This is my death penalty post. It will address NEITHER the issue of innocence NOR that of cost, which in my mind are secondary... And I will justify this later, as the discussion moves forward. This letter was written to the Houston Times (I think) at the time of Napeoleon Beazley's execution. I have MUCH documentation about the Beazley case if you're interested.
To the Editor : May, 2002
An American citizen living abroad, I am writing to extend my public condolences to the many actors involved in the tragedy of Mr John Luttig's murder, and the subsequent execution of Mr Napoleon Beazley.
First and foremost, I offer my condolences to Mr Beazley's family and friends. I am a mother, and can only imagine the horror of losing a child, horror compounded by the fact that state sponsored execution, unlike most violent crime, is terribly premeditated. Premeditated by seconds, minutes, hours, stretching into years. After reading about Mr Beazley, I have the firm conviction that, although guilty, he was a young man who had much to offer to his family, friends, and the larger community of the state. I feel that he had repented of his act, and felt sincere remorse for his wrongdoing. His murder is a tragedy, one that magnifies, not diminishes, the tragedy of Mr Luttig's murder.
Second, my condolences to the Luttig family, for whom the State has inextricably compounded the difficulty of coming to terms with the death of their loved one. Napoleon Beazley's execution, far from assuring a bogus closure to the victims (grief does not end magically when murderers are killed) has created a spectre that could haunt the Luttig family for generations. As a mental health professional, I have yet to find one serious professional article that argues convincingly for the benefits of executions in assuring "closure" to victims. On the contrary, my professional experience suggests that executions could be an aggravating factor in the grieving process. Subtle guilt feelings may plague the family, preventing its members from continuing their lives. And finally, consider this fact : an international consensus is moving toward the abolition of the death penalty. International law already prohibits the execution of juveniles, mentally retarded or mentally ill individuals. In the U.S. the death penalty is being heavily criticized, and several states have introduced legislation to limit its scope. Sooner or later, these executions will be considered a barbaric practice of another age. What comfort will the Luttig family have in knowing that Napoleon Beazley was one of the last victims of this barbaric practice ?
Third, my condolences to the individual members of the Texas Board of Paroles and Pardons who voted against clemency for this young man, for having missed an extraordinary opportunity of showing mercy, rather than respecting the law, and nothing but, the law. (I am not sure that respecting the law is the strict equivalent of respecting justice...) Here William Shakespeare, in the Merchant of Venice, will express my thought better than I : (Act IV, i; 182-)
"The quality of mercy is not strained ;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest ; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. 'Tis mightiest in the mightiest ; it becomes the thronèd monarch better than his crown. His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings ; But mercy is enthroned in the hearts of kings ; It is an attribute to God himself, and earthly power doth then show likest God's When mercy seasons justice. Therefore... Though justice be thy plea ; consider this : That in the course of justice none of us Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy."
Do those who voted against clemency feel that they need not pray for mercy ? That they are above praying for it ? Let me remind them of the fate of the character to whom this plea was addressed. Shylock, maintaining hardness of heart, insisted on ALL justice, NOTHING BUT JUSTICE, NOTHING BUT THE LAW. He was subsequently excluded from the human community, and ruined. Doesn't Shakespeare say that he who cannot, will not, show mercy excludes himself, and is excluded from the larger human community ? What a tragedy, and all for the sake of being right...
Last, but not least, my condolences to the Texas people itself. In 1860, towards the end of his life, Thomas Jefferson expressed his foreboding about the racial hatred perpetuated in the institution of slavery : "But the momentous question (slavery), like a fire-bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union... I regret that I am now to die in the belief, that the useless sacrifice of themselves by the generation of 1776, to acquire self-government and happiness to their country, is to be thrown away... and my only consolation is to be, that I live not to weep over it. (Quoted from Strength to Love, The death of evil upon the seashore, Martin Luther King Jr., 1963)
Jefferson's premonitions proved correct. Precipitated by the division between the North and the South over the issue of slavery, the Civil War, of which most American schoolchildren are woefully ignorant, has left deep, unhealed scars on Southern/American political and social life. And racial hatred remains painfully present, as witnesses the growing clamor against racial bias in the criminal justice system. Just as it tore apart the U.S. in 1864, it can tear it apart in the near future, if all of us, blacks, whites, hispanics, or whatever, do not decide to hand in hand build together the society of tomorrow with love. In this sobering backdrop, Napoleon Beazley's state sponsored murder seriously jeopardizes the capacity of Southern/American society to unite all of its members in this vital enterprise.
Love your enemies, said Jesus, and Martin Luther King Jr. in the book previously cited. This commandment, far from being the unrealistic pipedream of high-blown idealists, is more than ever a pragmatic necessity in a world where globalization has for better or worse brought us closer together than ever. What are the choices ? Love (and forgive) our enemies or drown in the bottomless maelstrom of hate and vengeance which know no limits. Love our enemies to escape from this suffocating and short-sighted "logic", to heal and forgive OURSELVES.
Thank you for your consideration.
Sorry that was so long... It was a letter, not a blog post. But I COULDN'T edit it...