It was raining, I think, when the call came. She just said: “He’s dead.” That’s all I remember. Over the next few days, words cascaded over me: drunk driver, head on, no pain, quickly, dead, dead, dead. Still more days passed, then months, there was a trial. I didn’t go to court. I don’t remember what was said. I was 15. He was only 16. I had a crush on him. I think he knew. Today I can only remember his face by looking at an old photograph. I only have one.
I hope he dies too. I think I said these words or at least I thought them. I hope they kill him. Then Claire’s words, “he must feel terrible for killing my son. He must be in so much pain.” I wanted to smack her for her disloyalty. What a bad mother who couldn’t even grieve her own son properly. How dare she betray him that way? I wanted blood. She told his wife and son that she wished neither him or them any harm. She asked how they were holding up. The wife of the killer just cried. I heard the story second hand. I was seething. WHAT IS THIS? I thought. I didn’t understand… For many years, I just wanted blood…
Every night (early morning), before I go to bed, I visit the Death Penalty Information Center’s website to check whether someone has been murdered by the State. On days when a person has been killed, I say a prayer of forgiveness for the blood that I have on my hands. These deaths, however, barely register in the public square. Out of sight and out of mind. So far in 2014, seven people have been executed in our names. I’ve offered seven prayers and it’s just over a month into the new year.
“Capital punishment, one might say, is written about only in whispers.” – Albert Camus
I’m told that support for the death penalty is dropping. Yet 60% of Americans still support state sanctioned murder. In this country, we invent the “other” so that we may kill them, dead. Not in public anymore but hidden behind prison walls. For a country that both loves & fears death so much, we are eerily and strangely silent about state-sanctioned murders be they by lethal injections or drones.
Last April, though it feels much more distant now, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother, Tamerlan, were accused of planting two bombs at the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed (including an 8 year old child) and hundreds more were maimed & injured. It was a tragedy that should not have happened. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the alleged mastermind of the crime, is dead and Dzhokhar, the younger brother, is incarcerated awaiting trial. He will be convicted. Of this, there is no doubt.
In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, a number of ordinary people sprung into action to help the victims of this heinous crime. They showcased what’s best about us as human beings, exhibiting selflessness, kindness, and compassion.
On the other side of the ledger, when asked by reporters about the suspect’s condition, the now-former Mayor of Boston responded: “Who cares?” Social media was rife with high fives and praise for the Mayor’s quip. Menino followed up by stating that he wanted the harshest possible punishment (including potentially the death penalty) for the surviving accused bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. There would be more blood shed, a life for a life.
Few could be surprised that many were clamoring for Tsarnaev’s execution. For example, Boston’s then police commissioner, Edward Davis, said that it was fine by him if Tsarnaev was killed. ‘Justice’ must be served.
I did not join the chorus calling for the accused killer’s state-sponsored murder. The 15 year old me would have. But as a grown-woman, I’ve come to understand that vengeance is not justice. The measure of a society’s level of civilization, in my opinion, is how it treats those who have most egregiously transgressed its social norms.