Within the span of 24 hours, two white male millennial murderers have pleaded not guilty for charges for crimes they clearly committed. Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old who entered Mother Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th and explicitly stated he was there to kill black people and left one person alive to tell the truth of his horrors has plead not guilty to the 33 federal charges against him, including committing a hate crime. Similarly, Ray Tensing, the 25-year-old former officer of the University of Cincinnati who was charged for murder in killing Sam Dubose on July 19 during a traffic citation has plead not guilty, despite body camera footage released to the public concurrently with his indictment.

Something is wrong here.

Roof, who spent months coordinating his mass murder, whose hateful ideations were extrapolated online on a personal website called “the last Rhodesian” as an homage to the violent and racist apartheid regime of contemporary Zimbabwe, stood in court, lawyer by his side, to look the judge in the eye on the firm belief that he can prove without doubt that he is deserving of absolution in the eyes of the law. Tensing did the same, later freed from handcuffs to go home after posting the $100,000 of his $1 million bond in less than eight hours.

Based on the information and evidence available, both men, quite frankly, have little grounds to stand on to assert innocence.

And yet what is the necessity of proof when placed against the propositions of white skin? We know that Lady Justice is blind, but as two cold-blooded killers dare the law to tell them they committed any wrongdoing, we must ask how she got that way and how Roof and Tensing predict she’ll hold their lies and imagined truths in the balance.

Despite the 33 charges against Roof, there is one glaring omission from the list — terrorism.

Not pressing terrorism charges continues to obscure the political nature of racism, reinforcing the post-9/11 terrorist archetype considered largely Arab and Muslim and/or, based on the recent reveal that the Department of Homeland Security has been monitoring Black Lives Matter movement participants, black and millennial. White extremism, even when found culpable in the murder of an elected government official, is not included. Additionally, by not presenting terrorism charges against Roof, terrorism maintains a selective amnesia. Counterterrorism has become a common part of our lexicon in today’s world, and yet little is ever made of the fact that the first anti-terrorism legislation was the Ku Klux Klan Act passed by Congress in 1871, or that today there have been more right-wing attacks than those taken “in the name of” jihad.

Through arbitrary categorization and historical delusion, Roof stands to the law inheriting the implicit understanding that it is always already possible that criminality sits differently with him, or rather, that it is less likely to attach to him at all.

Tensing is also benefiting from a unique matrix of protective isolation. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, after seeing the footage, was outraged enough to make prosecuting Tensing a personal mission of his. However, neither he nor the grand jury are pursuing charges against the two accompanying officers who watched Tensing shoot DuBose without provocation and were clearly caught corroborating the former UC officer’s lies that he murdered DuBose under the threat of being run over. Even before the prosecution commences and a verdict has been reached, we see that lying is not illegal, even when linked to the obvious cover-up of a cold-blooded execution in broad daylight. Even if Tensing manages to be convicted of murder in the months ahead, we know for a fact that this is the exception, not the rule.

The rule of law is rather the audacious assumption that legality becomes circumstantially flexible when the perpetrator is white.

After Charleston, an NRA board member had the audacity to blame Rev. Clementa Pinckney for his death and the eight other congregants in the Wednesday night bible study for not having someone there who was armed. And Sandra Bland and Sam Dubose, within the past two weeks alone, show how black people who die at the hands of the law are subjected to the death penalty long after their last breath has passed. Mainstream media, rather than investigating obvious inconsistencies around the circumstances of the deaths of black victims, are more concerned with seeking out potential records of criminality and the accompanying mugshots.

Meanwhile, acrobatic maneuvers are deployed to turn a blind eye to white people who kill. Headlines garner them empathy, either by wrongfully deploying mental illness and “troubled” parenting as an excuse or by offering Roof a bulletproof vest for his protection.


Not only is this a matter of being innocent until proven guilty, but this is also about the bold ways the color line demarcates who it is always unfathomable to imagine at fault within and without the law.

These men shamelessly believe they have a right to claim no wrongdoing and what adds insult to the injuries they have created against many of us is the fact that, despite their own confessions and being caught on camera, our culture and the justice system have been prepared to allow them to do just that.

Want more content like this? Sign up for our weekly newsletter below.