This is justice? As it was recently announced that Dylann Roof, the mass murderer of the Charleston Church Shooting would be facing the death penalty, there remains an uncomfortable question mark at the end of that sentence.
In 2015, the United States along with Iraq, Iran, China, and Saudi Arabia executed more people than all other nations on earth combined. Meanwhile, for every 10 criminals executed in this country, one person on death row has been exonerated and released. A “conservative estimate” from a study out of the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania places the percentage of death row inmates that are innocent at 4.1%. It doesn’t take a binge watch of Making A Murderer to see that our criminal justice system makes mistakes and is severely flawed. The permanence of the death penalty is simply not appropriate for a system so prone to errors and deliberate meddling.
But Roof is guilty. Undoubtedly. A man such as Dylann Roof seems to be the perfect candidate for capital punishment: a remorseless mass murderer who lives by the tenets of white supremacy seems like exactly the type of criminal who should receive the death penalty. He has become a symbol of the monster of white supremacy in America.
In reality, executing Dylann Roof would be completely counterproductive. Simply put, the death penalty doesn’t deter crime. As shown on this graph below provided by the Death Penalty Information Center, the murder rate in states with the death penalty is consistently higher than the murder rate in non-death penalty states.
The death penalty is also far more expensive than life without parole. It is true, we shouldn’t spend a large portion of taxpayer funds on someone like Dylann Roof, yet an “exhaustive study” in California found each execution cost $308 million of taxpayer dollars to carry out.
In the specific case of Roof, though, there’s an additional aspect that must be pointed out. If the state executes a white supremacist male in a nation where white supremacy has bared its teeth, he becomes a martyr. In a country where the next president is advised by someone regarded as a leader in white nationalist communities, executing Roof fuels their fire.
So again, this is justice? When the families of the victims prefer life without parole and prefer to avoid more years of legal appeals, and prefer mercy, we have to ask ourselves the most basic question: Is this justice?