I was deeply moved by the families of the victims of the Charleston killings. I thought it a wondrous thing, not to forget, but to forgive. To return mercy for hatred. That's a theme here, of course. And while I don't know that I'd be capable of such generosity of spirit if it were my child/spouse/sibling, I know that I wish I were.
But, as I said, I was apparently mistaken.
The rule, Samantha Hill explains in a post at the Hannah Arendt Center is that one should forgive small harms but not big ones.
In cases of willed evil, like that of Dylann Roof,[*] forgiveness is not called for. Forgiveness absolves the guilty and says, “But for the grace of God we all could have done what Roof did.” Forgiveness offers solidarity with the wrongdoer based on the Christian principle that we are all sinners: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”And see, what Dylann Roof [if you believe the stories] did is not what we might do. We're better than he is, so we should hate him unreservedly.
On the other hand, we should be careful not to punish him.
Punishment is a response to a crime that reintegrates the criminal back into society. Once the punishment is born, the criminal again is to become a member of society. But some crimes are so horrible that no reintegration into society is possible, and the institutions we have are not designed to deal with such acts.
Since he can't be redeemed, or in any event should not be, we can't punish him. LWOP? Death penalty? No, because either way, after he's dead we'd be welcoming him back into our midst. And we can't allow that because he's evil. Pure evil.
In fact, Hill tells us (securing her place in line as a potential winner in the race to be among the first to embrace Godwin's Law), he is Adolf Eichmann who oversaw the Nazi's deportation and execution of millions. Eichmann, who said he would
leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had five million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the comparison is bullshit. Even if the Charleston killer aspired to be Eichmann, he didn't succeed. The single act of a crazed loner (even an evil crazed loner) cannot match the horror (and yes) banality of implementing the Final Solution.
Regardless, Hill is quite clear that her version of Dylann Roof cannot/should not/must not be punished.
In my judgment, we do not have the power to forgive or punish Roof; even sentencing Roof to the death penalty would constitute recognition of his act. His act is the kind of willed evil that “radically destroy[s]” our “potentialities of human power.” We must refuse to forgive Roof and also resist the urge to normalize his acts by punishing him within our legal system. There is no punishment equal to his crime.
What then? The easy answer is that he must be expelled from human society. Not by locking him away from society for eternity. That would be punishment and would bring him back into society.** Nor, for the same reason, can we expel him from society by giving him the death penalty.
No, what we must do instead of locking him away or giving him the death penalty is execute him. As a political but not a legal act.
You know, as he killed people to make a political rather than a legal point.
H/t Joachim Kübler
*Hill accepts, without any apparent doubt, that Roof was the killer and that what the police say about him, including the statements they say were in his purported confession, is true. Those may be fair inferences from what the media tells us. It does not follow that they are in fact accurate.
**Hill has a PhD in philosophy and a particular interest in