Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Death Penalty and a Nation's Soul

The morning after the executions of Troy Davis and Lawrence Russell Brewer found me mulling over Luke 19:

41As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.”

Jesus laments because Jerusalem ignored the signs of God's nearness. By choosing to ignore God's presence and refusing to pursue the path of peace, Jerusalem was sealing its own fate: a future filled with violence and destruction.

What kind of civilized society sanctions the killing of its own citizenry? What is the chilling message that is sent to its populace? Where do the lines of vengeance and justice blur? When the State deems that some lives are not worth living, and in fact ought to be put to death, doesn't that cheapen all other lives?
People do horribly evil things in this world. But we simply perpetuate evil by killing people who have been convicted of killing people. The death penalty is not a deterrent to evil. It does not offer the possibility of reconciliation. Is this really what justice looks like?

In a study by Amnesty International, 23 countries carried out the death penalty in 2010. The US was number four in the highest number of executions, behind Iraq, Iran and China. Is this an area in which we as a nation want to excel?
Troy Davis’ case shows how race and class enter into our judicial process. Some individuals are not presumed innocent until proven guilty but are guilty until they have enough money to hire a good lawyer to prove them innocent. Perhaps the redemptive act from all of this will ultimately be the end of the death penalty in the United States. It is time we learned the ways that make for peace and reconciliation.

Our future depends on it.

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