Dylann Roof waited almost 45 minutes for the 12 church goers to rise and close their eyes for prayers before he fired 77 bullets, killing nine. Survivor Felicia Sanders saw Roof draw a Glock .45-caliber handgun and methodically shoot worshipper after worshipper. Sanders saw her family die before her, dropping on the linoleum floor. She smeared herself with blood, with her granddaughter in her arms, in the hopes that the killer would think they were already dead.
Dylann Roof was found guilty. With eyewitness testimony, video surveillance, the murder weapon in his possession, and his own confession, there was no doubt that Dylann Roof was the murderer. Nevertheless, it took almost six months for Roof to be found guilty in the court of law. Evidentiary hearings, a grand jury, and other safeguards were put into motion for a man who clearly murdered innocent people. Although such a justice system may appear to be inefficient, it is these due process rights for defendants that make us a just nation.
Often when such events occur in nations such as Pakistan, justice looks the other way. In May 2010, two mosques of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community were attacked in a simultaneous killing of over 80 people and injury of more than 100. Yet after such a tragedy, arrests were made but no guilty verdicts were found despite an abundance of evidence.
More recently, a mob of 1,000 besieged an Ahmadi Mosque in Chakwal, Pakistan. Although the government has made arrests, it is unlikely they will amount to anything substantive as has been seen in the past. With seven Ahmadi Muslims killed because of their religion this year, the government still has no guilty verdicts. If anything, the government has punished Ahmadi Muslims by raiding their headquarters in Pakistan and charging them with blasphemy. When Pakistani Governor Salman Taseer objected to blasphemy laws that are used to unfairly target Pakistan’s Christian minority, his own bodyguard killed him. Instead of being vilified, the bodyguard was hailed in the streets as a hero. Who guards the guards when justice is handcuffed by a society’s corrupt mores?
As a prosecutor, I work with the criminal justice system every day. My priority is to pursue justice — to vindicate the rights of victims and to ensure that we all are held accountable to the law. Had I been a prosecutor in Pakistan, the law would coerce me to overlook the rights of minorities and seek justice only for a limited few. In the United States, we seek justice for all. When Dylann Roof shot down the African-American worshippers, the law was not silent. The law instead met Dylann Roof with full force while still affording him his due process rights.
Indeed, the concept of justice we have here in the United States is far greater than those found in so-called Muslim nations like Pakistan. In Islam, justice is meant to be absolute — no one is above it or below it. Muslims are taught to pursue absolute justice, even if it means testifying against your loved ones if that is what the truth requires.
The Holy Qur’an states, “Be strict in observing justice, and be witnesses for Allah, even though it be against yourselves or against parents and kindred” (4:136). In the United States, we are privileged to live in a country where we do not have to ask who guards the guards. Although this can be met with some skepticism, any system of justice is based on the humans who govern them. In the U.S., we condemn those who intend to spread hate. We live in a country where our laws are enacted to protect all, and we are indeed privileged because of it. Unlike Pakistan, those who kill when our eyes are closed in prayer can know that they will be met with the all the force of justice and the law.