Saturday, March 12, 2011

a life for a life

This week the death penalty was abolished in Illinois. I am unspeakably proud of the legislature and governor for taking this step, and yet I find that I'm almost unable to write anything about it.

All the news coverage I have heard has been interviews with people who disagree with this decision, and I find the things they say so horrifying I don't know what to do other than to turn off the radio or the computer and sit in the silence instead.

Now, I've never been the victim/survivor of a crime for which someone could conceivably receive the death penalty. I don't pretend to know what those people are feeling. I would like to think that the values I hold would hold up under those circumstances, but I also know that you can't know that until they're tested (and, frankly, I'm a big wuss and don't want to be tested in that way!).

But still.

I heard a woman say that since she was robbed of seeing her loved one grow old, another family should also be robbed of that privilege. That's not what she said, but it's how she framed it: "I don't get to see him grow old, so this other man should die." Which means another family grieves, and the cycle of violence and grief and anger continues, with healing for no one.

I heard a lawyer say that now we will have more trials because they won't be able to use the person's life as a bargaining chip to get them to agree to plead guilty, thus avoiding a trial by a jury of their peers. All I could think was "please tell me we have not been using someone's LIFE/DEATH as a carrot/stick to get them to give up their constitutional right to a jury trial.....oh lord, I think that's what he's saying."

I heard law enforcement officials insisting (even when confronted with statistics that give the lie to their assertions) that the death penalty is a strong deterrent to crime and now there will be more crime.

And that was all in less than 10 minutes yesterday. If there were interviews with people who support the decision, I didn't hear them because I had to turn off the news.

It turns my stomach and makes all sound an assault on my ears and brain to hear these things. I can't imagine saying them out loud and I don't know in what world they are okay. I don't even know what to say. I want to start a sentence with "as a person of faith..." but I'm not sure what the next words in that sentence would be. All I can do right now is pray for people and for our systems, and maybe even for the english language because all the words I want to use (justice, mercy, grace, peace, repentance, forgiveness, punishment, etc) have been co-opted in ways that make them almost impossible to use in a theological sense in this context. Which makes me even more sad and speechless, even as I celebrate a decision that I believe to be in the best interests of the state, of justice, of humanity, and of faithfulness.


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