Don't Kill For Me

Someone asked me today what I would miss about living in Massachusetts. Something that didn’t occur to me at the time, something I didn’t think to mention during the conversation was this: I will miss living a state that does not practice capital punishment. My upcoming move to Texas will not only make me a citizen of a death penalty state but a citizen of the leading executing state in the entire country – by far.

Since the Supreme Court declare executions constitutional in 1976 Texas has executed 406 people. That’s four times as many as the next leading state (Virginia – 99). Texas executed 26 people in 2007 and has executed another already in 2008. During that time 8 people have been released from death row in Texas with evidence of their innocence. Nationally, since 1973, 129 people in 26 states have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence.

Countries with the Most Confirmed Executions in 2007: 1. China (470), 2. Iran (317), 3. Saudi Arabia (143) 4. Pakistan (135). 5. United States (42).

As a citizen of the state, when the state kills, I am a party to the killing, it is done in my name and with my permission. I prefer that state does not kill for me as punishment, especially in the case of prisoners who are already safely in custody and not a danger to harm themselves or others.

While a college student doing my senior internship with Amnesty International I helped to organize the first ever national student conference on the abolition of the death penalty. This took place in November of 1989 at Northeastern University. The slogan for the conference (and the buttons and T-Shirts) was A Punishment in Search of a Crime.

This is how I came to see it and still do. Especially because capital punishment, like capital crimes effects so many lives, not just the criminal and the victim. In an effort to punish criminals, by executing, we as citizens become killers through the state – in order to show killing and other violent crimes are wrong. It is the worst in us that seeks death as punishment. It is near impossible to imagine being the victim or relative of a victim of a violent or capital crime. Would I want blood, revenge if it were me? Probably, because that’s a very human, emotional reaction, but that doesn’t make it the right one. We shouldn’t dispense justice out of the very depths of emotional pain where we operate out of our most base reactions and rawest emotions. Do we need to consider that pain in the process of justice? Of course, but it shouldn’t be the emotional state from which we make such decisions.

An eye for an eye really does just leave everyone blind. And Biblically an eye for an eye was not a license for revenge but a limit on vengeance. Instead of letting an ever escalating war of vengeance continue (you killed my brother, I kill your family, you kill my village, I kill your clan, etc.), the eye for an eye law sets a limit on a tit for tat basis. The idea behind it is a violence limiting idea not a blood lust idea.

I will actually be in Texas for the final shows of a 12 cities in 12 months Music for Life Tour sponsored by the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty:

August 23: Jefferson Freedom Café, Ft. Worth
September 18: Waco w/ Austin Lounge Lizards
FINALE: October – Austin – The State Theatre

I hope to make it to all of them. The Fort Worth show at the very least.