An eye for an eye, the Biblical saying goes.

Dylann Roof was sentenced Tuesday to death for killing nine black worshipers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. He is the first person to receive the death penalty for a federal hate crime.

His punishment has reignited conversations across the U.S. about the death penalty, forcing many to confront their feelings about a challenging moral debate: Should the government be able to take the life of its citizens? 

Some undoubtedly celebrated. 

“He’s evil,” Felicia Sanders, mother of one of the victims, said last month as she testified on the witness stand. “There’s no place on Earth for him except the pit of hell.”

But others, even those who hate Roof and his actions, did not share that sentiment.

“I forgive you,” said Nadine Collier, the daughter of victim, at a hearing after the shooting in 2015. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

Arthur Stephen Hurd lost his wife, Cynthia, in the shooting. He recently told The Intercept that although he hadn’t forgiven Roof, he also hadn’t been hoping for the death penalty.

“Cynthia wasn’t a big proponent of that,” he said. “Up until this point, I really was. Now, all I can say is, if they give him death, that’s the easy way out.”

The death penalty is deeply embedded in the criminal justice system, brought over by British settlers. In the early days of Virginia, people were sentenced to death for numerous reasons. Captain George Kendall was the first man in the American colonies to be hanged after he was accused of being a Spanish spy in 1608; after that, people could be put to death for charges such as killing chickens.

Since then, the United States has placed restrictions on the death penalty (no, you will no longer be hung for decapitating your neighbor’s poultry), and some states have made it illegal. Today, it is permitted in 32 states.

In May, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates argued in The Atlantic against the death penalty: “Killing Roof does absolutely nothing to ameliorate the conditions that brought him into being in the first place. The hammer of criminal justice is the preferred tool of a society that has run out of ideas… And killing Roof, like the business of the capital punishment itself, ensures that innocent people will be executed.”

In other words, the death penalty is a tool of the state -- but it’s not a particularly good or moral tool. It’s a crutch, Coates argues, so the government does not have a reason to tackle criminal justice reform.

Pope Francis made headlines last summerwith a similar point. “It does not render justice to victims, but instead fosters vengeance,” he said.

Innocent people have been handed the death penalty in the past-- more than four percent of those on death row were wrongfully convicted, according to a 2014 study