On the evening of June 17 of this year, white supremacist Dylann Roof, after sitting in a black church for about an hour, pulled out a Glock .41 handgun with hollow-point bullets and murdered nine black people who had been in a prayer and Bible study group. No sane person doubts either that he did it, that he knew what he was doing, that he thought about his actions, or that the motive was anything other than racial hate. It was a 21st Century mass lynching, there is no other honest name for it.
South Carolina, like the great majority of states, has the death penalty. Even if it should be abolished in the future because of the risk of executing the innocent, or because it is (or is said to be) employed discriminatorily against African Americans, or because it takes a long time and costs a lot, will any abolitionists come off their "facts-never-matter" stance to support its use in this utterly clear and grotesque case?
They've done it before. In the Oklahoma City bombing, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that a majority of those typically against capital punishment on principle supported it
for Timothy McVeigh. The crime was just too much of an assault on the basics of civilized life.
Isn't that also true here? Have we not reached the point in America where we are going to say no to lynching -- to say no and mean it? To understand that the country has passed a turning point toward ensuring dignity regardless of race? To understand that even if in the case of the "ordinary" mass murder we should accept a prison term, we have come too far and paid too much to do that here?
As a general matter, tolerance, understood as a generous turn of mind, is a good thing. But it depends on what we are being asked to tolerate. There should be no tolerance for Dylann Roof's attempt to drag America back to a hideous past. I will be looking for abolitionists to do some of the critical, reflective thinking they say they value and, in this case, support the death penalty.