Charges Set

I read today of the unsurprising conviction of Dylan Roof, the 21-year old man who slaughtered nine African-American Christians during a Bible study in 2015, and severely wounded several others.  He has freely confessed to being guilty, and his defense never argued this fact but rather focused on trying to get him out of a death sentence and into a life-imprisonment sentence.  That decision will be made next month.

I thought it was interesting though, that the Washington Post talked about his conviction in regards to “federal hate crimes”.  This led me to view the actual Federal indictment, a surprisingly short document that summarizes the charges against Roof.

Roof is charged with 33 counts total, summarized as:

  • 9 counts of a hate crime resulting in death
  • 3 counts of a hate crime with the intent to kill (but not successful)
  • 9 counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death
  • 3 counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon
  • 9 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence

Technically only a third of the charges are related to hate crimes.  I wonder why the WP chooses to summarize all of the charges as hate crimes.  I wonder why they didn’t summarize all three of the categories of indictments?  Maybe I’m just a tad sensitive, but characterizing the nature of the crime only based on the motivation seems a bit lopsided.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.”

But we don’t describe or summarize all crimes by their intent or motivation, do we?  Would the WP describe a husband who kills his wife in a fit of rage after discovering her infidelity a “crime of passion”?  Or would they simply say murder?  Why is it that the motivation becomes the definition of the act?  Isn’t Roof basically guilty of murder?  Isn’t that the primary issue?  Yet by classifying it as a hate crime, it makes it sound as though his main offense is his hatred or prejudice.

Of course there are various reasons that people kill other people, and the law recognizes this reality with various types of charges (murder, degrees of murder, manslaughter, etc.).  I believe passionately that Roof was wrong in his ideology and way of thinking, but the main issue is that he committed murder.  By emphasizing the motivation, I wonder if we continue to move down a path towards outlawing certain attitudes and making certain attitudes or beliefs prosecutable, even if no actual criminal offense takes place?



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