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A walk in their shoes

Veronica Vos | Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One week ago today the U.S. government killed a man named Troy Davis. Now in the scheme of things, the U.S. was likely involved in the deaths of many other people that same day and thousands of other unnamed individuals died by hunger or disease within the same 24 hours.

So amidst this sea of death, why worry about this man? We worry for the same reason that doctors worry about victims of disease. We worry because we could have saved his life.

But why save the life of a criminal? Sister Helen Prejaun, the author of “Dead Man Walking” argues that the answer lies in the dignity of human life. The church agrees with her and upholds all life, innocent or guilty, no exceptions.

But what if this argument doesn’t satisfy you? What if this solution doesn’t suit your understanding of crime and punishment? Well, then we can point out that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime — it just doesn’t. We could also argue that the process is expensive, that the whole system is racist, killing a hugely disproportionate amount of black men. We could even point out that the system is actually far more subjective than we ever care to admit and numerous innocent people are executed regularly, possibly as recently as last Wednesday. But the response to these could still be, “These people were criminals; they were bad people who deserved to be punished.”

But do they deserve to die? Can we ever say that?

After all, what if we had been born into broken homes, drugs, gangs and death lurking around every corner? Would we have done any differently? Of course from where we stand today, we all like to believe so. But then we look at every horrific moment in history and we find the awful, uncomfortable truth that good people do horrible things under the right circumstances. To acknowledge the full humanity of these criminals would be to confront the evils in ourselves. Can we do that?

Until we do, we pray for Troy Davis, a man who shouldn’t have died.

Veronica Vos


Walsh Hall

Sept. 26