This morning, I read a comment on social media that made me want to scream. The gist of the comment: Baltimore and Ferguson, MO could learn a lesson by looking at the restraint of the citizens of Charleston, SC in the wake of the murder of nine African American people in their church. No protests and no riots. Such well behaved people!
Within the last year, in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore, MD, protests were mounted in response to the killing of young, black men by law enforcement officers. In Baltimore, although protests were generally peaceful, there was an ugly afternoon and evening of rioting and looting. In Charleston, of course, a young racist sat through a bible study session at an African American church before standing up and announcing that black people “rape our women” and are “taking over our country.” He then used a handgun to murder nine African American people.
Dylann Roof, the young racist, was promptly arrested and jailed.
Imagine a situation in which, despite the testimony of survivors of the tragedy, Dylann Roof is acquitted of all charges in a court of law. Or, worse, imagine that charges are dropped and he is released before any trial takes place. Would the citizens of Charleston not protest? If they didn’t, would their restraint be admirable?
Individual violence, while deplorable and tragic, is an unfortunate fact of life in our armed and violent society. Haters are going to hate; killers are going to kill. There is no obvious solution — at least not with respect to actions the state might take. On the other hand, when the power of the state is used to protect those killers and haters, there is a moral obligation to protest the injustice. In addition, protests of this kind have a purpose: the state is put on notice that the injustice will not be tolerated.
I suspect that Dylann Roof will be tried on nine counts of murder, found guilty, and sentenced to a long incarceration in prison. Justice will be done and the people will have no reason to be outraged. Certainly, we should all be outraged that this sort of thing happens but the response of the state will have been appropriate.