WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — The United States should address racially motivated attacks on African American churches rather than debate whether the death penalty is appropriate for Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white gunman charged with killing nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, US advocacy group Equal Justice USA Executive Director Shari Silberstein told Sputnik on Friday.
“The real question is not what we do to him [Roof], but talking about complex issues around race and violence and what makes someone think it is fine to gun down nine worshipers in a church in what appears to be a racially motivated hate crime,” Silberstein said.
Silberstein added there is a long history of attacks on African American churches by white supremacists.
Roof reportedly shouted racist remarks about African Americans before opening fire on churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
The US Department of Justice has launched a hate crime probe into the mass shooting.
South Carolina needs to focus on what the state can do to help the traumatized community of Charleston and the victims’ families rather than focusing whether or not Roof deserves the death penalty, Silberstein said.
African American churches suffered from many racially based attacks during the Civil Rights movement, but even over the past two decades there have been more than a dozen mainly arson attacks on black churches, according to multiple media reports.
In 1996, the US Congress held a hearing on church fires in response to 21 arsons on African American churches in that year.