On the surface, the Department of Justice’s $88 million settlement with the surviving family members of the nine people killed in the Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston, South Carolina, is historic in many ways. Not only is it one of the largest settlements in a civil rights case in U.S. history, but it could help offer closure to one of the most violent attacks by a white supremacist.
However, if you dig just a bit deeper, the number 88 carries a special significance, especially as it relates to this case, and signaled the government’s very public rebuke of white supremacy and the hateful violence inspired by the racist movement.
Bakari Sellers, a civil rights attorney representing the 14 plaintiffs who sued the federal government, told South Carolina news outlet the State that the number 88 is near and dear to white supremacists’ cold and racist hearts. He pointed out that H — the 8th letter of the alphabet — is an offhand reference to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, a revered figure among white supremacists for slaughtering Jews during the Holocaust, which, obviously, also starts with the letter H.
It gets deeper than that, though.
He also reminded the State that Dylann Roof — the white supremacist who attended bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church before launching his hate-filled killing spree on that fateful day in June of 2015 in hopes of sparking a “race war” — was wearing shoes with the number 88 on them during his unprovoked attack that murdered nine innocent souls.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an anti-hate organization, has referred to the number 88 as a numerical hate symbol.
“One of the most common white supremacist symbols, 88 is used throughout the entire white supremacist movement, not just neo-Nazis,” the ADL says on its website. “One can find it as a tattoo or graphic symbol; as part of the name of a group, publication or website; or as part of a screenname or e-mail address. It is even sometimes used as a greeting or sign-off (particularly in messages on social networking websites).”
The ADL added: “The number is frequently combined with another white supremacist numeric code, 14 (shorthand for the so-called “14 Words” slogan: ‘We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children’) in the form of 1488, 14/88, 14-88, or 8814.”
Because of that, Sellers told the State that the $88 million figure provides an extra swipe at “the white supremacists and racists in this country by saying we are taking this tragedy that they tried to tear this country apart with and build Black communities and generational wealth.”
Settlements for those who were murdered are anywhere from $6 million to $7.5 million. Survivors will receive $5 million each.
On June 17, 2015, Roof, an avowed white supremacist, fired 77 shots during an evening bible study at Emanuel AME Church. He sat in the sanctuary with the worshippers for about 45 minutes and opened fire during the final prayer while the parishioners’ eyes were closed. Roof told prosecutors that he chose the church to implement his heinous crime because it was historically Black. He later told FBI agents that his intentions were to revive segregation or start a race war. Roof was ultimately convicted of 33 federal charges, including hate crimes.
Three people survived the massacre, including Malana Pinckney, who was just 6-years-old when Roof gunned down her father, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Malana’s older sister Eliana said on Thursday after the $88 million settlement was announced that it has been hard for her and her sister growing up without her dad around.
“That is something that is so hard to grasp with and so hard to understand, and so hard to grow from. But it’s so important that I’ve had a community behind me who has helped get to the place that I am now,” Eliana Pinckney said. “No amount of compensation will ever replace my father’s life.”
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