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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is going to be sentenced to death. I can understand how this might bring some people a measure of peace. He does not seem to be repentant, after all. His family suffers from an acute sense of denial. Yet, had I been a juror, I would have pushed for life over death. I guess it all comes down to this for me: The very groundwork of my faith, which tells me I ought not to hurt other people, no matter what. I retrench this idea in myself as though I am speaking to a child:

But what if a person wants to hurt others?
You must not hurt anyone.

But what if that person wants to kill others?
You must not hurt anyone.

But what if that person wants to kill ME?
You must not hurt anyone.

It is not an easy lesson to apply to daily life. When we hurt, we want to hurt those who caused the hurt. Simple. But just as kicking the desk you accidentally bumped into exacerbates the pain of no one but yourself, so does striking back at an enemy. It lowers you to your most bestial level. It suffocates your soul.

Nonviolence against oppressors may be the more painfully patient route — often it does not see results in a timely fashion — but it has worked for some of the greatest historical figures: Martin Luther King, Jr, Gandhi, even Muhammad himself. (The Arabic word for nonviolence as a life decision is, in fact, islam.)

I am reading a book about the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times building by Labor leaders. In many ways, this case resonates with the Tsarnaev case. The perpetrators in both cases felt that their deed was a necessary protest. In the Times case, the protest was on behalf of the working man. Harrison Gray Otis, the publisher of The Times, was (by all accounts) a particularly odious individual who — like many capitalists of the time — cared only for profit. (By that, I mean profit at any cost — even the health and well-being of his workers.) He was vehemently anti-union. The bombing killed 21 people, and did nothing to advance the cause of Labor. Rather, it set it back. The men behind the bombing received jail sentences, despite the fact that plenty of people wanted them to hang for it. Had my loved ones been among the dead, I might have, too.

But that would not be right. We must learn this, to our shame, over and over again. I do not look forward to the endless appeals that Tsarnaev is likely to make. I would rather say, “We are not like you. We do not kill.”

Because killing is always wrong.

Everyone knows who James Holmes is by now. The horror and devastation he left in his wake in Aurora, CO, marks one of the worst mass murders in our history. Most of us are righteously (and rightfully) angry. Many would like to see him executed; some would like this to happen before Holmes is afforded a trial.

It has taken years of soul-searching to come to this decision: I oppose the death penalty. Yes, when I think of something as heinous as what happened in Aurora, I get mad. If someone did something like that to someone I cared about, you’d have to hold me back to keep me from clawing his eyes out. I feel deeply. But I also feel deeply about trying to be better than I am.

I am not opposed to the death penalty because only God should decide who lives and who dies, although that is certainly an appropriate consideration. No, it’s because I think we should at least attempt to be better than those we seek to punish. They are the death-dealers, not us. It should be our job as a people to show them that what they have done is wrong, and that we will not indulge in it. Because none of us should kill, even if one of us appears to deserve it.

There are those who would say that prison is too good for someone like Holmes, or any of his gory predecessors or antecedents. Perhaps they have a point. But we can only punish so much before we start treading on dangerous territory. We must not allow the evil of others to suck us in. If there is a true punishment to be had, I have to believe it will come, if not in this life, than in the next. And if there is no next life? If justice never happens? Well, I’ll take solace in knowing that I didn’t participate in harm toward another human being. That, at least, will give me a peaceful death. And if there’s nothing after this life (although I believe quite firmly that there is), a peaceful death is the best thing I can hope for.


Have a Mary Little Christmas

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