swift justice — but swift is a relative term when it is applied to justice.
The Boston Marathon massacre case was swift. The Oklahoma City bombing case was swift, too.
But in those cases, local, state and federal prosecutors were not stumbling over the racial politics of the Charleston case and the presidential politics leading up to the 2016 elections.
In Oklahoma City, for example, white guys angry with the federal government took aim at a federal facility.
In Charleston, a young white guy entered a black Christian church, sat among the black Christian congregants and fired, reloaded and fired some more.
It’s that black-white thing and that church thing that are rattling all the sabers; throw in the gun rights thing and the hate crime thing and we’re being primed for a cast-iron pot full of spicy noodles.
Some will look at young Dylann and say the boy didn’t know what he was doing. Others will look and claim he’s mentally ill. And then there are those who won’t pass any judgment on Mr. Roof and instead blame his tool — a gun.
Yep, South Carolinians have a lot to discern between now and Mr. Roof’s day of reckoning in a court of law. But don’t expect South Carolinians to merely wag their fingers at Mr. Roof and point their fingers at the gun.
I know jurisprudence in the South can be swift, but I also think with the Charleston case it’s going to break ground on racial politics and presidential politics.
May the victims rest in peace.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.