Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Season Political

Whether I agree with them or not, it seems that many other folks are holding forth in much more articulate and media-savvy, not to mention louder, ways than I. While I occasionally pass on links to suchlike, I don't generally jump into the fray.

But this is an election year.

I'm not going to hold forth on candidates or political parties. Most of you either agree with me or there's nothing I can say to change your mind and certainly not worth damaging a valuable relationship by screaming at each other.

But this is an election year.

And there's an issue on the California ballot that I do feel strongly about. It's Measure 34, the SAFE California Act, that replaces the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. I can give you all the calculations about how many tens of millions of dollars it's going to save and the risks of executing innocent people and the percentages of violent crimes that go unsolved because the funds go to a system that even its advocates admit is broken beyond repair. You can look them up for yourself. For me, such arguments are best left to activists.

I'm not an activist. I'm the family member of a murder victim, the very person who might be expected to support capital punishment.
The reason I don't, the reason I am adamantly opposed to it in all circumstances, innocent or guilty, is that in my experience, revenge and retaliation do not help us heal. When I say this, the next thing people say is how "nice" and "spiritual" and "forgiving" I am. To which I say, b*s*. Niceness or forgivingness has nothing to do with it. It's the most selfish position I can take, because it's the one that gives me the only genuine hope of getting my own life back.

Murder doesn't just take the life of the victim. It takes the lives of those who must carry on, especially the families and loved ones. It consumes us with unbelievable fury. It paralyzes us with pain. It colors every interaction, every dream, every decision. While I would never tell another surviving family member they have to agree with me, or how they feel and think isn't valid, this is what is true for me: in a healthy environment, adrenaline and the craving to lash out in retaliation run their course. Once we are no longer ourselves in danger, once we know the perpetrator cannot harm anyone else, we face a choice -- do we deliberately continue on a path of revenge or do we begin to rebuild our lives, to grieve and to heal? For me, there came a point where the two paths became mutually incompatible.

Let me be clear: I don't forgive the man who raped and murdered my 70-year-old mother. I never want to have anything to do with him -- and a decades-long crusade for his execution would keep him in my thoughts and my life on a regular basis. It would corrode my spirit and deaden my heart. I'd never be able to forget what he did or to focus on what I do want in my life, on the person I want to be, the joy I want to create in this world.

If you're a California voter, please consider this in November.


  1. I'm right behind you, Deborah, as you know. My other gut feeling is that, as part of the state, if the state takes a life, then I'm a killer too.

  2. Thanks so much for your support, Susan.

  3. Well said, very thoughtful and respectful of everyone's opinions. I will consider what you said. The last paragraph (before your final sentence) is absolutely true and I can see that while some surviving family members might be able to let go and move on regardless of the death penalty, others won't and they would be caught in the "decades long crusade" you described, which would be another tragedy.

    I am curious though about your thoughts on studies in various countries that have been done where after the removal of the death penalty they saw significant increases in violent crimes. The death penalty seemed to be a deterrent. I'm not throwing this out there for any reason other than I'm trying to reconcile your valid points with this part of the issue, which is why I have been in favor of it in the past. (The past few years I've wavered as I've learned of cases where it was discovered later the person was innocent.) Thank you.

  4. I share your concern about the possibility of executing a person for a crime he or she did not commit. I've had the honor to meet a number of men and women wrongfully convicted of capital (death penalty) crimes. When you have a living, breathing person in front of you, things come into a new perspective.

    I don't believe it's true that the death penalty deters violent crime. States that have abolished capital punishment have lower homicide rates than those that do not, in some years over 40% lower. (http://www.deathpenalty.org/article.php?id=82) (In the UK, for instance, the rise in violent crime happened =before= capital punishment was abolished.) Repeated studies by the United Nations have shown no link. In many instances, violent crime rates go down.

    The thing is, people who commit murder don't think, "I won't do it because I'll be executed." They think -- assuming they have any time to think at all, which is not the case most of the time -- "I won't get caught." The threat of the death penalty increases the chance of "leaving no witnesses." (I've heard this repeatedly from former inmates.)

  5. Whoa! That last thought is sure an eye opener (about "leaving no witnesses"). Thank you for taking the time to answer my question. I really appreciate it.

  6. Sarah H - yeah, the first time an ex-inmate said that to me, I couldn't believe it. But I've heard it so many times now -- in the context, for instance, of a robbery gone bad -- that it seems more likely.