The death penalty is one of the most emotionally charged subjects in American culture and a terrifying place to go for a new blogger. The anger, extreme sadness and frustration of losing a loved one in a violent and deliberate denial of their right to live is one of the rawest pains of human existence. As the mother of three young girls, I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child, let alone losing a child to a senseless act committed by another human being. No one can unless it’s happened to them…and yet, I am firmly committed to my unequivocal belief that murdering the murderer is wrong.
Many good legal and moral rationales against the death penalty exist. I have a particular interest in one that is rarely discussed.
Many out there will surely label me as a bleeding heart Liberal. Maybe I am. You see, I believe every child born into this world deserves a fair shot at life. In America, thousands are born every year without that fair shot. They are born into poverty, an education system that ignores their needs, a world that sees the amount of pigment in their skin and sets expectations on who they are and should be based on a genetic characteristic out of their control. I could go on for ever on the abject conditions of the American experience. Suffice it to say that we do not all start at the same line.
I have always stood firm on the fact that a good education can right some of those wrongs which is why I am so struck by the Stanley “Tookie” Williams story. A young poor African American was born into a tough world. He survived with the only skills society gave him: street skills. He was illiterate, dropped out of school and hit the streets in a bad kind of way. No real chance in life from day one. He was smart though and built the relationships he needed to build to survive. Something went very wrong. It was bound to happen. Something always goes wrong when we ignore the basic needs of humanity.
I don’t know if he killed the four people he was convicted of killing. Most likely only he, the victims and God truly know the answer to that question. What I do know, is that their families are in tremendous pain. I also know that his death will not bring back their loved ones or truly ease their pain, but it will cause pain for a whole new group of family, loved ones and friends.
An eye for an eye or thou shalt not kill? The scriptures are so full of contradictions that we can all find our justifications in them. I choose to look beyond to the trueness of humanity. If a man wronged as a child, did or did not do more harm, but has been and will always be punished for that wrong, do we do any further good by killing him?
The thing I find so interesting is that his transformation came not when he was put in jail, but when he learned to read and write. Literacy. Literacy gave him the courage to reach out to others. Literacy gave him a voice that made many uncomfortable and may have even touched one young child like him and stopped another tragedy. If he stopped just one more tragedy would that be enough? That parent may tell you it is.
My father taught basic living and job skills to prisoners about to be released from prison here in Milwaukee a few years ago. He offhandedly struck me when he noted that it was difficult because he estimated that 80% of them were functionally illiterate. Could the answer be that simple? Probably not, but could it be a really good place to start?
Some in Wisconsin are trying to restore the death penalty. I suggest it may be a better idea to spend the time, energy and money making sure all Wisconsin children can read.
How many more will we leave behind, wait for the inevitable, and then, only then teach to read? What kind of man would he have been had he learned to read as a child? We will never know for sure, but the glimpse he has given is what’s driving the battle for his life on both sides.
Fear that redemption is possible on earth is uncomfortable to those who believe they have a justifiable right to kill; those understandably blinded by their pain and fury.
For those of us who watch in horror that our Government still believes it has the right to murder it’s citizens even knowing that the justice system is not perfect, we wonder…what would Jesus do?
What will "The Terminator" do in California on Tuesday? It's anyone's guess at this point...