The cries for the death of the Charleston murderer are already mounting.
But we can do better.
One would expect in this country that the government will seek to kill this twisted young man for his having shot nine wonderful people in the coldest possible blood. It is beyond comprehension how someone—-anyone!—-could sit in a Bible discussion for as long as he did and then shoot those who had shown him such kindness. One by one. Stopping to reload.
We must truly question what kind of species we are to have spawned such a creature.
There is no doubting his motivation. This murder was about race.
So the first step in healing should be for the state of South Carolina to honor these victims by removing its Confederate flags. The Confederacy was an unmitigated hell-hole for African-Americans. There are no provinces in Germany that “preserve their legacy” with swastika banners, and there should be none in the US that should do so for the flag of Dixie.
As for this murderer, there may have been other motives in addition to racism. Maybe he wanted recognition. No doubt there were other deep psychological issues.
But there always are. If we humans cannot get past such a simple reality as our skins being of different pigmentation, then we have to wonder about the future of our species.
But we must also wonder about our propensity to kill as punishment for killing. The death penalty does not deter future crime. Our justice system is not perfect, and there’s no doubt we have wrongly executed countless innocent people over the decades.
It’s not even clear death is the worst sentence we can impose. Timothy McVeigh, who senselessly killed 180 people in his Oklahoma terror attack, chose to die rather than spend life in prison. He is not the only one.
There are many things the death penalty may do. But teaching the perpetrator “a lesson” is obviously not one of them.
And given the outpouring of spirituality from those surrounding the victims in this case, we will almost certainly see many of them asking that this young murderer not be killed.
So here’s an alternative in this and all other death penalty cases:
Instead of execution, lock this man in a prison cell for the rest of his life. But make one side of his cell a video screen, with audio speakers. And for eight hours a day, six days a week, for the rest of his days, allow the family members of the victims to talk to this person. Let the telecasts be live, taped, facetimed, skyped, whatever.
If the families choose—-and we can be sure many will—-let them play tapes of the people he killed. Let them run, over and over again, family albums, phone conversations, speeches, sermons, class plays….whatever they choose to put in front of this sick creature that hurt them so deeply.
Let them also have the ability to speak with him directly. Let him have email access only to the accounts of the family members who agree. Let the loved ones who have so much to say about those he killed communicate all they want to him directly. Over and over and over. For as long as they may choose.
Perhaps it will help those who’ve been so damaged begin to heal in ways merely killing this murderer could never do. Some might brand this “cruel and unusual”. But how does it stack up with execution, or being locked up forever in a blank cell?
And sooner or later, maybe something will sink into him. A glimmer of understanding. A flash of empathy.
A flood of remorse. And then, perhaps, a human being worth saving.
If we kill this kid, we get a corpse. An eye for an eye will once again have made the whole world blind.
But if we lock him into communication with those most appropriate, especially those who want to heal through this process, sooner or later something….we don’t know what…surprising, good, uplifting…just might emerge.
It might take a year, a decade, a lifetime.
If there is no breakthrough, then we’ll know we have locked up a true monster for the rest of his life.
But I suspect otherwise. And not just in this case.
Harvey Wasserman wrote SOLARTOPIA! which portrays a green-powered Earth in which the death penalty has been abolished. He edits www.nukefree.org.