Saving 49 Lives (Part 7)

cross-posted from The Dream Antilles

For most of my life, I’ve been passionately opposed to state killing.  I remember as a child knowing that California’s gas chamber execution of Caryl Chessman was unjust.  I remember hearing with horror about the federal electric chair executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.  And I admit that since I was 10 I have never understood how civilized people could justify state killing.  From the beginning, state killing has appeared to me to be barbaric and horrific.  Yes, there are lots of other barbaric things in the world, you could make a long, annotated list of them, but for one reason or another, despite all of the other terrible things in the world, something about state killing deeply appalled me.  And eventually, the fight to end state killing spoke to me, so I took it up.  That was a long time ago.

It’s probably my feelings about barbarism that are driving me today to try to save the 49 people facing the federal death penalty.  I know we are better than this.  I know we are not killers.  I know we are more compassionate than that.  I know we are more just than that.  It’s my feelings about barbarism that have me writing an essay every day about the same thing.  That’s what has me asking you over and over again to email Attorney General Eric Holder at or at [email protected]  That’s what has me asking you to sign a petition.  In short, I’m appalled by state killing, and I want to stop it.

What’s necessary now in my opinion is to ask Attorney General Eric Holder please to review all of the decisions made by his predecessors in office that directed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in federal cases and to determine whether he agrees with those decisions.  If he does not think that the death penalty is entirely appropriate, he should withdraw authority for federal prosecutors to seek death.  It’s really quite simple.  I’m not asking him to dismiss the indictments.  I’m not asking him to drop cases.  I’m not asking him to perform acts of mercy.  I’m just asking him whether the United States can be satisfied asking for a maximum of life without parole and not death in these cases.  That’s all I’m asking for.

It’s not much to ask for.  Really it isn’t.  What, if anything, is the government giving up by not asking for death and asking instead for life without parole?  In my view the government gains in stature and it gives up nothing of value.  What it does give up are things it should have abandoned decades ago.  In my view, by not asking for death, the government gives up some of its inhumanity, it gives up a horrific difference from other civilized nations, it abandons an old harbor for its racism, it leaves behind its most unenlightened, violent, hypocritical aspect.  It emerges wiser, more powerful, more human, more compassionate, and more just.  It acknowledges that humans are imperfect and that there are weapons that should never be used.  

Is it my buddhism that makes me opposed to state killing?  It’s true that I frequently ask, “May all beings refrain from killing and prevent others from killing.”  It’s true that I try not to swat mosquitoes.  It’s true that I am captivated by the story of Padmasambhava’s reflexively swatting a fly, and unable to stay his hand, assuring its rebirth as a boddhisatva, as his hand crushed it.  I love all of that.  But I was opposed to state killing long before I was a buddhist.

Is it my being a lawyer that makes me opposed to state killing?  It’s true that I have handled a pro bono death penalty appeal, that it turned many of my hairs gray, that I have tried to help others defend those facing death.  I am honored to have been able to do that.  I am thankful that I could do that.  But I was opposed to state killing before I was a lawyer.

Is it my being a writer that makes me opposed to state killing?  It’s true that I have written hundreds of pieces about state killing in the United States, that I consider myself an advocate for life and against state killing, that I gladly took on the project of writing daily about the federal death penalty and Attorney General Eric Holder.  But I was opposed to state killing before I was a writer.  Maybe these aren’t the things that made me oppose state killing.  Maybe it’s more basic.

Is it my being a human being that makes me opposed to state killing?

Is it that I refuse to be desensitized by the pervasive violence in our culture and that I want to live in peace in a just and human society?

Or is it more simple?  Is it just that I feel in my heart that it’s wrong for the state ever to kill, that we don’t have the right to kill, and that my heart breaks at our callousness and lack of humility?

And because I feel that, is it that remaining silent is just not an option for me?

Please sign the petition asking Attorney General Eric Holder to review these decisions and to spare these 49 lives. There are now 102 signatures on the petition.

Please send an email to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to review these decisions and to spare these 49 lives at or at [email protected]  I have not yet received a response to my letter.

Maybe this will help you understand how I feel:


    • davidseth on February 7, 2009 at 12:59 am

    and may they prevent others from killing.

    Again, thanks for reading.

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