Names won't change that. Call it terrorism if that makes you feel better. Call it a hate crime. Call it Swiss cheese. Nine people are dead because they happened to be in the place where a madman* started shooting.
As I keep saying, and did just the other day, words matter. They provide the categories that let us think about things and try to understand.
So we'll start with murder. Forget the criminal law stuff where we talk about what the elements are and whether Dylann Roof or whoever actually did each of them and whether it's proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Just everyday murder: Purposely killing another person. Yep. We got that.
Terrorism. Much tougher. But roughly (I'm making this up, not looking it up) violent acts for the purpose of effecting social or political change. Is that what he did? Did he hope that black folk would be so frightened that they'd flee the country, or at least Charleston? Did he want to start a race war? Or did he just kill because . . . .
Well, that brings us to hate crime. That's when the act was done out of, er, hate. Category hate, that is. Not A hates B so A kills B. Instead, it's A hates and kills B because B is _________ (a schoolteacher, a policeman, an environmentalist, a mentalist, an accordion player, a Palestinian, an Israeli, African American). Maybe. There's no shortage of evidence, it seems, that Dylann Roof (and that's who's accused of the killings) was racist pig. So yeah, maybe a hate crime.
Apparently, the FBI thinks so. And the Department of Justice. The Times reports that federal hate crime charges are "likely."
But Justice Department and F.B.I. officials agreed that the Charleston shooting was so horrific and racially motivated that the federal government must address it, law enforcement officials said. South Carolina does not have a hate crimes law, and federal investigators believe that a murder case alone would leave the racial component of the crime unaddressed.Because, and I suppose this is the point, it's a terrible thing that he killed people. And for that he should get 9 consecutive terms of life without parole. Or 9 death sentences to be served sequentially. But then we'd only be saying he was wrong to kill those people. When we also need to say he was wrong to be a racist pig. For which he could get an additional life sentence.
“This directly fits the hate crime statute,” one law enforcement official said. “This is exactly what it was created for.”
That'll teach 'im.
*That's a clinical term, not a legal one. I don't know whether the person who killed the nine is nuts (another clinical term) in a way that Palmetto State law would recognize as making him not guilty by reason of insanity. (I know that it's unlikely, only because almost nobody satisfies those standards, but I don't know.) What I do know is that no sane person does that shit.