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Roof Trial Opens Doors To Address Issues Beyond Legalities
11/9/2016 4:15:06 PM

Local Civil Rights Activist Jerome Smalls, president of the human rights organization PULL (People United to Live and Let Live) holds a sign that reads “TV 2 & 5 exploited by Andy Savage seeking sympathy for Slager & Roof” at a press conference. Photo: Tolbert Smalls, Jr.
By Barney Blakeney

The federal trial of accused Emanuel AME Church murderer Dylann Roof was to begin November 7 in U.S. District Court across the street from the high profile murder trial of North Charleston policeman Michael Slager being conducted at Charleston County Courthouse. Roof, accused of killing nine churchgoers attending Bible study June 17, 2015, confessed to the crime he says was committed to start a race war. The effort failed as Charleston and the world embraced a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. However, issues concerning Roof's competency to stand trial surfaced earlier this week, which has pushed back the start of the trial to November 21.

While Roof may have failed in his attempt to start a race war, his trial will continue the media frenzy ignited by the start of Slager’s trial last week and perpetuates a need for vigil on the part of authorities and residents alike.

Charleston officials in their attempt to manage any law enforcement issues said the Municipal Emergency Operation Center (MEOC) remained open Monday during the Slager trial for the City of Charleston, Charleston County, state and federal partners to manage events surrounding the trials and ensure lines of communications between law enforcement agencies and the community.

Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Charleston Police Department are conducting a joint investigation after nine letters referencing racial violence in the city of Charleston were received by several hotels, Mother Emanuel AME Church, and the James Island County Park. The letters were received at different times in October.

“Law enforcement officials always take these situations seriously and are working to identify the individual or individuals responsible for the letters.  Investigators have not developed information that identifies a particular person who may have mailed the letter or any specific, credible threats. Law enforcement officials at the local, state, and federal levels are working collectively during this time of heightened awareness in the Charleston area.  They are asking that anyone who sees or hears anything they feel is suspicious or concerning to dial 911 immediately and alert law enforcement.  Security is everyone’s responsibility and we need all citizens to be alert and active participants, especially during this time,” city officials said in a statement issued Monday.

The Charleston County Judicial Center, which includes the Ninth Circuit Solicitor’s Office and the Charleston County Courthouse, received four bomb threats today. Law Enforcement searched the buildings and they were deemed safe. None of the buildings were evacuated, city officials said in a statement released late Tuesday.  

Roof’s trial was slated to begin with jury selection this past Monday but unexpectedly jury selection was halted before it began by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel. In a memo filed late Monday, Gergel explained, “This is an unusually sensitive period in this proceeding where highly prejudicial pre-trial publicity could taint the jury pool and make selection of a fair and impartial jury increasingly challenging.” Jury selection was to resume November 9, but was delayed once more.

But underlying the logistics of the trial and the security surrounding it residents remain focused on what Roof’s crime means in the context of race relations. In addition to the logistical and media attention Roof’s trial will receive as it begins what’s expected to take weeks to complete many residents focus remains on its implication beyond the legal procedures. Those issues will be resolved by the courts with the only uncertainty being whether Roof will be put to death or receive a life sentence.

Although South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley successfully lobbied for removal of the Confederate Flag from the S.C. Statehouse grounds, more difficult has been addressing the hatred that spawned Dylann Roof. Emanuel AME Church last week opened the Mother Emanuel Empowerment Center to provide counseling and support services to church members and others. Those efforts are commendable, but Charleston and South Carolina still must address the serious issues about race that include unequal housing, education and employment.

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