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Four years ago, Dylann Roof became the first person sentenced to death in the United States for a federal hate crime. In 2015, when I learned how he crept into a historically Black church, spraying the worshippers with bullets right after a prayer, I became filled with shock, grief and rage.

Imagining the last moments of those nine souls at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, I felt shocked that a terrorist agent of white supremacy would stoop so low. I felt grief-stricken over the immense loss those nine families suffered. Most importantly, I felt outraged that then-21-year-old Dylann Roof would be free to take more breaths while innocent Black people were once again massacred.

Despite hundreds of years of slavery, lynchings, bombings, massacres, and police shootings of Black people, it’s incredible that it took a Black presidency for the country to extend capitol punishment to violent racists. And yet, I’ve come to the conclusion that allowing the government to kill Dylann Roof is wrong.

death penalty virginia dylann roof
Virginia Gov. Northam, in March, signed a bill abolishing the death penalty in the state. / AP

U.S. death penalty: unequal and inaccurate

Opponents of the death penalty continue to argue that states carry it out in an arbitrary way that disproportionately targets Black men and low-income people. Data shows it doesn’t deter crime. The long list of exonerees and updated DNA technology have proven the death penalty is an ineffective system that sweeps up innocent people in its wake.

Meanwhile, Roof, who refuses to condemn his particularly heinous actions even now, qualifies for the death penalty in every logical way.

Unlike Oklahoma death row offender John Grant—a man who suffered child abuse in state-run facilities—Dylann Roof isn’t a low-income minority abused by the system. Unlike Julius Jones—who has maintained his innocence for 22 years in a case riddled with racial bias and prosecutorial misconduct—Dylann Roof admitted to the crime without remorse. 

Honestly, Black people in America have every reason to support Roof’s execution. But we only need one reason to oppose his execution and all others: because the U.S. government shouldn’t have the power to decide which of its citizens lives or dies.

oklahoma death penalty libertarian party dylann roof
Robert H. Alexander, Jr., center, a member of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 25, 2017. The commission released a report that says the state should extend its moratorium on capital punishment. At left is Andy Lester and at right is former Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) Sue Ogrocki—AP
Robert H. Alexander, Jr., center, a member of the Oklahoma Death Penalty Review Commission, speaks during a news conference in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 25, 2017. The commission released a report that says the state should extend its moratorium on capital punishment. At left is Andy Lester and at right is former Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) Sue Ogrocki—AP

Death Penalty is a “cruel and unusual” violation of the U.S. Constitution

In fact, even the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to halt the death penalty in the early 1970s. Justices called the practice “cruel and unusual punishment,” a direct violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The justices also noted states carry out executions in “arbitrary and capricious ways.” Though some consider it a targeted system because low-income folks and Black people are more likely to face executions.

Since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 after federal guidelines for juries were updated, studies compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union indicate defendants are still more likely to face the death penalty in crimes involving a White murder victim and less likely when the case involves a minority victim.

In Oklahoma specifically, a death penalty commission released a report in 2017 calling on Oklahoma to extend its moratorium on executions. The report cited similar racial disparities prevalent in the state’s handling of executions. 

julius jones commutation oklahoma pardon and parole board ok gov stitt julius jones
With three yes votes, Julius Jones’ commutation request for life with the possibility of parole now goes to Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt for his final decision. Supporters for Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones call for his release during a historic commutation hearing on Monday, Sept 13, 2021. (The Black Wall Street Times photo / Mike Creef)

Conservative leaders push to repeal death penalty in 10 states

Notably, ten people have been exonerated from Oklahoma’s death row. That number jumps to at least 186 exonerated individuals across the nation, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Therefore, accepting the death sentence for one individual we despise puts innocent people at risk. People across the political spectrum are beginning to agree that it doesn’t make sense to recognize the criminal legal system is seriously flawed on one hand while allowing that same system to wield God-like power on the other.

Republicans in Utah and Ohio are leading bipartisan efforts to repeal their state’s death penalty. After experiencing a change of heart, pro-life Republican Rep. Lowry Snow (R-Utah) has drafted a bill with his colleagues that would repeal the death penalty.

“The More I believe that God, or a higher power, is in the details of life and death, both. And I think when we as mortals get involved, especially in a legal capacity…we interfere in that process,” Snow told Deseret News in October.

In total, as many as ten states are advancing Republican-led death penalty repeal efforts in 2021. They include: Utah, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, Kentucky, Georgia, Washington State and Virginia, which approved its repeal of the death penalty in March.

tenth circuit execution lawsuit julius jones update
Supporters of Julius Jones react to the news that the Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has voted 3-1 to recommend commutation at his historic commutation hearing on Monday, Sept. 13. (The Black Wall Street Times photo. / Mike Creef)

U.S. government shouldn’t have God’s power

Currently,  political debates in the U.S. often center on economic comparisons between liberal, European democracies. Yet, we share an unlikely bond with some of the world’s most violently repressive, anti-democratic nations. The U.S. remains among the top executors of the world. Only China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt execute more of its own people, according the Death Penalty Information Center, which noted execution totals are unknown for  Vietnam, North Korea, and Syria.

It’s not completely clear what restorative justice could look like in place of executions, even as some states begin to draft alternatives. 

But one thing is crystal clear: a country that barely survived an overthrow from supporters of the previous administration, a country whose police officers kill 1000 residents a year, and a country that holds a quarter of the world’s prisoners shouldn’t have the power to decide who lives or dies. Period.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

2 replies on “Why racist mass murderer Dylann Roof should NOT be executed”

  1. your opinion is just that, an opinion. The government shouldnt play “God” but Dylan can? no thank you.

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