The South and Its Pride

Once again crime shakes America: a twenty-one-year old shoots nine blacks in a church. The reaction: helplessness.

The grin has already been wiped off of Dylann Storm Roof’s face during his first night in prison. By his first hearing in front of the criminal court in Charleston, South Carolina, the twenty-one year old accused of the massacre in the oldest African-American church in the American South, seemed like a shy child on Friday. In a pair of black and white overalls, his hands handcuffed behind his back, Roof keeps his eyes down while he answers questions from Judge James Gosnell in a video link from the prison.

“Your name?”

“Dylann Storm Roof.”

“How old are you?”


“Do you have a job?”

“No, Sir.”

He strenuously avoided eye contact, although he had sought it out with provocative grins at TV cameras and onlookers on his day of arrest. When the families of the nine victims spoke in the courtroom in tears about their losses, he barely glanced up. Even the statement from the daughter of the 70-year old Ethel Lance, whom he had killed on that Wednesday afternoon during the Bible study with several bullets, seemed not to reach him, “I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. You hurt me; you hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you, and I forgive you.”

Roof’s first court hearing seemed almost as surreal as the scene that took place on Wednesday in the church named “Mother Emanuel”, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. A surveillance camera showed Roof entering the church in Jeans and a sweatshirt around 8’clock. On every Wednesday devotees had gathered with their pastor for Bible study in the brick-building’s basement in Charleston’s downtown. Roof sat almost an hour with his later victims, before jumping up and shooting. To the victim’s appeal to put down the pistol, the son of a white Southern family answered with a hate tirade against blacks while firing again. According to the previous investigations, he reloaded at least five times.

The American television station NBC learned that Roof stated to the police that the black parish had so influenced him with their hospitality that he had hesitated to fire the first shot. As he saw himself clearly as a lone wolf against supposed black control of white America, he decided to carry out his “mission.”

An Unnerving Youth

Where Roof’s black and white conception of the world stem from at the moment remains unknown. His uncle Carson Cowles drew a picture of an unnerving youth, who had later secluded himself in puberty from his family and friends.

“He was often alone,” said Cowles in the Washington Post. After the separation of his parents Roof grew up with his father and his [father’s] new wife. When he couldn’t pass the ninth grade, he left high school without graduating. In the following year he spent his days mostly in front of the computer.

On his Facebook page he presents himself with an old-fashioned bowl-cut, proud on the hood of his car, prominently displaying a bumper sticker of the red-white-and-blue Confederate Flag, which, during the American Civil War, was a symbol of southern self-determination. Today it is a disputed symbol of racism, although often interpreted as “Southern Pride.” According to a former classmate speaking to the website The Daily Beast, Roof took to LSD, cocaine and prescription drugs.

Father Gave Him a Gun on His Birthday

“He made racists jokes,” remembered his school friend. He hadn’t taken Roof’s sayings seriously. That Roof possessed a gun – he couldn’t have known that. His father had allegedly gifted him his first semi-automatic Glock pistol at the end of April, on his 21st birthday.

Roof waits for the first hearing on October 23rd, facing charges on nine counts of murder and unauthorized possession of a firearm. His family read aloud a statement during his court-appointed defense council, “Words cannot express our shock, grief and disbelief as to what happened that night. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of those killed this week.”

Roof’s 27-year-old sister, Amber, who recognized her brother on the Emanuel Church’s surveillance video and notified the police, called off her wedding this Sunday. Roof is not to have been on the guest list.

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