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In Big ‘F You’ to White Supremacy, Survivors and Families of Charleston Church Massacre Victims Settle Lawsuit for $88 Million

Emanuel AME church, Charleston, SC

Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. (courtesy John Moore/Getty)

Families and survivors of the 2015 attack by a white supremacist on Black parishioners at an historic Charleston church have made the Justice Department pay heavily for the faulty background check that preceded the terrorist attack.

And the settlement figure the parties landed on is rife with symbolism: $88 million, a number often associated with white supremacists. It is neo-Nazi code for “Heil Hitler,” the eighth letter of the alphabet, and the number of bullets Roof said he brought to the attack.

Bakari Sellers, an attorney who helped broker the settlement, told the Associated Press that the symbolism was purposeful.

“We’ve given a big ‘F you’ to white supremacy and racism,” Sellers told the news wire. “We’re doing that by building generational wealth in these Black communities, from one of the most horrific race crimes in the country.”

Families of those killed in the shooting will received $6 million to $7.5 million per claimant, and the survivors will receive $5 million each, according to the press release.

The plaintiffs, a group of 14 people who either survived the attack or lost family members, had alleged that the FBI failed to stop the sale of a gun to Dylann Roof, who should have been prohibited from buying it because of a prior drug charge. Clerical errors and delays allowed Roof to purchase the gun that he ultimately used in the massacre.

Now, the families and survivors will receive millions of dollars, the Justice Department said in a press release.

At multiple points, the federal government was “negligent, careless, grossly negligent and reckless” in failing to follow federal background check procedures pursuant to the National Instant Background Check System [NICS], the complaint said.

The plaintiffs said those failures led to the deaths of their loved ones.

“If the NICS Operation Center had obtained the Columbia Police Department Incident Report, Roof would not have been permitted to purchase the semi-automatic Glock pistol he purchased on April 16, 2015, used to murder nine parishioners and to attempt to murder others on the attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina,” the complaint said.

The parties have been in litigation since 2016; a federal district court dismissed the case in 2018, but a federal appeals court revived it in 2019.

On Jun 17, 2015, Roof walked into the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. Although he wasn’t a member of the historically Black church, the congregants who were there invited him to join their bible study.

When the group was finished, Roof opened fire. He killed nine people: pastor and state senator Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

Roof, who is white, admitted that he was motivated by racism, and that he targeted the 200-year-old church because he wanted to start a “race war.” All his victims were Black.

Roof was ultimately convicted of federal murder and hate crime charges, and pleaded guilty to state charges.

“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,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in the Justice Dept. statement Thursday. “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.”

You can read the amended complaint, which provides details of Roof’s drug arrest and the NICS background check, below.

[Image via John Moore/Getty]

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