US department to pay $88 million to families, survivors of 2015 South Carolina church shooting

(Photo: © Peter Kenny)Black Lives Matter protest in Geneva Switzerland on June 9, 2020.

The U.S. Justice Department has agreed to pay $88 million to the families and survivors of the June 2015 shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, leaving nine churchgoers dead.

The move is seen as a symbolic blow to white supremacists.

The settlement was announced on Oct. 28 after Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist, carried out the murders at a historically black church and is a bitter blow to white supremacists, an attorney for the victims' families said, CNN reported.

White supremacists have used the number "8" as a hate symbol for decades.

CNN reported that the number has been used as a reference to "Heil Hitler" because H is the 8th letter in the alphabet, it said, quoting Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism.

Bakari Sellers, an attorney who helped broker the agreement and a CNN political commentator, said the award dealt a hefty blow "to the white supremacists and racists in this country."

It dealt the blow "by saying that we are taking this tragedy that they tried to tear our country apart with and build Black communities and generational wealth."

The massacre victims, Sellers said, were killed because they were black, and now, the settlement can help a community deeply affected by violent racism take ownership of their future and build wealth.

The families of the slain victims had filed a lawsuit over a faulty background check that enabled Roof to buy the handgun he used to carry out the shooting.


"The mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church was a horrific hate crime that caused immeasurable suffering for the families of the victims and the survivors," U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement, CBN News reported.

"Since the day of the shooting, the Justice Department has sought to bring justice to the community, first by a successful hate crime prosecution and today by settling civil claims," said Garland.

According to CBN News, the $88 million settlement includes $63 million for the families of fallen victims and $25 million for those who survived the massacre.

Attorney Bakari Sellers, who helped broker the agreement, explained that the number 88 was significant because it represented the number of bullets Roof was carrying with him during the attack.

It is also a number often linked to white supremacy.

The number "88" has been used as a reference to "Heil Hitler" because "H" is the 8th letter in the alphabet, Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-DefamationLeague'ss Center on Extremism, was quoted as saying by CNN.

White supremacists use it as a part of their usernames online, to sign off on messages posted online, and some shout it to each other, he noted.

"Plenty of people get tattoos, jewelry, insignia patches," Pitcavage said.


"It's become one of the most common modern white supremacy symbols."

The settlements, still pending a judge's approval, range from $6 million to $7.5 million per claimant for the families of the slain, according to the Justice Department.

Survivors' settlements are at $5 million per claimant.

Months before the shooting, Roof had been arrested on Feb. 28 by Columbia, S.C. police on a drug possession charge.

A series of clerical errors and missteps allowed Roof to buy the handgun he later used in the massacre.

According to court documents, CBN News reported, the errors included wrongly listing the sheriff's office as the arresting agency in the drug case.

An examiner with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System found some information on the arrest but needed more to deny the sale, so she sent a fax to the sheriff's office.

That office responded that it didn't have the report, directing her to the Columbia, South Carolina police.

Before the mass shooting, Roof was arrested by Columbia police on a drug possession charge that should have prevented him from purchasing a firearm.

However, after several clerical errors and a lack of due diligence, Roof would be permitted to buy the gun he would later use in the church shooting.

Copyright © 2021 Ecumenical News