Every day I read The New York Times. Feverishly I flip through the pages, catching up on “all the news that’s fit to print.” Reading the news and learning about current events helps me more deeply understand my faith. With this in mind, in Section A of Monday’s (March 19, 2012
In Belarus a government television report on Saturday night confirmed that the two men convicted of bombing a subway station last year in its capital had been put to death. When they were arrested both men confessed, but one man, Vladislav Kovalyov, later retracted his confession saying the confessions were “extracted under torture.”) Times there are two stories about the death penalty, but the same theme emerges in both: are we killing the innocent?
Though no motive was ever established, the executions were expedited, as executions normally occur one to two years after the verdict is delivered.Belarus, while the only country in the European Union that still uses the death penalty, isn’t the only government in the world facing tough questions about the highest form of punishment.
Again, in The New York Times, an Editorial entitled, “Pennsylvania and the Death Penalty,” agues that, “Two new judicial reports and a recent death sentence for an indigent defendant in Philadelphia further bolster the case to abolish the system.”
Derrick White was only 20 when he received a 2010 death penalty sentence after only 15 minutes of deliberation between life without parole or death penalty. White’s lawyers failed to take steps considered basic for capital cases, such as not entering evidence about his background, and even failed to hire a death penalty expert.
On a Monday morning, reading The New York Times, I am reminded that justice remains elusive for many. In the larger social conscience, since Troy Davis’ execution in 2011, people have become aware of the reality that innocent people are killed every year. Across the globe we find, time and time again, that we would rather kill than seek justice.
While many will continue to call for the death penalty, I find that continually using the death penalty and its mere existence allows for excuses of injustice to continue. Doing away with the death penalty will not do away with heinous crimes, but it might cause us to look into the structural, systematic issues that feed death-row cell blocks.
According to Amnesty International:
- Since 1977, 77% of death row defendants have been executed for killing white defendants, while African-Americans make up half of all homicide victims.
- The Federal Bureau of investigation shows that the 14 states without capital punishment have homicide rates at or below the national rate.
- Almost all death row inmates could not afford their own attorney at trial.
To my own religious identity I turn, wondering what it is within the Christian tradition that calls me to stand against capital punishment. During this season of Lent I turn to the of narrative Jesus, and specifically the Cross. It is in the Gospel of Luke chapter 23 that Jesus says, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
Jesus himself became a victim of capital punishment. In that moment of offering forgiveness is the challenge for bold mercy. In the end, perhaps Jesus knew that by offering forgiveness to those society would not have forgiven he challenged the system. By offering mercy we make wholeness and reconciliation possible.
In addition to calling for greater scrutiny of death row cases, we must become more proactive in taking from the streets instruments of violence. We need to push for greater gun laws that make it more difficult to obtain one, and increase the penalty for illegal sales of guns. We must increase educational measures in high-crime areas. Lack of education is an instrument of violence so easily preventable, but so often ignored. Most of all, we need to understand that we are engaged in a web of humanity, and when we devalue one person, we devalue ourselves.
Killing people because they have done wrong will not repair our communities or our nation. Though it might bring immediate closure for some, it leaves our common humanity tortured and bruised. If we want to change our society, if we want to make it more just, executing people will not assit in its arrival.
But if we want to look at the systems like structural racism, economic disparity, and the prison industrial complex, then we might see that change and transformation is possible. In the end, this is not about political statements, but our common humanity. Our common identities are not always the same religiously, but they are all human identities.
We share a common bond that is the breath in our lungs–to deny that breath and forcibly expel it from the lungs of humans denies that humanity.
Photo Courtesy of NYS Department of Correctional Services (Attribution Wikimedia Commons)