“I realize that I cannot stand by silently as my government executes its citizens. If I do not speak out and resist, I am an accomplice.”
― Helen Prejean,
“Moreover, 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. In this sense, Roof is little more than a human sacrifice to The Gods of Doing Nothing.” – TA-NEHISI COATES, Killing Dylann Roof
It was announced yesterday that the State Department will seek the death penalty in the case of Dylann Roof. Roof walked into a predominantly African American church in South Carolina and murdered nine people after they invited him to study the Bible with them. His actions were heinous and deplorable. Some may argue that what he did was unforgivable. Personally, I feel immense sadness and anger about what this young man did to these people and their families. Even so, I do not agree with the death penalty in this case or any other case.
As Gandhi so simply stated “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” The death penalty, is state sanctioned murder. There is sickening desire to watch or inflict suffering on someone who has caused suffering. This only perpetuates the cycle of suffering and violence. Dylann Roof is a human, a human filled with hate, but still a human. That is a hard truth to sit with.
We set up false rules around what is murder and what is not. For example, we say it’s acceptable to kill in wartime but not in our homes. To do this, we must remove some of our conscience and label some people as sub-human. This is a dangerous thing for humans to do because the line keeps getting pushed and more sub-human categories are created.
We are currently treating Syrian refugees as sub-human as we allow them to suffer and die with out our support or assistance. Some say, “we need to take care of people at home first” But, this is quickly followed by “Cut their food stamps” and “I work for my money and I don’t owe you a dime.” What we really mean is “the money and resources are mine all mine and no one deserves money and power more than me”
This lack of compassion or lack of humanity is pervasive and extends beyond the death penalty. There is a hierarchy that’s been created where some lives matter more than others, and some lives don’t matter at all. This is why “All lives matter” doesn’t make sense. Of course all lives matter, but the current cultural set up is designed to prioritize some lives more than others and people don’t want to face the reality of the design.
If we justify killing one human, even one that does unspeakable acts of violence, we set into motion a system that says some lives matter and some don’t. It takes much more courage to say that Roof’s life matters even though he did this horrendous and potentially unforgivable act. This is not to say he should not pay a consequence, he most certainly should pay for what he has done. But, killing him is not justice.
One of my heroines, Judy Clarke, is a well-known anti-death penalty attorney. She represented Susan Smith, Theodore Kacynski, Jared Loughner, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (to name a few). She rarely speaks publicly but in a commencement speech she said, in regards to her clients, that she is grateful for “the lessons they’ve taught me—about human behavior and human frailty—and the constant reminder that there but for the grace of God go I.”
Humans are violent animals. But, we should not trick ourselves into believing that some acts of violence are not actually violence. War is violence, poverty is violence, the death penalty is violence, racism is violence, and there is blood on all our hands. And, the fact that we can’t own this is why it won’t stop.
What is it she does now? Look how she rubs her hands.
It is an accustom’d action with her, to seem thus
washing her hands. I have known her continue in this a quarter of
Yet here’s a spot.
Hark, she speaks. I will set down what comes from her, to
satisfy my remembrance the more strongly.
Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!—One; two: why, then
’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky.—Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier, and
afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our
pow’r to accompt?—Yet who would have thought the old man to
have had so much blood in him?