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Dylann Roof trial: In black Charleston, a struggle to find both justice and mercy

Time:2017-01-10 00:21Shoes websites Click:

Black struggle trial Mercy both

January 7, 2017 Charleston, S.C.Standing in his variety store across the street from the local boxing club, Leon Fields – Uncle Leon to everyone around here – faces a dilemma: Should Dylann Roof die for his unthinkable crimes or should his life be spared as an act of grace?

Mr. Fields has witnessed all sorts of senseless violence on this rough-kempt corner of the Wegener Terrace neighborhood. Thoughts of vengeance, forgiveness, and God’s judgment aren’t theoretical here, says the African-American businessman, but visceral, real.

So on the one hand, for Fields, it’s just too much: Just as Mr. Roof wrote in a jailhouse journal that he has not shed a tear for his victims, Fields doesn’t want to return the favor.

“At the same time,” Fields says, “I remember when my sister was murdered. I wished ill on a lot of people, but then found myself feeling sorry for them when life got the better of them.”

His range of thoughts are part of what Fields summarizes as the deeply “mixed emotions” in Charleston’s black community, which was attacked in its most sacred space on June 17, 2015, when Roof stood up at a Bible study at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and fired 77 rounds in 90 seconds, killing nine beloved worshippers, ranging from 26 to 89 years old.

Dylann Roof trial: In black Charleston, a struggle to find both justice and mercy

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This week, as the now-convicted Roof hears tributes to those he killed during the sentencing phase of his trial, this “holy city” studded with heaven-reaching spires is vexed by what to do with him. A majority of white Charlestonians say he should be executed. Yet many in the city’s black community – including many of the victims’ families – are taking a different view, challenging the idea that forgiveness excuses white supremacist behavior and downplays black humanity.

The Charleston parishioners “are in a touchy situation where they’ve been involved in a long history of white violence against the black community, and they’re operating out of that concern,” says Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “The direction that the families of the victims have taken in this is clearly trying to provide witness to a larger situation. They’re trying to move the history in a different direction.”

The Charleston countercurrent

Last week, federal prosecutors won conviction on nine counts of hate and 25 other federal charges. They have asked the jury for the death penalty.

But those demands are facing a countercurrent, which began days after Roof was captured. In a courtroom statement, Nadine Collier, the daughter of victim Ethel Lance, told Roof: “I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul.… You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”

That sentiment remains. To Sam Holmes, a Charleston-born Vietnam veteran, Roof's hatred is a reminder that the distant past – when white Charlestonians feared that slaves would rise up and overthrow them – still lingers.

Dylann Roof trial: In black Charleston, a struggle to find both justice and mercy

Sam Holmes stands outside the United States Federal Courthouse in Charleston, S.C., on Wednesday.

Patrik Jonsson/The Christian Science Monitor |

“Listen, humanity is in bad shape, and it’s not just an American problem but a world problem,” says Mr. Holmes. “Forgiveness in this way is a way of making things better. To have him live and allow him the time to change is mind” allows both retribution and redemption.

Cutting the hair of his friend James Greene in his store stuffed with everything from canned salmon to Nike sneakers, Uncle Leon hands over a business card that cites Psalm 121: “The Lord will watch over your coming and going / both now and forevermore.”

His 200-square-foot general store seems a world away from Charleston’s touristy enclaves, where carriage tour guides note that the only socioeconomic divide is “between the haves and the have-a-heck-of-a-lots.”

But it was in this neighborhood that some of Roof’s victims found community outside the church. Before her murder, Ethel Lance, for one, was a frequent customer at Fields’s shop – a dynamo church lady, he says, always running from one errand to the next, often on behalf of Mother Emanuel.

The role of the church

Indeed, the currents of forgiveness that run through Charleston in many ways flow from the church.

On Wednesday, the 201-year-old national AME church, born at Mother Emanuel, urged the jury to spare Roof’s life, because part of eradicating racial injustice “means being open for a cure from unbearable pain, and [a] willingness to bind our wounds to forgive offenders …,” as Bishop Frank Reid III said in a statement.

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