The families of the nine victims who were killed in a racist attack on a South Carolina church in 2015 reached an $88 million settlement with the Justice Department on Thursday. The deal, which still faces a judge’s final approval, was reached after the families and survivors of the attack alleged that the FBI’s delay in discovering that shooter Dylann Roof should not have been allowed to possess a firearm led to him purchasing the handgun he used in the mass shooting.
Bakari Sellers, an attorney for the families, tells TIME that they chose the amount of $88 million for a specific reason—that was the number of bullets Roof had supplied himself with for the attack. Eighty-eight is also a number white supremacists use as a code for “Heil Hitler,” as H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“We didn’t necessarily know we were going to land on that number. It’s rooted in such deep hatred and racism and white supremacy. But now, it’s going to represent generational wealth for Black communities in the deep South,” Sellers says. “I want people to remember that this was done all because they were Black.”
On June 17, 2015, Roof—a self-proclaimed white supremacist—barged into the Mother Emanuel AME Church and killed nine people. In 2017, Roof was convicted on multiple charges, including murder, damage to religious property and obstruction of religious belief. He became the first person sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. The victims’ families, along with five survivors who were inside the church during the attack, sued the government over wrongful death and physical injuries related to the shooting, an Oct. 28 DOJ press release noted. The FBI acknowledged in 2015 that Roof should not have been able to buy a gun because of his previous arrest record. James Comey, the FBI director at the time, previously said the error was caused because the background check system did not work as intended.
The victims’ families are expected to receive settlements ranging from $6 million to $7.5 million per claimant, and survivors are expected to receive $5 million per claimant, according to the DOJ. The deal is still awaiting a judge’s final approval. Sellers says that of the $88 million, survivors are expected to receive $25 million and victims are expected to receive $63 million.
“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 B. Garland said in the DOJ’s Oct. 28 press release. “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.”
In June, President Joe Biden announced an expansive strategy to combat gun violence, including strengthening the gun background-check system. While Sellers acknowledges that the Biden Administration “won’t be able to right a wrong” in the case of the Charleston Massacre, he is optimistic that “they can work to make sure this never happens again.”
“With this administration, I am not only optimistic about the way that they treat gun violence and this issue of background checks—but they’re also trying to stamp out white domestic terror and white supremacy,” Sellers says.
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