Emanuel 9 families, attorneys on $88M church shooting settlement: ‘Justice does exist’
WASHINGTON (WCSC/AP) - Families of nine victims killed in a racist attack at a Black South Carolina church celebrated a record settlement with the Justice Department over a faulty background check that allowed Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used in the 2015 massacre.
The family of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the state senator who served as the church’s lead pastor, spoke about his death and the deaths of the eight other parishioners.
“No amount of compensation will ever replace my father’s life,” Eliana Pickney said. “But through the help and the opportunities that the government and the people standing behind me have provided, it allows me and my sister to have the opportunity to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to make sure that my father’s legacy doesn’t go away.”
“In spite of the tragedy, in spite of the fact I lost my wife and the eight others at the Emanuel Tragedy, it brought a city together, it brought a community together, it brought a church together, and it’s bringing a nation together,” the Rev. Anthony Thompson said.
His wife, Myra Thompson, was one of the nine killed in the shooting.
“The settlement will not bring anybody back,” he said. “The settlement will not bring satisfaction to my life or the life of my children more than the fact that this act, this tragic act, God made it something good. And that’s what’s bringing joy to my life and into the life of my children, and our community and our state.”
The $88 million settlement represents one of the largest Civil Rights settlements in the nation’s history, attorneys said. Of that $88 million, $25 million will go to the survivors of the shooting while the remaining $63 million will be split among the families of the nine victims who died in the shooting.
Attorney Bakari Sellers said the “88″ figure was purposeful. It’s a number typically associated with white supremacy. He said Roof had the number ‘88′ on his shoes and that was also the number of bullets Roof said he had taken with him to the attack.
“Eighty-eight is a weird number because it is enveloped in so much hate,” Sellers said. “So today we get to give a big ‘F you’ to the white supremacists and the racists in this country by saying we’re taking this tragedy that they tried to tear our country apart with and build Black communities and generational wealth.”
Attorney Mullins McLeod, who served as co-lead counsel in the lawsuit, said of all the significant cases he has been involved in, none was more significant than this one.
“You know, there is an unfortunate reality in our country, and that is that African Americans have not always seen equal justice in our courts,” McLeod said. “This settlement, however, is a beacon for all of us and a reminder that justice does exist.”
Weeks before the church shooting, Roof was arrested by Columbia Police on the drug possession charge. But a series of clerical errors and missteps allowed Roof to buy the handgun he later used in the killings. Those missteps and failures came to be nicknamed “the Charleston loophole.”
Sellers, one of the attorneys representing Emanuel 9 family members, referred to the Wednesday night Bible study after which the shooting occurred.
“This Bible study caused so much pain, but it also led us to come together. And that Bible study caused us so much pain and so much hurt, but it showed us also that things like justice can be a verb,” he said.
Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of Clementa Pinckney, expressed gratitude to the public.
“I thank everyone for the support and the love that was just spread throughout the whole country,” she said. “You’ve been there not only for me and my girls but for the other survivors and the other family members.”
“The atrocities that took place at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in June 2015 will forever impact victims and their families, South Carolinians, and law enforcement and first responders,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Susan Ferensic said in a statement released on Thursday. “The FBI Columbia field office worked tirelessly with our state and local partners, and resources in the community to pursue justice for those victims. Today, we still share in their grief, and hope the settlements reached bring some relief to those directly affected.”
In 2017, Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said Roof opened fire during the Bible study at the church, raining down dozens of bullets on those assembled. He was 21 at the time.
Copyright 2021 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.