Death penalty too good for Roof

6/3/2016, 12:19 p.m.
Dylann Roof, the unrepentant racist who killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., is — …
Julianne Malveaux

Julianne Malveaux

Dylann Roof, the unrepentant racist who killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.,  is — no question — a monster. He prayed with people before reciting racist cants and annihilating people. After his heinous acts, it was discovered that he was a rabid racist who had wrapped himself in the Confederate flag. 

Does he deserve the death penalty?  No.

The death penalty is the kindest thing that could happen to him, and he does not deserve our kindness. 

The death penalty provides some of us with immediate satisfaction, a sense of revenge. And it lets him off the hook.

Imagine, instead, that this slug is sentenced to life in prison and forced to live with the consequences of his actions. Imagine that he is incarcerated with people who look just like the folks he killed. Imagine that, daily, he has to negotiate the racial realities of our nation’s prison system, a system that disproportionately incarcerates African-American men. Imagine that he is vilified as a symbol of our nation’s ingrained racism. Imagine that he, perhaps, has a “come to Jesus” moment where he renounces the racism that caused him to act. Or, imagine that he simmers in his evil and reminds others how heinous he is.

The death penalty is inhumane no matter how it is applied. African-Americans are more likely to be sentenced to death than others are, and that is part, but not all, of the point. The rest of the point is that “an eye for an eye” leaves us all blind. The good people of Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church were overflowing in their forgiveness of Mr. Roof. Do these forgiving, God-fearing people now oppose the commandment that says “Thou shall not kill”?

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, nearly 3,000 people sit on death row. While African-Americans are just 13 percent of the population, we are 43 percent of the death row inmates.

Most people don’t believe that the death penalty deters crime. Many believe that enforcing the death penalty is a waste of taxpayer money. Most prefer alternatives — life sentences without parole, and perhaps with restitution. Mr. Roof can turn into a Confederate martyr if he is killed. Instead, imagine him as a decrepit old man living his life out in prison, constantly faced with his crimes, constantly reminded of his heinous acts. His life, not his death, will constantly remind us of the hate that hate produced.

Make no mistake — Mr. Roof is not an isolated phenomenon. He is the product of the Confederate flag, the product of the Ku Klux Klan, the product of the ugly, repugnant, vicious hate that produces a flawed and crippled white supremacy.

We don’t kill white supremacist hate by killing Dylann Roof. We don’t eliminate the ugly sentiments that propelled this extremely sick young man into a church with a gun by taking his life.

Instead, the sole purpose of his life might be to serve as a symbol of hate, to remind us that there will be no peace without justice. Justice does not mean extracting a death penalty that is inherently unfair to African-Americans. Justice means abolishing the death penalty that is still upheld in 31 states.

Mr. Roof ought to be put under somebody’s jail, allowed only a Bible and minimal bland food. He needs to be deprived of every pleasure his victims have been deprived of. He needs to be surrounded by black folks just like the ones he killed. I’m not wishing him violence or harassment, just reflection. Killing Mr. Roof won’t kill white supremacy. Keeping him miserably alive may, in fact, deter others from imitating him.

The writer is an economist and author.