On the death penalty.

[Author’s Note: On Google Plus I post about the death penalty on Fridays. I started this a few weeks ago, it’s something I do every week before I go to temple. This week I wanted to talk at some length, so I’ve decided to post it to my blog instead.]

Today is March 13, 2015. Day 72 of the year, week 11. A man named Manuel Vasquez was executed by the state of Texas, bringing the number of executions once again equal to the number of weeks in the year. I don’t know his story because I didn’t read about him in the news. I struggled to think of the last execution I read about in the news, although I finally recalled it was Clayton Lockett.

I remember reading about Clayton Lockett because he was killed by an unapproved protocol. That’s actually why he was in the news. He’d sued not to be killed with an untested method, and his execution ultimately failed. He died of a heart attack. The cynical part of me wonders if the state counts him among its official victims.

Manuel Vasquez, I have just learned thanks to Google, killed a woman for not paying a drug tax. There are some who would say that his act of murder has forfeited his life. That he deserves to lose not just his liberty, but his existence, for stealing someone else from the world. There are some who would say that criminals deserve what they get.

But I don’t want justice to be based on a system of, “he had it coming.” I don’t want to believe that the best human nature has to offer is, “well she did it first.” We teach our children from their youngest days that being hit by another child isn’t a reason to hit back, and that when little Sally bites you, you’re not allowed to slam her in the head with your cabbage patch doll.

Does our opinion change because the victims are all adults now?

In the death penalty I see a society that has decided punishment, not recovery, is a proportional response. I see a society that bases its morality not on doing what is right, but on fearing what will happen if you do something that is wrong. Manuel Vasquez was executed not because it solves the murder he did, not because it makes anything whole again, but so that the state could put his head on a spike as a warning.

Social justice doesn’t just mean doing justice for those who are easily defended. It doesn’t just mean fighting for those whose oppressions make easy to tell stories. Social justice means standing up for the weak, the powerless, those being abused. Manuel Vasquez murdered a woman, but even he did not “deserve” death. Not even he deserved to have his life taken by another.

We don’t steal from thieves, we don’t beat people who get in fights. We don’t vandalize the belongings of vandals, even when they mark property with hateful slogans and words like bullets. Why do we kill, even killers?


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