Killer’s calm confession should make us all think

by | Dec 11, 2016 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Dylann Roof’s confession to killing nine people at a church Bible study, recorded the day after the shooting, has been introduced as evidence at his trial in South Carolina

A young man, 21 years old, walks into church for a Bible study. He is given a piece of paper with religious verses. He sits for 15 minutes, quietly thinking.

Then he reaches into his bag, pulls out a .45-caliber pistol and fires 70 rounds at the churchgoers, killing nine people.

When he is arrested the next day, he confesses quickly, and laughs when asked whether he did it. His rationale is that he is white and the church members were African American. “Somebody had to do it,” he says, adding that, “black people are killing white people every day.”

He tells police, “Our people are superior.”

And he calls himself “a white supremacist.”

That label has been bandied about a lot during this ugly election cycle. Critics suggest that Donald Trump’s win was a victory for white supremacists everywhere. His supporters say that’s insulting to the 60 million people from varied backgrounds who voted for him, and stop reducing everything to race.

Nothing I write will ever loosen that logjam. But as a white male, I feel horrified listening to that confession made by Dylann Roof: How he coldheartedly shot the churchgoers — whom he admitted were so nice to him he almost changed his mind — simply for the color of their skin.

And I’d have to be made of stone not to understand the fear and anger that story creates in the black community — and around the country.

Concern on so many levels

Roof’s confession, which was played for a jury this past week during his murder trial in South Carolina, is chilling in its matter-of-factness. It reminds you of confessions 100 years ago, when a Southern white man might expect people to accept his killing of an “inferior” black man.

But Roof’s justification was not only that blacks are inferior, but they are “taking over the world.” This raises “coming and going” to a whole new level.

Even worse, Roof told authorities his whole sordid journey was pretty much formed by the Internet. It began by reading coverage of the Trayvon Martin shooting.

“This prompted me to type in the words ‘black on White’ crime into Google,” Roof apparently wrote in a rambling manifesto, “and I have never been the same since.”

Could Googling a phrase really lead you to such atrocity? Roof acted as if he’d fallen into a cult. Of one white nationalist website he wrote, “There were pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders. I was in disbelief … Something was very wrong. How could the (media) be blowing up the Trayvon Martin case while hundreds of these black on White murders got ignored?”

Does that argument sound familiar? It should. We heard it all over the country when the Martin case was front page. We heard it from sane, rational people. And I’m sure if they are reading this, they’re saying, “Yes, but just because I feel that way doesn’t mean I go shooting up a black church.”

That’s right.

But someone did.

And if you are black, you see that argument as a far more dangerous thing.

So sad, no matter your race

Now, I know that Roof fits a common killer profile. A child of divorce who lived between families. A kid who bounced from one school to another. A loner. A fan of Nazism, the Confederate flag and guns.

But what scares me about him aren’t the extremes but the norms. He was 21. A high school dropout. His family said he played a lot of video games and spent time on his computer.

Even scarier, he apparently told people he was going to shoot up a school to provoke a race war, and nobody did anything to stop it.

Roof called himself a “white supremacist” during his confession. But he didn’t lead a cult, he wasn’t recruiting members. He was little more than a screwed-up, hateful kid with access to guns, who decided, tragically, to act on his morbid fantasy.

So it may be true that as a white male, when I hear the words “white supremacist” I think of something far away from my world — KKK meetings, secret rallies, an organized approach to racial hatred.

But were I black, I might think “white supremacist” meant the next crazy loner who walks into a church, acts like he’s there for Bible study, and then does the opposite of every biblical precept there is.

Nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston were killed by Roof’s bullets in 2015. Some who were not, family members of the victims, told Roof they forgave him and were praying for his soul.

I may be as stunned at that as I am with Roof’s laughing confession. But only his confession makes my blood run cold, as it should yours, no matter what color the skin that surrounds it.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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