If Dylann Roof intended, as has been reported, to start a race war with his coldly calculated murders of nine welcoming members of Emmanuel AME Church last week, he sure got that wrong. Talk about your unintended consequences!
Not only did the heartless murders not spark a race war, they sparked a renewed unity among the races and local pride in Charleston, S.C., in the wonderful, forgiving and loving people he gunned down inside a church. Interracial crowds cried and hugged and mourned. Thousands of people joined hands in a chain of unity that stretched across the Cooper River on the Arthur Ravenal Bridge. Charleston has demonstrated how a community can unify and answer hatred and violence with love and forgiveness.
Roof now faces the death penalty, even as the survivors of those he murdered are expressing their forgiveness even as they mourn. His crime also had another consequence: a new consensus that the Confederate battle flag, which Roof had hugged and waved in his online postings, should be removed from its places of honor and even from all public places or from retail trade nationwide. The flag has very quickly become a symbol of hatred and racial violence and not, as some supporters have claimed, a symbol of sacrifice and a memorial for soldiers who gave their lives in a lost cause.
If Roof's crime results in the banning of the Confederate battle flag — a flag that never was adopted by the Confederate States of America — it will be a fair judgment on the killer's hatred and all that he represents. The banning of a flag, however, will not bring back the respected and adored murder victims or heal the emptiness in so many families and among so many friends. No amount of reform or unity or forgiveness will bring back those lives, and for that, Roof must pay.