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US reaches $88 mn settlement with Black victims of white supremacist

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The US Justice Department reached an $88 million settlement with victims of a white supremacist who shot dead nine Black churchgoers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June 2015./AFP
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Oct 29, 2021 - 03:57 AM

WASHINGTON — The US Justice Department on Thursday announced an $88 million settlement with victims of a self-proclaimed white supremacist who shot dead nine Black parishioners in a historic church in South Carolina in 2015.

The settlement stems from allegations that the FBI was negligent when it failed to prohibit the sale of a handgun by a licensed firearms dealer to the shooter, Dylann Roof.

Roof, 27, who prosecutors said carried out the shooting to spark a “race war,” has been sentenced to death for the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, one of the oldest African American churches in the southern United States.

“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 Garland said, announcing the settlement.

“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.”

The June 2015 massacre sparked outrage and horror in the United States.

President Barack Obama attended the emotional funeral of the church’s slain pastor Clementa Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator.

And then South Carolina governor Nikki Haley ordered the removal of the Confederate flag from the statehouse. Roof had been frequently pictured with the flag of the pro-slavery Civil War South.

‘Step in the right direction’ 

The Justice Department said the settlement resolves claims from the families of the nine people killed in the shooting and the five others who were inside the church at the time.

It said the settlements range from $6 million to $7.5 million for family members of the nine victims, and $5 million each for the five survivors.

Bakary Sellers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said it “represents one of the largest settlements of a collection of civil rights cases in this country’s history.”

“The nation grieved following the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel, and no one was more profoundly affected than the families of the victims and the survivors we have reached a settlement with today,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said.

“The department hopes that these settlements, combined with its prosecution of the shooter, will bring some modicum of justice to the victims of this heinous act of hate.”

The families of the “Emanuel Nine” and the survivors sued the government for wrongful death and physical injuries.

They claimed the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) failed to discover in a timely manner that Roof was prohibited by law from possessing a firearm.

The NICS requires federally approved gun dealers to ask potential customers to fill out forms that are transmitted to the national database. Roof should not have been authorized to buy guns since he had been arrested previously for a drug offense.

Roof sat in on a Bible study group at the Mother Emanuel church in downtown Charleston on June 17, 2015 and opened fire as the parishioners were beginning their closing prayer.

Eliana Pinckney, the pastor’s daughter, said Thursday that “no amount of compensation will ever replace my father’s life” but the settlement will allow the family “to make sure that my father’s legacy doesn’t go away.”

“My sister and I are going to go home realizing that the government didn’t sit in silence, but they paid attention, and they valued my father’s life and they value the lives of the eight other people who died,” she said.

“This is a step in the right direction for the government to continue acknowledging the African Americans who are losing their lives on a daily basis.”

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