No, not you.
There nothing funny about the lives you shattered in a timeless, magnificent city and in an historical and magnificent church. There’s nothing to smile at with regard to the good and decent people you slaughtered, people who even you hesitated before murdering because they were so friendly to you. You’ll never know that level of friendliness or open-heartedness again, and that is just.
But that fact, like you, isn’t funny.
But here’s the thing: I think God is funny, in all of His/Her frustrating inscrutability. Or maybe it’s just the Universe. Or karma.
Whatever it is, It’s laughing at you, and so am I.
In 1998, a national prosecutor training center opened in Columbia, South Carolina, the capital of the state you tried (and failed) to soil. Over the years it became almost a second home for me as a consultant and trainer of prosecutors nationwide. The University of South Carolina campus (where the building stands) and the city beyond it provided a wonderful training and networking venue for thousands of DA’s from every state and territory. I was proud of the National Advocacy Center. I was proud of South Carolina and Columbia for hosting us. In the typical spirit of Southern hospitality, black folks, white folks and pretty much everyone else we encountered in the restaurants, shops and bars (we’re DA’s, Dylann, we love and need bars), were wonderful to us.
The only thing I thought was unfortunate was the reality of a confederate battle flag that whipped over the state capital building itself until 2000, while hundreds of federal and state prosecutors, many of them non-white and some from as far away as Guam, were shuttled past it from the airport every week. That got less uncomfortable when that flag was moved to the grounds of the statehouse rather than the dome. But still it remained, a hyper-prominent fixture on public ground.
I know it symbolizes “heritage” for many, but really we all knew, both us visiting and, in my experience, most of our hosts in Columbia itself, what it really meant.
Especially to people like you.
You hid behind words like “heritage” to use that flag as a signal. Unfortunately, the government of South Carolina, moving in slow motion and uncertain patterns as most representative governments do, allowed that hiding to continue even as it unfairly stained both your state and the good people who live there.
But now, you, young Dylann, have succeeded in creating a tipping point that would have been unimaginable even five years ago. You’ve inherited the wind; your act of murder has led to the removal of that flag, leaving it now to the only thing it’s good for, which is to commemorate bravery and document history.
But far beyond that even, your viciousness has exhumed truths that will now be discussed and eventually accepted even as they were whitewashed and buried before.
Truths like, just as an example, the real reason behind the Second Amendment, which we’re now discovering was more about enabling slave patrols to murderously put down efforts at freedom than it was the security of free states. That amendment, after all, in its heretofore traditional interpretations, allowed you to legally possess the gun you used to slaughter people in prayer and fellowship. Maybe that interpretation will continue to hold sway.
But now that you’ve foolishly snapped open a valve of righteous anger, long-buried pain and gloriously, tamped-down common sense, who knows?
Were it up to me, Dylann (assuming you’re legally sane, factually guilty and found so in a court of law) you would die at the hands of the state in a lethal injection chamber. I still support such an outcome, although with increasing reluctance as I grow older for reasons I won’t describe here.
But I also know that my view on the death penalty, as well as on the far, broader notions of Judeo-Christian right and wrong that have underpinned my professional life, are all being challenged. And I have to admit as I fade from relevance that those challenges are not unmerited. In fact I believe they stem from the better angels of our nature.
You would know nothing about that. But if you’re lucky, the better angels of our nature will spare you, just as the families of your victims largely forgave you in that remarkable court hearing after your arrest. If you’re less lucky, God help you.
But either way, I hope you can hear the laughter.