The violence in our time
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Every morning I wake up and read an email from The Week detailing a short paragraph on each of the top 10 news stories of the day. I love reading this daily email. But all too often I cringe when I read it because so many of the news items report of violence. Here are some headlines just from the past week: “Suicide bombers kill more than 130 people at Yemen mosques,” “Attackers kill 19 people at Tunisian museum,” “ISIS used chemical weapons.” To read these news stories day after day, it is not difficult to become cynical about the state of our world and the awful things that are happening in it. And even in our country, the item that most pops up on these daily email alerts is the execution of criminals on death row in the United States. Is the state of violence in our country as bad as in the Middle East? Clearly not. But it is not ideal, and the presence of the death penalty in our country is not a part of the peaceful world we want to live in.
The reason to oppose the death penalty is not because we think that the heinous crimes that one commits (such as a husband murdering his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old baby) aren’t heinous. They are. The reason to oppose the death penalty is not to give mercy to those who have committed these crimes. The reason to oppose the death penalty is not because it’s cheaper to hold a prisoner for life than to have him executed on death row (even though it is). The reason to oppose the death penalty is not because some innocent members of society will be executed (even though they already have been). The reason to oppose the death penalty is not because the USA is currently the only western country that still practices the death penalty. The reason to oppose the death penalty is not because the Catholic Church and Pope Francis have repeatedly called for its worldwide abolition, calling it “inadmissible.” These are all good reasons. But the primary and the best reason to oppose the death penalty is that every time a criminal is executed by the state, that criminal is executed by the government, and the government as an agent of the people. That person is executed in our name and in the name of every citizen in this country. We are sanctioning this killing — it is happening in our name. All citizens need to be cognizant of this and that this is happening. We need to be aware that members of our society are being killed for us. Is this what we want?
Last month, captured Jordanian pilot Mudah al-Kasabeh was burnt alive by ISIS. The next day before dawn, Jordan executed two prisoners by hanging in retaliation for the murder of their pilot. Both were guilty of horrifying acts. But it should not have happened. It is a shame that it had to happen. Violence begets violence. Murder gives way for more murder. In the case of capital execution, this is clearly true. Is this what we want? In Steven Pinker’s landmark book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker writes that, contrary to what reading the news might tempt us to believe, world violence is actually at the lowest point it ever has been in human history. The world is getting better. Pinker writes that this shift did not happen by accident: “We enjoy the peace we find today because people in past generations were appalled by the violence in their time and worked to reduce it, and so we should work to reduce the violence that remains in our time.”
Capital execution is still legal in 32 states in the United States (including Indiana). This is the violence that remains in our time that can be abolished and will be abolished in our lifetimes. We want a world of peace. We want a world where every person can go to school without fear of being kidnapped, where every human can worship as they please without fear of being crucified. We want to be able to enjoy our lives peacefully. The death penalty is wrong. It is so clearly, unequivocally, obviously wrong. Abolishing the death penalty in the state of Indiana will not eradicate violence from our world. It will not stop ISIS or Boko Haram from doing what they do. But it is progress toward the world that we most want to live in.
If you are interested in learning more about this issue, please consider attending Sr. Helen Prejean’s talk “Abolition of Capital Punishment” on Tuesday, March 31 at 7:00 p.m. at Our Lady of the Road (744 S. Main Street, South Bend, Indiana).
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.