Accused Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof faces federal hate crime charges for allegedly targeting black parishioners during a shooting spree last month. The rampage left nine dead.
US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced yesterday Roof will be charged with 33 counts, including federal hate crimes and weapons charges.
Priscilla Ocen is an associate professor of law at Loyola Marymount. She explained the charges to Take Two.
“A hate crime is defined as intentionally or willfully injuring someone or causing bodily injury, because of a protected characteristic like race, color, national origin, or religion. In 2009, that definition was expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity.”
When it comes to deciding what is and what isn't a hate crime, she says it's rarely black and white.
“A racially-motivated crime is quite difficult. When is someone intending to hurt someone because of their race or gender? When is that ancillary to the underlying murder or aggravated assault? These prosecutions can be quite difficult because the standard is so high.”
Ocen says hate crime charges are rarely brought because it’s so difficult to prove a suspect’s motives. In this case, however, she says there is plenty of evidence that race was a motivator.
“You have the defendant’s own statements to the victims themselves. He told them that he had to shoot them, he had to kill them because they were taking over … So I think that there is very clear evidence that the bodily injury, the killings here were racially motivated. I think there’s no question about that in my mind.”
Roof will already stand trial for murder in South Carolina. This prompts many to wonder whether the hate crime charges are largely symbolic. Ocen says, though there is some symbolism, the charges are still significant.
“South Carolina doesn’t have a hate crime statute … There would be no way of prosecuting him for that in the state, so the federal government coming in really allows for there to be some accountability through the criminal justice system imposed here, because of the racially-motivated character of these killings. ”
Press the play button above to hear more about the history of hate crimes in America.