- Cornell William Brookspresident and CEO of the NAACP and longtime human rights advocate, civil rights lawyer and minister.
This week Dylann Roof faces a possible death sentence for murdering nine black worshipers at the Emanuel AME Church in June of 2015. As Roof acted as his own attorney in a brief opening statement during the sentencing phase of his trial, he offered no apology and no explanation for his massacre, telling jurors he was psychologically fit to stand trial. In the prosecutor’s opening statement, they quoted excerpts of a racist manifesto written by Roof while he was held in a Charleston jail, in which he wrote, “I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. … I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.” We get response from Cornell William Brooks, president and CEO of the NAACP, who is also a civil rights lawyer and a minister.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to ask about the sentencing hearing underway this week in Charleston, South Carolina, for Dylann Roof, who faces a possible death sentence after he was convicted in December of murdering nine black worshipers at the Emanuel [AME] Church in June 2015. This week, as Roof acted as his own attorney in a brief opening statement during the sentencing phase of his trial, he offered no apology and no explanation for his massacre, telling jurors he was psychologically fit to stand trial. In the prosecutors’ opening statement, they quoted excerpts of a racist manifesto written by Roof while he was held in the Charleston jail. Roof wrote, quote, “I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. … I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.” Cornell William Brooks, you’re president and CEO of the NAACP, also a civil rights lawyer and a minister. Your response to what Dylann Roof wrote?
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: Well, I’d also like to note that I’m also a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I grew up in and around Charleston. I’m very familiar with Mother Emanuel Church. And it is, quite simply, heartbreaking to hear the killer, the murderer, one person I refer to as a racial terrorist, refer to the taking of lives in such a cavalier, callous and inhumane fashion and show absolutely no remorse.
The NAACP stands unapologetically against the death penalty. We do so as a matter of principle. That being said, we support the prosecution and the punishment to the fullest and the firmest extent of the law for someone who has engaged in what we called a hate crime from the very beginning. I recall standing on the sidewalk outside of Emanuel AME Church shortly after nine students of scripture were slain in that church beside—I should say, including the pastor. And I recall referring to the crime, but also talking about the fact that while there’s a climate of caring in the country, there’s also an environment of hate.
So we’re concerned about Dylann Roof and him being punished. We’re also concerned about the racial animus, the sanitized, homogenized, “alt-right” atmosphere in the country that is giving rise to this kind of sentiment and driving violent crimes. We’ve seen this around the country. We’ve seen it in the FBI hate crimes statistics. We’ve certainly seen it in the numbers reported out by the Anti-Defamation League. And so, as chilling and as concerning and as alarming as the sentencing phase of the trial of Dylann Roof is, we should be chilled and concerned and alarmed about the state of America, because Dylann Roof may seem like an abhorrent aberration, but we’re concerned that that kind of behavior can be normalized because of the racial animus in the country, the xenophobic attitudes in the country, the homophobic attitudes in the country. The point being here is, we cannot separate the tone and tenor of the last campaign from what’s going on in Charleston even as we speak. And so, the NAACP is standing in firm opposition to both the atmosphere that gave rise to Dylann Roof’s crimes, even as we call for his prosecution and punishment. And so, make no mistake: This is not about the trial of one individual; it’s about the state of America more broadly.
AMY GOODMAN: Cornell William Brooks, we want to thank you for being with us, president and CEO of the NAACP. Thank you for joining us.
CORNELL WILLIAM BROOKS: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: When we come back from break, as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tells Fox News Russia is not the source for the mass leak of emails from the Democratic National Committee, the Senate holds a hearing today on Russian cyber-attacks. This comes as President-elect Trump has backed Assange and called media coverage of the hacking “more dishonest than anyone knows.” We’ll speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. Stay with us.