The moment Dylan Roof massacred nine black churchgoers at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina the usual debate flared up. That is whether the feds had reason and authority to press a hate crime prosecution against him. Pundits and legal experts gave the by now stock reasons why the feds have no, or at best, a tenuous case to bring hate crimes charges. In various order, hate crimes are too hard to proof, state laws are sufficient to cover murder, even hideous mass murder, there's no federal death penalty proscribed even if the feds prosecuted Roof as a hate killer, and dual prosecutions are costly, time consuming and unnecessary.
Attorney General Lynch well-knows the legal hurdles that a hate crime prosecution involves bounding over. No matter, she should reject them and bring federal charges against Roof. The hard proof of racial animus that's required for the federal government to bring hate charges is the lowest hurdle to bound in Roof's case. He virtually made a public declaration that he hated blacks, wanted to start a race war, and carefully chose the target and victims. They were a politically active black minister, at a historic black church with a near all-black congregation. There must be a "compelling interest" for the feds to bring a hate crime prosecution. There is. In fact there are several compelling interests in play in this case. One is the state, South Carolina, where the massacre was committed. It's one of five states that do not have a hate crimes statute on the books. This means that even if state prosecutors demand the death penalty, which is almost certain, the case will be prosecuted and treated no different than any other murder case.
The hate motive that drove Roof to massacre blacks solely because they were black would at best be incidental to the prosecution. The prosecution would focus almost exclusively on evidence and testimony about the killing and in proofing that Roof in fact was the killer. In other words, Roof would be on trial for the murders, but not the hate motive that was the compelling factor in the murders.
If convicted, the in and out of court record would stand that Roof was a mass murderer but not a racial hate mass murderer. This would send the absolute wrong message which is that hate crimes, especially hate murders, would continue to go unpunished as racial hate murders. This is an especially dangerous message given this fact: In its latest report on hate crimes, the FBI counted 5,928 incidents resulting in 7,242 victims. click here The failure to bring hate charges may not be a license for violence prone hate mongers to maim and even kill with no fear of the stain of being a hate attacker or killer, but it's certainly no disincentive for hate motivated attacks either.
Another compelling interest federal interest is the volatile strain of racial relations in the nation. There's the deep sense on the part of African-Americans and minorities that local laws are shaky at best when it comes to insuring justice and fairness for African Americans and minorities within state courts. This was the driving force in the Rodney King beating case in 1992. The four LAPD officers that beat King were tried and acquitted in state court and Los Angeles and other cities exploded. The civil disturbances were the immediate trigger for a prosecution of the officers but contrary to popular belief it was not the compelling federal interest. That was that justice within the state proceeding was horribly skewed and inadequate, and the victim's rights were not adequately protected in state court.
The crucial federal
interest in a Roof hate crimes prosecution is to ensure the rights of
individuals to be free from undue harm because of their color, age, and being
in a public or private area merely because someone perceives they shouldn't be
there and then acts on that perception with no cause other than that belief or
Federal prosecutors play a major role in insuring that where there's the suspicion that an individual's rights might have been violated solely because of their race and gender that the power of federal law is brought to bear to insure that that right is protected.
The Justice Department scrupulously tries to avoid a dual prosecution of a defendant who may be tried in a state court. It goes to great lengths to shield itself from the charge that it's bowing to media or public pressure to prosecute. This is why the percentage of civil rights prosecutions it authorizes is infinitesimally low. The Roof case, though, is much different. This is a clear case of mass carnage, solely driven by race hate, in a state that does not officially punish hate crimes, as hate crimes, and this includes murder.
This is why Attorney General Lynch must not hesitate in bringing hate crimes charges against Roof no matter what South Carolina does and what the experts say can't be done.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour heard weekly on the nationally network broadcast Hutchinson Newsmaker Network.
Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: twitter.com/earlhutchinson