"Vengeance is mine," saith the USA

Tales from death row: Justice for Rodney Reed


By: Caitlin Adams

I haven't been able to visit Rodney for a few weeks. His mom has been ill and since I can't risk being around "germy" people I've been missing Rodney banter, Rodney stories, Rodney laughter, Rodney smiles and it has left me with a Rodney blog void. What follows was inspired by a redtail hawk that I spent ten delightful minutes watching this afternoon.  I say that because as soon as the redtail flew off this blog started percolating. I think Rodney showed up in disguise!

The death penalty in America has nothing to do with justice. The death penalty in America is about revenge and vengeance.  Justice is always about repairing—repairing a wrong, repairing a space, repairing a wound, repairing damage.  The death penalty in America is not about repairing.

When horrible things happen, we human beings so often react out of our shock, our horror, our fear. That's where the death penalty comes from. That's where wars come from, that's where things like the AEDPA and the Patriot Act come from—our base human reactive need for revenge and vengeance, which falsely reassures us we are safe and in control. Timothy McVeigh's crime so terrified and horrified America that our government in our name created a law, essentially to ensure that Timothy McVeigh would not escape a needle in his arm.  Wars, the AEDPA, the Patriot Act create an illusion of safety and control, until the very sad reality hits: these kinds of extreme measures make us all less safe and if they were effective control agents they wouldn't be needed in the first place. I recently read somewhere that of the 236 years America has existed, we've been at war 215 of them—I’d say that makes my point for me!  If we would simply allow the shock, the horror, the fear to come and then go, as all feelings do, we could then set about the business of justice, of repairing, of acting instead of reacting.

If the death penalty was about justice, it would actually be an effective deterrent to crime because it would be about repairing—deterring crime is reparative.  However, the studies and statistics prove beyond any doubt that the death penalty has no impact on the murder rate.  The significant number of mass killings in America in the past 30 years also gives us every practical indication that the death penalty does not deter the crime of murder. I have never been able to wrap my head around the idea that killing someone is the way to stop people from killing each other. It about drives me to having an apoplectic fit when people who profess to be "pro-life" are pro-death penalty and are absolutely clueless how untenable that is.

And in America, we can hardly ever talk about anything without mentioning that America is a "Christian" nation and the Bible.  Proponents of the death penalty are particularly enamored of the Old Testament quote, "An eye for eye."  The "tit for tat", the "quid pro quo" mentality.  I love Gandhi's quote, "an eye for an eye, leaves the whole world blind".  What I find hard to accept about this position is that Jesus came and changed the paradigm—shifted it right off its axis. "Turn the other cheek" "Love your enemies." "Blessed are the peacemakers." The entire Sermon on the Mount. The parable of the Prodigal Son.  Heck, he even forgave his murderers (who happened to be priests and God-fearing, church-going folks).  As he is being murdered by the state, an innocent man, he prays, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." 2012 years later we still know not what we do.

If the death penalty were only mired in revenge, vengeance, an "eye for an eye", it would be a monumental task to dismantle. However, the death penalty is also inexorably mired in racism, poverty, in marginalization, political currency, in the delusional hype that it makes America and Americans safer. This quagmire seems almost indissoluble.  One ray of light, one possible chink in the death penalty's armor, one possible thing that could erode American support for the death penalty: the price tag.  Hit Americans in their wallets and pocketbooks and you get their attention. The death penalty in America is a "money pit".  And Americans are starting to take notice, as are politicians, state legislatures, economists, and other interested parties. Only in America would it come down to dollars and cents.  Whatever. We need to end this draconian practice, so hit 'em where it hurts!

"Allowing our government to kill citizens compromises the deepest moral values upon which this country was conceived: the inviolable dignity of human persons." ~ Helen Prejean

"Let freedom ring". Injustice time: 15 years, 5,682 days, 136,363 hours.
Free Rodney Reed.